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Istria & its Cuisine

 
 

More Italian than the Italians! 

   

 

  

 

Istria is the gastronomical heart of Croatia, with its crumbling stone villages and sparkling rivers, all surrounded by the glistening blue Adriatic.  The region has a mixed and fascinating history (conquered by the Romans, the Goths, the Croats, the Franks, then annexed by the Republic of Venice in 1267 and later given to the Hapsburgs by Napoleon...) but the predominant influence remains Italian.  The Istrians describe themselves as "più Italiani degli Italiani."  More Italian than the Italians!  Almost everything from the picturesque hillside villages to Istrian dishes has two names: the town of Abbzia in Italian is also known as Opatija in Croatian.  Italian fusilli are also Croatian fusi.

Istria’s charming coast, reminiscent of the Greek isles, and its rugged inland Alpine beauty began to exert its charms on tourists after the fall of Tito and Croatian independence.  The reputation of Istria’s unique cuisine also began to grow because of the emphasis on fresh, locally-grown organic produce including delicacies such as Istrian truffles, hams and olive oil and it has in recent years become a mecca for culinary tourists.  In New York, Istrian-born chef Lidia Bastianich has long been a particularly effective evangelist from her East-Side Felidia where she combines Istrian with other Italian dishes.  Try the renowned krafi or ravioli filled with cheese, raisins, rum and grated lemon rind - also known poetically as wedding pillows.

While Istrian food is really a variation on an Italian theme, Balkan and Germanic influences lend it a distinct flavor.  Where else would one find something so refreshingly distinct and pungent as polenta squid soup?  Mussels, clams and swordfish abound, often simply grilled with olive oil or lightly breaded.  A hearty vegetable stew with sauerkraut and bacon known as jote or vegetable gnocchi are perfect for chilly autumn or winter nights.  Fusi al tartufo are delicate cylindrical pasta served with olive oil and topped with grated white truffles.    

And then there are the Istrian wines: the fruity white Malvasia (or Malvazija) or perhaps  the lovely deep red known as Terran.  Or there is Kruskovac, a local pear liqueur that is sure to transport you to sublime levels of post-prandial contentment.  Perhaps the food is why the Romans called Istria terra magica...  

 

 
Eat: Felidia, New York 

Eat: Rudar Club, Astoria 

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