Zagreb is principally the crossroads of all Croatian regional cuisines and is often the choice of the best of all of them. This is visible at Zagreb’s 13 large and 10 smaller marketplaces and above all the central one, which is called Dolac. It is perfectly located on an elevation, just a few steps from the city’s central square, Ban Jelačić Square, closer to the cathedral.
In every respect Dolac is the typical Croatian marketplace. Dolac’s vitality is older than it is. As early as the 19th century there was a lively discussion, even a frequent bitter row about where the people of Zagreb would erect the main city marketplace, what it would look like, who would build it, maintain it, and who would use it. People had traded in Zagreb in the open for centuries, alongside strict regulations. Records from 1425, more precise than nowadays, dictated and regulated the trading of fresh fish. Merciless inspectors would cut off the tails of fish that were left exposed and unsold for too long and in that way turn them into second class goods.
In the history of Dolac, from the first initiative for building a central marketplace to its final opening in 1930, a tense scandalous chronicle, which luckily ended happily, could have been written. Today the above and below ground parts over two levels are smoothly, clearly and logically organised. What Dolac offers is above all regional seasonally produced food. What is most interesting in this rich selection is the food produced by small farmers and family households. Although economic logic says that small producers should stick together in order to survive the incursions of cheap goods from global markets, gastronomic logic says that small producers are a fantastic incentive for quality and particularly high cuisine. The goods at Dolac are sometimes more expensive than at other Croatian markets, however, this is logical: local producers who in Zagreb come to offer their most prized goods and boast about it, to the greater extent supply the regional markets.
Dolac is the daily meeting place of Zagreb’s cooking stars. The choosing of the best foodstuffs at the optimum moment of the season is the fundamental art of gastronomy, on which top cuisine throughout the world is based.
Chefs leave Dolac and go to their restaurants where they offer regional specialities, primarily Dalmatian, but also Istrian, Slavonian, those of Zagorje and Prigorje, the best of Lika and Gorski Kotar, as well as some from Croatian communities outside of Croatia, particularly Herzegovinian and some other regional, for example, Bosnian specialities. The fish in the Zagreb market is often just as fresh as in Dalmatian restaurants, the season of island lamb begins in Zagreb, the first autumnal white truffles are impatiently expected in Zagreb as in Istria, the selection of top kulen sausages regularly arrive at chosen Zagreb sites, whilst special gastronomic weeks are dedicated to oysters from Ston Bay and the Lim Channel when they are at the peak of the season, in spring, on St Joseph’s Day.
Zagreb also preserves its own authentic, so-called “purger” cuisine. It is an historical leftover of the Austro-Hungarian cultural legacy. Some German expressions, Austrian localisms, and even some Hungarian names are still used today. “Grenadir mars” (Grenadirmarsch, pasta with onions and potatoes) and “kajzeršmarn” (Kaiserschmarrn, a sweet pancake) occasionally appear on the menus of Zagreb restaurants that attempt to sail on nostalgic “purger” waves.