Tradition with a Twist

When you are looking for well-prepared local and traditional food in Zagreb's restaurants, your options are far from limited.

Yes, you can find a number of good eateries delivering old-school dishes that haven't changes for decades (and why should they), as well as many modern places doing all sorts of fusion menus. But on the other hand, there's a real shortage of establishments adding a creative and personal touch to well-known traditional ingredients and specialties. Let's give a big hand to those that can be put in the category called “tradition with a twist”.

“A surprising and delicious incarnation of buncek in Garden's sandwich.” Image credit: the Garden Bar & Kitchen

Advent in Zagreb is the time when we hang out outdoors a lot and eat a lot of street food. Fuliranje on Strossmayer Square is particularly known for a wide selection of food huts offering bites on the go from all parts of the world. Each year, restaurants and caterers seem to compete against each other who is going to have the best, coolest and most popular dishes. On the other hand, a vast number of food huts in the city centre play it safe and prepare the usual sausages, fritters and two or three other dishes. In this huge selection, even though there's fantastic international food all around, I'm over the moon when somebody takes a familiar and local theme and reinterprets it in a creative way. This year I've found it at the Garden Bar & Kitchen hut. Chef Marko Palfi, their new acquisition, presented two successful experiments with traditional ingredients like buncek (smoked ham hock), sauerkraut, horseradish sauce and roast duck, so you can try their bun with sauteed sauerkraut and bacon, deep-fried smoked ham hock medallions and horseradish sauce, or roast duck with duck jus, baked potato cream and scallion wrapped in crispy dough and dipped in apple sauce.

“Duck and chestnuts combined in this elegant yet simple dish in Brokenships Bistro.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

In case you don't like outdoor eating and want to sit down and have a proper meal, two places really stick out. The first is a relatively new name, opened this summer as an extension of the Museum of Broken Relationships in the Upper Town – Brokenships Bistro. Their clear and ambitious vision is to take familiar and accessible local and seasonal ingredients or traditional dishes and prepare them in a creative yet unpretentious way. In their current winter menu, this young team presents makeovers of classic dishes like meso iz tiblice (duck and pork ribs confit), zlevka (corn flour cake), pohani picek s restanim krumpirom (breaded chicken with stewed potatoes), pumpkin soup or strudel.

“This modern version of zlevanka cake is one of the best desserts I have tried this year.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Pod Zidom bistro & wine bar near Dolac market is not such a new name, but they keep evolving all the time. Their young new chef Jurica Jantolek has recently introduced the winter menu featuring creations based on seasonal food like blood sausages, čvarci (pork crisps), cabbage, wild mushrooms, duck, ham hock, lamb... The dishes are very modern, but precise and true to the essence of their main ingredients. The presentation on the plate is elaborate, some combinations and textures are very bold, yet they never cross the line dividing smart bistronomy and fine dining. Thumbs up for this new direction focused on national tradition rather than international fusion.

Buncek and sauerkraut have never looked this classy before!” Image credit: Pod Zidom FB

Finding inspiration in tradition and modifying it to create something new actually means respect and tribute. If you appreciate the ABC of Croatian cuisine, but sometimes feel like you want to see more creativity and personal touch in it, Zagreb does not lack places that will open your mind and satisfy your appetite for something original.

“Can you recognize blood sausages, čvarci and red cabbage here?” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Header image credit: Brokenships Bistro FB

Author: Morana Zibar / Taste of Croatia