Istrian Gastronomy & Cuisine
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 travelers. With a bit of adventurous exploration it offers the chance to try specialties 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.
After an excellent prosciutto, and cheese and olives, many traditional wine cellars offer fish soup, fish stew, boiled prawns, black and white frutti di mare risotto, as well as other dishes typical of the central part of the Istrian peninsula – traditional wine soup, ragout (jota) similar to Italian minestrone (manistra, menestra or manestra), and also pasta and risotto dishes cooked with the famous truffles of the region – a self-sown precious mushroom species, unearthed by specially trained dogs and pigs; these fungi have the reputation of containing aphrodisiac properties. The excellent Istrian wines include Malvazija of Buje, Cabernet of Porec, Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Teran of Buzet.
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.
Istrian truffles are a culinary winner that is hard to resist. Gourmets rush by the thousands to Istria’s konobas, the local traditional restaurants, to experience its superb taste. Popular belief in its aphrodisiac effect bolsters the magical cult of the truffle. Immediately after harvesting, the fresh truffle is either directly used as a food ingredient, or it is being processed in order to produce high quality products such as a variety of spreads, cheeses, oils, sweets, etc.
Istria’s abundance of truffles has been a well kept secret from the rest of the international food world for years, and people are finally starting to take notice. There are three varieties of black truffle that can be found in the heart-shaped peninsula’s oak forests, as well as the more rare, premium white truffle. This gourmet delicacy has been used in Istrian cooking for years, and one of the most popular ways of preparing it is with traditional Istrian pasta, fuži.
Istrian Olive Oil
Did you know that Istria was named best olive oil region in the world? Approximately 60 of its oils were listed among the highest quality oils in the world, and many of them come from northwestern Istria. Part of this elite group is the multi-awarded Vergal extra virgin olive oil from Novigrad.
The olive tree is the oldest known planted tree on Earth that has been around some 6,000 years ago. It is a symbol of the Mediterranean countries, warm climates where it has found its home.
Olive oil is part of the Istrian lifestyle and cuisine and today you can enjoy many varieties of olive oil with different food. Many restaurants and konobas in Istria serve different types of olive oil and you can even choose between different olive oil varieties with you lunch, such as pendolino, lecciono, buza or bjelica that are grown and produced in Istria.
Croatia has always been among the world’s top quality wine producers. Istrian wine production has lit up the entire Croatian wine scene, while slowly gaining prominence throughout the world. Istrian wine is nowadays another unique symbol that truly defines the Istrian identity.
At the moment, Istria is producing some of the top-notch wines to rival world competitors. The heart shaped north-west corner of Croatia is developing a tourism niche based on the wine production itself, much like France or Italy. The explosion of modern wine making coincides with the rise of culinary boutique tourism in Istria. The connection between tourism and wine is inevitable and incorporating it in a tourism offer as a whole is an ongoing task, and vital for the final regional success.