The best food is the simplist food – Konoba Puli Pineta

On our way out of Rovinj, we meandered along the country roads of Istria, in to the village of Zminj.  Here, we were going to take part in a traditional lunch at a konoba, or tavern called Puli Pineta.  When we pulled up, I wasn’t quite sure if we were at someone’s house, or a public dining establishment, but as it turns out, it was a bit of each.

Much like the small restaurants throughout western Europe, there was no menu, we just ate what we were served.  It was a chilly, drizzly day, and I was happy to duck inside and sit down next to the fire at Konoba Puli Pineta.  The owner and master chef, Josip Pino Kihar, is well known in Croatia and comes from a rich cultural history of cooking.  His name, the name of his village, and everything leads to the word “cook”.  As you can see from Liza’s pictures, he can cook!

First up, as we dried off in front of the hearth, was a Rakija tasting.  Yes, more rakija!  This nectar of the gods is Croatia’s version of Grappa, the distilled spirit usually made from grapes.  Here in Istria, it is also called Grappa, so you might see those terms interchanged.  Pineta‘s offerings were fig, cherry, and regular, and it was just the thing to wake up the Wine Premacy!

The first course was a simple dish of local cheese, grilled (well, fried).  This local cow cheese is fried up in local olive oil and was pure YUM!  And what meal in this part of Europe would be complete with out the prosciutto?  Platters of delicious cured meats were presented, again with the local olive oil, as well as the simple, delicious red and wine wines of the Konoba.
As we sat stuffing ourselves, two types of hand rolled pasta, one with an Italian style tomato sauce, and one with pure heaven, were served family style.  I was bursting at the seams, but I couldn’t let that delicious pasta go to waste!  As we ate the pasta, a beautiful piece of steak was busily sizzling in a grill on the fire, smelling divine.  As the buttery, amazingly simply meat was served, teh final course was prepared.  The Istrian tradition of Supa, soup of red wine, olive oil, bread and other amazing things, was set to simmer on the fire as well.
The Supa is to be drunk from the earthen crock, sharing around the table, and so we did – drinking warm wine souop, sipping rakija, and remarking on the stunningly fresh, and delicious food.
If you are ever in Istria, make it a point to stop by this amazing, tiny, wonderful, stunning dining experience!

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Hum – smallest little city in the world

00000042Hum is a tiny little hamlet, still surrounded by it’s hilltop walls, in the middle of Istria.  A small remnant of medieval life clinging to it’s roots, it has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest town in the world.  While it might not be the smalled in size, it’s officially a town and has it’s own government.

Getting to Hum can be a challenge, and we found ourselves backtracking the highway on local roads with signs pointing in every direction.  There is no GPS out here, so we just threw caution to the wind – and maybe said a small prayer to the rakija gods – to find this hidden treasure.

Seventeen turns, 3 misguided dead ends, and one near miss with a local, and we were on the right road to rakija!

How’s that for the little guy!  But there is more to Hum than meets the eye.  This castle (really, that’s what it is, a castle and the court around it), is a center point for the now lost Glagolitic script, which is considered to be the earliest form of the written Croatian language – and be the forefather to modern Cyrillic.

But…since this is a post about wine tourism, what about the wine?  All around the steep and sloping hillsides, you can see the vineyards that roll on to the coastal borders of Istria.  Here in Hum however, they are more known for Rakija.  Rakija is the Croatian word for Grappa, and is typically made from distilling the alcohol that is produced from the leftovers of wine making, like grape skins.  Here in Croatia, Rakija can also be made from a base alcohol of brandy, applejack, or other forms of fruit liquor.

As we meandered around Hum, Mladen – our intrepid Funky Zagreb driver, tour guide, comic relief, and all around Mad Max replicant, pointed out the Rakjia museum & shop.  Yipee!  What a way to break up a long drive!hum - mladen

Here, we tasted many of the flavors, including Biska, the most famous – made from mistletoe, or Medcina, made from honey, red wine, apple, pear, and so many more.  In Croatia as well as other parts of this region, everyone makes their own Rakjia.  It is a point of pride as to who makes the best, and the secret recipes are a much guarded treasure.  Try as we might, we just couldn’t get the secret out, although Mladen did give us a sample of his famous walnut upon our return to Zagreb.

After imbibing in several flavors, we all left, happy, warm and well stocked.  And, according to legend, rakjia cures cancer, and can be used as liniment for sore muscles.  I think I’ll try it!

And, if you’re in the mood for a real treat, Hum hosts an annual Rakija festival every October.  Bring your best attempt and share in the fun!

After Hum, we were back on the road to Rovinj, and the coast.  Stay tuned for the continued adventures of the Bourne Wine-Premacy!

The Born Wine-Premacy

20130322-174252.jpgWandering the streets of Zagreb, our erstwhile Wine Mafia ducked in and out of small lanes, and explored cafes, shops, and the antique mart.

After being confronted by an aggressive seller at the market for taking a picture, and asked “what are you buying today lady?”, I skulked off to examine the other merchandise while Marcy, Liza and I wove the lanes. Liza spotted a stall with some beautiful replica pieces from the Renaissance. Needless to say, it was impossible to resist to the charms of Hrvoje Marusic, the jeweler. Noticing our admiration of some earrings (and for me, a lovely ring), he said well, I like you – so for you, the price is 90 Kuna. But if you are a returning customer, it’s less! So, will you come back? To which we smiled coyly.20130322-174523.jpg

As Liza completed her purchase of some earrings, I was pawing through the rings when I found one that called my name. Naturally I asked, may I have this one? Hinting at what my price would be since I was a special friend. He swiftly said well, it’s 90 Kuna (less than $20) but for you, 80. And if you buy your friend a coffee, less! Of course, having just come from the coffee shop, Liza and I melted in to giggles, as we paid him and walked away smiling, hearing “please come back soon!” in our ears.

Just another day in Zagreb!

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