Monday, 4 October 2021

Croatia Through the Eyes of a Digital Nomad: Fall Means its Bučijada Time!

October 4, 2021 - Americans say pumpkin, Croatians say bundeva. Americans eat pumpkin pie, Croatians eat bučnica. How a simple pumpkin festival reminded me to embrace cultural traditions and remember that finding what’s new and different is why we travel. 

At a recent meetup for digital nomads in Zagreb, one of my colleagues mentioned the annual bučijada (pumpkin festival) starting the following day in Ivanić Grad, a town roughly 45 minutes outside of the capital. I squealed with delight. I love eating pumpkin in various forms and the pie (specifically, my mother’s creation) is one of my all-time favorite foods. Hers is the gold standard of pies everywhere, with its tasty filling, creamy texture, and moist crust. I look forward to this time of year for all kinds of pumpkin goodness, the only season when it’s available.


(The annual bučijada in Ivanić Grad, outside of Zagreb, is one of the town’s largest fall festivals.)

How fun would it be to sample Croatia’s versions of this fall favorite and pick up some new treats too?! What do they have here that’s different from what we have at home? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Consuming pumpkin

My stomach led as I walked off the train in Ivanić Grad the next morning. I met the wonderful Aleksandra, and asked where I could find pumpkin pie. “We don’t make that here,” she said. What about pumpkin bread, surely this bread-forward culture loads it into the bakeries? No again. Had I tasted bučnica? The savory pastry is a pumpkin strudel, popular in and around Zagreb, and made with pumpkin, fresh cheese, cream, and eggs wrapped in a thin dough. My first-ever serving there at the festival was pretty darn good.


(The sweetest pumpkin at the festival was working the crowd near his family’s product table.)

Croatians love all sorts of fresh vegetables, why don’t they cook and eat more pumpkin? Because the squash is considered animal feed. So sad…

Fresh pumpkin seeds and pumpkin beer were abundant however, and pumpkin seed oil—bučino ulje—was the prize at the festival. An entire street was dedicated to OPG’s selling this nutty-tasting oil and other pumpkin products.


(A dried soup mix, made with 100% pumpkin, is a unique product.)

Pumpkin seed oil

Apparently, bučino ulje is a prestigious business, I noticed that several bottles displayed “winner” stickers. I knew why as soon as the oil hit my tongue—I was blown away by the flavor. I’ve had the store-bought oil and I will never do that again, there’s absolutely no comparison to Cro’s homemade product.

I was instructed on proper usage—don’t cook with the oil; only use it raw; cover food such as leafy greens and bean salad; drizzle it on strudel and vanilla ice cream; add to soups and stews for nutty sweetness. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sprinkling it on everything.

My disappointment over the pie was replaced with glee over the oil.


(Award-winning pumpkin oil, along with seeds coated in chocolate and other toppings, are frequently displayed on vendor tables.)

Eliminates wrinkles

Beyond trail mix and culinary applications, pumpkin seeds have serious medicinal credentials. They’re a rich source of vitamin E, zinc, omega 3- and 6- fatty acids, and antioxidants. In this regard, pumpkin seed oil is on par with Croatia’s other superfood—olive oil. It can improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and reducing high blood pressure. For us ladies, it’s an ingredient in skincare products that help hydrate the skin and eliminate the appearance of wrinkles. That right there is enough for me to gulp it.


(Not far from the festival, INA’s oil drills can be seen around town.)

Black gold

I thought I’d seen what the town had to offer when things went in a different direction. Ana Gašparović, president of the Association of Heritage Friends and a local tour guide, educated me on Ivanić Grad’s “black gold.” It’s a designation given to the town’s three prominent native oils—pumpkin, petroleum, and Naftalan.


(The Naftalan Special Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation was built to treat skin disorders, specifically due to the discovery of Naftalan oil.)

Black oil began bubbling up from the ground in 1855, when it was pulled by hand. One hundred years later, after World War II, Germans led the first industrial production and oil drills can be seen around town. The headquarters of the oil and gas utility INA is located a few blocks from the festival, along with several other company buildings. Ivanić attracted the nickname “Little Kuwait” for its generous crude supply. Unfortunately, today it’s drying up and production will soon be shutting down.

Slightly further away is Naftalan Special Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation. The facility is dedicated to the treatment of inflammatory skin disorders, such as psoriasis, and features creams and bath oils made from the medical Naftalan oil. Ivanić discovered its natural resource of Naftalan in the 1980s, which is rare. Azerbaijan is the only other place on the planet where the oil is found.


(The integration of the medical and crude industries is represented in a graphic above the entrance to the Naftalan hospital. A snake and staff, symbolizing medicine, is combined with an oil rig.)

Yellow gold

Aleksandra joked with me that Škrlet is Ivanić’s “yellow gold,” a grape varietal that’s indigenous to the Moslavina region. Eight vineyards produce wine from the slopes of the Moslavačka gora Mountain. Janko Kezele, president of Škrlet Moslavina Association and one of the eight family producers, said, “We are proud to produce the wine as we nurture our tradition and identity of our region and our homeland.” Doing my homework for this story, I found it light, fruity, and rather likeable. 


