Italian Influence on the Istrian Traditional Cuisine


Istria is a beautiful Croatian peninsula rich in history, culture, natural beauties, and tradition. Even though that tradition is certainly unique and specific when we’re talking about Croatian regions, no doubt that Italy has had a big influence on the Istrian cultural development and gastronomy.

For example, Istria is often called new Tuscany (even The Guardian said it) due to its beautiful coast, bays, and picturesque little towns. The Guardian especially emphasizes the beauty of Rovinj which certainly resembles Italian Venice due to its small, narrow and polished cobbled streets.

Besides that, central Istria is intertwined with vineyards, stone houses, and beautiful greenery so it surely has some touches of the Tuscany. Following the mentioned resemblances, we came to the Istrian fantastic gastronomy and the best word to describe it is – diversity.

History of Croatian Italians

The first thought that comes to the mind when talking about Istrian gastronomy is definitely pasta. Istria is known for its authentic and traditional pasta preparations. But before we talk about the flavors and aromas, we need to go a bit to the past.

Istria has a quite turbulent history which significantly influenced its traditional cuisine. It combines Germanic, Slavic, and Italian influences and due to that, Istria is known for its multiculturalism. Even though a few other countries and cultures left their traces in Istria, Italy has certainly left the biggest one.

According to the latest census, 17 807 Italian live in Croatia and almost three quarters of that number live in Istria. There, they make 6.03% of the population. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Dalmatia, Kvarner (especially Rijeka), and Istria were the main regions for trade and business, and they mostly worked with Italy. Due to that, the Italian cultural influence was great on those regions. But as the time went by, most Italians went back to the Italy and only a small number of them have stayed. Therefore, Croatian Italians are descendants of immigrants from Italy in those past centuries. As they came here, they brough their own culture and traditions which were the basis of what is today known as Istrian gastronomy tradition.

Also, Italian influence is the most visible in the town Rovinj. The city was a part of Venetian Republic for more than 500 years and that influence is seen on every corner of the city. A part of Italian culture, which left its trace on the Croatian peninsula, is certainly visible in gastronomy – the main topic of this story.

Pasta of the Ancient World

The Italian influence is mostly felt in dishes prepared with fish, shellfish, crabs, shrimps, and other seafood, especially if those dishes are made in a combination with pasta.

The Istrian culture of the gastronomy is intertwined with Italian cuisine, as well as with the Italian way of living and due to that, it is important to cherish those roots and influences. The most obvious Italian recipe that Istria inherited and then turned it into its own tradition is pasta!

The oldest preserved source for the pasta recipe is parchment from China 2 000 years BC. Pasta was also prepared in antiquity or to be more specific, in Greece and Rome while the Etruscans drew on reliefs utensils for making pasta 4 centuries BC. But let’s go to the modern times and the connection between Italy and Istria. As you can see, pasta has been around for years and years, and yet most famous recipes came from Italy.

Due to the Italian culture and traditions, Istria is today known for its autochthonous pasta (Italy only brough the basic ideas). Fuži, pljukanci, njoki, pasutice, lazanje, ravioli, makaruni, and rigationi are just a few types of pasta which can be found on the menu of almost every Istrian restaurant. The most famous pasta are certainly fuži, pljukanci, and gnocchi. The pasta is prepared with interesting ingredients, nuances, aromas, and seasonings in order to provide that unbelievable ecstasy of the intertwined flavors.

Of course, the pasta is also prepared with the already mentioned crabs, shrimps, and other seafood, as well as meat and various sauces. The Italian influence is mostly seen in those combinations of pasta and seafood.

Beautiful & Traditional Present

Istria is known as a Mediterranean region enriched with indigenous wines and fantastic gastronomy with a touch of olives and truffles. It is a region of developed enculture, authentic agritourism and traditional way of living.

Throughout its turbulent history, Istria was exposed to the influences of other countries, cultures, and civilizations which intertwined (and with a touch of the existing Istrian culture) became a true gem in Croatian arms with a bit of Italian beauty seen in small towns and streets. Italy may have a big impact on Istria, its cuisine and roots, but the people of that Croatian peninsula took all that influence and turn it into a unique gastronomy with a few drops of Italy as the seasoning.