Home to pebble beaches, not sandy beaches. I found that weird. I was privileged enough to travel to the Istrian region of Croatia where we had the most amazing cooking experience with Goran, a chemistry teacher by trade and chef by passion.
After booking online (www.eatistria.com) we met Goran in front of the exquisite amphitheater, Pula arena, where we began our cooking adventure by buying our own organic chicken, vegetables, almonds, various cheeses, pork belly and an Istrian cured ham called pršut (don’t try to pronounce that). Of course we had to taste everything before we bought it including goats milk yoghurt, which was surprisingly delicious. Everything bought from the local markets was such a fresh experience – knowing what you get is locally produced and having a sense of pride because local is mos lekker!
After following Goran through the narrow streets of Pula we arrived at a beautiful house with a garden of herbs, roses, pomegranate & lemon trees with perfect timing for the marenda (brunch). Goran arranged thin slices of ham on grey tile slate and topped it with wild asparagus, it was such a beautiful contrast with the deep pink ham, the bright green asparagus and the grey of the slate. We ate this with fresh bread and cheese, paired with the first of many perfect food & wine pairings. I must say that I was hugely impressed with Goran’s choice of wines after tasting the vinegar-like Istrian wines everywhere else.
Here we go. On the menu was a chicken broth with vermicelli (Juliet-like strips of pasta) garnished with parmesan cheese. The main was a 4-5 hour chicken stew (which was never stirred) with thee most mind-blowing cheese-filled ravioli you have ever tasted and an orange flourless almond cake for dessert and we topped it off with grappa and an espresso – Excuse my drooling.
Once the grumbling in our bellies was silenced it was pasta-making time and on que Peena walks in! Now Peena, is this short, old, friendly lady who looks exactly like the Italian mama in the fatti’s & monis tv commercial. She is the original deal people. A wonderful soul who carries generations of pasta tradition and was so willing to share her knowledge with us. I personally thought the food was sublime with the love she puts in the food. She’s like a care bear.
After much time kneading dough it time to enjoy the fruits of our labor! We sat down at the long table in a family style setting and ate like kings and queens. Istrian food is very simple seasoned only with herbs, salt and pepper, this is because they have great respect for the wonderful produce and they don’t want to cover the flavor with too many spices. I second that. Or was it a third – anyway, you get the point, I ate a lot!
What a wonderful way to learn about Istrian cooking and culture in an afternoon filled with well-fermented grapes and exceptional food. It was well worth the €105 per person and would highly recommend this amazing experience.
The next day we went to the tip of the Istrian region called Point Kamenjak with a splendid vista of the Adriatic Sea. This place messed up my internal compass as the jungle type vegetation was surrounded with bars stretching all across the coastline. I’ve included some images of our survival mode adventure. Enjoy!