While Zagreb’s gastronomic offerings are now of a standard fitting for any European capital, the city’s culinary traditions are as strong as ever. Today the international business community meets in high-quality sushi bars or while local working folk still tuck into cheap, homely lunches. Here we pick out the top five food experiences around town.
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The Dolac market behind the main square is where you’ll find the best dairy produce from the region, in its own area of the covered hall. Here locals buy sir i vrhnje, cream cheese, sold by the plastic cup and dispensed into their own bowl or bag. Sprinkled with salt and paprika, embellished with diced onions and accompanied by kružnjak cornbread and spots of špek ham or slices of dried sausage, it comprises the definitive Zagreb staple. The typical producer is a friendly woman of a certain age: the kumica. A cross between ‘trader’ and ‘godmother’, the kumica is a much-loved figure. Shoppers have their own favourite; a statue stands to one at the market entrance.
Cheap and satisfying, gableci are cut-price lunches sold at outlets around town where à la carte dishes may be twice as dear. You’ll see boards up, usually during the working week, suggesting the three or four gableci for that day. Around the Dolac market and Kvarternikov trg, for example, neighbourhood spots serve dishes such as bean stew (grah), turkey with Zagorje pasta (purica s mlincima), and squared pasta with roasted cabbage (krautflekerli). One place to try them is Gostionica Purger, the local name for someone from Zagreb.
Indulge in štrukli
This distant relation of Austrian Strudel and Turkish borek is made from rolled dough, then filled with the traditional cottage cheese and sour cream. Whether cooked or baked, sweet or salty, with added poppy, pumpkin or spinach, all versions deserve attention. When first invited to try štrukli, most visitors are impressed by the gentle taste of the soft dough, creamy cheese, the eggs and sour-cream sauce. Many venues pride themselves on their štrukli, although the kitchen at the landmark Esplanade Hotel is said to create the best in town.
Snack on street food
Appetisingly illustrating how far Zagreb has come in global gastronomic terms, Mundoaka at Petrinjska 2 provides sit-down street food of the first order, not five minutes from the main square. A daily changing selection might involve ribs, deluxe pulled-pork sandwiches or raw tuna with ginger. Soups, bruschettas and cheese platters should satisfy most snackers; the prospect of freshly made cakes should persuade them to stay for one more course. Chilled wines and craft beers also feature, and there’s outdoor seating for half the year.
When Okrugljak opened in 1913, Zagreb was still under the Habsburgs and the city had just started issuing its first driving licences. This same atmosphere imbues this garden restaurant today, high up above the Mirogoj cemetery in the leafier part of town. The food is unsurprisingly traditional – roast lamb on the spit, blood sausage – and the service reassuringly old-school.