By Grace Williamson
Sitting outside Carpe Diem Caffe Bar, Peter pulls a pinch of fresh tobacco from his wallet and rolled a cigarette with a finesse that can only come from years of practice. “America is so aggressive. Croatia is slow—leisure,” he explains. To every extent, the people of this city know the importance of appreciating each moment, and it shows in the perpetuation of tradition in daily life. The culture of Zagreb (the capital of Croatia) lives and breathes, existing outside the realm of an individual tourist, so where does one begin to submerge herself into the local culture? There is a need for guidance in the tourist experience—a beacon of light to lead newcomers towards that which is authentically Croatian. Purgers (people from Zagreb) have incorporated a variety of traditional tokens that live on today, but to those who are visitors experiencing Croatian culture, these tokens and the people who give them life are overlooked. These tokens include the famous umbrella raincoats, wine, olive oil, neckties, and cheese.
1. Cerovečki is tucked inside a hallway on Ilica street. Umbrellas cover one wall and bags line the other, but immediate attention is called to the admirable man behind the counter, who takes careful attention with each customer. Tomislav Cerovečki (owner) opens and closes umbrellas for each of the inquisitive strangers in his store looking for a way to stay dry in the rainy season. Displayed in the store window are the famous red parasol raincoats, a one hundred and twenty-year- old trend that, according to Cerovečki, “is the symbol of Zagreb.” A young designer,Ana Rimac, created the Kapijla (meaning “a drop”) coat, inspired by a modern design. Made of the same material as an umbrella, the water resistant fabric has appealed to Croatians for years, and, therefore, makes the perfect souvenir.
(Ilica 49; http://www.kisobrani-cerovecki.hr/ )
2. Gligora sits in the underground portion of Dolac market, just beneath the upper plateau overlaid with the famous red umbrellas. Following a row of white trucks parked outside the entrance, a sloping entryway leads to the heart of the meat, cheese and bread market below. The air is saturated with warm chatter of vendors as they talk with customers, answering questions about the merchandise they have worked hard to produce. Taking a right after entering, expect to see a deep red sign printed with the yellow letters of Gligora: a name which has given Zagreb locals exquisite cheeses for four generations. The Gligora family is from the Isle of Pag, where their dairy remains operating today. Their famous brand of cheese, Paški Sir, has earned an award-winning reputation among Croats, but they also offer cheeses from cow milk and Dalamatian goat milk. On a normal day, Silvija Obradović mans the glass case packed with the Gligora family’s handiwork in Dolac market, and she works swiftly as a line of customers requests her attention. People ask her preference and point to their choices. Obradović adds, “I like when it is older, because it is stronger.” One may say such is true of cheese, as well as a family-owned business.
3. Peša olive oil is showcased under the shade of a red umbrella in Dolac market. Walking along the outer edge of long wooden tables stacked high with jars of fresh jams, honey and colorful produce, stop at the stand where a tall, blue-eyed, young man with a warm smile waits. Mateo Peša is the current owner of his family’s business, which has been the trade of his family for a hundred years. Peša produces an extra virgin olive oil from the Oblica olive, “on compress with no preparation, just pressing,” he says. The taste of the extra virgin oil is known for having a rich sweetness, as compared to a more bitter regular olive oil.
4. Croata’s chic exterior wraps around a corner just inside a passageway on Ilica street. Dark wood frames the door and long glass windows reveal a beautiful assortment of their infamous neckties. The tradition of Croatian neckties dates back to the Thirty Years’ War (lasting from 1618 to 1648), when Croats in the Croatian Light Calvary donned bright scarves. This trend spread all the way to Paris and remains popular today. The current manager, Andeja Leinich Tutić, loves the perpetuation of the necktie style because, she says, “I like to see men with a tie—someone you can trust.” She laughs and gestures toward her handsome colleague in affirmation.
(Ilica 5; http://www.croata.hr/ )
5. Bornstein’s front door opens to reveal a set of wooden stairs descending into a hidden haven just beneath the surface of Kaptol street, where wine bottles of every variety line the stairs and the walls, immediately telling the customer their selection is seemingly endless. Exposed brick pillars support a low ceiling, creating the comfortable ambiance that puts guests at ease. Ivan Srpek (owner) answers his busy phone with enthusiasm and kindness each time, as if everyone is a friend. Upon walking in, expect to be greeted warmly and offered a seat and a glass of wine. He has created an environment in which local wine producers can showcase their product in an intimate setting without exploiting the quality of their wine. Srpek went into elaborate detail about one of his personal favorite local Croatian wines made by the Šember family, who is known for their sparkling white wine. Srpek says of the current owner of Šember, “took over from his father; he is the fourth generation.” They produce ten to eleven thousand bottles of sparkling wine a year now, where they used to produce just two to three thousand. Bornstein serves a smorgasbord of wines, and Šember is just one of the local brands they carry. The Bornstein staff exists to help customers in pairing and picking wines, making the experience nothing short of spectacular.
(Kaptol 19; http://www.bornstein.hr/ )
Immersion into Zagreb culture is not complete without experiencing the people who create and share quality, authentic products. Behind the rich culture of the city are those who have long established a sense of leisure and presence in each passing moment; the best way to experience this is by shopping local.