Producing some of the world’s finest foods, it’s no surprise that Istria offers some of Croatia’s most exciting gastronomic experiences: from sampling some of the best olive oils in the world and exploring its award-winning vineyards, to hunting truffles in the forests which swathe its interior. The beauty of dining out in Istria is that eating in an affordable konoba tavern can prove just as satisfying as indulging at one of the coast’s fancy fine dining restaurants, with world-class ingredients and superb local wines an option at both.
Along the coast, fish is the dish of the day, with menus honouring local octopus, squid and oysters fresh from the Limski Kanal. Inland, Istrian food is a meatier feast, featuring rich boškarin cattle and local cured meats. The abundance of exquisite food in Istria also makes in-villa cooking a pleasure. This Istrian food and wineries guide gives you the low-down on a few of the region’s most famous delicacies and where to try them…
Istria’s forests are famous for their truffles, particularly the prestigious white truffle, and the area’s restaurants use them in abundance – truffle pasta is an Istrian classic! Head to Konobo Mondo in the ancient hilltop town of Motovun, where they shave fresh truffle on everything with gusto.
Alternatively, for the ultimate fine dining truffle-themed meal, book a table at Rovinji’s Restaurant Zigante – famous for incorporating truffles into every single dish – including their ice cream!
To really get to grips with Istria’s liquid gold, explore the region’s ‘olive oil routes’ – you can download a map from www.istra.hr.
In Pula, the House of Istrian Olive Oil teaches you to taste the oil like a pro and identify key aromas and flavours. They also have a super shop where you can purchase a range of local artisan foods.
Alternatively, immerse yourself within the groves surrounding the city, at scenic Villa Meneghetti. Dating back to the early 1900s, they offer olive oil tastings alongside sommelier classes and creative cookery masterclasses, using hand-picked olives that grow within the estate.
Thanks to its prominence in modern Istrian cuisine, this once endangered Istrian ox is having a comeback. Chefs need special training to prepare and cook it, so you will only find it in certain restaurants. Head to family-run Konoba Buščina a 15-minute drive from Umag, and make sure you indulge in plenty of the restaurant’s olive oil too – they make it themselves!
The Limski Kanal’s is famous for its oysters. The terrace at Viking Restaurant is our top pick, both for the quality and presentation of the oysters and the view: the fjord’s glittering green waters. Or if you want to enjoy them like a local, grab some from one of the area’s many street vendors (with a dash of lemon for good measure.)
If you need an excuse to get stuck into a glass of Momjan’s famous muscat, then pair it with one of the region’s traditional puddings. Krafi, a ravioli-style pasta from Labin on Istria’s wild east coast, is stuffed with cheese, rum, spices, lemon zest and raisins – try it on the sunny terrace at Velo Kafe in Labin’s old town. Fritule also goes well, this festive delicacy is a small sugary doughnut filled with lemon zest and raisins – or, for something a little plainer, try a kroštule.
In recent years, Istria has started to gain serious recognition for its wine, scooping countless awards. The most popular choice is malvasia, a citrussy white wine with floral notes and a hint of almond, which complements seafood brilliantly.
Teran, the region’s ruby red staple, is also very popular and infamously fruity, pairing well with the region’s meaty pasta dishes. Istria is also known for its sweet Momjan muscat. However, every year the wineries Istria has are diversifying and creating an exciting range of new labels using varieties such as merlot, chardonnay and Nebbiolo.
The best way to find the right Istrian wine for you is to get tasting! You will see plenty of producers inviting you in as you drive through the countryside, but many of the best require pre-bookings. They vary from grand hillside estates and modest family-run vineyards to city tasting rooms.
Istrian wine tours
Tasting the region’s wines surrounded by the vineyards themselves is one of our favourite things to do in Istria, and just minutes from Momjan, Kabola is one of the best wineries Istria has… and probably the most scenic. Dating back to 1891, the family-run winery offers four different wine tasting experiences in their stone farmhouse, surrounded by rolling hills.
Nearby Kozlović Winery is just as picturesque. Dating back to 1904 the bucolic family-run estate offers various tasting experiences – try their intense rosé.
Twenty-minutes’ drive from Novigrad, family-run Geržinić has a superb variety of wines to try, from their indigenous teran and malvasia to cabernet sauvignon, syrah and chardonnay – not to mention their own extra virgin olive oil.
The new kid on the block is Roxanich Heritage Wine Hotel. Owned by the Roxanich family, well-known fine wine producers, the on-site winery and expansive wine cellar is open for tastings and tours.
Urban wine bars
You don’t have to hit the hills for a good wine experience. Pula’s Enoteca Istriana is conveniently located near the Temple of Augustas, making it an ideal pit stop for day-trippers taking in the city’s Roman ruins. It has a good selection of premium Istrian wines and a buzzy atmosphere, particularly in the evening. Hidden down a side street in Poreč, busy Bacchus is a good spot for lone travellers after a tipple, and Rovinj’s cosy Piassa Granda wine bar boasts over 150 labels… almost all of which are Istrian.