Tag Archives: Blueberry

Bitoraj – A Temple of Game Dishes

Entering the Fužine’s hotel Bitoraj gives you almost an impression of what’s on the menu. First greeting may well be with a stuffed bear and other forest wild animals that are traditionally part of the Gorski kotar cuisine. But very soon you will find out that you are in excellent hands of Mr Andrej Kauzlarić, a descendent of the long family tradition in running this hotel and restaurant, that was opened in 1933 as the tourist house Neda.

This historical site is totally refurbished in 2007 and in its new glory welcomes tourists from all over the globe. It has 18 double rooms, special Aphrodite’s room, and all the necessities needed in a four-star hotel. But the hotel is far more famous for its offer of the autochthonic meals of Gorski kotar, often followed by live music (Andrej plays as well). Its cuisine? Well, in one word: amazing!

Nothing of meals we’ve tried – and we did try a lot – came from a shop. Every single thing in this restaurant is carefully chosen, mostly bought from the local producers in this Croatian mountain region or the interior. This includes drinks as well, and the first surprising taste was of brinjevac, a brandy made from juniper, also known in Croatia as šmrika, klek, or borovica. Used as a folk medicine, this herby brandy contains 60% alcohol! A solid aperitif evokes ideas of friendly gathering in some mountain hut in the vicinity; one bottle would do the trick! Almost all other hard drinks come from the Fužine’s neighbour Vid Arbanas, whose brandies and liqueurs rest upon the generational knowledge of making drinks from the nature.

In order to show us what kind of small bites are possible in Bitoraj, Mr Kauzlarić welcomed us with Highlander’s plate, consisting of deer prosciutto, boar salami, homemade pancetta, deep-fried frog legs, oyster mushrooms filled with prosciutto and cheese, and four kinds of škripavac cheese. Flavours abound on this forest menu, showing the basis of fine dining in the Gorski kotar region. Prosciutto and salami are dark, rich in taste and a bit spicy, as one would expect from the game. If eaten alone, be sure to drink a lot of water – or beer.

Yes, beer. No, it is not a crazy idea and gastronomic horror of combining prosciutto with beer, as the heavy food was traditionally eaten with beer. The owners are very careful of having draft beer in house, and recall of brewery working across the street. Memories of the old times didn’t break our solid will to continue our lunch with Agrolaguna and Palinkaš wines. And if you think beer is not a good option – you are always left with brinjevac!

Most foreigners would be surprised with frog legs. Both in Lokve and in Fužine, this was a traditional dish for locals, as the edible frogs abound in the area full of water. Once someone told me that all amphibians and crocodiles taste like chicken. Frogs are not an exception, but still it can have a distinctive watery flavour in the background. And you can always be a hero when you come home as you’ve eaten a frog without kissing it!

Personal choice for the best thing on the plate is cheese. Škripavac is well known cheese of Croatian mountain regions of Gorski kotar and Lika, and its name stems from the sound it makes when biting it. The cheese served in Bitoraj comes from Josipdol’s excellent cheese dairy farm Miščević and it comes in four varieties: plain, with homemade herbs, with peppers, and deep-fried. It is absolutely amazing how solid it remains when deep-fried, which is due to its instant shocking on -50 degrees. When prepared, the cheese is put frozen on the hot oil. Tremendously good and very milky.

Fužine is a place where continental and maritime climate collide. The result is much rain, winds from all sides of the world, but also a tasteful combination of influences on the table. We were presented with Highland risotto and Mushroom pasta. The highland risotto is made with deer prosciutto and apple, a great combination and meaty-sour blend, a solid choice for warm appetizer if you like strong tastes. The mushroom pasta is simple token of woodlands in combination with classic Istrian fuži pasta.

Another appetizer was frog legs’ brodetto, with polenta and pumpkin seed oil. Mild brodetto gives plenty of taste to frogs; indeed, more restaurants serving frog legs should keep in mind there is a lot more to the deep-fried frog legs. And while the frogs are really good, the pumpkin seed oil gives a finishing touch. In combination with polenta it is a rare example of using this oil in near-coastal area of Croatia. Pumpkins are more continental brand, starting from Vrbovsko, also in Gorski kotar, but without much influence in the traditional foods. Thus, bravo for the idea!

