Slovenian Istria – hinterland villages with rich culinary and cultural tradition
If you are searching for the authentic culinary and cultural experience, Slovenian Istria is the place to visit. It is positioned between Kraški rob (Karst Edge) on the east, the Coast and the Adriatic Sea on the west and the Dragonja river on the south. Its hilly landscape named Šavrinsko gričevje (Savrinsko hills) is full of charming old villages. You can spend days wandering around these lovely villages, tasting authentic specialities and listening to locals explaining interesting stories about traditional life their ancestors used to live not so long ago.
In my opinion, the village of Padna is one of the most interesting Istrian villages. Positioned on the top of the hill, on the edge of Savrinsko hills, Padna offers amazing views not only to the Adriatic Sea but also to the Julian Alps. On a clear day you can even spot the Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain. Padna is surrounded by numerous olive trees; some of them older than 300 years. Discovering Istrian hinterlands reveals you that the knowledge of olive oil production, wine making and growing the Mediterranean vegetables and fruits is having a deep roots.
A chard is one of the most recognizable vegetables of Padna. If you ask, locals will proudly explain to you that only due to their ancestor skills of successfully growing and selling their chard to the neighbouring towns they managed to collect enough money to finish the construction of the 26,5 m high church bell tower back in 1885.
Speaking of local cuisine, the card is an indispensible condiment in every Istrian kitchen. Cooked and mashed together with the potato and seasoned with the garlic, salt and olive oil it represents the most typical side dish when serving a fish. But in Padna, the chard is also used in so many different ways. In the beginning of June, when the chard season is on its peak, locals even organize the “Olive oil and Chard festival” to celebrate excellent local cuisine while at the same time taking care of keeping the traditional customs alive.
Culinary and tradition: Olive oil and Chard festival, boskarin tour and Savrin women
Last weekend the village of Padna was hosting now already a traditional Olive oil and Chard festival. Visitors were able to taste various homemade specialties offered on stands or even buy the local olive oil made of autochthonous sorts. The chard, of course, was the main star of offered dishes: cuttlefish with chard and polenta, chard fritaja (kind of chard omelette), chard struklji (rolled dumplings filled with chard), chard hamburger, mulce (black pudding filled with chard), chard stew and pasta, to name just some of them.
One of the »must taste« dishes was for sure the cuttlefish with chard and polenta. This typical Padna dish is made of chard and cuttlefish, seasoned with garlic, parsley and olive oil. If you are curious about its taste, click here for the THE RECIPE.
Besides tasting Istrian culinary delights, visitors did have the chance to join the Boskarin hiking tour. Boskarin is the white grey long horned cattle, authentic for Istria, a symbol of the region. It was used in agriculture, to plow the fields, for towing the stones for building the houses while its meat and milk were used by farmers as food. But when modernization took pace, the first tractors that were introduced to speed up the work on the land, the number of boskarin started to decline rapidly. Boskarin took a long and thorny path from being a working animal in the field used for towing the rocks for house building to the farming for gourmet purposes.
Following boskaring steps through istrian villages visitors were able to taste some typical Istrian delights such as local olive oil, Malvasia and Refosco wine. Participants also learned about Savrin women, also known as the “Egg women”. They were strong and brave women, who were earning their money by picking the eggs in Istrian villages to sell them in the nearby towns of Trieste or Koper. Each journey was made on food while eggs were carried on their heads using “plenjar”, a special basked made of willow with the capacity of holding up to 300 eggs.
Savrin women on their journey. Today only a stone statue reminds us on their way of life.
There is much more to discover in Istria hinterland villages. While on the Coast, consider spending a few hours or even a day off the beaten track, enjoying peace, nature, locals hospitality and excellent cuisine.