Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Croatian cuisine

Croatian cuisine is heterogeneous, and is therefore known as "the cuisine of regions". Its modern roots date back to Proto-Slavic and ancient periods and the differences in the selection of foodstuffs and forms of cooking are most notable between those on the mainland and those in coastal regions. Mainland cuisine is more characterized by the earlier Proto-Slavic and the more recent contacts with the more famous gastronomic orders of today - Hungarian, Viennese and Turkish - while the coastal region bears the influences of the Greek, Roman and Illyrian, as well as of the later Mediterranean cuisine - Italian and French.

A large body of books bears witness to the high level of gastronomic culture in Croatia, which in European terms dealt with food in the distant past, such as the Gazophylacium by Belostenec, a Latin-Kajkavian dictionary dating from 1740 that preceded a similar French dictionary. There is also Beletristic literature by Marulic, Hektorovic, Drzic and other writers, down to the work written by Ivan Bierling in 1813 containing recipes for the preparation of 554 various dishes (translated from the German original), and which is considered to be the first Croatian cookery book.

Food and traditional festivities
Many Croatian traditional festivities are distinctly linked with food
independently of whether they are related to strenuous labour (crop harvesting
or threshing, the grape harvest and Christening of wine, the completion of a
house), religion (mostly Catholic - Christmas, Easter, pilgrimages, local saints
days), or to memorable moments in an individual’s life (baptism, wedding,
birthday, name-day, funeral wakes, etc.) Some festivities are typically of a
public character, such as the Dionysian St. Martin s Day, celebrated in private
farmhouses, wine cellars and restaurants; others are almost exclusively family
reunions (weddings, baptism, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter, etc.)

Every holiday has its typical dish. Pork and potato stew is eaten on
pilgrimages and at fairs; cod is prepared for Christmas Eve and Good Friday;
pork is eaten on New Year s Day; doughnuts are an inseparable part of carnival
festivities, and in the south they prepare a similar fried sweet dish known as
hrostule. Ham and boiled eggs with green vegetables are served at Easter, while
desserts comprise traditional cakes (e.g. pinca). Kulen (hot-pepper flavoured
sausage) at harvest time, goose for St. Martin s Day, turkey and other fowl, as
well as sarma (meat-stuffed cabbage leaves), are served on Christmas Day. At
weddings, a variety of dishes with dozens of cakes and biscuits are served,
including breskvice, shortbread bear paws, gingerbread biscuits, fritule - plain
fritters, etc.
The favourite meals of very many people on all occasions
include spit-roasted lamb and suckling pig, grilled fish, calamari cooked in
various ways, barbecue dishes - raznjici, cevapcici and mixed grill - prosciutto
and sheep’s cheese, or smoked ham and cottage cheese with sour cream, fish stew,

Croatian Wines
Croatia is justifiably proud of its broad palette of high quality wines (up to 700 wines with protected geographic origin) and brandies, fruit juices, beers and mineral water. In the south, people drink bevanda with their food (heavy, richly flavoured red wine mixed with plain water), and in north-western regions, "gemisht" (dry, flavoured wines mixed with mineral water).
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Istra i Kvarner
Selection of cheeses and cold dishes of Istria. The cuisine of Istria and the Kvarner regions represents a special Croatian style of cooking, a blend of inland and coastal. These regions are rich in excellent fish and seafood, most notable among them being found in the northern Adriatic: scampi (prawns), calamari and shellfish from the Limski Kanal (Fiord). After an excellent prosciutto, and cheese and olives, many traditional wine cellars offer fish soup, fish stew, boiled prawns, black and white frutti di mare risotto, as well as other dishes typical of the central part of the Istrian peninsula - traditional wine soup, ragout (jota) similar to Italian minestrone (manistra, menestra, menestra), and also pasta and risotto dishes cooked with the famous truffles of the region - a self-sown precious mushroom species, unearthed by specially trained dogs and pigs; these fungi have the reputation of containing aphrodisiac properties.
The excellent Istrian wines include Malmsey of Buje, Cabernet of Porec, Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Terrano of Buzet, Zlahtina of Vrbnik, and sparkling wines - Bakarska Vodica, etc.
Fine restaurants abound in Istria, especially on the Opatija, Crikvenica, Rovinj and Porec littorals, both in the interior and on the islands.

