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The commercial end of Croatian ice-cream culture has long been dominated by Ledo, the popular local brand that started in 1958 and has remained a central plank of peoples’ childhood memories ever since. The company’s white polar bear logo was one of the most recognizable brands in the former Yugoslavia, and is still fairly ubiquitous - if you’re buying ice cream from shops, or from stands in the streets, Lake Jarun or Maksimir Park, Ledo is what you are most likely to get. Ledo’s first ever product, Snjeguljica (Snow White), was a vanilla ice cream on a stick with a chocolate coated tip. It’s still one of their most popular products, although it has now been joined by an array of different cornets and lollies.
Zagreb is also full of patisseries (slastičarnice) which have a tradition of making their own ice cream – which means that a full range of artisanal ice cream (rather than just the mass-produced stuff) has been a fact of life in Croatia for decades. One of the most famous of these patisseries is Orijent (J-2, Maksimirska 34), which has been around since 1937, and is famed throughout the capital for the quality and invention of its cakes; the same degree of care and creativity goes into its ice cream. A well as straightforward vanilla, chocolate and fruit flavours they excel in coming up with their own inventions. Black Forest Gateau, Creme de Cassis and Fred & Ginger (a zingy orange and ginger confection) are just some of their regulars; the recently added Key Lime Pie features bits of meringue and biscuit as well as a refreshing dose of lime. Another family-run patisserie with a city-wide reputation, Vincek (C-2, Ilica 18) is another good source of own-recipe ice cream; the peanut-rich SnikiKikiriki and the house special Vincek (featuring walnuts, honey and wine) are two recipes that stand out. Vincek’s relatively new outlet Vis-à-vis, just below the Zagreb funicular station (B-2, ul. Tomićeva 2), offers organic, gluten-free ice cream in an equally imaginative range of flavours.
Slastičarnica Zagreb (C-2, ul. Masarykova 4) is another magnet for the sweet-toothed, with mainstream ice-cream flavours joined by local-ingredient specialities such as Elderflower (Bazga), with its distinctive flowery taste. The nearby b 041 (B-3, ul. Masarykova 25) offers the nearest thing you can get to Italian gelato in Zagreb, with a big choice of light, refreshing, predominantly fruity flavours. Another cult place for ice cream is Cukeraj tucked into a corner of Britanski trg, which has carved out a niche for itself in producing delicate combinations of natural ingredients - Elderflower with mint being one particularly successful example.
Arguably Croatia’s most cultish ice cream is Medenko, from the nearby town of Samobor, pioneers in the production of unusual-but-appropriate flavours who make a point of sourcing their ingredients from local family businesses. It was Medenko who first foisted betroot ice cream on an uncertain but ultimately converted public with their determination to come up with unusual blends which sound as if they shouldn’t really work but emphatically do – Earl Grey tea with dark chocolate, forest fruits with lavender, or our favourite, spinach with blueberry jam. A touch more expensive than the average cornet, Medenko ice cream comes in tubs and is sold at select outlets in Zagreb – the most central of which is Cogito Coffee (B-2) at Varšavska 11.