A refreshing retreat was two kinds of soup: an ordinary mushroom soup (always replenishing and hearty) and horseradish soup. Horseradish is popular sidedish, either fresh or as a sauce. But to make a soup from it? The taste is far from your imagination. It is a bit spicy but very refreshing and calls for more.

If you think we’ve done most of the work in Bitoraj, you are heading to a surprise, just as we did. Grand main meal consisted of three signature dishes of this restaurant, and no wonder Bitoraj is on the list of 100 best Croatian restaurants for the 20th time! It might be difficult to choose where to start from these main dishes, but maybe the Highlander’s lunch is typical of the area.

It is the most traditional and most sold dish in Bitoraj, consisting of pork ribs, homemade sausage, baked pancetta, sauerkraut, and potatoes. A fatty bomb for more colder days was a normal diet for many decades now, showing a tremendous need for energy in an area known for harsh winters and rather short summers. There’s no particular suggestion for this meal, only be hungry enough to eat lavishly. And do you remember that beer we’ve mentioned in the beginning?

Then came baby boar, baked under the iron lid with potatoes. Soft and salty, it melts in mouth. Baked piglet is a standard offer of the house and excellent choice for anyone into the glorious cousin of our domesticated pig. They weigh some 10 kilos and can be found in continental Croatia, feeding in a special hunting areas where they feed with quality foods from the nature. The fact that piglets are not at all scared of human is their death-warrant: they are simply taken by hands and later prepared for the juicy and tasty meal. Don’t be shocked, that’s circle of nature!

And what would a highlander’s menu be without a bear? All praise should go to chef for making such soft bear steaks, with cranberries and deep-fried dumplings. Even for Croats, bear is not an everyday dish nor can be eaten in every region of Croatia. Mr Kauzlarić testifies his hard work in preparing bear meat, with constant controls of quality, but is too humble to admit it takes a real knowledge to master the hard and dark bear meat. Those who succeed can proudly be called a temple of the game dishes. And Bitoraj is exactly that!

Yes, we did have a dessert. It wasn’t a surprise any more that we had three kinds of berry strudels and gigantic kremšnita cakes. Blueberry strudel is so typical for Gorski kotar that Mr Kauzlarić tends to protect it as an industrial heritage. Local producers of forest berries, such as family homestead Borovnica, contribute to the widely shared recipe for this most beloved highlanders’ dessert.

Unavoidable point for every true gourmet lover, with dedicated staff and very kind owners, in a picturesque environment and pleasant climate, Bitoraj is pure happiness, fine dining, and homemade cuisine turned into a masterpiece. We toast a glass of brinjevac to that!

Hotel Bitoraj
Sveti križ 1, 51322 Fužine
Phone: 0038551835019, 0038551830005
E-mail: info@bitoraj.hr
Web: www.bitoraj.hr

 

Bear Steak in Bijela Ruža

Since 1968 the owners of Bijela Ruža (White Rose) have been preparing venison, mushrooms, and forest fruits, among other gastronomy offer. This long tradition is a symbol of good quality, not only in the restaurant itself, but in its accommodation and mountain hut.

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(Photo by Bijela Ruža)

We enjoyed the hospitality of Mr Romeo Marević, who welcomed us although he had two full buses of people arriving unexpectedly to his restaurant! After some introduction, we were first customers to get the lunch. On plate we had a mountain region’s classic: bear steak in blueberry sauce and homemade dumplings.

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Bear is nowadays often on the highland’s menus in Croatia. Still, it is almost a masterpiece to make a good bear steak. Mostly you will find bear stew, as it is easier to soften the wild meat. To have a soft bear steak full of flavour is worth of praising. And the one we had in Bijela ruža was just like that.

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The bear steaks are left in mix of carrots, garlic, onions, and spices from five up to ten days, to soften the meat as much as possible. What distinguishes the steak we tried is the sauce. It is made in rich and sweet blueberry sauce, with distinctive dark red colour, aroma of sweet venison, and with mild and soft flavour of bear meat.

