In addition to Venus clams, queen scallops, Noah’s Ark shells, mussels and oysters, scallops are among the most treasured and delicious shellfish in Istria. Otherwise known as St. Jacob’s scallops, they are endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, and despite their small numbers in the Adriatic, there are plenty on the west coast of Istria, where the crystal clear sea around Novigrad adds something extra to the taste, pushing them high in the ranks of the most appreciated local specialties. Seafood lovers – this is a dish you’ve got to try and are guaranteed to get hooked on!
Sandy deep beauties
Scallops are not just pleasing to the palate, but also to the eye, with their characteristic and attractive fan-shaped shell, and its two sides covered with radial ribs. The upper side, covered in warm colors – from appealingly reddish to brown-grayish tones, is round and nicely shaped. The lower shell, mostly in light beige tones, is either flat or else concave. On the inner side, the shell has a mantle on whose outer edge lie the tiny tentacles and eyes. Although their average diameter is about 10cm and their weight about 40g, you will occasionally find examples up to 15cm big, weighing up to 120g. These whoppers are a real treat if you manage to get them on your plate.
Their natural habitat is the sandy sea floor, between 5 and 30 meters deep, and occasionally they will be found in greater depths. Thanks to a unique position on the estuary of the river Mirna, the marine ecosystem around Novigrad is world-famous for high quality shellfish, which are usually harvested exactly where the river water mixes with the sea. Scallop fishing is possible throughout the year, but most of them are harvested in the colder months, when they are at their tastiest, so the Cluster visitors have an opportunity to enjoy the true gastronomic charms of the region even in the winter. Usually harvested by nets, they are rarely hunted in Croatia, which makes them a rare commodity in the restaurant menus. Of course, this is not the case in the northwest part of the Istrian Peninsula, and not just in the winter, but throughout the year – especially in Novigrad, a town with a reputation for fishing.
A wealth of tastes
With firm and tasty meat, scallops are highly treasured in gastronomy. Many shellfish lovers even consider them the best kind of shellfish in the world! In Istria there are several traditional ways of preparing them: baked with olive oil and Mediterranean spices; cooked au gratin; boiled; prepared in tomato sauce, buzar sauce or brudet stew; or even eat them raw. Starting to feel hungry yet? I sure am! While staying in one of the towns of the Cluster, don’t miss out on an opportunity to try any of the variations. Or why not try different types at the same time! Besides overwhelming your palate with joy, the creative ways of serving the scallops are sure to leave you breathless and you might just feel compelled to reach for a camera to record the beauty in front of you before continue the feast.
The richness of savors these exceptional shellfish provide are difficult to put into words, and they are a compulsory item of any menu in the restaurants and taverns of the Northwest Istria Cluster. There you will have an opportunity to experience the fullness and uniqueness of the taste of these heart-shaped shellfish prepared in the most imaginative ways possible. These are savors and scents that you will carry around with you for a long time, and which will serve as great reminders of the vacations in one of the Cluster’s towns. What can make the experience complete is a selection of a quality regional wine to enrich even more the taste of the scallops.
For those who would like to know more, here are a few features of shellfish important for your health! Scallops are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and while their meat is rich with protein, it is still very light and will keep you from feeling tired and sated after eating them. Besides, they contain a small quantity of saturated fats and have few calories. They are also rich in vitamin B, magnesium and potassium. Overall, they are very healthy, and thanks to the large quantities of zinc, they are also a powerful aphrodisiac! Do we really need to go on with reasons to choose this delicacy the next time you’re looking at a menu?
A historical symbol with many pseudonyms
In order to be prepared to hold your own in a conversation about this delicacy, it is important to know all its different names. Along with the most common “kapešante” or “jakovljeve kapice” in Croatian, they are locally also known as “čančula”, “kapesanta”, “klapunica”, “lepeza”, “pokrovača”, “prsurica”, “St. Jacques” i “školjka svetoga Jakova”. As in many other countries, they are connected to St. Jacob, who also gave them their Latin name – Pecten Jacobaeus.
Since ancient history, scallops have been a common motif and a source of inspiration in art. In antiquity, they symbolized femininity, which is why they often appear on paintings and in statues depicting Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility. One of the most famous examples is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Today, hand-colored pieces are highly prized among shell collectors. If you happen to see a shell with features described in this text, don’t just keep swimming, pick it up and take it with you as a perfect souvenir to remind you of the relaxing vacation and superb gastronomical delight that you tasted in this unforgettable destination.
Days of seashells
Considering that winter is a time when shellfish are at their tastiest, there is a gastronomic event dedicated precisely to them – Days of seashells – a special treat for all gastronomes who will be in the area of Umag, Novigrad, Buje or Brtonigla at this time of the year.