As an independent nation, Croatia has only existed since the early 1990s, emerging victorious from a war that started before this part of now former Yugoslavia even had an army. Therefore, Croats have a strong sense of national pride, wildly celebrating global sporting successes. The coat of arms, a red-and-white checkerboard design, is now a brand, sold on T-shirts, baseball caps and coffee mugs at souvenir stalls along the coast. While divisions in the region remain, Croatia has managed to sell itself to the world and attract ever increasing numbers of visitors every summer.
The linguistic similarity between Hrvat, the Croatian word for themselves, and ‘cravat’, is no coincidence but is linked to history. Back in the 1600s, when Croatian soldiers went into battle wearing chic neckties, their sartorial elegance in the face of death did not go unnoticed by their French counterparts. Naming this fashion accessory after its nationality, with a little Gallic embellishment, the troops of Louis XIII unwittingly launched a whole new line in menswear. Echoing this heritage, Croata croata.hr established a brand of trendy ties and cravats, setting up outlets around Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split, Varaždin and Rijeka, all in prominent locations.
Its foundation date of 1911 proudly emblazoned on its red logo, Kraš has its roots in the Habsburg era but is a brand created by the Communist regime in 1950. Its name, originally Union, honours a Communist agitator, Josip Kraš, killed during World War II. For all these perhaps negative connotations, Kraš is revered, mainly because it produces chocolates, reminding locals of their childhood, birthdays and Christmas celebrations. These days, the brand is stretched, of course, taking in bonbons, biscuits, wafers and all kinds of assortment boxes.
As your train pulls into Koprivnica, just north of Zagreb towards the Hungarian border, rising behind the station is a row of tall towers. Look closer, and you’ll see the iconic figure of a chef, moustache, toque and all, making the universal sign for ‘excellent’. Here is where they make Vegeta, the globally successful condiment and flavour enhancer, created by a Bosnian-Croat scientist here in 1959. Zlata Bartl went on to receive a number of national awards and a scientific foundation was set up in Bartl’s name after her death in 2008. Often imitated, never better, Vegeta is sold in 40 countries worldwide.
Sold in powdered form, sold as tablets, sold in bottles ready-to-mix, even sold at many cafés across Croatia, Cedevita is a long-established brand. Originating in Borongaj, on the eastern outskirts of Zagreb, in the 1920s, Cedevita became a nationwide hit after launching its first vitamin-enhanced orange drink 50 years later. Although other flavours have since been introduced, Cedevita is forever associated with the colour orange, and childhood, helping generations of Croatian kids to recover from illnesses or get through exams.
Croatia’s oldest producer of meat and sausages can trace its history back to 1620. The Gavrilović brothers established the firm after the Turks were driven out of their home town of Petrinja, where the company is still based today. Favoured by national heroes such as Ban Josip Jelačić, whose statue stands in Zagreb’s main square, Gavrilović salami comes in all kinds of varieties: spicy, peppered and Dalmatian, smoked over beech wood. The logo, showing a pretty girl in a folksy costume, is also featured on canned meats, pâtés and all kinds of cold cuts.
Jamnica began bottling water from the springs at Pisarovina outside Zagreb in 1828. Today, it is best known for its Jana brand of still mineral water, popular across the region, while the Jamnica label is stuck on the green bottles that contain the carbonated variety. Promoting a number of humanitarian projects as part of its ‘Water with a Message’ campaign, Jana is known for its purity and is a leader in its field across Croatia.
The most iconic variety of chocolate from the century-old Croatian Kraš stable, Bajadera is a beloved praline whose key ingredient of nougat is created with a particular type of local walnut, matched with almond, hazelnut. Add a classic package design straight out of the 1930s, and you have the perfect present that will look elegant when unwrapped. Almost half the presentation boxes of Bajadera go overseas, testament to Croatian taste and ingenuity.
Produced in Zadar since the 1700s, cherry liqueur Maraschino is derived from the variety of the fruit found here in northern Dalmatia. Venetian merchant Francesco Drioli used marasca cherries to mass-produce his newly created drink, popular in the royal courts of Europe. Branded Maraschino, it was bottled in signature Murano glass with straw casing. After the Italians were forced out of Zadar during World War II, the family firm continued to export Maraschino from Italy, before the dynasty died out. Here in Zadar, the Maraska company continued to produce own-name liqueurs and syrups at the waterside factory, opened in 1911.
Every Croatian kitchen will be linked with Podravka products on its shelves. Soups, sauces, dried foods, Ajvar relish, the red Podravka label will appear everywhere. Along with Vegeta, also produced at its Koprivnica plant, there’s one particular product whose heritage stands out from the multinational deals associated with all the snacks and juices: jam. When the Wolf brothers first opened their factory in 1934, it processed fruit. When it was nationalised in 1949, they made fruit jam. Today, Podravka-produced, Belsad-branded marmalades are still a favourite on Croatian breakfast tables.
If there’s one name that evokes a sense of national pride in Croatia, it’s Vukovar. Heroically defended in the early days of the Croatian War of Independence, this town on today’s border with Serbia suffered significant damage. One symbol of its gradual recovery is a sports shoe, Startas, produced at the Borovo factory that once employed more than 22,000 people. Revived in recent years, Startas comes in all kinds of funky designs, from basic tennis footwear to espadrilles and casual gear.