It is interesting how many different landscapes can be found in Northwest Istria in such a relatively small region. That is one of the key reasons why the enogastronomy offer is so varied and colorful: while the coast has an ancient tradition of fishing, the continental area of hills and valleys is rich in treasured truffles and wild plants such as the asparagus.
Truffles: unique and aromatic
I must begin my gastronomic adventure with truffles, an ingredient that gives a subtle and yet intense taste and aroma to a dish it is included in. A visit to one of the local restaurants or tavers in the autumn or at the end of the year cannot go by without tasting at least a few dishes prepared with them. A truffle pâté spread on freshly baked bread or frittata can only serve as a prelude to the rhapsody of tastes that is to ensue. I have experienced this many times at Stari podrum, a tavern near Momjan, which in turn is near Buje.
Fresh Adriatic squid
Adriatic squid is a mark of the winter time in the restaurants in Northwest Istria, because it is their fishing season, something I like to enjoy myself when given the opportunity. Anyone who has ever tried squid fishing knows that they are truly at their best when they are fresh. I wholeheartedly recommend you try them at the Pergola restaurant in Savudrija, where the local chef’s creativity in dish preparation and presentation will simply delight you.
Freshly picked asparagus
When spring arrives and lures us out for long pleasant strolls, the asparagus becomes a key ingredient to every dish in Istria. Whether it is a shrimp cocktail with asparagus, a soup, risotto, tortellini, or the most commonly and simply prepared frittata (scrambled eggs), the creativity of the taste will long be preserved as a spectacular souvenir of your stay on the peninsula. To enjoy the dishes prepared with this plant according to autochthonous and imaginative recipes, visit the San Rocco restaurant in Brtonigla.
The scallop – the beauty of the sandy deeps
Another of my favorite sea food delicacies deserves to have an ode dedicated to it rather than the few lines that follow here. Simply seasoned with olive oil, black pepper and garlic, or covered in and roasted with cheese, prepared in a combination with other types of sea food – in any form the scallop is a mouthwatering delicacy – literally. If you happen to find yourself in Novigrad in February or March, make sure to stop by for a portion of this gastronomic delight at the Navigare restaurant in the unique Marina Nautica. That is the season of the scallop.
The irresistible dark meat of the boškarin
If you are a meat aficionado, and you want to experience the full authenticity of the Istrian gastronomy during your stay there, then dishes prepared with the meat of boškarin will be a true gourmet delicacy for you. Prepared in a combination with the traditional Istrian pastas – fuži or pljukanci, pasta or gnocchi, its dark meat will melt in your mouth with every bite. For those who wish to try it, I recommend the Nono tavern in a Umag.
First-rate fish menus
Few things compare to a good plate of fish, delightful even in its simplest form. One of the most famous fish delicacies in this region has to be the sole, a first-rate white fish. Still, if you are not in the mood for a rich meal at a restaurant or tavern, you can still find the tasty pilchard everywhere. In Istria you can also have your fish with a – spoon! The famous Istrian brodet (traditional fish stew) is made from the finest ingredients, including the red scorpionfish, conger, angler fish, cuttlefish, calamari and shrimp. A little bit of olive oil, some fresh tomatoes, herbs and white wine will complete the magic mixture. The Astraea tavern in Brtonigla is my favorite destination when I am in the mood for an excellent fish specialty.
Local specialties as appetizers
I saved the de rigueur appetizers of the Istrian cuisine for last. Istrian prosciutto, dried in the north wind called bura, wins gourmets over with its tenderness, and right behind it is the home-made pancetta, which perfectly matches every piece of bread I eat it with. The tradition of having sheep’s milk cheese with bread dipped into a few drops of home-made olive oil, which I encountered in my first visits to Istria, has since become a mandatory appetizer for me. It is the perfect introduction to any gastronomic experience.