Rain, they say, falls ever so often; scientists argue over whether we will experience global warming or an ice age, summers seem ever so brief. However, despite of it all and with our luck, the couriers of Zagreb’s autumn are always ‘the same old’, ordinary, charming, and impeccable, colourful, alluring. You can sense her smell in the air, because the smell of Zagreb’s autumn is, as they say in Zagreb, utterly delicious.
Dolac awakens all senses in the autumn. On Zagreb’s central open market, under the sunshades in the colours of the šestine umbrella an array of curiosities are compressed, even the kumice or godmothers awaken from the abundance. Some ingredients are special, authentic autumnal favourites of old Zagreb, such as young beans that will be eaten with a spoon, pumpkins that will be made into a dainty pumpkin and cream cheese strudel, chestnuts that will smell in the streets until the real winter comes, or porcini mushrooms which the hardworking mushroom pickers have sent down to the city from lofty Medvednica, hovering high above Zagreb. The same ingredients that are strutted on Dolac, are the same as those that smell oh-so delightful while being transformed in the city’s restaurants and Zagreb households where every day cooking has not been abandoned. To not peek into an old tavern or a modern restaurant which has modernised an old recipe to make it even better, would be a shame. Actually, there’s no real dilemma there, for when the Grički cannon announces with a bang that it is exactly noon, it is time for lunch! In addition, that fresh cheese and sour cream from the kumice on Dolac, was eaten long ago with a piece of corn bread whilst standing.
Autumn is the season that longs for, as it is so popularly said, food that is eaten with a spoon, food that fortifies but does not fall heavily on the stomach. Autumn is ideal for hundreds of types of vegetable stews, for a plate of young beans in which meat is optional, and which can and does not have to be adorned with a pork sausage, for sour pork lungs, for tripe in which men, more frequently than women, look for comfort with a spoon. Tripe, that lunch-classic, such as let us say wine goulash or gentle egg noodles with cabbage that reminds us of childhood. A little bit of cabbage, a little bit of grandma’s noodles and there is happiness. And ham hock!? It is important not to be impressed by a large piece of pork meat that can be taken off the bone with one’s fingers. Autumn looks for invigoration of all sorts, and ham hock is even more than that.
Every bite from Zagreb’s gastronomical autumns reminds of home, wherever you may be from. To be, truly, for a moment, and then for evermore to remain, a real Purger or authentic Zagreb resident, it helps to buy a bag of hot chestnuts, and to pair it with Portugiser, a young wine. For Zagreb has its Beaujolais, its young wine, which is, why would it not be, maybe even better than that which the French have made famous.
Croatia had a singer named Oliver. In his repertoire is a song that lists tens of meals that can be made from eggs. When you once try Zagreb’s autumnal delicacies, it is easily possible that you will start to sing lyrics that list: ˝sour pork lung, vegetable stew, pork sausage, black pudding, young beans, egg noodles with cabbage, thin dried flatbread, cottage cheese pasty, wine goulash, ham hock, pumpkin pastry, porcini mushrooms…˝
Rain, they say, falls ever so often; scientists argue over whether we will experience global warming or an ice age, summers seem ever so brief. Luckily, Zagreb’s autumn is always ‘the same old’, ordinary, charming, overwhelming. Here she is, you can feel the smell in the air - utterly delicious!