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journals

Croatia’s Hidden Food Scene!

Taste some of Croatia's incredible food on the Istrian coast...

journals

Croatia’s Hidden Food Scene!

Taste some of Croatia's incredible food on the Istrian coast...

Croatia’s Hidden Food Scene! | DonalSkehan.com, Taste some of Croatia's incredible food on the Istrian coast...
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
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Croatia may not be the first place that springs to mind as a mecca for fresh seasonal produce with rich traditional cuisine. But those in the know have been savouring the food of this spectacular country for years.

When I was presented with the 10 countries we would be filming in for my Food Network series, I never could have imagined just how taken I would be with the food, the people and culture. Croatia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, became an independent nation in 1991. While most of the country’s landmass is inland bordered by Hungary, Slovenia and Bosnia, its long coastline hugs the Adriatic sea providing a diverse climate.

Croatia may not be the first place that springs to mind as a mecca for fresh seasonal produce with rich traditional cuisine. But those in the know have been savouring the food of this spectacular country for years.

When I was presented with the 10 countries we would be filming in for my Food Network series, I never could have imagined just how taken I would be with the food, the people and culture. Croatia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, became an independent nation in 1991. While most of the country’s landmass is inland bordered by Hungary, Slovenia and Bosnia, its long coastline hugs the Adriatic sea providing a diverse climate.

 

 

 

 

Istria, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic sea was to be my culinary playground on this visit to Croatia. And Green Market, in the centre of Pula, one of the main towns in the region, made the perfect starting point for my introduction to Croatian cuisine. Lost in a sea of stalls, heavy with a bounty of plums, peaches and plump tomatoes, I was surrounded by some of the freshest produce I have ever come across and it was easy to see the Croatians took food seriously.

Stall holders encouraged food pedestrians to sample their finest fare. After pushing through a flurry of activity at the market, next door at the indoor fish market the bustle and barter increased tenfold, with locals buying their body weight in seafood. With all these ingredients floating around my mind, my appetite was seriously whetted, it was time to eat!

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Istria, the largest peninsula in the Adriatic sea was to be my culinary playground on this visit to Croatia. And Green Market, in the centre of Pula, one of the main towns in the region, made the perfect starting point for my introduction to Croatian cuisine. Lost in a sea of stalls, heavy with a bounty of plums, peaches and plump tomatoes, I was surrounded by some of the freshest produce I have ever come across and it was easy to see the Croatians took food seriously.

Stall holders encouraged food pedestrians to sample their finest fare. After pushing through a flurry of activity at the market, next door at the indoor fish market the bustle and barter increased tenfold, with locals buying their body weight in seafood. With all these ingredients floating around my mind, my appetite was seriously whetted, it was time to eat!

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Croatia’s cuisine and in particular Istrian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Italians, who occupied the area as recently as 70 years ago, leaving in their wake, amphitheatres, arches, excellent olive oil and pasta.

While the Istrian’s have made the local cuisine their own it’s difficult to deny the links between the two countries. However, one of the more surprising star ingredients of the Istrian food scene is its truffles. I was invited to join Daniella Puh of Natura Tartufi and her truffle dog Biba to discover Croatian truffles. Biba was trained from a young age to sniff out these delicacies and made light work of unearthing a small fortune in black summer truffles.

Croatia’s cuisine and in particular Istrian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Italians, who occupied the area as recently as 70 years ago, leaving in their wake, amphitheatres, arches, excellent olive oil and pasta.

While the Istrian’s have made the local cuisine their own it’s difficult to deny the links between the two countries. However, one of the more surprising star ingredients of the Istrian food scene is its truffles. I was invited to join Daniella Puh of Natura Tartufi and her truffle dog Biba to discover Croatian truffles. Biba was trained from a young age to sniff out these delicacies and made light work of unearthing a small fortune in black summer truffles.

 

 

 

Daniella’s family began foraging for truffles in the early 1900’s, a tradition that has now been passed down through the generations. Natura Tartufi supplies truffles across the world and has expanded their business by producing a wide selection of truffle related products.

 

Daniella proved that not only could she find these little black beauties, but she knew how cook with them too! We devoured a rich and decadent dish of scrambled eggs with shaved black truffles and local cheese- certainly not an every day dish but an unforgettable way to enjoy those truffles.

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Daniella’s family began foraging for truffles in the early 1900’s, a tradition that has now been passed down through the generations. Natura Tartufi supplies truffles across the world and has expanded their business by producing a wide selection of truffle related products.

 

Daniella proved that not only could she find these little black beauties, but she knew how cook with them too! We devoured a rich and decadent dish of scrambled eggs with shaved black truffles and local cheese- certainly not an every day dish but an unforgettable way to enjoy those truffles.

