Gablec – Old Custom Dies Hard
Gablec is the local word for working man's lunch. Like many other local expressions, it comes from German language. More precisely, from the phrase Gabelfrühstück, with Gabel meaning a fork, and Frühstück meaning breakfast. So, its origin reveals that it's a meal eaten with a fork (or spoon), earlier than a regular family lunch. The word gablec has a very traditional and a bit nostalgic ring to it. Why? Because it comes from those ancient times when the pace of life was slower, when there were no mobile phones or coffee to go. You had a nice long break for your working day lunch, for some people the most important and filling meal of the day. It usually took place between 11 am and 1 pm, in your company's canteen or a local restaurant focused on daily lunchtime specials. And no, things eaten at the desk or on the go, especially bakery products, sandwiches, wraps or pizza slices do not count as gablec, no way. Which means that, sadly, the real gablec is a lost art for some people, not a daily social routine anymore. It will always be there as an option, but it also evolves and adapts to new circumstances.
“Typical sign with daily specials in front of a gablec-orientedrestaurant” Photo credits: Taste of Croatia
In socialist times, it was normal for companies, state-owned by default, to have big canteens to fill their hard-working employees with a cheap but hearty mid-day meal. Still existing gablec standards were set at that time and they are regarded as the golden rules. Modern day corporate cafeterias, canteens, diners and restaurants that stick to these standards are not so rare, but can be viewed as old-fashioned. Or charmingly retro, depending on your perspective. Frankly, if the food is good and affordable, who cares. Usually these standards mean that you have 2 or 3 daily specials (repeated on weekly basis), following the season vaguely, some simple salads on the side and a basic dessert to choose from. Almost all dishes include meat, while on Fridays it's mandatory to eat fish or squids (but a meat option will be available, too). Cooking is traditional, familiar, simple and not really in tune with what modern nutritionists’ recommendations.
“Roasted pork belly with mashed potatoes and boiled kale” Photo credits: Taste of Croatia
The most frequent dishes include beans stew with sausage, sarma (minced meat rolled in sauerkraut leaves and stewed in sauerkraut sauce), tripes, punjene paprike (bell peppers stuffed with minced meat and rice, stewed in tomato sauce), boiled veal with tomato sauce and mashed potatoes, some kind of ćušpajz (thick vegetable stew, preferably with some kind of meat), beef goulash, faširanci (fried minced meat patties) with rice and peas, deep-fried calamari or breaded hake fillet with French fries and Tartar sauce, chicken paprikash with noodles and so on. These are all die-hard dishes and comfort zone for a vast majority. Nothing wrong with that. If the ingredients are good and the cook shares some enthusiasm and love, you will eat like a king. Also, because of many Dalmatians living in Zagreb and the popularity of Dalmatian cuisine, Dalmatian dishes and restaurants almost make a special genre in the world of gablec. Some of the old-school gablec restaurants in downtown Zagreb are Vallis Aurea, Purger, Stari fijaker 900, Kerempuh, Kod Pere.
“Tripes, but a bit modernized version” Photo credits: Taste of Croatia
On the other side, you have places which respect the philosophy behind gablec and want to deliver value-for-money sit-down lunch for the working people, but a bit different, modernized version. These like to call themselves bistros and tend to a younger, more hip audience of urban professionals. Here the cooking is a bit lighter, trendier, sometimes close to Mediterranean or fusion cuisine. Vegetarian options are normal. If you ask for a wine list, you will not be laughed at. But this new generation of gablec joints still sticks to the basic rules – limited number of daily specials, always something you can eat with a spoon, local and seasonal ingredients, simple recipes. To name but a few popular modern gablec-friendly establishments: Perica, Bistro Šalša, Bistro Jadranka, Pod zidom.
“Modern gablec dish – homemade pasta in tomato and squid sauce” Photo credits: Taste of Croatia
You don't have to be a member of Zagreb’s working class to enjoy a decent gablec, just go with the flow. Local lunchtime experience is often the best way to feel and taste the atmosphere of a new city. Dobar tek!
Header image: “Sarma, favourite wintertime lunch option” Photo credits: Taste of Croatia
Author: Taste of Croatia