Host so hearty

Host so hearty
It is known by different names in different countries. For instance, the Irish call it carabhat, the Portuguese gravata, and the Filipino korbata, but in English it’s known as cravat.

Call it by any name, the fact is that the humble piece of fabric fashioned as a stylish neckband is a Croatian invention. This ancestor of the necktie and bow tie was first worn by Croatian soldiers in the 17th century.

During the Thirty Years’ War, King Louis XIII of France hired Croatian mercenaries to fight for his country. The mercenaries, in a bid to be easily recognised, wore scarves around their necks. Over a period of time the scarf mutated into cravat and became associated with the Croatian soldiers. It was a permanent fixture of their battle dress.

Over the next couple of centuries, it gained importance as a sartorial essential and became an indispensable item of wear across Europe. It is said the king was so taken up with it that he wore it to the court. A cravatier (cravat creator) was employed to make them in different colours and fabrics for the king to wear on different occasions. The royal interest in the neckpiece set a trend and soon the nobility followed suit. However, in 1664, with the founding of the Royal Cravates (a Croatian Regiment) in the French army, the Croatian link to cravat had come to stay.

Today, there are no fewer than 85 kinds of knots to fashion a cravat, the most popular being the one invented by the Duke of Windsor, but that’s another story. The country also has an elite regiment of soldiers called the Cravat Regiment. What is interesting is that the country celebrates Cravat Day to reinforce its importance in fashion. In 2008, the Croatian Parliament made a momentous announcement and declared October 18 as the ‘Day of the Cravat’.

On this day, St Mark’s Square in Zagreb turns into a venue for pageantry and parade. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to attend the Cravat Day, I took solace in the Changing of Guards ceremony there. I lived the history of the neckwear by watching the smart guards (togged in bright red cravats and medieval uniform) of the Cravat Regiment.

From fashion to food

While cravats are interesting, they don’t satisfy the sweet tooth of human beings. For those who need their sugar fix, the Croatians have yet another creation — the kremšnita. The Croatians have a quite a hearty sweet tooth. The traditional kremšnita, a variation of the cream cake, has the ability to make an easy transition from a perfect snack to a delectable dessert. A specialty of Samobor, it comes with a pastry-top filled with custard cream, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

As we entered Samobor, it was impossible not to notice the huge billboards advertising the bakeries that manufacture the pastry. Not surprising, the tiny town draws hundreds of eager visitors who flock to the bakeries for a taste of kremšnita. That the town has several other attractions happens to be secondary.

Enthused by the sight of the pastry, I joined the flock of tourists struggling to finish kremšnita, (which comes in rather biggish size) at Livadic, the famous restaurant that boasts of an original recipe. Having devoured the Samobor specialty, I could safely vouch for the scrumptiousness of the dessert.

The ones who need to control their cravings can take solace in delectable strukli, the flaky pastry with a soft heart. Did I mention that Zagreb is all about hearts? You see them everywhere. Red and shiny, edible or inedible; these hearts are given away at every opportune moment. Coming back to struklji, the cheese-filled hearts are rather addictive. The fresh soft cheese covered in a creamy sauce inside the crumbling pastry leaves a lingering taste on the palate that can be best described as delightful.

But then, so are the gingerbread hearts known as licitars. Having made their way into the UNESCO list as Intangible Cultural Heritage, the licitar makers are experimenting with decorations. Studded with mirrors or motifs, the bright red hearts make exceptional souvenirs. Traditionally, licitars symbolised hearts. During the medieval era, young men declared their love for a comely damsel. Back then the gingerbread was coated with edible red colour, and adorned with flowers and motifs. Today, the glossy red hearts can be found in almost all souvenir shops.

House of pain

My tryst with hearts was not yet over, I realised, as I walked into the Museum of Broken Relationships. Ironically, this is the museum that exhibits mementos left by broken hearts. Pathos, humour stares out of each object in the museum. There is an electric iron, it was gifted by a groom who had used it to press his wedding suit, and it’s the only thing left from his marriage. There is a blue diaphanous top, which was worn by the wife of a man who took her out to lunch only to say that he was leaving her.

The brain child of film producer OlinkaVištica and her lover, DraenGrubišiæ, the museum was set up after they broke up. Today, the Museum of Broken Relationship displays more than a thousand objects symbolic of heartbreak. That the shop sells an eraser that can erase bad memories is incidental. The museum was awarded the Kenneth Hudson award for the most innovative museum, in 2011.

A tad depressed after the experience, I sauntered towards a restaurant to drown my gloominess in maraschino, a delicious liqueur made from cherries. The sweet tooth demanded more and it was not until I had splurged on Maraschino Pralines that it was satisfied. For those looking for some potent stuff, I would recommend the slivovitz (plum brandy). It can beat any cold and is capable of firing up even the most robust innards.

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