Eating in Zagreb
In addition to its outstanding local beer scene, the food in Zagreb - and all of Croatia, for that matter - is absolutely outstanding. So much so that, we’d be remiss to not write a post dedicated to eating in Zagreb.
Konoba Didov San for Traditional Croatian Deliciousness
If you’ve been to Greece, you’ve likely eaten in a taverna. In Italy, the trattoria takes center stage. In Croatia, the konoba serves as the heart of local cuisine.
Loosely translated as “tavern,” Croatian konobas are typically smaller, family-run spots serving up a menu of traditional fare sourced from nearby areas. In other words, these are the places to go to eat, drink, and generally act like a local. Put in even different terms, if you want to warm your soul, grab a table at a konoba - you’ll leave stuffed, probably a little drunk, and feeling like you’ve been welcomed into someone’s home.
While konobas dot little towns throughout Croatia, Zagreb - as the capital and a major city - has countless other types of restaurants and cuisines to try. So, if you want a true konoba experience in this city environment, you have to look for it. Talking with some locals, we were pointed to Konoba Didov San - “grandpa’s dream.”
What a recommendation.
Tucked on a quiet, curving street in the Kaptol neighborhood just north of Zagreb’s Upper Town, Didov San looks like a rustic tavern was picked up in the countryside and dropped off in the city. Inside, wood darkened with age and small windows limiting natural light seem to make you feel, just, cozy. Outside, a few tables under an awning sit adjacent to a local pub’s front patio, with old-timers drinking beers, smoking cigarettes, and watching football.
Seated at one of these outdoor tables, we dove into another great feature of the konoba - carafes of table wine. From a cost-to-taste-to-volume ratio, you just can’t beat ordering one (or several) of these carafes - just silly not to with how delicious the local wine is.
From a food perspective, konoba menus lack the Cheesecake-Factory-esque, absolutely overwhelming number of choices. With no frills, you pick some meats, some vegetables, and some cheese - plus a hearty serving of fresh-baked bread. Or, if you’re like us and want to try a little of everything, you go with the Didov San platter - a heaping sampling of everything.
Easy to order, harder to finish…
What we discovered at Didov San and experienced for the remainder of our time in Croatia, when you order a platter of traditional deliciousness at one of these konobas, you can bank on heating up leftovers the next day!
Cherry Brandy - on the House…
Didov San also introduced us to another amazing Croatian tradition, albeit one we - quite naively - didn’t immediately recognize as a tradition.
After quite literally loosening our belts and asking for a to-go box, our waiter brought out two tall shot glasses of a deep red drink.
“Enjoy some of our cherry brandy - on the house!”
Our interpretation: Oh man, they must’ve really appreciated some foreigners swinging by after pandemic-related travel bans. Reality: Croatian tradition calls for giving guests a glass of this delicious cherry brandy after meals, something we’d come to realize during the rest of our time exploring the country.
So no, we weren’t special - we did love the cherry brandy, though!
Related to delightful beverages, it’s worth mentioning another. While tasty, this ubiquitous cherry brandy is a sweeter liqueur. If you’re looking for more of a proper, clean-the-engine-block-type liquor, you need to sample the local slivovica. A plum-based spirit, this absolute rocket fuel warms you up from the inside out - great to sip on after a massive Croatian meal!
Cevapi - the Ultimate Comfort Food
With Bosnia and Herzegovina sitting just south of Croatia, Bosnian foods have become an indelible part of Zagreb’s culinary landscape. In particular, the unbelievably flavorful Bosnian minced-meat sausages, cevapi (or cevapcici), are not to be missed.
Considered a national dish of Croatia’s southern neighbor, Chipp first learned about cevapi from a close Bosnian friend before a prior trip to Sarajevo. When foreigners visit Buffalo, they have to try wings. When foreigners visit the Balkans, they absolutely have to seek out a Bosnian joint for some cevapi!
Normally made from a blend of minced lamb, beef, and pork - with a healthy dose of paprika mixed in - cevapi are shaped into sausages and grilled, leading to a crisp outside with a soft and juicy inside. And, with each one being relatively small, most places offer orders of five, ten, or fifteen.
Regardless how many you want to try, your cevapi will be served on top of a piping-hot piece of Bosnian flat bread, the fluffy interior of which delightfully soaks up the meat juices. On the side, a scoop of raw, diced onions perfectly complements both the savory meat flavors and softer textures.
If you’re A) hungover, B) ready for a night out, or C) just looking for delicious comfort food, you can’t go wrong with cevapi. And, depending on your mood, you can pick up a to-go cevapi sandwich from a food truck, or opt for a sit-down-style cevapi experience.
For the latter, locals recommended Sofra, a highlight of Bosnian cuisine in Zagreb. Occupying the first floor of an apartment building southeast of Zagreb’s lower town, Sofra offers an incredible menu of Bosnian food in a more formal setting.
During a long walk through Zagreb, we set Sofra as our ultimate destination. Great choice. Between the cevapi, spinach- and cheese-filled burek pastries, roasted potatoes, baklava, and hearty Bosnian beers, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to refill the tank!