Getting a taste for Istria’s November festivals

November’s not a month you would automatically associate with festivals, but here in Istria, the feštas don’t stop just because the tourist season has ended. So long as the sun shines, most weekends you’ll find something happening somewhere in Istria. Pip went along to two festivals near Pula – one in Fažana, the other a week later in Vodnjan – and  was delighted to find they both had a food focus. She only told me about them afterwards – or else I would have gone along too.

 

Fažana’s final fešta 

Fažana seafrontOne beautiful, sunny morning we decided to take a stroll along the beach from our apartment and were thrilled to findwas holding a local festa… in November. This brightly painted fishing village, about 7 km outside Pula, sits opposite the Brijuni Islands and organises weekly feštas throughout the tourist season.  So now that the vast throng of visitors has left, I was pleasantly surprised to find we had walked into the start of another Fažana fešta – the last of the year.

It was a glorious day and, out of the chilly, northerly breeze, the sun was baking. I sat in a t-shirt and soaked up its rays (alongside locals reluctant to remove their puffer jackets, scarves and winter wardrobe – despite it being 15°C and more out of the wind).

The music began at 12 noon: two guys entertaining a rapidly growing throng of locals, who all headed for a large tent at the end of the waterfront for lunch. Familiar delicacies, such as bakalar (cod paté), maneštra soup, wine and cheese were on offer to buy or sample. There was also a new one I’d never seen before: a simple white, square-shaped flat pasta, cooked with cabbage. It came with two large fish balls on top (one of bakalar, the other… I’m not sure). All served on a throw-away plastic plate with plastic fork and a large fresh bread roll, it looked most strange … but tasted delicious!

As the music played and the locally-produced wine flowed, people started to dance in the square, enjoying a very pleasant afternoon in the sun with friends and family. Children were welcomed and encouraged to join in, skipping round the potted palms lining the seafront.

What a great day out and another of Fažana’s successful events – but the last for this year. Roll on next summer, you are doing a grand job Fažana.

For more on Fažana’s feštas, have a look at their website: www.fažana.hr and their events page. When I wrote this, it still listed this year’s (2011) feštas, but I expect next year’s (2012) will be up there soon.

 

Vodnjan 007 – olive oil licensed to thrill

Beautifully presented olive oilA week later we were in Vodnjan at its 7th annual, three-day olive oil festival. Despite the name, this highly popular festival is not just about olives, it covers all forms of food and drink. Last year, it had 18,000 visitors and even more were expected this year. Very well organised, with so much good quality produce on offer, it was easy to see why.

Nearly forty stalls were set up inside a huge tent on the car park. They offered a wide variety of both local and international olive oils, to taste with bread, cheese or just drink on their own at the ‘Oil Bar’.  Some were intense, hitting the back of your throat with a kick; others milder, sweeter, more delicate or with strong aromatic flavours.

Pip, ready for tasting with a glass in a bagWe also tasted wines, using a commemorative glass bought from the information stall at the entrance, along with vouchers for the wine. There was a very good selection: Merlot, Cabinet Sauvignon, Syrah, Rose, Muscadet, Chardonnay, Malvazia – and even a demi-sec sparkling wine with 24 carat gold flakes to promote good health. There was something to suit all palates and, at only 7 kn a shot, the challenge was deciding which to choose, and not get too tipsy!

The specially printed wine glass came with a handy cloth bag to hang round your neck, leaving your hands free to sample dozens of oils, olives, pršut (air-cured ham), and cheeses made from sheep and cow’s milk; they had paté with olives and truffles, salami-style sausage made from the black pig, honey, marmalades, figs and chocolate pots drizzled with truffle honey…  and that’s just what I can remember.

We were also inexorably drawn to a spirits stall, with produce from near (a wide range of rakijas) and far. It even boasted a ten-year old single malt whisky, Edradour, distilled by the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland.

Chefs hard at workBut I think the real stars of the show were the chefs. Set on a raised cooking area at the far end of the tent, some of Istria’s top chefs produced a stream of fantastic meals: sea bream wrapped round mushrooms, served with creamy polenta; wild deer with fig, apricot and polenta; fish balls made from different types of fish. Costing only 30 kn each, the meals just kept coming. “Why,” I asked one of the chefs, as I enthusiastically tucked in, “don’t I find food like this in the local restaurants? It’s delicious!” “We’re trying,” was the reply. “It’s one of the reasons for this festival. With luck and some time, meals like this will be available everywhere.” I really hope so, everything tasted so divine.  

Of course a party wouldn’t be a party without music. So once the chefs had completed their cooking, a band struck up, keeping the crowd entertained as the festival continued into the evening. What a great way to finish such a delicious food fair.  

If you’d like to know more, youtube has a video of this year’s festival and Vodnjan has a website (www.vodnjan.hr). It’s in Croatian and Italian but click the link to go to an English translation.

 

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