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(Photo by Bijela ruža)

Additionally, homemade dumplings fit excellent with bear meat and sweet sauce. They are made according to an old recipe, using old bread. It is made with eggs, and pieces of bacon are added. Thus, it has a strong flavour of bacon inside. It helps greatly with the main dish, as the sauce may be a bit too sweet for some people.

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But sweet tooth should not despair. Famous highland blueberry strudel is a must for anyone seeking to finish the lunch in ordinary manner! Sweet and sour taste of this cake is legendary and many people come to Gorski kotar just to taste it.

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(Photo by Bijela Ruža)

Apart from bear steak, there is also venison steak and schnitzel, wild boar steak, and deer steak. They come in various sauces, mostly blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, or mushroom sauce. For true hunting experience, one should try venison, bear and wild boar salami and prosciutto. Mushroom dishes abound, and especially interesting is wild mushroom stew, as well as some other mushroom ideas.

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(The Mountain House, photo by: Bijela Ruža)

If you feel tired, Bijela ruža offers accommodation in the house, but more spectacular things are about to happen. New glass roof will be added to the swimming pool – who would resist to bath under the snow falling above your head?!

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(Owner Mr Romeo Marević)

Bijela ruža (White Rose)
I.G. Kovacica 16, 51314 Ravna Gora, Croatia
Telephone: +385 (0)51 818 444
Fax: +385 (0)51 819 030
Mobile: +385 (0)98 442 358
E-mail: bijelaruza@hi.t-com.hr
http://www.bijela-ruza.hr

Photos by: Dino Džepina

The Woods: Game Stew in Carov most

Lokve is surrounded by evergreen forests, among which cultivated Park-Forest Golubinjak is most famous one. Large green mountain meadow is surrounded by evergreen trees, rising high above the white rocks. Since 1955 this is environmentally protected area. Today it is famous for barbecue afternoons, sport playground, and hiking paths.

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Another hiking path takes route along the Lokvarsko Lake, and far beyond Lokve, to the old stone bridge that was once part of the Louisiana Road. The bridge is named after its architect Mr Car, so it is Carov Bridge (Carov Most). For years here was a popular pub that sadly did not serve any food. Now a new owner reopened the Carov Most buffet, making it instantly a very interesting spot in the Gorski Kotar area.

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The idea of new owners is great – focus is given to the local traditional specialties, virtually everyday grandma meals. This usually includes sausages and sauerkraut, potato halves with bacon, and particularly the wild game stew with homemade gnocchi. And to be sure in its value, we tried the stew, while overlooking stunning scenery of lake and the mountains behind, giving us almost an Alpine feeling.

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The pure scent of wild came to our table and the taste was divine. Homemade-style soft gnocchi is basis for excellently spiced soft meat. As the wild game stew should be just a little bit spicy, many restaurants overspice it, which was not the case here. A bit of real Parmesan cheese on top and this stew might beat the very famous ones in other Croatian regions.

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While we wait for our meal, we discover the interior of the restaurants, showing characteristic pictures from this region, primarily forest workers, but also pointing to the capital fishes from the Lokvarsko Lake. We are sitting with the owners, while fresh mountain air brings relaxation in hot summer months. A bit of wine and conversation can last for hours.

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To replenish it, we decided to end our day in Lokve here, with pancakes. This is another highlight of the day and of Carov most. Usual pancakes with fresh blueberry top are much better when the pancakes are filled with cheese and baked before adding blueberries.

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We are told that people are coming from afar for these pancakes, and we truly know why. We hope this restaurant will succeed brilliantly among locals as well as among visitors from other regions and from abroad.

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Buffet Carov Most
Mrzla Vodica 46, Lokve
+385 51 877 878
https://www.facebook.com/Carov-Most-668327356521375/?fref=nf

Forest berries

In late spring, forests and hills of Gorski kotar suddenly burst in life. Green colour of the trees is mixed with various flowers and natural-grown fruits and roots. Birds are singing, sun is shining, and everything what we dream of the mountains comes alive.