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From land to the sea, the next stop on my Istrian food adventure was a fishing trip with David Skoko, a local chef and fisherman who caught my attention when he promised me some of Croatia’s finest… sashimi!

I normally wince when randomly paired cuisines collide, but I was assured I was in safe hands. Spending a morning gliding through the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic sea, on a small fishing boat with David, his father, and crew of waiters from Batelina, his seafood restaurant, it was clear these men meant business.

From land to the sea, the next stop on my Istrian food adventure was a fishing trip with David Skoko, a local chef and fisherman who caught my attention when he promised me some of Croatia’s finest… sashimi!

I normally wince when randomly paired cuisines collide, but I was assured I was in safe hands. Spending a morning gliding through the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic sea, on a small fishing boat with David, his father, and crew of waiters from Batelina, his seafood restaurant, it was clear these men meant business.

A scorpion fish winds up in the nets of David Skoko’s fishing boat…

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A scorpion fish winds up in the nets of David Skoko’s fishing boat…

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David writes a daily menu, based solely on what ends up in his nets, meaning unlike commercial fishing methods his by catch is made use of and nothing goes to waste. Crabs, lobster, bonito and scorpion fish were hauled onto the deck and carefully sorted and stored, while other members of the crew gutted catfish for a speciality of the restaurant, a catfish pâté, using the liver of the fish.

When we made it back to shore David treated me to his Croatian sashimi, prepared on the rocks close to the boat. Armed only with a razor sharp knife and a chopping board precariously balanced on his knees, he expertly carved thin slices from a fillet of freshly caught bonito, a super blue fish from the same family as the more commonly known mackerel and tuna. He dressed the slices with local olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and the buds of samphire growing on the rock face. Enjoyed with a cold glass of sparkling dry Malvasia wine, it was true perfection.

 

 

 

 

David writes a daily menu, based solely on what ends up in his nets, meaning unlike commercial fishing methods his by catch is made use of and nothing goes to waste. Crabs, lobster, bonito and scorpion fish were hauled onto the deck and carefully sorted and stored, while other members of the crew gutted catfish for a speciality of the restaurant, a catfish pâté, using the liver of the fish.

When we made it back to shore David treated me to his Croatian sashimi, prepared on the rocks close to the boat. Armed only with a razor sharp knife and a chopping board precariously balanced on his knees, he expertly carved thin slices from a fillet of freshly caught bonito, a super blue fish from the same family as the more commonly known mackerel and tuna. He dressed the slices with local olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and the buds of samphire growing on the rock face. Enjoyed with a cold glass of sparkling dry Malvasia wine, it was true perfection.

 

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Goran Zgrablic, a local food expert who runs cooking classes and wine tours at Eat Istria kindly invited me to his home and olive grove on one of the final evenings of my stay.

 

Goran is passionate about promoting Istrian cuisine far and wide and vowed to give me a true taste of the peninsula. As the sun set, Goran and his friends taught me to make “fuzi”, a typical pasta of the region. I would say they were somewhat similar in shape to penne, but Goran laughed off the mere idea, and pointed out their unique differences in shape. Either way the handmade pasta was the ideal accompaniment to “zgvacet”, a traditional goulash style dish of chicken, braised with tomatoes and local wine, which we savoured with plenty of wine late into the evening.

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Goran Zgrablic, a local food expert who runs cooking classes and wine tours at Eat Istria kindly invited me to his home and olive grove on one of the final evenings of my stay.

 

Goran is passionate about promoting Istrian cuisine far and wide and vowed to give me a true taste of the peninsula. As the sun set, Goran and his friends taught me to make “fuzi”, a typical pasta of the region. I would say they were somewhat similar in shape to penne, but Goran laughed off the mere idea, and pointed out their unique differences in shape. Either way the handmade pasta was the ideal accompaniment to “zgvacet”, a traditional goulash style dish of chicken, braised with tomatoes and local wine, which we savoured with plenty of wine late into the evening.

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As culinary adventures go, Croatia and Istria in particular provided me with a new and exciting view on cuisine which I had completely overlooked.  I’m already looking forward to exploring more. Until then check out the episode of Follow Donal on Food Network and check out the behind the scenes vlog episode of Donal’s European Adventure below.

As culinary adventures go, Croatia and Istria in particular provided me with a new and exciting view on cuisine which I had completely overlooked.  I’m already looking forward to exploring more. Until then check out the episode of Follow Donal on Food Network and check out the behind the scenes vlog episode of Donal’s European Adventure below.