Dalmatia The cuisine of Dalmatia and the islands follows the trend of modern nutritional norms. The brief thermal preparation of foodstuffs (mainly boiling or grilling) and plenty of fish, olive oil, vegetables and self-sown herbs found near the sea is why this cuisine is considered to be very healthy.
Dalmatian wines, like olive oil and salted olives, have been highly esteemed since ancient times, which the present names of some of the indigenous grape sorts reveal (Grk : Greek, from the island of Korcula; Prc from the island of Hvar). Famous wines include Dingac and Postup from the Peljesac Peninsula; Babic from Primosten; Vugava and Plancic from the island of Hvar... then there are Posip and Grk from Korcula; Marastina from the island of Lastovo; Malmsey from Dubrovnik, etc., and also Prosecco (a sweet dessert wine), the very strong grape (loza) and herbal brandies (travarica, grapes with medicinal herbs) and liqueurs (Maraschino, Vlahov).
Although even today every area has its own way of preparing certain dishes, the cuisine of the islands represents a separate world, their distinguishing features having been discovered only recently, such as the cuisine of the islands of Hvar, Korcula, Brac (vitalac, a dish made from lamb offal wrapped in lamb gut and spike-roasted), Vis (spike-roasted pilchards, as during the Ancient Greek period; flat cake with pilchards from Komiza and Vis, related to the modern-day pizza). Fresh sea fish (dog's tooth, gilthead, sea-bass, grouper, mackerel, pilchards) grilled, boiled or marinated; then there are molluscs (squid, cuttlefish, octopus), crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters) and shellfish (mussels, oysters, date-shells) boiled in a fish stew or as a risotto. Of the meat dishes, prosciutto is unarguably unrivalled - pork leg smoked and dried in the bora (from Drnis), served with dry, mostly sheep’s cheese (famous sorts of cheese are those from Pag and Dubrovnik) and salted green and black olives, capers and pickled onions. Lamb is also very highly valued, especially boiled or baked on an open fire (Franjevacka begovica from Visovac, or lopiz from the island of Iz); also, dried mutton (kastradina), roast beef, Dalmatian stew (pasticada) with gnocchi, offered by many restaurants.
Lightly boiled vegetables are also favourite dishes (Swiss chard with potatoes, tomato sauce) often a mixture of cultivated and self-sown vegetables, spiced with olive oil and wine vinegar, or served with meat (manestra - pasta with minced meat; arambasici - stuffed vine leaves). Regions with an abundance of fresh water are famous for their frog, eel and river crab dishes (the Neretva valley, Trilj and the Cetina basin). Typical Dalmatian desserts win the heart with their simplicity. The most usual ingredients include Mediterranean fruit, dried figs and raisins, almonds, honey, eggs (rafioli, mandulat, smokvenjak, the gingerbread biscuits from the island of Hvar - rozata).

Gorski Kotar and Lika The cuisine of Gorski Kotar and Lika reflects living conditions in the forested highlands and pastures, where summers are short and winters long, which limits the availability of foodstuffs. It is recognized by its simplicity (open-fire cooking and baking), as is the case with regions closer to the sea (Dalmatinska Zagora and central Istria), but everyday meals include predominantly continental products - pura (or palenta) - boiled maize, boiled potatoes, or potato halves baked in their skin, pickled cabbage, broad-beans and runner beans, cow’s and sheep’s milk and delicious cheeses (fermented cheese known as basa, and dried cheese), meat, fresh and smoked lamb, mutton and pork, as well as venison.
These regions are also rich in mushrooms and self-sown herbs, but there are also delicious, strong plum brandies and brandies made from forest fruits, or mixed with honey. The cuisine of Lika is found in the region of the Plitvice Lakes, and fine homemade cheese can be bought from roadside stalls when driving through Lika.

Northwest Croatia The cuisine of northwest Croatia is characterized by many simple, delicious dishes. Bread is mostly made from maize, barley, or a mixture of the two, and cakes are often similar in texture to bread (kukuruznjaca - made from maize; periaca, zelevanka, buhtli, doughnuts, walnut and poppy-seed loaves). A profusion of pasta dishes, dairy products (made mostly from cow’s) milk, as well as plenty of vegetables (beans, potatoes, cabbage, etc.), often mixed with meat to form a broth (zucchini, cucumbers, runner beans, broad beans, peas in the summer, and beans with pickled cabbage in winter, beans with barley porridge) and salads (fresh cucumbers with sour cream and garlic, lettuce, tomato salad, peppers and onions). This is where food provision for the winter is still made in the traditional manner (pickled cabbage, cucumbers boiled in vinegar, pickled peppers, red beet, as well as sweet dishes - plum jam, rosehip jam, bottled fruit, etc.). In the same way that southern cuisine differs from island to island, so does the cuisine in this part of the country differ from one region to the next.

