Croatian Culinary Tour

Some things are never a coincidence. Take the heart-shaped region of Istria for example, which is the gastronomical heart of Croatia. At a stone’s throw from Italy, its food offers sediments of different cultures—Italian, Mediterranean and Slavic. Istria was, for long, a part of the vast Venetian empire and even today its towns (and their names) veer towards either a Croatian or Italian lineage. Istrians are known for eating only what is in season and available locally. This area and its populace are avid followers of the ‘slow food,’ movement, which started in the 90’s in Italy, as a reaction to globalization and junk food. Largely, it involves making the most of local produce and eating food in a relaxed fashion. The locals refer to their home as ‘green and blue Istria’—green for the fertile lands that produce olives, grapes, truffles, wild asparagus and lush forests; thanks to the marvellous Mediterranean climate, and blue which refers to the rich feeding grounds of the Adriatic, with a fantastic supply of fish, mussels, oysters and clams.

Agritourism is the buzz word Here all ingredients from wine to cheese are produced on the land and visitors are treated to a rural life-simple, but rewarding, with hearty meals and rustic rooms. Konobas are rustic eateries usually run by an owner and his family, in big houses, where the food is from the earth; fresh and devoid of preservatives and additives. And truffles, an underground mushroom that blossoms below the roots of hard wood trees, is the priceless gastronomic celebrity in these parts, known for its exquisite, earthy taste. It’s tracked by specially trained dogs by moonlight. Scouting locales for your first truffle hunt? We suggest you make your way to Motovun, a medieval village perched on a hill, with pastel hued buildings and shuttered windows, which is surrounded by forests which are hunting grounds for great truffles.

Local delights Looking to sample something new and flavourful? Try ajvar, a tasty puree of red bell peppers, eggplant and garlic. Another local specialty is pršut or smoked ham air dried by the Bura wind. For seafood lovers this is the place to be. Expect mussels cooked in wine with pepper and salt besides sea bass, sole and sardine spread on slices of home baked bread. Dinner sips starts with an aperitif like biska—a mistletoe brandy strong in both taste and potency. A local Istrian saying states: Bread is for the body and wine for the soul. We recommend you taste the regions ruby red Teran, which marries well with truffle dishes and the almondy white, Malvasia which is often paired with the rich seafood.

Top three dining options in Istria

- In Rovinj Eat at a picturesque restaurant perched on a rocky outcrop called La Puntulina. Local sea food fresh and tasty is presented in a theatrical fashion. Vegetarians get homemade tagliatelle in a creamy sauce with some grilled courgettes and spinach.  

- In Motovun  We highly recommend you sample black truffles and salmon at Barbacan—a quaint little eatery run by a young couple—which is located the heart of the town’s steep main street.  

- Near Limski Kanal Dig into a seafood meal of mussels, scams and scallops at the Viking.  

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Kalpana Sunder