Once upon a time, when people in Istria lived alongside the giants, in the north of Istria there were giant lakes and marshes. In the south, however, there was not one brooklet or spring and the people asked the Giant Ban Dragonja to help them water the earth. Dragonja harnessed giant oxen to a large plough and started ploughing from the lake to the sea. When the first furrow reached the sea, the water from the lake created a river the giant called after himself – Dragonja. On the next day he made a second furrow creating a new river he named after his wife – Mirna. When on the third day he was ploughing the third furrow, he arrived at the foot of the Pazin Castle. The wife of the Pazin’s Captain started to tease him. She mocked him for ploughing too shallow and that his furrow was crooked. Ban Dragonja was greatly offended and he drove his oxen back. Water gushed down the unfinished furrow and started flooding the Pazin valley. The inhabitants of Pazin began crying for help, weeping and begging Dragonja to save them from distress. Ban Dragonja had pity on them and kicked his foot against the ground, just at the foot of the cliff where the Castle stood. With a horrifying roar the ground started sinking and a large gorge opened devouring all the water. Instead of the third river a windy stream called Pazinčica appeared and still today its water disappears in the depths of the Pazin Gorge.
Roč and Hum were the main centres of Glagolitic script in Istria. This old script was created after the emperor of Byzantium sent Cyril and Methodius to Moravia in 863 A.D. to spread Christianity among the Slavic peoples. The Glagolitic alphabet was created because Latin and Greek proved to be inefficient to carry out the mission of translating worship books. Cyril therefore created a new alphabet that was later spread by his students parallel to spreading the faith. It is interesting that the Glagolitic script remained in use for the longest time among the Croatians of Istria and Primorje.
Kažun, this little round building, whose miniature replica can today be found in almost every Istrian souvenir shop, used to be built in the fields and was used as shelter and storage for tools. It was also used to keep close watch over the fields and vineyards in harvest and picking time to protect crops from thieves whose raids were rather common in those days.
According to the Guinness World Records, Hum, with its 23 inhabitants, is the smallest town in the world. It is known for the Glagolitic Alley that stretches between Roč and Hum and is a memorial to the Glagolitic script.
The olive tree arrived in Istria in ancient times, presumably imported by the ancient Greeks or Phoenicians. The Istrian olive oil has gone a long way. When speaking of the very beginnings of olive growing in this area, it must be mentioned that in the Roman Empire the best quality olive oil was made in Istria. That oil was the equivalent of the today’s extra-virgin olive oil – “Oleum ex albis olivis”. The production of this grade of olive oil was supervised by the emperor himself and it is an interesting fact that all Roman emperors possessed their olive groves in Istria. Istrian olive oil is mentioned in the first Roman cookbook, written by Apicius. Galen, the most famous physician of the Roman empire, also wrote about it. However, a record that can be labelled as the most impressive, was left by Martial – famous Roman writer of epitaphs. When expressing his enchantment with his native Cordoba, he wrote that it was “as perfect as the oil from Istria”. It is curious that on the Brijuni islands an olive tree originating from those ancient times is still “alive”, it is 1650 years old and still bears fruit.
Malvasia is a wine grape variety more than two thousand years old. The Malvasia Istriana, alongside the Malvasia del Lazio, delle Lipari, di Candia and di Sardegna, is the most famous of the 30 existing Malvasia varieties. This variety owes its name to the Greek peninsula of Peloponnese, more precisely the town of Monemvasia. It was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants. Researches have shown that the name Malvasia was mentioned for the first time in Venice in the 14th century, and the shops selling the wine were named “malvasie”.
The Istrian pršut (prosciutto) has been awarded a protected designation of origin and was published in the Croatian Intellectual Property Gazette. A special study prescribes the requirements that must be met in animal breeding, selection of meat and production process for the prosciutto to be denominated “Istrian”. Smoking is not used in the production of the Istrian prosciutto, but ham is dried in clean air. Ham is salted exclusively with sea salt and a mixture of herbs which, combined with a special method of application, give the ham a particular, authentic flavour. Aging of the Istrian pršut is of great importance – it takes no less than twelve months.
How to prepare the Istrian supa? In the kitchen, wine is added to a meal. With the Istrian supa, wine is the main ingredient. The supa is made from the Teran wine, olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper and toasted white bread.
How to prepare the Istrian maneštra? The maneštra (thick soup) will keep you warm in winter and refresh you in summer as an independent meal. It is prepared from the following ingredients: bone from the pršut or a piece of dried meat, bobići (sweet corn), carrot, onion, beans, potato, 3-4 spoonfuls of pešt, (minced bacon, garlic and parsley), celery, salt and pepper.
Specially trained dogs are used to find truffles, dogs with a keen scent, faithful assistants of truffle seekers, and the Motovun Forest, with the Mirna River valley, is the Istrian habitat of this precious mushroom. In Istria fresh truffles can be tasted all year round because the white truffle is picked from September to January. Once the white truffle season is over, the season of the black truffle commences. Even though many Istrian restaurants offer truffles in combination with main courses and side dishes, the true gourmands will confirm that truffles give their best when they play the star role on the plate. We would especially recommend truffles combined with the Istrian fuži (a type of home made pasta rolled into a tube) or home cooked palenta (polenta) where the truffle is definitely a star!
And what about the story of its aphrodisiac characteristics? Well, you should seek the answer for yourself!