The winter menus of Zagreb’s surroundings
The richness of traditional local cuisine is one of the trump cards of the picturesque small regions scattered around Zagreb, and their winter menus really stand out. First of all, it is the holiday season and luxury on the table goes without saying. Besides, in winter we tend to prefer more hearty food to help us overcome the dreary cold days and dark evenings. It is a time when calories do not matter and the dining table is a place of gatherings. The lack of fresh fruits from nature is abundantly compensated by the resourcefulness and creativity in the preparation of delicious meals even in modest rural conditions. In short, winter is a time to enjoy food with no distractions.
A guest is, naturally, greeted with a toast. Samobor bermet is a local aperitif, while around Samobor and Jaska you can find Tepka brandy, made from a very old variety of pear. For starters, every true host will offer homemade slices of deli meat while proudly highlighting their origins. Prepared in late autumn, these pork products are best enjoyed during winter. Sausages, cracklings, bacon and other delicacies are ready. The best accompaniment to the meats are surely the products of small local cheese factories. They mostly use cow’s milk for products like cream and cheese, which include various kinds, from soft-cooked cheese and škripavac to smoked and cheese with paprika or herbs. Vegetables are now pickled in jars or otherwise preserved in the form of all kinds of spreads. Each area also has its own salty snack that will be happily presented to guests, for example rudarska greblica, copanjak or vrbovečka pera (kinds of cheese-filled pastry).
When it is cold outside, everyone will enjoy something hearty, eaten with a spoon. Winter soups are usually thick and strong, created to keep us warm. Forest mushroom soup and pumpkin soup are a must. Paired with homemade cornbread, they make a complete meal. But the stars of the table are still the main dishes, and the top position is firmly held by fine roasts. Duck or turkey with mlinci is an all-time classic, and some of the seasonal specialties include roast goose with chestnuts or pork medallions in mushroom sauce. As soon as the temperatures drop a little more, ham hock – a smoked and slowly cooked pork shank, and the more serious sausages, blood sausages or garlic sausages are brought to the table. Sauteed sauerkraut is a favorite winter side dish, often accompanied by diced hash potatoes. The meatless variants include nutritious bean stews with cabbage or pickled beets. Homemade noodles or dumplings go well with sour cream and bacon or mushrooms. And since truffles can be found in the forests of Turopolje and Žumberak all year round, winter is just another opportunity to taste them in a familiar or maybe a new combination.
In the desserts section, winter is the time when apples reign supreme. The taste of a fresh, juicy homemade apple pie or strudel is one not to be forgotten. Delicious walnut and poppy rolls, sweet gibanica (layered pastry), pancakes, gingerbread and many other traditional desserts are made from simple, easily available ingredients such as walnuts, honey, poppy seeds or cottage cheese. After a sweet snack, the story is well rounded off with a liqueur made of cherries, blueberries or walnuts, maybe some dessert wine from the vineyards from the Zagreb County. Of course, dry wines come from the same vineyards and can accompany every phase of the winter menu. The young seasonal wine known as Portugieser is the best friend of roasted chestnuts, and a common choice for more rustic dishes. But there are also many other wines from Jaska, Zelina, Moslavina or the surroundings of Samobor, ranging from the light Kraljevina and the refreshing Škrlet, to more complex Pinots and Rieslings of Plešivica. On top of that, the best Croatian sparkling wines come from the vicinity of Zagreb.
A trip to the quiet parts of Zagreb’s green ring, whatever the occasion, simply must end indulging in the pleasures of regional gastronomy. Whether you choose a mountain lodge, a country house, a traditional inn or a Michelin-recommended restaurant, everything is subordinated to respecting local food and nurturing local heritage. In winter, there is no better way to warm up, seal old and build new friendships than to feast at a table full of original and authentic food.