(Several items made it home in the author’s backpack: two Škrlet wines (by Kezele and Mikša); 100% virgin pumpkin oil by Bachusha; dried soup mix by OPG Liege; black garlic by OPG Knežević.)

A rural festival

The festival was spread out with multiple locations of vendors, activities, displays, a music stage, and food concessions, and it was packed with visitors. Ivana Alilović, Director of the Zagreb County Tourist Board, said, “We’re happy to have 200+ rural exhibitors participate in this year’s festival, especially during these times with covid.” It’s Ivanić’s biggest pumpkin festival yet and it’s got a lot to offer.

On the train

Riding the train from Ivanić back to Zagreb, I reflected on how a pumpkin festival broadened my perspective. My American brain recalled memories of pie, warm apple cider, and picking pumpkins from a patch. My Croatian experience was a cultural enlightenment that included bučnica, bučino ulje, Škrlet, and a cool history lesson on the town’s industry, plus I met some nice local people.


(It takes all shapes and sizes of gourds to make a colorful pumpkin patch.)

Story and photographs ©2021, Cyndie Burkhardt.

Learn more at TCN’s Digital Nomads channel.


Monday, 27 September 2021

Toy and Pumpkin Festivals Combine in Ivanic-Grad at Bucijada 2021

September 27, 2021 - Ivanic-Grad is the place to be this weekend for all lovers of pumpkins and toys - lots of family fun at Bucijada 2021.

One of the things you learn very quickly living in Croatia is that Croatians love to celebrate their food. But not just in the excellent and healthy dishes made from the freshest seasonal ingredients, but by dedicating festivals to individual fruits and vegetables. 

There seems to be an unofficial motto here of 'if it grows, create a festival.' My long-time place of residence, the island of Hvar,  for example, hosts a unique lavender festival each June. And nowhere else in the world have I come across an edible dormouse festival.

Among the many niche food festivals you will find on the Croatian calendar are fava beans in Kastela (and yes, fava bean ice cream is a thing), the celebration of chestnuts in Hrvatska Kostajnica, paprika in Lug, cabbage in Vidovec, potatoes in Porec, and truffles in Buzet has been a fascinating culinary journey for me during my time in Croatia. But then it comes to pumpkins, there is only one place to go.

Ivanic Grad, just outside Zagreb, in autumn for the Bucijada pumpkin festival.  

Being an adopted Dalmatian boy, my Croatian conversion to pumpkin oil came rather late in life. With the liquid gold olive oil produced in Dalmatia, was there indeed any need for any other kind of oil?

Moving to Varazdin showed me that there was, and pumpkin oil is far more prevalent than olive oil in parts of continental Croatia. The unlikeliest hit of all was vanilla ice cream and pumpkin oil. Try it, it is magnificent. 


But pumpkin oil is just one use for this very versatile vegetable, whose culinary range is best showcased in the annual pumpkin festival in Ivanic-Grad, known as Bucijada. One of the novelties I tried on my last visit to Bucijada was pumpkin beer, which was surprisingly tasty - almost akin to a wheat beer. 

This year's event will take place this weekend, from October 1 to 3, and it really is a great family event, even more so perhaps this year, as the 17th edition of Bucijada coincides with the 7th Toy Festival, thereby giving a double dose of family fun out in the healthy environs of Zagreb county. You can get a snapshot of how Bucijada looks through the eyes of a young visitor in this excellent vlog below.

There is also plenty of gourmet and activity fun for adults at least, not least the opportunity to taste a range of pumpkin products, as well as to get better acquainted with one of the rising stars of the Croatian wine scene - the locally grown grape variety of Skrlet. 

 Ankica Bester, director of the Ivanić-Grad Tourist Board office, told TCN a little more:

"The novelty of this year's Bucijada is that at the same time the 7th Toy Festival is held at the Zelenjak Sports Park and with SB Naftalan where a rich program has been prepared for the youngest, from performances by First Applause, playrooms, workshops, plays, toy fair and content within the model fortress of Tvrđa Ivanich. At the event itself, the "Educational-presentation center of pumpkin oil" of the association of pumpkin oil producers of Croatia and the City of Ivanic-Grad will be opened next to the Maznica market, where you will be able to see how cold-pressed pumpkin oil is pressed.

"This year's Bucijada is being held in open public areas at several locations in the city center and at the Zelenjak Sports Park in order to adapt to current epidemiological measures."


More details can be found on the Ivanic-Grad Tourist Board website, as well as from the official press release below:

The beginning of October is the right time to visit Ivanic-Grad and the Bučijada exhibition and sales fair.

The seventeenth edition of the largest and most visited tourist, economic and gastronomic event in Croatia this year will be held on October 2 and 3, 2021.

