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Fish and seafood in Istria

The crystal clear Adriatic Sea is a noble provider and inseparable part of the local people. Seafood, in addition to the gold of the olive oil, is the main reason behind the longevity and health of people from the Mediterranean. The local people, but also the visitors, know well the different tastes and fragrances of fish and seafood caught in our seas and those that come from distant seas and oceans. The purity and transparency of the Adriatic Sea, which sometimes reaches a depth of 65 meters, and a high level of salinity and oxygen, are what make it so unique. The freshly caught fish which is offered on the tables of Istrian restaurants is the reason behind the eternal fascination of many enthusiasts in Istria, where they constantly return, discovering all the magic of Istrian cuisine’s specialties.

About fish and seafood in Istria

Istria has been familiar with the culture of the sea and with life with it since time immemorial. On this beautiful peninsula, fishing is an integral part of the life story of the existence of man, and fish has been cultivated since ancient times when eels were raised in the Dragonja River  , when oysters were raised in the Lim bay and in Premantura as well as many different kinds of fish around the Brioni islands. The deep blueness of the Adriatic Sea is home to over 400 species of various fish and countless marine inhabitants. Saltwater fish are thus divided into 2 categories: blue (sardines, mackerel, anchovy, tuna, sprat, swordfish ….) and white fish (bream,flounder, hake, sea bass ….). By the amount of fat, fish are divided into lean (hake, sole, bream), half-lean (dentex trout, surmullet, pilchard, anchovy) and oily (eel, octopus, squid).

Health Source

The cleanness of the Adriatic Sea is an imperative to health, which along with its other benefits, gives a special pleasure to food specialties. It is rich in minerals and vitamins and therefore indispensable to each table. In addition to their indispensable benefits to the cardiovascular system and to the importance of proper development, seafood is an ideal protection against cancer. It is interesting that people who frequently eat fish and seafood have a 50% lower risk of developing symptoms of depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and that children that eat seafood do not  get asthma so often. A regular intake of fish in our diet also relieves the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, diabetes and autoimmune diseases because such food calms the inflammatory processes and raises immunity. Fish and seafood also contribute to beauty because it has been proven that they significantly affect the reduction of acne and they clear skin, and they also strengthen sexual desire, because the zinc makes them a powerful aphrodisiac.

Istrian specialties

All the pleasures of the sea contained in the fresh fish, crab or clams, are the best bait for all gourmets who, like sea inhabitants, get permanently “attached” to the delicious hook of seafood delicacies. Istrian people are masters in preparing seafood and they will offer you delicacies prepared according to different recipes with love. 
Be sure to try the traditional grilled fish, seasoned with just parsley, garlic and olive oil, as it was once prepared.

Salted anchovies are a real specialty of this territory, whose original recipe has remained the same since ancient times. Salted anchovies are prepared only with fresh fish that is stored in wooden barrels and sprinkled with coarse sea salt and kept there for a few months. When the fish is extracted it is dipped in olive oil.

Juicy Istrian fish stew, once the dish of poor fishermen and today a delicacy that will surely make you lick your fingers, is an irresistible combination of different marine species in one pot. Served with yellow polenta and homemade bread that you will dip in it, ¸it is a real feast for the senses.

Stewed shrimps, mussels and squid a favourite fish dish that is prepared with olive oil, garlic, parsley and bread crumbs and sprinled with wine, reveals the richness of the taste and smell of the sea. One of the original recipes is definitely fish baked in salt, where the whole fish is completely covered in salt and baked in a preheated oven. Fish prepared in this way is surprisingly not salty or dry but rather juicy and delicious, and the “liberation” of the fish from its shell of salt has a special visual charm.

You must try the special delicacies as various soups, pastas and risottos with seafood as an appetizer or light main course, which are served with one of the Istrian wines. These specialities reveal the beauty of this magical peninsula.
Black risotto with cuttlefish is considered to be the true black pearl of the Adriatic, and it is prepared in such a way that along with the cuttlefish, olive oil, garlic and red wine, , cuttlefish “ink” is added which gives the risotto a special flavour and an attractive appearance.

