Dukat is tightly tied to the Slavonian soul. These are golden coins that people wear as a necklace, as part of the Slavonian folk costume. It is passed on though generations, making it one of the most valuable family heritages. Dukat is thus a name that preserves Slavonian culture and habits, and is regarded as very special. And when looking for a very classic and traditional Slavonian homemade cooking in Nova Gradiška, the Restaurant Dukat is prime spot.
Situated on the outskirts of the town, Dukat is beautifully styled as an old Slavonian interior. Wooden indoors welcomes the guests to an ideal family enterprise of rural gastronomy. The family Arić comes from nearby village of Gornji Crnogovci. Two brothers with their families travelled around and found their way to stay in Sava Valley and beautiful Slavonia. Their idea was to produce on their homestead, prepare in on the estate, and present it in their restaurant, which was once horse stable. And they have succeed marvellously!
Family cares for agriculture but also animals, especially the authentic Slavonian species of black swine (fajferica), Slavonian oxen (podolci), Posavac horses, deer, etc. Their products of traditional Slavonian cuisine are prepared according to the highest quality markers in the Nova Gradiška manufactory.
In the old household in Gornji Crnogovci the Arić brothers saw their dreams come true – they reconstructed the old home of their grandparents and made “Matin i Anin stan” (the home of Mate and Ana), a spectacular agritourism close to the Sava River. Orchards, agricultural buildings, and small lake are typical examples of traditional rural architecture in Slavonia, but the agritourism also offers two manifestations presented as heritage to this region, traditional Slavonian pig slaughtering (kolinje, svinjokolja) and traditional women games.
We have visited the restaurant itself to feel the essence of Slavonian hearty cooking and meaty products. With a sip of plum rakija, itself a valuable addition to the local gastronomy, we started the Slavonian gastronomic journey with care for history and originality. The best way to start is to have a plate of Slavonian favourites, homemade dried sausage kulin, sausages, bacon, greaves, cheese, and hot peppers.
Main dish is as meaty as it gets. Smoked pork chops, stuffed pork loin, filled turkey steak and an imaginative array of chicken dishes (chicken fillet in seed crust gives precedence to the pumpkin, sesame, and flax seeds; chicken fillet in ham sauce accentuates homemade ham, while Šokadija is jolly combination of chicken, wine, peppers, mushrooms, and herbs) are included in the best ready meals.
Specialities are rather more interesting. Baked Bread Soup may be considered to be more Central Croatian thing, but it surely gives a local characteristic in Nova Gradiška. Veal baked in a traditional oven with a side dish or rolled veal or turkey made in same oven all bear innovative local names (Bećar, Lola, everything connected to the bohemian lifestyle in Slavonia).
If you order it a day or two before, you may enjoy here roast lamb and baked veal, or you may opt for excellent freshwater fish, especially carp or fish stew (fiš paprikaš). Hake is also present, thus giving a nice alternative to the meat. Unfortunately, given the local readiness to go to the restaurants not so much for the specialties but for the grill, this place serves grilled meat, pizza, and even calamari, which is a sad story repeated all over Croatia.
Because meat specialties are so prevalent, the best wine to go along would be traditionally good Graševina, of which Slavonia is famous and respected, but even more so with excellent Frankovka Ferinčanci which we tried with Bećarski steak. Indeed, the time of the Slavonian red wines has come. And Dukat makes it even better in the natural atmosphere of Slavonian home and hospitality, with an obligation to visit the agritourism as well.
When military border was dissolved in 1871 and the area of Nova Gradiška was adjoined to the rest of continental Croatia, economy drive was huge. The place becomes regional centre, with a railway link to Zagreb from 1888. Economy, culture, and society began to develop. Among the many small enterprises a special one included the grand brewery of nobleman Dragutin pl. Lobe. It was a first steam powered brewery in Croatia and, because of the seasonal production, its first beer was called Ožujsko (March Beer). Accidentally or not, Ožujsko is still one of the two favourite beers in Croatia, produced massively in Zagreb.
Some beer barrels still survive and we were lucky to find one in the Bošnjak family courtyard in village of Sičice, south of Nova Gradiška, near the Sava River. The family is known not only because of the barrel, but because of the homemade craft beer of highest quality, made according to the family recipe. Two brothers, Mario and Dario, run the family homestead, and their father Ivan greets us with a sip of beer brandy (rakija), excellent homemade drink with addition of juniper. The taste is excellent and surprisingly mild, while juniper gives freshness and specific aroma.
Mario comes soon after and takes us in the traditional interior of tasting room, where organised groups can come and enjoy perfect beer. The tradition of craft family brews is not big in Croatia, but the big production is. Still, some families did made beer, due to a simple geographic reason. Wine does not grow near Sava, but there was an abundance of water. Some hundred years ago, Bošnjak family dig a deep well which didn’t run dry even in the greatest droughts. The well was used for mills and for the making of beer. Next to the homemade dried meat and rakija, grand-grandma of today’s owners also made a murky beer, kept in the earthen jars. At the same time, the family made corn rakija, which brings the similar technological process of making beer, as both drinks are made from crops.
Today, the beer is not murky but light and non-filtered, kept in the modern barrels and refrigerators. Their hobby became a new business in 2008 and ever since the Bošnjak Beer makes its brand. Spreading to the full-scale tourist project, today Sičice are a destination for beer lovers and all those who would like to find out how water, barley malt, hops and yeast combine in a beautiful drink.
