A culinary tour through Croatia

BY JOHN BLANCHETTE Modified: August 27, 2012 at 11:22 am •  Published: August 27, 2012
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Thirty minutes from Zagreb was the medieval town of Samobor, where I sampled the Samoborska Kremsnita, a sinfully delicious local dessert. I also dined with Zlatko Puntijar, a restaurant and inn owner who is a compiler of traditional Croatian recipes, many re-created in the restaurant, and who has a collection of 6,000 cookbooks.

Traveling east I visited a number of boutique, medium- and large-size vineyards that were uniformly excellent. In Kutjevo I had lunch at Krauthaker vineyards and was served sarma, a stuffed cabbage in a broth with horseradish sauce, accompanied by an addictive fried bread. That evening I dined at the oldest wine cellar in Croatia, Kutjevo winery.

In Slavonski Brod I tasted the elegant wines of Cikulin vineyards, and in the lovely village house Sobe Tankic the family entertained us with traditional music while we dined on a feast of national dishes that included fish paprikash prepared with red peppers and wine.

Traveling east again through black-soiled fields, I headed for the wine road through the Baranja Hills and the largest vineyard in the area, Belje. I had lunch in the Belje cellar in Knezevi Vinogradi, built in 1526. Their wines are available in the United States at www.belje.hr.

In the nature park Kopacki Rit I had a traditional lunch at Kormoron and in the small village of Karanac visited "the street that time forgot" created by a local family. It is the Croatian version of Plymouth Plantation, with a series of homes designed and fitted as they would have been in past centuries. It was a raw day, and the family treated me to coffee and the traditional dessert, guzvara, a cheese Napoleon made with filo dough and feta.

In the little village of Zmajevac, which is home for migrating storks, I dined and drank in the old Josic wine cellar, which was converted into a restaurant and serenaded by a Croatian mariachi-style band that played familiar folk songs that locals joyously joined. Traditional folk music, dance, costumes and the hair preparations that accompany them are widely appreciated and practiced.

The town of Ilok, Croatia's eastern-most city, suffered quite a bit during the war. Nearby Varazdin was once the capital of Croatia, and next to Prague, its elegant Baroque central square is the most intact in Europe. Unfortunately the Baroque city of Vukovar was heavily damaged, and the scars are still visible. It lies along the Danube across from Serbia. The bombed-out water tower looms over the town as a reminder of war's toll, and a tour of the local cemetery is sobering with all the graves installed between 1991 and 1995.

WHEN YOU GO

In Zagreb I stayed at the Astoria Hotel, www.hotelastoria.hr, and the impressive Palace Hotel, www.palace.hr. In Slavonski Brod I stayed at the Art hotel, www.art-hotel.hr, which lies on the Sava river, the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Osijek, Hotel Osijek, www.hotelosijek.hr, a modern building along the banks of the Danube River.

The kuna is the currency in Croatia, about five to the dollar. The best exchange rates are found at the exchange offices, not the banks or hotels. Tipping is generally 5 percent to 10 percent for restaurants and taxis.

In Zagreb, Korcula restaurant serves some of the best seafood in the area. Also try Pod grickim topom restaurant next to the funicular. Republica is a stunning three-floor art deco restaurant and cafe off Ban Jelacic Square.

In Ilok wine restaurants included Stari Podrum cellar, in Vucedol Silas Goldschmidt and in Varazdin Verglec restaurant and Restoran Palatin. I enjoyed local cuisine at Zlatne Gorice, a country estate that overlooks the vineyards, and I sampled at Principovac Estate winery.

For information on Croatian wines see www.winesofcroatia.com, run by Cliff Rames, sommelier at the Plaza Hotel in New York and of Croatian descent. The Croatian National Tourist Board at www.us.croatia.hr or 212-279-8672 can provide maps, brochures and housing information.

John Blanchette is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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