I Love This Game – Wild Game Cooking

It is a well-known fact that a large part of Croatian cuisine, especially in the continent, is meat-based.

It is also a fact that hunting is quite wide-spread all over the country. So when you put these two facts together, it is clear that we appreciate a nice piece of wild game on the plate. Although the best hunting grounds are in regions like Slavonia, Podravina and Gorski Kotar, forest areas around Zagreb are by no means hunting-free. Wild game dishes are not an everyday sight because the meat is scarce, but that is why they are much appreciated. Consider yourself lucky to stumble upon a piece of local venison, wild boar or hare in or around Zagreb and give it a try, especially if you are not familiar with wildlife recipes.

“The most common wild game recipe – goulash in a kettle over an open fire.” Image credit: Domagoj Jakopović Ribafish

While there’s imported and usually frozen wild game meat available in big supermarkets, the best thing is to have a hunter in the family or good connections and get meat directly from the source. In the 19th century, a few Zagreb restaurants and inns were known for wild game dishes, like Lovački rog or Jägerhorn in Ilica, today’s hotel. Nowadays there aren’t any eateries specialized exclusively in wild game, perhaps because the supply is limited and not steady, and also it’s really not something you would eat on a daily basis, but you can still find places in and around Zagreb where wild game is a regular item and you can bet it will be good.

“Long and slow cooking does good to venison meat.” Image credit: Toni Čobrnić

V Starem Melinu restaurant on the foothills of Medvednica is actually built in an old watermill and regularly delivers wild game goulash (venison and wild boar). It’s a classic, the first dish that comes to mind when you say wild game. This kind of red meat is quite tough and the secret is to marinate it well so it softens. Goulash should be thick and just a bit spicy, ideally served with bread and bacon dumplings on the side. Marinated leg of wild boar or venison tenderloin roasted in wood-fired oven is also something you can rely on. In the western suburbs of Zagreb people will point you to Zelen Dvor restaurant, with tradition since 1937. Here you can find several venison specialties, from goulash and ragout to the fancy medallion steaks. Most often they are served with potato croquettes or gnocchi, preferably complemented with wild berry jam.

“Venison fillet or lungić, as tender as it can be.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

When we move to Zagreb surroundings and explore its rural restaurants and agritourism establishments, things get more local, traditional and it’s not a problem to find a wild game section in the menu. Depending on the supply, Kezele family farm and restaurant, the pioneer of farm holidays in Moslavina, includes wild game dishes in their ever popular Moslavina Table buffet on weekends. Đurina Hiža in Varaždinske Toplice is notable for their creative approach to venison and wild boar, so along with steaks and fillets, here you can try things like wild game burger and venison ćevapčići or pljeskavica (patty). Around the town of Samobor, don’t miss the traditional but classy Kod Špilje restaurant, where you might encounter an elegant dish like venison steak with blueberries. A favourite family place in Samobor, Gabreku 1929 inn offers roasted wild boar with cranberries and gnocchi. And let’s not forget the charming Karlo restaurant in the heart of Plešivica wine region, where elegant wild game dishes are often on the daily specials list. The list of places could go on, but it’s important to note that wild game supply is not always predictable, so show some understanding if there is nothing in stock during your visit. Of course, it is advisable to ask in advance.

“The famous wild game burger from Đurina Hiža, one of the favourites at this year’s Zagreb Burger Festival.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

And if you have any concerns that forest wildlife will suffer because it’s served on your plate, don’t worry, hunting quotas and the whole moral code behind it is there for a reason. Cold autumn and winter days call for hearty, filling food and for all us dedicated carnivores it’s the perfect season for wild game specialties.

“Wild game goulash is in a serious relationship with potato gnocchi.” Image credit: V Starem Melinu FB


Header image credit: Taste of Croatia

Author: Morana Zibar / Taste of Croatia