Meet the True Heroes of Croatia 365: Ivan Zganjer with Island Lamb and Guinness Strudel

Total Croatia News

Continuing our look at people in Croatia who are delivering year-round tourism, TCN accompanied the gourmet specialist group from Gastronaut on March 30, 2016, to a remarkable restaurant off the beaten track in central Croatia with its own entry in the Guinness Book of Records and a lamb story which has people coming from miles around. 

It is a familiar story in Croatia.

The efforts of one individual or group of people on their private initiative raise the standards of tourism in their town or region. Working outside the system, with an idea and a goal, as we have been featuring on TCN, these individuals have been raising the standards single-handedly. 

It is time to feature our first restaurant in the series – Restaurant Zganjer in the village of Jaskovo, close to the historic town of Ozalj and city of Karlovac, close to the Slovenian border, a restaurant which continually features in the Gastronaut top 100 restaurants in Croatia, and is run by a visionary restaurateur, Ivan Zganjer, who has redefined the concept of serving lamb on the mainland. 

We will come to the lamb below, a dish which has made Zganjer justifiably a national name, but the Gastronaut visit started with another innovative initiative, which brought even wider fame to the restaurant – the longest strudel in the world, and now a Guinness Book fo Recorders entrant, after an astonishing 1479.38 metres – check it out in the video above.  

Guinness records apart, it is lamb which has made the restaurant famous, as Zganjer delivers the freshest lamb from the top breeding islands of Pag and Krk, direct to his guests in Jaskovo and nearby restaurant in Turanj. As the official website explains:

“The uniqueness of the restaurant is the tradition of the transport of live lambs from the islands of Pag and Krk and preparation on a spit over dried beech wood immediately before serving. The meat processing, in a completely modernized slaughterhouse rated category 1 as per European Union Commission for its compliance with the highest hygienic and operative standards, has been incorporated in the traditional meat processing.

“The owner, Ivan Žganjer, personally takes each lamb and transports it on a truck from the island of Pag or Krk, depending on the season. Lamb is purchased from small family farms, families that he has known for over 25 years, so he knows how these animals are fed and treated, which is very important to us. Already at the end of the year, before Christmas, we are among the first in Croatia to offer young lamb from the island of Pag.

“Specialty: spit roasted lamb and pig suckling from the island, are ready to be served and for delivery in 170km radius. If you wish to make your event special, and to serve to your guests lamb or pig suckling from the spit, thanks to our unique mobile spit grills, we are able to prepare food at the location of your choice, whether it is in neighbouring regions or countries.”

Zganjer’s signature serving is a 9-course dinner (8 of which are lamb, plus dessert), called Her Majesty the Lamb. TCN had the misfortune to sit through the whole proceedings, washing the lamb down with the excellent accompanying wines from Gastronaut wine-making partners.  After a welcome of lamb stuffed donuts and a glass of ZWS Zlatina 2015, next up was delicatessen lamb pate with a note of homemade jams of wild blackberries on traditional unleavened bread, accompanied by Zigante Malvazija from Zigante.

Owner Ivan was the perfect host, addressing and welcoming his guests.  

The lamb kept on coming in various guises. Round three was cooked lamb and sweet cabbage with the 2014 Zigante rose.  

Lamb sausage with horseradish kept the lamb content high, perfectly paired with a ZWS 2014 Chardonnay. 

And while the focus was on the excellent food and wines, Zganjer put on quite a show of entertainment, with a selection of tradition dances and music.  

The region’s lively musical traditions and traditional outfits were superbly presented.  

And as the first dishes of lamb and accompanying wines hit the spot, so did the already jovial atmosphere get a little livelier.  

And through the restaurant window, a reminder of the main event to come – the famous transportable roasting spits of lamb. But there were still a few courses to go until we got to the grande finale…  

Lamb liver Jaškovo-style, with rings of Ozalj’s eco-onion and grandmother’s cheese with cream. Wine pairing – 2014 Zigante Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

And the traditional entertainment continued…  

And got even more lively. The Mayor of Ozalj in her welcoming address said that their aim is always for people to arrive as guests and leave as friends. It was certainly going well so far…  

A little baked tripe with cheese to go with the ZWS Plavac Reserva 2013.  

With a little lamb chaser. Next up – lamb on Ozalj’s royalty style in red wine and cinnamon with gnocchi of baby spinach, ginger and currant with     beetroot salad and a glass of Gotho Pinot Crni 2012 from Kutjevo. 

I have seen some grand entrances from restaurant owners in my 14 years in Croatia, but I will never forget this one from owner Ivan, personally taking the main course to the kitchen for preparation.  

And what a dish it was! Lamb on the spit flavored with indigenous beech golden potato halves with vegetables baked in the domestic fats, freshly picked green salad and beans  with pumpkin seed oil and apple vinegar. A glass of Kutjevo (or was it two?) Grasevina 2015 to help the famous island lamb on its way. 

Was there room for a little light dessert? The Zganjer team thought so, and out came the Katarina Zrinska cake, a collage of local tastes with a glass of 2013 Kutjevo Maximo bianco.

Her Majesty the Lamb indeed!

A Guinness Book of Records entry, a lamb tradition known throughout the country, hostel rooms on site, and a stunning breakfast in the morning with all the ingredients sourced within one kilometre of the restaurant. For those looking to implement Croatia 365 tourism, I encourage you to take a closer look at the fabulous and dynamic restaurant. Learn more about the Zganjer experience here


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