Istria cuisine: 10 things we love

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The cuisine of Istria: 10 things we love

Culinary crossroads

The unique positioning of the peninsula spanning Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, as well as its time being ruled by the Venetians and AustroHungarians, makes Istria a real melting pot. You can see influences in the buildings, dishes and cultures from these periods, and in less than an hour you can drive through three different countries, each with its own traditions and cuisines.

Antique city Motovun Croatia Istria. Picturesque panorama age-old village at hill with pink cloud and sunny light and authentic home with red tegular roof and green vineyard garden.

Antique city Motovun Croatia Istria.

World-renowned truffles

This small region is one of the only places in the world to boast both black truffles, abundant in spring, and powerfully aromatic white alba truffles, that are ready to be plucked from the ground in early autumn. Locals slice and shave truffle onto everything from pasta and risotto to slow-cooked beef cheeks and even ice cream.

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Chef hold black truffle in the hand.

Dry-cured ham

Istrians use ancient techniques to cure meats with only air and salt. Pršut is the region’s symbolic dry-cured ham, similar to prosciutto. Dried pork loin, ombolo, is cured with sea salt and seasoned with spices, while the iconic Istrian sausage is cooked in malvasia before drying. All are served at aperitif time with local wines.


Istria’s positioning is ideal for growing vines, and winemakers have learnt techniques from neighbours in Italy. Grand crus are grown in Santa Lucia in Western Istria, where malvasia grapes thrive thanks to high, sun-soaked slopes and proximity to the sea, as well as Santa Elisabetta, at 330 metres altitude, surrounded by forests and hills, where black teran grapes are grown in white soil.

Malvasia also known as Malvazia is a group of wine grape varieties grown historically in the Mediterranean region

Traditional konobas

A konoba is a small house on a vineyard where farmers would take a break to drink wine and graze on bread and cured meat, often dried in the building itself. Nowadays, the word konoba is synonymous with a restaurant or tavern. Istria is still an agricultural region, so on Sundays many families meet in local rustic restaurants to enjoy traditional dishes such as sausages, stews, pastas and steaks, and reward their hard work.

Olive oil

Olive trees are like pets in Istria – everyone has one. The peninsula’s oldest fruit-bearing olive tree sits on Brijuni island off the south-west coast. At more than 1,600 years old, it is a symbol of the award-winning extra-virgin olive oil cooperatives that have been created in the region by families and small businesses, many winning international awards thanks to their fruity green notes and peppery finish.

Istria olives

Veli Jože cheese

The Istrian version of parmesan (named after the chef’s ‘tall’ grandpa Jože as well as a good giant from Istria legends), this rich, semi-hard cheese is made by a family-run business in Žminj, where cows graze on the unique herb-filled pastures that even alters the taste of the cheese in winter and summer. Locals use the cheese to make a traditional dish combining twirly fuži pasta and aromatic black truffles.

Wild asparagus

This variety of asparagus, grown in the peninsula’s dense woodlands, is much more bitter and mineral-rich than its regular counterpart. We use it in pasta, risotto and a traditional fritaja, and I add it to a contemporary dish with almond tuile, goat’s cheese curd and chamomile syrup.

Fresh Asparagus

Coastal influence

Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea and the sea has a big impact on the region, its people and its cuisine. Charming coastal towns including Rovinj, Pula and Poreč are full of restaurants serving fish platters, while the turquoise waters of Lim Bay are abundant with flat, sweet oysters.

Mountain food

Three hundred years ago, someone in the middle of the peninsula wouldn’t be able to make it to the sea in one day, so inland communities had to rely on meat, veg and wild game. Rabbit stew is still very popular, slowly cooked in red teran wine, veg and herbs, and finished with butter.

Close-Up Shot of a Local Dish at a Restuarant in Makarska, Croatia Summertime

Where to eat in Istria

Tomaz Winery

A contemporary stone winery where you can taste Istrian wines with breathtaking views of hilltop town, Motovun.

Tomaz Winery copy

Tony’s Oyster Shack

A rustic, shell-adorned shack perched on the turquoise waters of Lim Bay, where local character Tony shucks oysters after fun, informative boat trips.


Learn about extra-virgin olive oil in a tour and tasting at this award-winning, family-run farm.


Perched on the rocks in Venetian-style Rovinj, this waterfront restaurant serves the likes of seafood platters, monkfish in malvasia wine and shrimp pasta.


Stara Škola

A rural restaurant housed in an old school where chefs use garden and local produce in a five-course, sharing-style menu.

Restaurant Zigante

This fine-dining restaurant works fresh truffles into an artistically presented tasting menu served with exceptional Istrian wines.

Where to stay in Istria

Hotel Lone, Rovinj

Set in a secluded pine forest with a beach, just a short walk to Rovinj harbour, this elegant, contemporary hotel is designed in the image of a cruise ship. The expansive grounds, generous buffet breakfast, multiple swimming pools and sleek, spacious rooms with large balconies overlooking the turquoise waters makes the hotel ideal for families.

Doubles from £195, check availability at, or

San Canzian Hotel & Residences, Buje

Tucked away in northern Istria’s foliage-rich hills is this medieval hamlet turned intimate boutique hotel. The 28 rooms are decorated in soft, muted tones pepped up with 15th-century vintage furniture and vibrant beeswax canvases. Elegant on-site restaurant Luciano is strategically placed so guests can enjoy an aperitif from the 600-strong wine cellar as the sky turns pink over the olive trees, Adriatic Sea and Dolomites in the distance. Executive chef Pavo Klaric works homegrown and local ingredients into contemporary spins on traditional Istrian dishes – polenta-crusted cod on pine nut cream, rabbit slow cooked in red wine, and agnolotti pasta filled with young Istrian curd. After a breakfast of cured ham, crumbly cheese and fruits plucked from the abundant estate, take laps of the pool or pad down to the serene spa complete with Finnish sauna and candlelit hot tub.

Doubles from £303, check availability at, or

Meneghetti Wine Hotel & Winery, Bale

An elegant entrance lined with pine trees sets the tone for this prestigious, 12-hectare estate. Red-roofed stone residences are nestled into the trees, olive groves and vines for a secluded stay. The conservatory restaurant serves modern takes on Istrian dishes such as ravioli with Motovun black truffle, as well as vegetables from the garden doused in olive oil, while the swish new winery hosts tastings of the estate’s award-winning wines grown in the rich red soil.

Doubles from £466, check availability at or


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