Tasting the Wonders of Istria

Istria, the stunning Croatian peninsula, shared with Slovenia and Italy, offers a unique culinary experience that marries its diverse landscape and rich cultural heritage. This region, where the sea and forest are mere metres apart, provides an extraordinary backdrop for an exploration of rich and luxury foods that reflect the peninsula’s multicultural influences and natural bounty.

Truffles: From Forest to Fork

Coming from a truffle-sceptic, the way in which Istria source, respect and delicately intertwine the flavour throughout their dishes can truly convert most. Renowned for their truffles, particularly the rare and highly prized white variety, the dense forests of the peninsula are perfect for cultivation. This practice has been perfected over generations, making Istria one of the few places in the world where the prized white tubers are found.

Hunting excursions, complete with cute canine companions, like those organised by Karlic Tartufi in Motovun, offer visitors a hands-on experience in searching for these culinary gems. After the hunt, tasting dishes seasoned with the treasured rewards, such as the truffle eggs, becomes a memorable part of the adventure.

The Guinness World Record for the largest harvested white truffle belongs to Istria, underscoring the region’s significance in the mushroom world. The holder, Giancarlo Zigante, shows his appreciation for the fungi through self-named Restaurant Zigante in Livade. Here, they elevate the ingredient to gourmet heights, offering dishes that showcase the earthy, aromatic flavours in innovative ways. From pasta to truffle-infused meats, the culinary possibilities are endless and exquisite.

Oysters: Fresh from the Limski Fjord

The Lim Bay, a stunning natural formation, is a prime spot for oyster farming. The oysters here are known for their exceptional freshness and size, making them a luxurious treat for seafood lovers. Tony’s Oyster Shack, run by dedicated oyster farmer Tony (unsurprisingly), offers visitors a chance to see oysters being harvested and shucked straight from the basket, ensuring the shortest distance from farm to mouth.

Restaurant Viking, also located by the fjord, serves these fresh oysters alongside other delectable seafood dishes. The briny, succulent oysters are a highlight, offering a taste of the Adriatic’s bounty that is hard to surpass. And with the Kontija Forest just a stone’s throw from the channel, a lunch can easily be combined with a hike or bike ride along the picturesque trails that weave their way through the trees.

Seafood: A Celebration of the Adriatic

Istria’s coastline provides an abundance of seafood, making it an essential part of the region’s cuisine. Octopus salad, a simple dish favoured by the locals is prepared with tender octopus, fresh vegetables, and a drizzle of olive oil. Restaurant Viking is a perfect spot also for their exceptional rendition of this dish, among other seafood delights such as marinated anchovies.

Just south down the coast is the idyllic cobble stoned town of Rovinj. This pocket of luxury offers endless exploration of sea bites, from high-end restaurants to cosy taverns, Rovinj promises gourmet experiences with stunning views. Places like Puntulina have perfected the art of grilling, or gradele – seabass and other fish are grilled to perfection, capturing the smoky flavours of the grill and maintaining the delicate texture of the fish. Creating that seaside spark we all search for, all whilst watching the sun set over a gorgeous sea.

Over at the Laurel Berry Restaurant in the Grant Park Hotel, you can experience Adriatic loveliness with Shrimp Buzura, a must-try dish that takes the best of the ocean and cooks it into a medley that you’ll love to need a bib for. Cockles, mussels, and langoustine, all cooked in a rich, aromatic sauce that epitomises the flavours of the sea.

Meat: A Taste of Istrian Tradition

While seafood is plentiful, Istria also boasts exceptional meat dishes. Boškarin ox, a breed native to Istria, is celebrated for its rich, flavourful meat. At Hotel Amfiteatar restaurant in Pula, boškarin ox cheek is cooked to tender perfection, offering a taste of traditional Istrian cuisine. Pula, with its well-preserved colosseum and ancient city gates, is not just a historical treasure but also a burgeoning food destination.

For a variety of meat dishes, Staraskola Krasica, a converted old art school house, provides a charming setting to enjoy pies, salads, and other delicious sharing plates with ever-changing seasonal menus. This unique venue combines rustic charm with culinary excellence and stunning artwork, creating a memorable dining experience.

Wine: The Perfect Pairing

No discussion of Istrian cuisine is complete without mentioning its incredible wines. The region’s vineyards produce a range of wines that perfectly complement its diverse culinary offerings. From the crisp, refreshing whites that pair beautifully with seafood to the robust reds that enhance the richness of meat and truffle dishes, Istrian wines are a delight.

Below the encapsulating castle town of Motovun, with a 360-view of Istria, Tomaz Winery offers tastings that allow visitors to sample the best of Istrian viticulture. The stunning views over the vineyards towards the beautiful town from the winery add to the allure, making it a perfect destination for wine enthusiasts.

Olive Oil: Liquid Gold of Istria

Istrian olive oil is another cornerstone of the region’s luxurious food culture. The peninsula’s unique climate and soil composition produce some of the world’s finest olive oils, known for their rich, complex flavours and exceptional quality. Olive oil production in Istria dates back to ancient times, and today, it remains a symbol of the region’s agricultural heritage.

The olive oils from Istria are often described as having a distinctively fruity and peppery taste, with a perfect balance of bitterness and pungency. Unlike anything you can source at home, these oils elevate dishes in such a way that works seamlessly with the variation of produce from the peninsula. Many local producers and sellers, such as The Olive Oil Museum in Pula offer tours and tastings, allowing visitors to experience the production process and savour the oil in all of its forms.

Recommended stays

  • Hotel Lone Rovinj start from £146 (€170) per night for a double room
  • Grand Park Hotel Rovinj start from £235 (€273) per night for a double room