The cuisine of the triangle-shaped peninsula of Istria and the adjacent Kvarner Bay offers the enchanting variety of dishes. Partly the Mediterranean, partly continental, with a close proximity of Italy and Austria, bearing the traces of many past cultures from Celts and Romans to Napoleon and Austrians, this region is simply a restaurant tour heaven.
The local coking lore demands strictly natural and local ingredients, self-grown plants and seasonal vegetables.
Taverns in seaside cities and villages offer fresh seafood, cooked with simple Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, bay leaf, and parsley. With lots of Istrian olive oil. In comparison with its Dalmatian cousin, Istrian olive oil has a bit greener color and sharper taste, which is exactly why many food lovers enjoy it. Original Istrian brodet is prepared with at least seven types of fish. Buzara is a wonderful way of coking scampi or mussels which preserves the original ingredients’ flavour. Squids are prepared in dozens of ways. Don’t miss scallops from Lim Fjord whose mixture of fresh river water and pure salty water produce some of the most delicious shells in the world.
The inside of Istrian peninsula offers an entirely different taste palette. If you have a chance, definitely try čripnja or Istrian baking bell. A northern cousin of Dalmatian peka, čripnja is a dish baked in an open fireplace for several hours, in a round tin or clay dish. Almost anything can be cooked in this way – from meat and vegetables to seafood to excellent bread. In this way, all the wonderful sauces mix, producing a fantastic aroma.
Istrian people are known to love their gnocchi and pasta. The endless variety of local pasta recipes, most famous being pljukanci and fuži, is cooked with various stews or sheep cheese and – truffles. Istria has one of the best quality truffles in the world, and anyone on a serious restaurant tour will soon discover that local cooks are not stingy when it comes to adding truffles to the dishes. On contrary! Istrians add truffles to almost any dish. Besides tasting cheese, pasta or scrambled eggs with truffles, you can opt for chocolate, wine, beer, patée and sausage with truffles!
Another beloved local ingredient is – and this may come as a bit of surprise – a wild asparagus. Istrian asparagus has a very distinct taste and every local recipe tries to preserve it. This is done best by eating fritaja, a local omelette with asparagus. Istrian cooking lore demands it’s colour is definitely more green than yellow.
While we’re on vegetables, no gastronomic or restaurant tour around this region would be complete without maneštra, a true Istrian staple food. Maneštra is a thick soup with cooked various beans, potatoes and cured meat. Again, like everything else in Istria, maneštra comes with thousand faces and tastes. Probably most popular local side dish is polenta, a cornmeal that is often grilled and paired with a variety of local cheeses. Which brings us to Istrian cattle. Istria has its fair share of sheep and goats, but one species is a true Istrian trademark – indigenous white ox called boškarin. All that cattle is a source of wonderful meat for sausage and various meat recopies, but also of some great cheeses.
Of course, no meal or restaurant tour is complete without dessert. People of Istria and Kvarner love their sugar-coated pastry treats such as kroštule and fritule. You can opt for a popular kremšnite, a mix of crispy pastry and a wobbly type of custard or some really great tiramisu. Want to try something really new? Try a classic with a twist – a bit of that sharp, lightly pungent olive oil atop some fine ice-cream. A definite must –try!
Istria is gridded all over by wine roads, so a restaurant tour can quite easily turn into a wine tour. From one winery to another, food lovers will be treated to superb wines along with those amazing Istrian truffles, cheese and cured local meats, such as prosciutto and sausages. During last two decades Istrian, along with other Croatian wines, have been taking world wine stage by the storm. Istrian wines can vary due to terroir, a set of indigenous factors such as type or soil, which influence the taste. Most famous Istrian wines are Malvasija istarska, Teran, and Refošk. You can look for old and rare sorts like Borgonja or Hrvatica. Istria offers fine Muscats such as Momjanski Muškat and other famous sorts like Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, White Pinot and Gray Pinot.
As you venture on your restaurant tour of Istria and Kvarner, you’ll discover most taverns have a habit of offering a welcome drink. Istrian like to think of their spirits as the cure for all diseases. However, few spirits stand out by popularity and a variety of subtypes. Biska, brought to Istria thousands of years ago by Celts, is a brandy enriched with mistletoe. Medica is brandy mixed with quality honey. Sweet Teran liqueur, or Teranino, is a wine based liquor. Like most food and drink recipes in Istria and Kvarner, Teranino was born out of poverty and various influences. Today it’s an appreciated treat on its own.
The vistas of Istria are the ever-changing screen of seascapes, historic towns, charming villages, sleepy valleys and meandering little rivers, vineyards and olive groves. The seaside features prominently Mediterranean architecture, including UNESCO heritage sites. Pula, for instance, has one of the largest surviving Roman arenas in the whole world, with many other Roman remains. The colourful seaside towns of Poreč and Rovinj offer lots of entertainment and history together. However, if you want to feel the inland’s heart, you will relish in wandering the narrow streets of hilltop towns such as Motovun or Grožnjan, with their tiny stone houses and irregular streets, sudden bucolic vistas or scents from secret gardens. If your restaurant tour happens to hit the warmer seasons, you’ll experience Istria which oozes the Mediterranean charm, with the blazing sun over its fertile valleys, clean beaches, and lively streets. In the autumn and winter, however, this region is all about the mysterious rings of fog encircling historic hilltop towns, an atmosphere inviting you to retreat into the next tavern and indulge in all those truffles and ruby red wines and warm maneštra, next to a crackling homey fireplace.
Tour With Zoran
Petra Svačića 41c
Registered at Commercial Court in Dubrovnik, Du/Tt-10/150-2
Fund capital: 20.000,00HRK paid in full
Member of the Board: Zoran Turajlić
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ID CODE: HR-AB-20-090028580