Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Istria's gastronomic festivals

Happy 1st day of spring!

It doesn't feel like spring yet, but it's definitely on its way. Some trees already have new buds, fruit trees are flowering, and soon we'll have the season's first wild asparagus growing in the woods.

With spring (and asparagus!) come thoughts of food and Istria's many food festivals. I've compiled a list of some of the most notable that happen throughout the year and celebrate a certain food or gastronomic speciality Istria is known for.

This list is only my subjective selection and is not exhaustive: there are many many events like this all year long. The best place to find information on events happening in Istria is on the Istria Tourist Office website.

Festival of Wild Plants
Where: Kršan
When: 28 and 29 April 2018

This festival celebrates all the edible plants that can be found growing in the wild in Istria's forests and countryside at this time of year. Many of these plants were eaten in times past but may no longer be part of local cuisine. Visitors can sample a variety of dishes specially prepared using these wild plants or buy seasonal foods and products from local vendors.

Where: Kaštel (near Buje)
When: 6 to 8 April 2018

Wild asparagus is one of Istria's highly prized seasonal specialities that finds itself on the menu of every restaurant come spring. The plant's long thin shoots grow abundantly in dense forests and is much appreciated for its sharp, slightly bitter taste – an indication of its nutritional properties. The name of the asparagus festival, Šparogada, takes its name from the Croatian word for this springtime vegetable: šparoge. Taking place over three days, visitors can sample a variety of dishes prepared with the wild plant and even go on an asparagus hunt – the person who finds the longest asparagus shoot wins a prize!

Where: Porec
When: 11 to 13 May 2018

This annual international wine exhibition will celebrate its 25th year in 2018. Wine connoisseurs flock here to sample the many high-quality wines produced in the Istrian region and beyond. The three-day event includes wine tastings, presentations, and a competition awarding prizes to the region's best wines.

Festival of Istrian Maneštra
Where: Gračišće
When: 16 June 2018

Taking place right here in the village, this annual festival celebrates maneštra, a typical Istrian soup-like dish that's very similar to Italian minestrone. Local chefs cook up different varieties of this hearty soup of vegetables, grains and pulses on wood-fired stoves set up on the village square which visitors can then sample and vote for their favourite. In addition to the public's favourite maneštra, a jury awards prizes to those they judge to be the best.

Festival of Istrian Pasta
Where: Zminj
When: 30 June to 1 July 2018

Fresh homemade pasta is a staple of Istrian cuisine. During this festival, celebrity chefs prepare innovative pasta dishes at live cooking shows, which can then be sampled and paired with a local wine. Cooking demonstrations offer the chance to learn how to make the different types of fresh pasta traditionally prepared here that take the form of different shapes, like fuži, njoki and pljukanciThere are plenty of other local specialities for sale here, including olive oil, gourmet cheeses, honey and other locally made products.

Truffle Days in Istria
Where: Buzet, Livade and Motovun
When: Every weekend from September to November

Autumn is the height of the truffle season and during this time there's a string of fairs and festivals celebrating this highly-prized tuber. Starting in September and continuing until the beginning of November, these truffle-focused events are centred around the towns of Motovun, Livade and Buzet. There are plenty of opportunities to sample both black and white truffles prepared with different dishes, and witness cooking demonstrations. There are even demonstrations of truffle-hunting: only specially trained dogs can sniff out and dig up this expensive gourmet food.

During the annual Subotina Festival (8 September 2018) on Trg Fontana in the centre of Buzet's old town, a giant omelette is prepared in a huge pan with over 2000 eggs (this year 2018 eggs will be used) and 10 kg of truffles.

In October (date tbc), Motovun's Andrea Antico Square will be the setting TeTa: Teran and Truffle Festival, a one-day exhibition and tasting event featuring local Teran wine and truffles.

Other truffle events happen in Livade: Tuberfest runs for three days in October (date tbc) while another event in Buzet is the annual Truffle Weekend in early November (date tbc).

Chestnut Fair
Where: Oprtalj
When: mid-October (date tbc)

October is when chestnut trees provide their autumn fruit and naturally there's also a festival dedicated to the humble chestnut. At the Chestnut Fair in Oprtalj there are all kinds of specialities to be sampled: not only roasted chestnuts but also breads, cakes, sweets and desserts prepared with chestnuts, and other delicacies like chestnut honey. These can all be downed with the new wine of the season provided by local producers.

Istrian Grappa Fair
Where: Hum
When: Last Sunday of October (date tbc)

No visit to Istria is complete without a taste of its homemade rakija (grappa or brandy). The Istrian Grappa Festival will be in its 18th year in 2018, held in the tiny charming town of Hum, known as the smallest town in the world. Here a huge variety of homemade brandies can be sampled and bought, prepared with different types of herbs, nuts, fruits, honey and plants like mistletoe.

Days of New Olive Oil
Where: Vodnjan
When: mid-November (date tbc)

The city of Vodnjan in southern Istria is one of the centres of olive oil production in the region, and home to several award-winning producers. At this annual festival, visitors can taste the new olive oil of the season and meet local producers while chefs whip up dishes paired with newly-pressed oil prepared with different local olive varieties.

Dobar tek!

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Friday, 23 February 2018

Photo exhibition: Spirit of India

Readers of this blog will know that I usually go to India at this time of year... but this winter I'm bringing a little bit of the colours and spirit of India to Istria instead! I'm having an exhibition of some of my photographs of India at LG Galerija in Pazin. Do join me at the opening on Friday 23 February at 7pm. Or stop by and say hello during the exhibition!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Snow in the village!