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In Gorski kotar this is the announcement for the arrival of sweet fruits in forests. Various berries have always been part of the Gorski kotar nutrition. And when we say „always“, we really mean since people lived here. Food historians know that the berries have been valuable as a food source since before the start of agriculture, and remain among the primary food resources of other primates. Hunter-gatherers were gathering wild berries in Europe for thousands of years. And they knew why! Berries have been shown to be some of the healthiest foods on the planet, extremely rich in antioxidants.

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We, of course, did not know this, but still on our hiking trips we regularly picked all the berries visible, even the ones dried out on the summer sun. In doing this, we unintentionally did the same thing our forefathers did for centuries.

Gorski kotar is famous for its blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, used often in strudels and other desserts, but also for making of various sweet liquers. In more recent times, cranberries are added to the list. Except of the cranberry juice, which is excellent way to survive summer heat, cranberries found their way to the Gorski kotar table as a basis of sauce added to game dishes. Except of bear steaks with cranberry sauce and gnocchi, stuffed roe loin is also made with cranberries. But if you are vegetarian, don’t worry. Fruits of the Mountains is in fact meat-free event, if you desire it.

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In the morning, berry jams are unavoidable part of Gorski kotar breakfast. Preserved throughout the year, it was a source of natural sugar in the most demanding months. Most lunches and dinners in Gorski kotar will finish with a nice, homemade forest berries strudel, as we have done it in numerous occasions in various taverns all over Gorski kotar. It is a signature dessert of mountain regions and it is indeed difficult to find anyone resisting its sweet-and-sour taste.

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Crisp pastry is filled with beautiful berries and baked, often with only a sprinkled sugar on top, as the berries themselves are sweet enough. Usually, in Gorski kotar restaurants and inns you will find blueberry strudel or mixed fruit, but in its prime time raspberry strudel is amazing. As a rule, all berries are offered in their time of the year, although blueberries can be found in any season.

And if you think strong rakija is specialty of Gorski kotar, think again. Blueberry liquer is very famous all over Croatia, but its origins are exactly here, in the hilly regions between continental and Adriatic Croatia.

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During the summer, Gorski kotar features several berries festivals, Day of Strawberries in Fužine; Day of Raspberries in Skrad, and Day of Blueberries in Ravna Gora. And here are some of the producers who make excellent products with berries:

Highland Blueberry – Goranska Borovnica

Angelina Liqueurs

Matković Blueberry Homestead

 

Highland Blueberry – Goranska Borovnica

The Kozlica Family from Belo Selo near Fužine grow fruits. It may be simply said, but in area of Gorski kotar, to grow anything, means hard work in quite a difficult mountain surroundings. Additionally, everything is fresh, and the family produces it under the motto: Fresh Sales!

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Why is that? On offer is only the fruit that preserves the best taste and aroma. Climate here makes high quality fruit, and Obrt Borovnica is famous for its raspberries, currants, blueberries, elder, mint, strawberries, and other fruits and herbs.

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But don’t think fruit production is everything in Belo Selo. It is a real agritourism, with specific offer that may encourage many to visit. Within the homestead is an Educative Mountain Garden Karolina. The garden is rich with grown and self grown plants.

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Here you can find alpine flowers, medicinally mountain flora, forest fruits. It is envisaged as a rural learning about the tradition of gardening in Gorski kotar. The garden is thematically based, arranged for small and bigger groups of visitors, for playing, relaxing, and surrounded by mountain creeks.

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While staying here you can look and buy wooden and ceramic traditional decorations, homemade teas, soaps, candles, postcards. Most interesting souvenir to bring with you may be Fužine basket, a mix of mountain fruits from the homestead. Besides, you may be well interested for jams, syrups and liqueurs made from these fruits.

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And if you feel more than visiting, you may stay in a nice apartment, within the homestead itself, ideal place for relaxation in mountain nature, only 30km away from the seaside and 3km from Fužine centre. Catering five persons, it has all the utensils necessary, and your hosts will welcome you with fruits and blackberry wine.

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Obrt Borovnica
Belo selo, Fužine 51322
+385 91 5124712
pero.kozlica@ri.t-com.hr
http://www.goranska-borovnica.com
https://www.facebook.com/Planinski-vrt-Karoline-310944462262643

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Photos by: Goranska Borovnica