Istrian cuisine today reflects the culinary heritage and tradition of Croatia’s large northern peninsula. It’s a delicious blend of Mediterranean and continental influences and focuses on what nature gives at the moment. Fresh truffles are available throughout the year and wild asparagus is celebrated in Spring. Some of the world’s best extra virgin olive oils are produced here. The seafood from the Adriatic is to die for. The meat and seasonal vegetables from local farmers are cooked to perfection with wild herbs and spices from the green inland. The peninsula is also home to several indigenous grape varietals and mostly small family-run wineries that produce excellent wines.
Jump to a section of this article
Blue Istria – The coast
The coastal areas, so-called “blue” Istria, live in harmony with the sea. The imperative is to preserve the fresh, original taste of seafood. Everything is seasoned with wild herbs such as rosemary, parsley, bay leaf, sage, and shallot, and dressed with premium Istrian extra virgin olive oil. The golden-yellow Istrian malvasia wine perfectly complements the light seafood dishes.
Green Istria – Inland
The inland, “green” Istria is filled with lush gardens, orchards, vineyards, and forests rich in truffles. Many taverns and family estates prepare traditional Istrian omelets and meat and pasta dishes. These often contain wild asparagus, Istrian extra virgin olive oil, and of course, truffles. The delicacies are usually paired with teran, merlot, or muscat wine.
The Gastronomical Delights of Istria
Gastronomy is an integral part of Istrian tourism, whether you’re staying on the coast or inland. Besides visiting numerous events dedicated to local products and many taverns and restaurants preparing dishes in traditional ways, you can also participate in different activities to get a first-hand experience. We’ve picked some of our favorite ways to learn about, and enjoy, Istria’s delicious culinary traditions.
Learn all about preparing fish & seafood
In the small town of Medulin, near Pula, you can enjoy a full-day fish cooking class. There you will learn you how to choose, clean, fillet, grill, and serve fish, and make delicious seafood dishes. Two very good friends, big foodies, and great hosts, Goran and Nikola, decided to turn an old family house into a cooking studio. The house used to belong to Goran’s grandmother, who, together with her partner, ran a small, self-sufficient farm. Behind the house, she had a garden, a chicken coop, and olive trees. Everything she would put on the table was fresh and organic, and it’s an example the two friends follow.
The class starts in Pula with a visit to the lively fish market. There the hosts will help you choose fresh fish and shellfish caught by local fishermen. You continue to Medulin, where you put your apron on and start cooking. The first dish is usually a carpaccio, a traditional appetizer in Istria, and, of course, neighboring Italy, made of thinly sliced raw fish. The shellfish is usually cooked with rice, resulting in a savory risotto. Another traditional preparation is in a brodetto, a seafood stew. Finally, you grill the fish you previously filleted yourself.
Or try your hand at Peka, a signature Croatian dish
Besides the fish cooking class, you can opt for the traditional peka class. Peka is a round domed lid used to cover a baking tray with food. The tray is put inside a fireplace, the dome placed over it, and covered with hot coal. It allows the food to slowly cook in its own juices. Your hosts help you choose a nice piece of veal, beef, or lamb at Pula’s market which you cook with potatoes and vegetables in their beautiful studio in Medulin. This one is hard to replicate at home because you need a large fireplace, but a lot of fun to take part in.
Wine Tastings and Winery Stays
To come to Istria and not try its renowned wines, such as Istrian malvasia, Teran, or Momjan muscat, would be a sin. The Istrian countryside is packed with colorful vineyards and boutique wineries. Passionate winemakers producing wines from indigenous grapes or giving international varieties a local twist make for some interesting results. You can meet this side of the region by joining a wine tasting tour, which will teach you the basics of pairing traditional flavors with the finest Istrian wines. If you’d prefer a longer spell at a winery, we can even arrange a stay at a beautiful boutique winery hotel directly the hilltop town of Motovun.
Did you know that you can go truffle hunting in the middle of Istria? The members of the Prodan family have been truffle hunters for generations and produce many delicacies from truffles. They enjoy giving their guests a bit of insight into the lives of truffle hunters and their well-trained dogs. You can walk with them to the locations where truffles grow and, if you are lucky enough, find some truffles! Besides being experienced and knowledgeable truffle hunters, the Prodans are amazing hosts and you get to enjoy a traditional dish with fresh truffles and many other truffle treats.
The First Michelin Star Restaurant in Croatia
Taking everything we have mentioned so far into consideration, it’s not surprising that the first Michelin star in Croatia was awarded to a restaurant in Istria, back in 2017. So if you are in search of a culinary treat, visit Monte, a world-class restaurant located in the historic center of Rovinj offering an extraordinary culinary experience. The chef uses only the best Istrian produce to create masterpieces on a plate.
Five Star Fine Dining
Mix killer views of Rovinj’s Old Town with high-end dining at the Grand Park Hvar’s Cap Aureo restaurant. Allow yourself to be guided through the menu by your server. For the ultimate experience, a chef’s table is available.
Farm to Table on the outskirts of Rovinj
For a more laid-back experience, yet no less delicious, we recommend visiting Agrotourism Valrosa. Father and son team Sandro and Viktor Rudan run the place. Their tavern has only a few tables and there is no menu as such. They serve homemade dishes and local products. It’s an excellent place to get a peka, as long as you pre-order. Viktor quit his job as F&B manager at a 5 star hotel for the simpler life of running this agroturizam with his father. He loves that is allows him to spend more time with his wife and kids too, and he’s never been happier. Between them they make for excellent and welcoming hosts. Located on the outskirts of Rovinj, you’ll need to drive or take a taxi (a far better idea as they’ll ply you with homemade liquor and their wines).
If your culinary curiosity is piqued, we can create a custom itinerary for you featuring these and many more delights or take a look at some sample itineraries focusing on Croatian food & wine excellence.
Originally from a small town in northeastern Croatia, Sanja’s life was changed when she went to Poznan in Poland as an exchange student. Surrounded by students sharing their cultures from around the world, Sanja set about visiting her new friends as much as she could, once she returned to Croatia. Unsurprisingly, she picked up the addiction to travel we all share! A licensed tour guide in Zagreb with Master’s degrees in both English and history under her belt, Sanja’s itchy feet naturally brought her to JayWay, instead of to a classroom job. With her previous experience organizing travel for American premed students, we found Sanja to be a perfect fit, and are sure you will too.