On December 9th I woke up to a surprise: snow! This was the first time I was seeing the village under a blanket of the white stuff. So I grabbed my camera and headed out to capture a few shots. I'm glad I did because it soon melted. This is what it looked like:

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Old postcards of Svetvinčenat

Svetvinčenat, also known as Savičenta in local dialect (or in Italian: Sanvincenti), is one of the many highlights of interior Istria. If you visit this charming town's square you'll see that it hasn't changed much from how it looked in this postcard from 1901.

Dominating the square is the Renaissance-style church and Grimaldi castle, both built in the 13th century (the castle's towers were added later in the 16th century). There's also an enclosed well taking up a section of the square and in the south-western corner, a loggia.

A post shared by Isabel (@isabelswindow) on

This atmospheric Renaissance piazza and the castle provide the backdrops for the annual medieval festival held here in the summer, and a contemporary dance festival every July.

On a summer evening, Svetvinčenat is a great place to have a drink at one of the little cafes lining the road leading to the square, or a pizza on the terrace right on the square itself.

A post shared by Isabel (@isabelswindow) on

A post shared by Isabel (@isabelswindow) on

The arched windows of its houses, crumbling facades and antique-style lanterns also add a touch of old world charm that make this little town one of my favourites in Istria.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Animal friends

Squeaky incognito on the bookshelf

It's been a while since I posted about Squeaky, the South Indian cat and our other animal friends in the village. Squeaky is doing great, but unfortunately we and other friends and neighbours lost quite a few animal friends this year...

This spring our friend M was heartbroken when she lost her cat Luna, a few months after her kitten MiMoon succumbed to organ failure. She suspects she was attacked by another animal: a stray dog or erring fox? It's hard to know. Around the same time, our friends A and V lost both their doggie friends Biba and Miki, possibly to poisoning. And not long after that, their cat MjuMju went missing one night and was found the next morning in the woods nearby. Unfortunately in a rural area like this one there are a lot of potential hazards out there.

Rest in peace Točka 
In August we lost our sweet little Točka. Točka's love for food ensured that she would never stay away from home for very long so when she didn't show up one morning we knew something was very wrong. After a thorough search of all her favourite hang-outs, we found her where we least expected: by the side of the main road. Of course we didn't imagine she ventured that far.

All of these animals are sorely missed!

In more positive news, M has a new kitty called Nube, and A and V have adopted a cat called Mitzy. We were all holding our breath when Nube disappeared for a few days in October, but M was sure she would show up. And sure enough, she did... about a week later. Had she wandered off somewhere? Or was she locked in a garage or barn during that time? Only Nube knows but the fact she did indeed come home was great news.

Ive snoozing in his favourite corner
I can't believe I haven't written here about Ive, who's probably the village's best known cat. If you've visited the tavern Konoba Marino, then you've definitely met Ive. He likes to nap on one of the window sills of the Salamon Palace just opposite or you'll find him wandering around the square or near the main church. Ive has become such a feature in the village that he was even featured in the local paper!

As for Squeaky, it's obvious she's enjoying being the only cat in the house again. Though she seemed to put up with Točka's antics and tolerated her presence, it's now clear that she didn't like the new co-habitation arrangement at all. Now that she's the one and only, she's gone back to being cuddly and affectionate and no longer fixes us with those cat looks that could kill.

These days she spends most of her time in front of the fireplace keeping warm (she is from South India after all), spying on our neighbours from the bedroom window, sitting in sunny spots, and making occasional forays into the village to check on things.

To see what she's up to day-to-day, check out her Instagram account!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Gračišće landmarks: Kašća

Another important historical landmark here in the village located right next to the Salamon Palace and opposite St. Mary's Church is a building called kašća. This was the granary and many towns and villages dating back to medieval times had one. 

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Next to St. Mary's Church is a large piece of stone with five deep indentations (see photo above). This was used as a measure for taxes paid in the form of grain. After it was collected it would be stored in the granary and a share was distributed to poorer residents.

The building dates back to 1576 and like its next-door neighbour, is in a sad state of disrepair. More recently the roof has fallen in and like other abandoned buildings here in the village it's under long-standing litigation.

There are plans by the municipality to restore this handsome building and turn it into a wine museum though I would prefer to see it used as a cultural space instead. But I'm looking forward to the day when one of the village's important landmarks located on its main square is completely restored to its former glory. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

You know you grew up in an Istrian family when...

Have you come across those jokes and memes about growing up in a certain culture abroad that are light-hearted pokes at what it's like to grow up in, for example, an Italian or Indian immigrant family? I've even come across You Know You're Croatian When...

Well, I've come up with my own version of:

You know you grew up in an Istrian family (abroad) when...

1. You had to address your parents' friends as barba or teta.
2. 90% of your parents' friends were Istrian or Italian.
3. You couldn't understand the few Croatian friends your parents did have.
4. You didn't go to the Croatian church.
5. You didn't go to "Croatian school" on Saturday mornings either.
6. Your parents would watch Italian TV.
7. You had radić and blitva growing in the backyard.
8. And pršut hanging in the cellar.
9. Your parents would make wine and rakija in the basement.
10. Rakija was used as medicine.
11. You got in trouble for walking barefoot.
12. You went to Catholic school.
13. You had a souvenir of the Pula Arena somewhere in the house.
14. And old copies of Istarska Danica.
15. And Jugoton cassettes of Lidija Percan. 

What did I forget?

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