Street food in Zagreb? Heck, yes, but not in the sense you might expect. And definitely not in the sense of Asian or African street food.
If your taste buds are craving something Thai or Moroccan… something spicy, minty or lemony… well, Zagreb street food scene might come as a disappointment. But if you’re open to something less exotic – then you’re in for a nice treat.
In fact, Zagreb restauranteurs and foodie trend-setters are also blind to our simple street grub.
Why? Because we’ve never thought of roasted chestnuts or corn on a cob as street food. Not until we imported the concept of street food.
With the expression came the food festivals… burgers, pancakes and other fried things. We are now street food trendy.
But, fortunately, we’ve also kept our traditional gems. So, let’s talk about them.
Zagreb street food tradition
Did you know that Brussels made it on the top 10 list of world’s best street food cities with fries and waffles?
This makes me hopeful that the real street food of Zagreb will get picked up too.
So what is the real deal here? The type of food that the locals grab on their way to work… or as they stroll around with friends?
1| Corn on a cob
It hits the streets of Zagreb in late August and stays throughout September. Sweet corn is always eaten on a cob.
You can get it boiled or grilled from vendors on street corners. They’ll hand it to you wrapped in a piece of paper and off you go munch as you walk.
2| Roasted chestnuts
These sweet fruits are so emblematic of Autumn in Zagreb. They show up at the same time as that nip in the air, or the first morning fog.
It’s usually the same vendors on the same street corners. They’ll just swap corn for chestnuts.
Roast chestnuts warm up your fingers as you peel them and your soul as you feel them melt in your mouth.
We always associate roasted chestnuts with the All Saints’ Day. Going to the cemetery and eating chestnuts is a city ritual.
3| Burek or ćevapi at a market
Notice that every farmers’ market in Zagreb has a burek and a ćevapi joint. They are usually a whole in the wall type of eatery where you quickly fill up on your favourite comfort food.
It might be a bit difficult to eat ćevapi on the street. They could fall out of lepinja! It’s easier with burek. Just unwrap it and chow down as you walk. Or sit in a park.
4 | Bakery good
Croatia is famous for its baked goods. In fact, bakeries are probably the commonest eating places in the country. If you need a snack, just dive into a bakery.
Pick a sweet or a savoury bite… a strudel, cheese roll, bun or pie and go about your daily business. You can even take your bakery goodie bag into a cafe with you.
Real street food of Zagreb
Unlike street food festivals that come and go, our mainstays have all the elements of street food around the world.
1. They are simple and simply prepared.
2. Most are healthy – what can be healthier than fruit picked in a forest?
3. Cheap – you can get any of these for around 15 Kn (2 Euros) and they’ll make for a light meal.
4. Buying corn and chestnuts from street vendors supports local economy, helping people who are out of jobs to make a bit of money.
5. You can eat these traditional street delicacies while walking.
6. Doing what locals do makes for a wholesome experience of the city
Zagreb street food: what you should expect
Street food has a special economic value for a city. It creates jobs for food providers and offers less expensive meals to those who can’t afford restaurant prices. Historically, street food economy has supported the growth of many world’s largest cities.
Recently, world top chefs have tried their hand at street food. The main aim is to strip down a traditional delicacy from complex culinary techniques while using fresh high quality ingredients.
This is what happens at various pop up food festivals in Zagreb. Still, much of those delicacies are not really affordable. At least not compared to a simple corn on a cob.
Remember that street food originally developed as a way to feed poor people, some of whom didn’t even have a kitchen in their houses.
Food festivals in Zagreb are a great way to internationalise what’s on the city’s menu. But keep in mind that Zagreb doesn’t have large ethnic communities. And ethnic food served on the streets of large cities around the world is a reflection of their multicultural population.
No doubt that Zagreb is now up to speed with the global food trends. But the point is also to cherish what is local and authentic. Even if it’s never been called street food.
So get your fingers dirty as you peel off those hot velvety chestnuts! The season has just started.
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