And indeed it is beautiful! We have tried the original Bošnjak lager. It has nice amber colour and is made according to the traditional Czech recipe in Bošnjak’s manufactory. It contains only water, four kinds of barley malt, three kinds of hops and yeast. Fresh and energizing, non-pasteurised nor filtered, this is light beer that can be used every day. If bottled, it retains freshness for nine months. Bošnjak also makes dark lager.
While we were talking about old times and new beers, Mario brings us some green fluid. It is beer, of course, but green?! The secret addition remains the secret, but the intensive green colour shows also remarkable innovations and marketing strategies of Bošnjaks: this beer is presented for the Saint Patrick Day. And although the cyclists on the bike routes through the Sava villages may drive a bit more jolly, Bošnjak place is for sure one of the must-do gastronomy spots in and around Nova Gradiška.
Bošnjak Brewery is part of the Posavka education road, a local idea of connecting gastronomy, history, archaeology, folklore, and folk heritage, giving an insight in the unique and authentic Posavina architecture, and offering river tourism, hunting, adventures, and cycling. This road of 30 kilometres, leads through the rich Slavonian woodlands and along the Sava River.
OPG Bošnjak Ivan
When one crosses the river Ilova and comes from the Central Croatia to Slavonia everything seems quite wide. On one side there are reach valleys of Sava River, while on the other low mountains dot the horizon. This is the region where Christianity defended itself in history from the Turkish invasions, and many people still regard themselves as border guards (graničari). First bigger city on the way is Nova Gradiška, a cosy town with specific Slavonian charm and beautiful natural surroundings.
Spending two days in Nova Gradiška was barely enough to learn all the potentialities of this micro-region, only 1,5 hours drive from the Croatian capital Zagreb on the Zagreb-Lipovac motorway and Zagreb-Vinkovci railway. There is lots of history here, lots of religious spots, but also beautiful Slavonian food, hearty and pleasing. And it comes with a wide Slavonian soul, of which this eastern Croatian region is especially proud of.
The city itself is rather new for Croatian standards, and is sometimes called the youngest Croatian city. It was founded in 1748 with support of Vojna Krajina, a special militarised cordon sanitaire that kept the border with the Ottoman Empire for centuries. In 1754 the first building made of bricks was made; it was the Church of Saint Theresa, the old court of law and the prison. Later, the Parochial Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary fulfilled the urban core of the town. These form today the city centre with the central park and square of King Tomislav. Unfortunately, the town was heavily destructed in the Homeland War in early nineties, although just a few areas still have the war scars.
The church of Saint Theresa is indeed an architectural jewel of Nova Gradiška and is known as the stone music. It gives a special significance to the town’s vistas but is excellently seen through the glass roof of the Tomislav Hotel’s cafe bar, which is settled just next door. The central park also hosts much larger parish church of Immaculate Conception, celebrated for the artistic masterpieces of Croatian religious painter Celestin Medović. The park also has Main Guard, the complex combining the old court and prison, with outside vaults. Park itself is French-style park with a central fountain.
The central walking area is the Ulica Slavonskih graničara – the Slavonian border guards’ street. It boasts secession-style buildings but also it is the best place to look at everyday life in the city and behaviour of its citizens. Just south of it is the Square of dr. Franjo Tuđman, Croatian first president, with several statues and monuments dedicated to the Croatian defenders and independence.
Every season brings new joys in Nova Gradiška, and given its surroundings and closeness to the capital, it is the great introduction to the southern Slavonia, land of bohemian people (known as bećar or lola), whose best representative may be famed Croatian poet Matija Antun Relković.
Nova Gradiška is also a very good place to savour excellent Slavonian foods. Specific cuisine of eastern Croatian region is heavily influenced by the Hungarian and Turkish cooking, and as such it is spicier than anywhere else in Croatia. Slavonians like to use paprika and garlic, and they are known for a table where cooking is plentiful, meals hearty and meaty, and always followed by excellent white wines such as Graševina and Traminac, and also red Frankovka.
Rich homemade dry meat products are among the most recognisable features in Nova Gradiška. This includes kulen (kulin), the paprika-flavoured sausage, often served with cottage cheese and pickles, and its sub-variation kulenova seka (literally Kulen’s sister) which is basically the same thing but with different shape and size. Every kind of sausages, but also cracklings and bacon are added to it. All of these you may try to find in local specialised markets in Nova Gradiška, such as the family run Tworek store.
In a more pronounced way you can eat it in the several Nova Gradiška’s restaurants as well as in the agritourisms and family homesteads around the town itself. We have visited the Dukat Restaurant, but very interesting menus may be found in the Slavonski biser restaurant and hotel, very close to the railway and bus station, and in the Tomislav Hotel on the main square.
Going out of the town, the Opođe homestead in Cernik, Slavonski sokak in Novi Varoš, as well as the Eco-Ethno Village in Kapela and Matin and Anin stan (which is part of the Dukat experience) are all cherished as places of homemade food, rural architecture, welcoming hosts, and grandma style accommodation. It is Slavonia on your doorstep!
Tourist Board of Nova Gradiška
Ulica Slavonskih graničara 7
Tel/fax: (035) 361 494
Photos by: TZ Nova Gradiška & Taste of Adriatic