Konoba Kaštel – a taste of real Istria

Konoba KastelOn holiday it’s always great to try something really local. For a slice of real Istrian cooking, try Konoba Kaštel in Žbandaj, just outside Porec. Open all year, it’s one of Istria’s leading konobas and offers a great variety of traditional konoba fare  Produced from fresh, locally-sourced produce, everything on the menu is ‘odlicno’ as they say here – excellent. And most of the produce is not just  locally-sourced, it’s actually home-grown and home-made. They have their own vineyard and olive grove: and in their fields they grow vegetables and even wheat, for their own flour.

 

Tasty, fresh food

If everything’s excellent, what should you eat? Konoba Kaštel has a well-earned reputation for its grills: the first time I went, I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life. Grilled on the fire in front of my eyes, it was succulent and delicious. “All our meat comes from local farmers I know personally,” explains owner Alen, “So I know how the animals have been raised.” He’s equally particular about his fish and visits his preferred fishermen every morning, to collect the freshest of the overnight catch. Waiters, Mladen and Alen

Another of their specialities is homemade sausage. “The secret again,” says Alen, “is the meat. You must have a really good, home-fed pig. There’s just no comparison with a supermarket sausage.”

 

What’s special today…?

Sausage, steak, fish – these are all standards on any konoba menu. If you want a taste of real Istria, be adventurous: ask Alen and Mladen (the waiters) what’s special in the kitchen today. Often there’s up to twenty extra dishes not on the standard menu – you just need to ask. These vary according to the season: for example, in the Spring there’ll be asparagus pasta or risotto. Autumn is the mushroom season, so you may be offered Martincice mushrooms grilled on the open fire as a starter or a Giurdani mushroom salad. For lunch why not try fritaja or their homemade maneštra soup, the exact recipe of both these varies throughout the year, depending on what’s in season. Beyond this, even – if there’s something you fancy and they have the ingredients, Katica or Snježana (the cooks) will prepare it for you.

 

… perhaps beef peka?

Alen & Snjezana prepare our beef peka in the outdoor ovenSome dishes, though, need to be ordered in advance. These ‘peka’ dishes are cooked long and slow, in a wood fire. For example, they will put knuckles of beef on a metal plate with chopped potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions and rosemary: cover it with a metal lid and spread hot coals over the top, then it cooks gently for three to four hours. It’s a fantastic dish to share with friends, accompanied by homemade bread and a mixed salad – which we did last week and I can assure you it was delicious. The meat just fell off the bone and the potatoes were so tasty, infused with beef juices . I must stop about this now, I’m starting to drool …

We were stuffed when we were finished, so didn’t have room for desert – not even their homemade pancakes, made with their own flour. Instead, we rounded the evening off with coffee and medica.  Katica makes this delicious honey liqueur, using their own rakija (grappa) and honey from her preferred hives.

 

A family business, looking to the future

After our dinner, as we relaxed with our coffee and medica, Alen came back to tell us more about Konoba Kaštel. It was, he explains, founded by his parents (Mico and Marija) in 1966. He and his wife, Katica, took over from them in the 1990s and he hopes, in time, one of his two sons will take over from him.

Today there are restaurants scattered throughout rural Istria, but when Mico and Marija started back in 1966, opening a village konoba was an innovative move. Konoba Kaštel was only the second village konoba to open in the whole of Istria and, in those early days, it just served drinks and snacks. Today it’s a full restaurant.

Knoba's new accomodation in a restored houseAnd after 46 years, they’ve recently branched out into  accommodation. “Many of our existing customers, who’ve been coming to the konoba for years, have been asking after accommodation,” explains Alen. So over the winter, they renovated an old house next door to the konoba, creating four well-appointed, spacious rooms for rent (I got a look at them, they’re beautiful). Only opened in June, the rooms are already proving popular. “These rooms now mean our customers have the option of staying with us for long weekends, or perhaps a holiday,” says Alen, “and it makes the business more flexible, so can make sure we’re still here in another 46 years!”

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