While the winter months take over and we busily prepare for the hot season, some pleasant thoughts about delicious food and fine accompanying wines come to my mind.
Good food usually heals dark moods and help us feel cheerful and comforted.
There are many ways to describe the food of our areas and it is not easy to pick one.
But, since the February is here, with its riotous carnival days and the first indigenous seasonal ingredients, I couldn’t resist my thoughts about the food that outreach the whole yearly circle.
For those who already know Istria and its food, which offers a full range of sea food to meat stews, dry smoked ham, wild asparagus or magical truffles, this short guide can also serve as a reminder when to look for the best meal. For those who are still to come and explore this lovely region, I suggest unquestionably you must try some of the suggested dishes, not missing the chance to discuss them with your local hosts. You will certainly hear many stories that will make you feel like wanting to taste more of Istria.
The leading restaurants and bars in Istria are increasingly becoming known for providing their guests with a dining experience at the cutting edge of gourmet food preparation. These gourmet oases are able to satisfy the most refined palate, offering ever new and diverse seasonal menus adapted to typical Istrian ingredients and prepared by creative chefs in their own different and characteristic ways.
So, let’s start our journey through the Istrian food seasons…
Days of Shellfish
In winter, the Shellfish Days are held approximately from the beginning of February until the end of March. During this period one can sample the finest Istrian sea food recipes featuring scallops, mussels, Warty Venus (a salt-water clam), Noah’s Ark shells, black scallops and oysters. Without exaggeration, it is safe to say that diners will experience the special seafood taste only available from one of the cleanest seas in the world, complemented by high quality Istrian wines and the best olive oils.
Istrian Wild Asparagus
During the spring, the Asparagus Days are held between mid-March and May and result in local restaurant menus presenting what is arguably one of the healthiest and tastiest wild plants to be found in Istria if not also elsewhere. Gourmet creations to be sampled using asparagus as the main ingredient include using it in risottos, salads and in cream soups. Picking fresh asparagus as soon as it is in season during the first few days of spring creates quite a frenzy of activity amongst local residents, many of whom choose to use their freshly picked asparagus to make an omelette, with or without Istrian ham, a time honored tradition in the Adriatic part of Croatia.
You don’t need to pass an entry test to enroll at the Sardine Academy in Fažana, in the southwest coast of Istria. All you need is a sound appetite and a desire for new gastronomic experiences. A stroll down Pilchards’ Road will take you to restaurants and cellars that will introduce you to over a hundred ways of preparing this oily fish. During the month of May you can also partake in the special Fažana School of Pilchard pickling, and learn everything about packing fish into tins, about condiments and oils. With this kind of know-how you will be a welcome guest at whichever Pilchards’ Festival along the Adriatic coast you may happen upon.
Autumn, a Sole Fish Season
The first days of autumn bring Sole Fish on the menu and many Istrian restaurants attract lovers of this high quality fish which is appreciated by some more than bream or sea bass. Enjoy sole through few delicious courses, prepared in various ways – as carpaccio or as a soup, with gnocchi, ravioli or simply just grilled.
Truffle, the King
The truffle grows in the grey Istrian soil on the north of the peninsula, its epicenter being in the damp Motovun forest constantly moistened by the Mirna river flowing through the woods. It is mainly spotted in the County District of Oprtalj, by the small village Livade, and in the Buzet area.
The white Istrian truffle is one of the most highly prized truffle species in the world. For decades, it has been smuggled out of our country in order to enrich the taste of various European cuisines where its origins have constantly been kept in concealment.
Today, Istrian chefs enable the locals and the visitor to consume this supreme delicacy in its homeland and at a considerably more reasonable price, from September until late November.
And after all, what is a truffle really? An odd looking potato-like bulb of very specific smell, but once you get used to it and its culinary uniqueness, you become its true and eternal admirer.
Adriatic Squid Feast
Domestic Adriatic squid is a true gourmet delicacy, a fact that guests will appreciate during the Days of Adriatic Squid which take place in early winter – the main squid fishing season. Forget about fried squid from Patagonia or California served with frozen chips. Domestic Adriatic squid in our restaurants must be tried when prepared in teran wine or as a risotto, a delicious cream soup, baked with vegetables, with pasta or stuffed under the ‘peka’. You will be licking your fingers all the way through the meal!