Scallops are considered by many as the best shellfish in the world, and in Istria they are traditionally prepared baked in the oven with olive oil and Mediterranean spices, au gratin or in tomato sauce.
Oysters or “oštrige” as they are called in Istria, are eaten raw and served on ice with just a few drops of lemon juice or wrapped in Istrian ham and made au gratin. They are believed to be the most powerful aphrodisiac.

Be sure to try octopus under the bell (in Croatian “ispod čripnje”), which is octopus prepared under in a tin or earthen pot which is then covered with live coals and hot ashes. In addition to octopus, squid and other marine quality fish can be prepared with this method. 
Local squids are the pride of the local population and repeatedly attract visitors of Istria because of their high quality and distinctive delicate taste.  Stewed in its own juices, baked under the bell, on sauce, in a stew or stuffed, the really reveal the tastes of the Adriatic Sea.

To those with an autonomous and adventurous spirit, who want to try to prepare seafood, we have to mention that seafood delicacies must always be fresh and that they can be bought in one of the fish markets, where kind sellers will clean the fish. If they want to catch the fish by themselves, as freshly caught fish is the sweetest fish at all, they must follow Croatian laws and recommendations on fishing. 

Regardless of whether you catch the fish by yourself or you eat it in one of the Istrian restaurants, taverns or rural restaurants, or whether it is offered to you on the table of friendly hosts, keep in mind to stick with the real treasures of this area which will make you come back again.

Where to try fish and seafood

You can experience the tradition of preparing fish and seafood during the many manifestations in Istrian towns that celebrate the sea and seafood. 
Fažana is an important point on a map for lovers of sea and its delights. It is here that every year the famous Little fish academy of sardines takes place for which an access exam is not requested,  only a good appetite and the desire to discover more than a hundred ways of making this healthy blue fish. Within the academy, during the month of May, you can attend a particular Fažana school for salting sardines, where you will learn all the secrets of the perfect preparation of salted sardines, from Fažana’s very excellent fishermen.
On the Road of sardines there are many restaurants and taverns that offer traditional ways of preparing sardines. The Sea on Table and Rhapsody in Blue events are unavoidable because of the abundance of marine culinary treats offered with local Istrian wines and the distinct spirit of a traditional fishing village that pervades Fažana. The traditional Sardelas Feast and What Fishermen Know are real fish festivals where fishermen illustrate their skills, tools, and rich catches. Here they accept the company of all lovers of fish.
In Fažana there is a distinctive outdoor gallery, Pilchard Park, with sculptures dedicated to sardines. The Tastes and Delicacies of Fažana is an event traditionally held in October, offering meals of mushrooms and sole with tastings of Istrian wines, olive oils, cheeses and honey.

Novigrad’s Scallops Night is the name of a special evening that is part of the gourmet festival called GnamGnam Fest that is held in Novigrad in early June. With a wide variety of excellently prepared scallops and other shellfish, an excellent range of wines and entertainment program under a starry sky, visitors can watch a special cooking show, where they will attend the demonstration and preparation of scallops on the spot by top chefs.

Sole Days is a great fall culinary event that celebrates the quality of sole fish, as the prime white fish, and is held in north-western Istria in Umag, Novigrad, Buje, Brtonigla, Kaštel, Lovrečica, Savudrija and numerous smaller towns of the area. 
In Vabriga you can attend the traditional Anchovy Festival and the Festival of Mussels; do not miss the Brodet Cup in Medulin, a culinary competition in the preparation of the best Istrian fish stew, while in the Pješčana bay, at the end of May, you can experience traditional crabs dishes at the Festival of Crabs.

Fish festivals are a traditional gathering of local people where, along with entertainment and local wines, one can taste seafood specialities;  they are held in many Istrian towns from Plomin and other places on the eastern coast of Istria to numerous cities and towns on the west coast. Whichever town or village you choose, you will not make a mistake, because the love of the sea is woven into every inhabitant of the coastal area of Istria, and this will proudly be shown to you.