Tag Archives: Frogs

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

 

Frog Tale from Lokve

While travelling in Lokve, you might see everywhere signs of small frogs. They are on park benches, on houses, tourist office documents. And in the very centre of this place stands a Frog Museum. This fascination with frogs is not only from tales, but is rooted in the tradition of this highland place. In not so distant past, almost every inhabitant of Lokve knew how to catch frogs in the nearby creeks and lakes, where the fertile ground made bogs.

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There are different varieties of frogs in Croatia, but they all share the need for still water, where they can easily find food and make offspring. Once there were so many frogs in Lokve, it was common to have in spring afternoons and evening a real frog orchestra. It is a long tradition in this place to hunt young frogs in spring. Frog legs are regarded still as a specialty in this region.

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The people were poor and they were hunting frogs to replenish their diet. Excellent taste of frog legs became a real treat and it was incorporated as an offer for the first tourists in Gorski kotar. Already in the 19th century did wealthy foreigners arrive in the summer resorts and spas in the northern Adriatic. Nowadays, frogs are endangered and protected.

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The old way of hunting frogs is now memorise only by a bit older generation. In warmer March nights, especially after the rain, people gathered with a lamp lit by a calcium-carbon, and went to the creeks and still lake bays. The technique was of greatest importance, as every stone was turn over and frogs should be cached immediately. They were put in a bag and in one night between 200 and 300 frogs could be in the bag. The legs were instantly cut, and the frog eggs were thrown back to the water, for regeneration.

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Because no one else was eating frogs, other Croats laughed at Lokve inhabitants. In 1970ies however, frogs became the signature dish and the symbol of Lokve, with a unique manifestation “Frog Night”, where the frogs have jumping competition. In Croatia one can find European tree frog (gatalinka), common toad (krastača), moor frog and European green toad. Of these, only Moor Frog can be eaten, i.e. only the legs of this frog are edible. Usually, the frog legs are deep fried, rolled in flour and scrambled eggs. It is baked for some 20 minutes and served warm, best with tartar sauce and fried mushrooms.

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The Frog Museum itself is probably one of the most innovative museums in Croatia. It is rather small and has no vivarium with live frogs, but brings knowledge about the complete life of a frog. The museum is opened in 2006 and consists of private collection of frog figures. Some 3500 of them are featured, and the long-term ambition is to collect over ten thousand figures and enter the Guinness Book of Records. The museum has an educative program for children and organise the Frog Night Competition.

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Frogs Museum (Muzej žaba)
Golubinjak 1, Lokve
00385 99 305 5077, 00385 51 831 099
antivas10@gmail.com

Cetina – glorious river and its gifts

Carved into fertile fields to which she gave their fruitfulness and winding through the cliffs; river Cetina radiates some special energy. As a backbone of life throughout the years and centuries she is still faithful to her people, she is always there. Cetina is nourishing, cleansing and refreshing with her clear and pure water.

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River Cetina is a stream in karst, she is attracting a lot more water than it is brought to her by the area rainfall. She is also fed by underground waters from a wide area. Rich beauties of her stream and the force of collected waters are coursing like a jugular vein of Cetina province to which she gave her name. In Trilj region she will show her best, as she is attracting at this point her most beautiful tributaries; rivers Ruda and Grab which both have carved in stone their particular appearance.

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All that a river gives, Cetina is giving more; she is history of a nation and a live witness to life tracking back to prehistoric times. Current as always, this pearl of beauty and love of this region and its people; will give you back your lost time, and give your faith in life a whole new meaning.

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It is no wonder then that Cetina brings so many freshwater food on Trilj table. The river is rich with trout, carp, pike, and chub. Trout from here is so famous, it has its own festival and a competition in making the best trout in Cetina region. But most gastro travellers come here for much unusual food such as frogs, snails, eels, and crabs. It is true wonder how this small karst river offers so diverse and rich culinary tradition, only 30 km away from the nearest sea.

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Once, an airplane carried Cetina frogs, snails, and crabs to the finest Paris restaurants. Today, it might not be the same, but still you can find frog-and-eel stew, fried frogs, crab risotto, grilled snails. Frogs are indeed iconic for Trilj gastronomy, prepared mostly grilled wrapped in prosciutto. Another famous way is frogs on red brudet with tomatoes, or white brudet with potatoes. Many restaurants will offer frog risotto, often in combination with crabs.

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Special feeling exists on the shores of small river Grab. Continuing downstream, water calmly glistens in the sun and runs from pool to a pool forming the accumulation potency that will power very old mills all along her course. Strength and appeal of this place made life here quite an adventure, 600 years ago people built old mills that grinded and grinded never stopping

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Old mills of Grab became a destination for many from a widespread area, they came to grind wheat and to enjoy the beauty of this rarely found landscape. Five old mills threaded along winding little river of Grab have remained to this day in their original form and are still regularly put to use; because grinding grain with them is a sure bet for a delicious meal.Running through the mills, Grab continues on its paved way fondling the rocks and cuddling the vegetation. As if unspoiled beauty is speaking in some unknown language to the old mills, and if you wish to hear the tongue of nature and man which we have forgotten, but is in all of us; Grab is here.

This is place where famous restaurant “Naše malo misto” (Our small place) stands from 1970. It is a restaurant with tradition, with specific Grab soul entrenched in peace and quiet, in stress-free environment. The cuisine here is heavenly and so typical of the old times. First frog brudet was made here according to the old recipe, together with old style Grab bread, based on the centuries-old Grab mills.

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Five mills are still preserved in Grab in their original shape and form. Old stories connected to this old mill enchants everyone, especially when you realise the food connection between the past and today’s palate. The restaurant offers traditional Cetina cuisine, and is famous for its frog brudet, fried frogs, and frogs with prosciutto, carp, trout, and crabs, but those seeking more meaty adventures will not be disappointed.

Naše malo misto
21242 Grab
Tel: +385(0)21 828 259
Web: www.facebook.com/nase.malomisto
nasemalomisto.com.hr/