In the region of Medjimurje one really must sample buckwheat porridge with meat from fat meat or blood-sausages, as well as side dishes of baked beans or potatoes, formed in cones, with rich spices, or smoked or dried cow’s cheese turas, known in the region of Podravina as prge. Turkey with mlinci (a boiled pasta dish), strudels of various kinds, as well as pumpkin cake with poppy seeds, have spread from the region of Zagorje throughout Croatia. It is hard to find more delicious geese and ducks than those from the region of Turopolje, or baked carp (krapec na procep) than those from the regions of Moslavina and Posavina. The region of Banovina became famous for its winter salami (Gavrilovic salami). blood-sausages, garlic-sausages and other special sausages, for baking with pickled cabbage, boiled smoked pork leg with potato or bean salad with onion, are favourite dishes almost everywhere.
Samobor, a small town near Zagreb, is an ideal venue for a gastronomic excursion. Its picturesque restaurants offer Samobor Steak, Samobor custard slices, salami and kotlovina - port and potato stew - hermet (sweet, spicy wine) and mustards which have been prepared here for almost two hundred years.

The cuisine of Varazdin, and in particular of Zagreb, represents urban, metropolitan cuisine, related to the more famous cuisine of Venice. Of course, Zagreb has also its steak (bread-crumbed veal stuffed with cheese), and it also offers a variety of roast dishes (beef, pork and fowl) served with potatoes, vegetables and horseradish, as well as various stews (wine goulash, bacon and tripe, lungs "sour art"), grilled meat, pasta… Delicious sweets continue a tradition hundreds of years old – a tradition of the "baking woman of Gric" and bishops’ pastry-cooks, revealing Croatian dessert cuisine in its entirety (Croatian pancakes, Zagorje strudel, strudel stuffed with cottage cheese, or apple strudel, bucanica, various cakes, ice-creams).
Zagreb’s contemporary cuisine is international, with the finest Italian cuisine widely represented. Restaurants frequently offer better quality fish than those available on the coast, more delicious lamb than in the region of Lika, and better kulen than in Slavonia.

One should savour the following wines from this region: Portugizac from Plesivica and Jastrebarsko, Rhine Riesling, Chardonnay from Strigovan, Muscat Otonel, Turk's sparkling wines, as well as wines from the wine-cellars in Bozjakovina, Pinot Blanc from Sveti Ivan Zelina, Moslovina Skrlet from Voloder, as well as many other wines, but also the traditional drink, gvirc (gvirc, mead) sipped with gingerbread biscuits.

Slavonia and Baranja Slav Rich and fertile Slavonia and Baranja comprise the bread basket of Croatia, and so white bread, flat cakes and many other cakes filled with walnuts, with poppy seeds or plum jam, have been baked here since ancient times, made from the most representative pastry made from green wheat. Pasta, potato, beans, dairy dishes and fat meat dishes (cottage cheese with sour cream, dried cheese) and fattened fowl and pork dishes are also prepared here. Such types of food were once cooked to provide the energy required for heavy work, although these days their preparation is considered too time consuming, and requiring too much effort. In these regions hot goulash (beef, venison), regos (several meats with pasta), fish paprika-flavoured stew (with various fish: carp, pike, sheat-fish, etc.) are typical. Smoked and dried pork ham, sausages, as well as kulen are also firm favourites, especially when served as a delicacy with cottage cheese, peppers, tomatoes and green onions or pickled vegetables (tursija).
The plum brandy made in this region is very smooth, and wines, such as Kutjevacka Grasevina and Kutjevo Chardonnay, the Rhine Riesling of Enjingi, and also the Grasevinas of Krautheker and Zdjelarevic, Ilok Thaminer, Pinot Blanc from Pajzos and Endent Riesling from Belje are greatly appreciated the world over. Wines from the wine cellars of the Djakovo diocese, famous for the production of wines used in liturgical services, are equally well known.