With its Italian, Venetian and Austro-Hungarian influences, Istrian food has rich culinary traditions which are passed down through each generation. Istria, in the north of Croatia, is already hailed as the new Tuscany for foodie travellers. With a bit of adventurous exploration it offers the chance to try specialities that are so local their provenance is tied to one small mountain village or just one particular restaurant.
In Istria, foraging for wild asparagus and herbs is considered a local pastime, people make delicious sparkling wine in their garage as a hobby and everyone seems to have an allotment patch in even the tiniest garden or balcony. People understand local ingredients, appreciate the seasons, delight in their olive oils and proudly protect their Grandmother’s recipes in the same way the Italians are famed for.
Pasta is glaringly missing from this cantor through our favourite Istrian dishes and suggested places to try them, but rest-assured this will be covered in a post all to itself!
- Recommend: Kantina, Flanaticka 16, Pula – city centre restaurant near the green market serving traditional Istrian dishes.
Truffles – Istria is world famous for the highly prized black and white truffles. They have an amazing strong flavour and add depth and luxurious richness to risottos, handmade creamy pasta dishes, sauces served with steak and salad dressings. Market stalls in this region offer jars of truffle added to pesto, oils, mushroom pate, olive tapenade and even honey. We were offered so many different things to try that we actually had to say ‘stop, I’ve had too much truffle!’ We headed off in search of wine.
Cevapici – These seasoned minced meat sausages are extremely common across Croatia. Often grilled or pan fried they come served with raw onions and ajvar – a fiery red paste of peppers, chilli, aubergines and garlic.
- Recommend: Bistro Odisej, Arsenalska 7, Pula – roadside grill house specialising in meat served in lepinja flat bread at amazingly low prices.
Skampi buzzara – This is the classic Croatian seafood stew, most commonly served with sauteed shell-on langoustines. This speciality combines garlic, olive oil, local white Malvasia wine, bread crumbs and parsley. The Istrian twist is that they don’t always include the tomatoes. It’s messy, finger-licking food not suitable for white shirts or first dates. It is often served with polenta or pasta, or sometimes just a basket of fresh bread to mop up the juices.
- Recommend: Konoba Ferala, Boraca 11, Fazana, Pula – lovely harbourside restuarant serving great fresh seafood, famous local salted anchovies and octopus with polenta
- Konoba Vasianum, Riva 7, Fazana, Pula – amazing seafood pasta dishes, large outdoor seating area right on the seafront.
Blitva with grilled fish – You will find blitva on probably every restaurant menu, it is a very comforting side dish of swiss chard and potatoes, cooked with a generous amount of olive oil and garlic. It pairs well with grilled fish, often cooked on an open fire.
- Recommend: Konoba Da Baston, Svalba 3, Rovinj – small restaurant tucked away between the fish and vegetable markets with a large open fireplace grilling freshly caught fish.
…and finally pizza – very popular throughout the coastal areas of Croatia.
- Recommend: Pizzeria Jupiter, Castropola 42, Pula – best pizza place in town with roof top open air terrace. The jumbo size pizza easily feeds two with enough to take home for breakfast!