The Istria region and peninsula of Croatia is one of the world’s top foodie vacation destinations. With gourmet restaurants, unique tasting experiences, and some of the best truffles the world has to offer, it is a gastronomic destination well worth a visit. Some of the best Croatian food experiences can be found on this small peninsula, just a few hours from the capital of Zagreb.
Top Croatian Food Experiences: The Istria Foodie Trail
Istria is a peninsula on the western edge of Croatia, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy and south of the Slovenian border. If you’re a food lover, it’s hard to beat the incredible gastronomy experiences that Istria has to offer and the Croatian food options on hand. Here’s what you need to know about this hot foodie destination.
History of Istrian Gastronomy
Istrian food is heavily influenced by Italy, as it’s located across the Adriatic sea from Venice and has historically been part of Italy in the past. The Venetians ruled the area from the 13th century until the 19th century, and the area later became part of Italy again during World War II.
During this period, Istrians weren’t allowed to speak Croatian and could only speak Italian. As a result, most residents of the area now speak both Croatian and Italian.
The area is very well known for creating dishes that have hints of Italy along with Croatian traditions. It’s hard to visit any restaurant and not have a great bottle of olive oil on the table and recipes on the menu featuring the sought-after and decadent white truffles. Of course, you’ll also find the wonderful wines of the region to complete a delectable Croatian foodie experience in Istria.
Istria County is the most prominent Italian-speaking part of Croatia, which makes a lot of sense considering history.
Istria is the land of truffles, olive oil, wine & delicious food
Truffle Hunting in Buzet
The town of Buzet is considered one of the truffle capitals in the world and is located in the center of the Istrian peninsula. Truffles are rare subterranean fungi that are highly sought after in the culinary community and considered a delicacy. Not only can you find truffles on most of the menu at most restaurants in Istria, but you can also book a truffle hunting experience when visiting the area.
The Karlic family is one of many who offer truffle hunting tours from Buzet. Along with the tour is a visit to their kitchen to learn about white and black truffles and the opportunity to sample fresh truffle-based dishes, such as truffle eggs, truffle wine, truffle honey, and even a chocolate truffle dessert.
A tour with the Karlic family begins in their restaurant with an overview of black and white truffles and how they hunt for them. First, a tasting of an assortment of truffled ingredients such as truffle oil, truffle cheese, truffle butter, and many others. This is followed by a cooking demonstration of truffled eggs. Don’t forget dessert! In Croatian truffle country, everything is better with fresh truffles!
Next, a visit to their shop that sells just about anything you can think of that might contain truffles. This is followed by heading to the forest to observe the dogs and truffle guide in action. Truffle hunting is really the job of the dogs, as they sniff out potential locations of the truffles. If the truffle guide thinks a dog has found a truffle, he quickly starts to dig to find the truffle. Sometimes it’s a race between the dog and the truffle guide as the dogs like truffles as much as we do and they will gobble them up if given the opportunity.
The Motovun forest is the biggest in Europe for white truffle hunting.
The town of Buzet also hosts the annual Subotina truffle festival in September, where you can sample local truffles and enjoy a number of other local festivities. This is one of the best times of year to try white truffles, which are generally only available in the fall and early winter and are extremely rare.
Fresh Olive Oil
The Istria region is well known for its excellent olive oil. In fact, the region has been recognized to have the best extra virgin olive oil for five years running by Flos Olei, an expert olive oil guide. You’ll find olive oil producers throughout the region, but one of the best places to sample it is at the Days of Young Olive Oil Festival.
This festival is held in the town of Vodnjan in mid-November and brings together over 200 Croatian olive oil producers. Over 20,000 visitors flock to the area during this three-day event.
Istrian Wine & Wine Tasting in Motovan
While visiting Istria, you’ll want to be sure to go wine tasting. The town of Motovan is one of the best places to do so, with six different wineries in the area. Novak Wines and Tomaz Wines are both located in Motovan, while highly-rated Fakin is located a bit on the outskirts. Malvazija is the region’s native white wine, while Teran is the area’s native red.
Motovan is a very old medieval fortification town that was heavily influenced by Venetian rule, but has a very creative, artsy vibe that makes it very fun to explore. You’ll find charming cafes, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants in the old walled city. In the countryside, there are many wineries open for tastings.
Local Farmers Markets
The farmer’s markets throughout Croatia are a standard way to shop. It’s a daily ritual for most to head to the market to pick up produce, fish, meat, cheese, and other products. As well a the produce market, most towns have a seafood market, meat market and inside market selling everything from pasta to spices. They are well worth a visit!
Food & Drinks You Must Try When in Croatia
The Gastronomy scene of Istria is tied to truffles, olive oil & wine as well as great food. Here are a few dishes you should try during a visit.
The Istria peninsula is on the Adriatic Sea, so it’s no surprise fish is a main dish found throughout the region. They have some of the best prawns in the world as well as great fish dishes. My favorites were the whole grilled fish as well as the fish carpaccio. Another favorite on the coast is fish soup.