Organized by the Tourist Board of Ivanic-Grad with co-organizers and under the auspices of the City of Ivanic-Grad, Zagreb County, the Tourist Board of Zagreb County and Croatian National Tourist Board, and sponsors: INA d.d., Hrvatske sume d.o.o. and Zagrebacka banka in Ivanic-Grad will host the 17th Bucijada and the 7th Toy Festival.

More than 170 exhibitors from all over Croatia are participating in this year's sales fair, of which 28 are pumpkin seed oil producers, 14 are organic farms and about 50 are family farms.


They will offer pumpkins, pumpkin oil, pumpkin products and other eco-ethno products in the city center in several locations. This year as well, the caterers have prepared creative pumpkin menus in their premises, restaurants and rural estates.

Along with pumpkin beer and indigenous skrlet wine, there will be gastro snacks and pumpkins on the town square.

The grand opening of the 17th Bucijada will be held on October 2 (Saturday) 2021 at 11.00 on the stage at Trg V. Nazora in Ivanic-Grad, which will be attended by the mayor of Javor Bojan Les and numerous guests.

After the opening ceremony, at 11.30 am, the "Educational and Presentation Center of Pumpkin Oil" of the Association of Pumpkin Oil Producers of Croatia and the City of Ivanić-Grad will officially open its doors, where you will be able to see how cold-pressed pumpkin oil is pressed.

On Saturday at 12.00 is the opening of the 7th Toy Festival in SP Zelenjak and with SB Naftalan, where a rich program has been prepared for the youngest, from playrooms, workshops, plays and a toy fair, with entertainment from First Applause.

The godmother of the 17th Bucijada, Anita Kajtazi Roth, is coming on Sunday at 10.30.

City institutions and associations have prepared numerous exhibitions, so in the POU you can see the exhibition "150 years of Ivanic-Grad", in the Museum of Ivanic-Grad "Culture and History of Ivanic-Grad", and with the Fire Department Ivanic-Grad exhibitions of mushrooms and small animals.

Several thematic tourist walks were organized, departing from the Visitor Center near the market.

The entertaining part of the program is guaranteed throughout the day, especially with the evening concerts of Petar Graša, Đani Stipaničev and Renata Sabljak. KUDs in traditional Moslavina and Posavina costumes will walk around the city,

and in the Park of Croatian Veterans, a small Pumpkin Village will be arranged with attractive pumpkin decorations, by which this event is recognizable.

The event is held in compliance with all applicable epidemiological measures.

Come, taste, feel, see - 17. Bucijada!

Read more about the unusual food festivals in Croatia in Natural Food Festivals: 25 Things to Know about Croatian Gourmet Goodness.



Sunday, 29 September 2019

Pumpkin Festival - Bučijada in Ivanić Grad Next Weekend

It's autumn, and in continental Croatia that means that the centre of the pumpkin admiration focuses on Ivanić Grad, where a pumpkin festival has been organised for the past 15 years.

Bučijada, as it's known in Croatian, always takes place during a weekend in October, and this year it's next weekend, October the 5th and the 6th.

Organised by the Ivanić Grad Tourist board, this year's pumpkin celebration includes a meeting of producers of pumpkin seed oil from Croatia, several exhibitions by Croatian artists (including Ivan Lacković-Croata, probably the most notable Croatian naive artist of the 20th century, and an exhibition of sculptures and installations inspired by - the pumpkin!).

During the entire weekend, visitors will be able to purchase all types of pumpkin products: pumpkins themselves, pumpkin seed oil, flour, cookies made from pumpkins etc. (There is no Starbucks in Croatia yet, but if there were, they'd be there making their exclusive pumpkin spice lattes). Almost all restaurants and bars in Ivanić Grad will offer dishes made from pumpkins, and Crafter's brewery will offer their pumpkin ale on the main square. 

If you're not into beer, and rather prefer wines (NOT made from pumpkins!), you're in luck, as another Ivanić Grad tradition also takes place this week.

The association of producers of the indigenous Škrlet white wine planned their Škrlet week to coincide with the Bučijada. So, during the week there will be presentations of various Škrlet wines by different producers in Zagreb and Zagreb county, and during the weekend they will feature prominently on the main square in Ivanić Grad with their Šrklet Corner, where you'll be able to taste and purchase Škrlets by 8 producers. You should taste them, as they've won 5 Decanter's medals this year!

In order to make it easier for people to get from Zagreb to Ivanić Grad (and especially back, after all that Škrlet and pumpkin ale and bučnica), a special Pumpkin Train (Bučko-Express) has been organised to take the pumpkin-lovers from Zagreb to Bučijada. It leaves from Zagreb's main station (Glavni kolodvor) to Ivanić Grad on Saturday and Sunday morning at 09:20 and returns to Zagreb at 17:25. The return ticket costs 25 kuna, and you can return a bit earlier, or later as well.

There's really no excuse for anyone who loves pumpkins not to go to Ivanić Grad and their pumpkin festival next weekend!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Discover Bučijada - Great Pumpkin Festival in Ivanić Grad

Ivanić Grad will host its annual Pumpkin Festival, or as locals call it - Bučijada, next weekend, from 13th to 15th October 2017.