If you are a foodie, you need to book a trip to the Istria region of Croatia! Here are a few of the specialties of Istria and throughout Croatia.
Soparnik looks a bit like pizza and is the most famous specialty of the Dalmatian region. Its dough rolled very think and filled with chard and lots of garlic and baked in an open oven.
Pag cheese is a Croatian variety of hard cheese made from sheep’s milk and originated from the Adriatic island of Pag. It is the most famous cheese made in the country and can be found on most restaurant menus and in most farmer’s markets. Pag cheese pairs exceptionally well with Malvazija white wine.
Prosciutto, which is dry-cured ham, is a favorite Croatian food and used widely in their cuisine. You’ll find homemade prosciutto throughout the country and on most restaurant menus, especially in Istria and Dalmatia.
Croatian fritters (fritule) are a traditional pastry that hails from the Dalmatian coast. Fritule are found everywhere in Croatia. They are light and sweet and a perfect bite of deliciousness!
Croatia has a long-lasting tradition in high-quality honey production. The number of beekeepers in Croatia is constantly growing and is one of the most successful parts of Croatian agriculture. The honey is delicious and served on many breakfast buffets at many hotels.
Croatian’s love chocolate. The most famous chocolatier in the country is Kraš and their brand Brajadera is one of the best-known chocolate in Croatia. You can find a Kraš chocolate shop in most large cities.
The most popular beer in Croatia is Ožujsko is also the first Croatian beer made in the country. The second most popular is Karlovačko. Ožujsko, also known and marketed as Žuja, is a lager beer. There is also quite a big craft-beer movement in Croatia and especially in the bars of Zagreb, Split, and Osijek.
Top Restaurants in Istria
As of January 2020, there are five restaurants with a Michelin star in Croatia. Noel in Zagreb, Draga di Lovrana in Lovran, Pelegrini in Šibenik, 360 in Dubrovnik and Monte in Rovinj. Of course, it’s not all about a Michelin star! There are an amazing amount of delicious traditional restaurants throughtout Istria as well as ones creating culinary history.
There are many great places to dine in Istria including Croatia’s first Michelin star restaurant, Monte. In fact, it would be difficult to enjoy all of them in one trip. Here are some of the must-visit restaurants in the area.
This restaurant is located in the small coastal town of Rovinj, which is often compared to Venice in terms of architecture, food, and the general feel of the town. Monte became the first restaurant in Croatia to receive a Michelin star in 2016. They provide an incredibly luxurious experience, with creative dishes and modern cooking techniques. The restaurant is located on the top of a hill in Rovinj’s old town within the chef’s family house.
Cap Aureo at Grand Hotel Park
Cap Aureo is located on the 5th floor of the Grand Hotel Park in Rovinj. The view of the old town of Rovinj is absolutely stunning and the restaurant is positioned perfectly to catch the spectacular sunset. The food is creative, delicate and delicious. It’s small bites that are created with precision and meant to be enjoyed over a long leisurely gastronomic experience.
Beyond the views and food, Cap Auero also has some of the best gender signs for bathrooms. Can you guess which sign is for those who identify as women and men?
This traditional tavern in Momjan is one of the best restaurants to experience a true Croatian food experience. The restaurant draws a crowd of hundreds every weekend, and many people even come from Slovenia to enjoy the satisfying dishes. Konoba Rino are also known for their incredible beef. The menu is very traditional to the area and includes the wonderful local cheese, prosciutto, and truffle dishes.
This small but elegant restaurant in Novigrad is an excellent place to enjoy some local seafood. There is no set menu – instead, the head chef uses fresh local ingredients and the best catches of the day to prepare innovative yet satisfying dishes.
Another excellent restaurant in the northern part of Istria, this tavern is known for its authentic meat and fish plates in a warm, cozy setting. Of course, everything is paired with delicious Istrian olive oil.
Where to Stay in Istria
With its elegant restaurants, charming architecture, and seaside views, it’s hard to beat staying in the town of Rovinj. There are many cozy Airbnb rentals in town, as well as small boutique hotels and B&Bs. The Maistra group owns many of the top hotels in the Rovinj area, including the luxurious Grand Park Hotel. This amazing hotel is set on the water and provides a truly impeccable resort experience. Other reliable options include Hotel Lone, which has a very modern design, and the Villa Tuttorotto, which offers a more traditional experience.
Recommended Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads.
- Transport: AirfareWatchDog and Skyscanner (Best Sites to Research Flight Prices)
- Accommodation: Hotels.com and Orbitz
- Airbnb, Sign up here for a $40 credit.
- Top Istria Hotel Reviews: TripAdvisor
- How to Pack for 2 Weeks in Europe (in one suitcase)
- Cheap Flights to Europe with Condor Airlines
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Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.