Asparagus is a very popular ingredient in some of the world’s best cuisines. If you want to taste the wild ones, there are few places in the world, where you can find them growing out in the open. You can freely pick them up yourself and use them in your kitchen.
If you don’t really feel like cooking yourself, head to Istria, Croatia. Istria is one of the best regions for wild asparagus in Croatia. Asparagus has always represented a big role in local’s life during months of March, April and May. In fact, asparagus is so important for Istrian local cuisine that their tourist organization even made a special yearly event – Days of asparagus.
If you are traveling around Croatia, make sure to visit Istria from March to May and try some local dishes with this healthy ingredient.
During days of asparagus local restaurants called konoba take part in this event. Their chefs mix Istrian traditional cuisine with asparagus and only imagination is their boarder. You can try all kind of dishes from asparagus – creamy soups, gnocchi, risotto, fish or meat… There are even asparagus desserts available.
Asparagus is great for your health, especially for kidneys. Some are attracted to them because of the high percentage of vitamin E, for which asparagus is known as aphrodisiac too.
We traveled to Istria in Croatia just to attend these days of asparagus. We tried 3 konobas (restaurants) out of 27 and they all impressed us with their asparagus dishes. If you are traveling to Croatia and visiting Istria, make sure to stop in some of them – not only during the days of asparagus!
#1 Konoba Buščina
You can find konoba Buščina in a small town Marija na Krasu, which is about 5 kilometers out of Umag. Even though it is well hidden to our eyes, konoba Buščina is always full with its satisfied quests. In fact, konoba Buščina is known as one of the best in Istria, so don’t expect anything else than the best.
Konoba Buščina is family run since 1992 and gets its guests manly because of recommendations. They were among first in Istria, serving boškarin meat (Istrian ox) and are also well known for its seafood and truffles. Their dishes are often made on open fire, what is actually typical for all Istrian konobas. All their ingredients are local and fresh. They even serve homemade olive oil and wine under its brand Buščina.
Konoba Buščina is built in a typical Istrian style and their dishes are always feast to our eyes.
The owner, Fabijana Mijanović, studied art, but is now in catering for more than 23 years. Her passion towards art is seen on every plate, what clearly shows that cooking should be treated like a true art.
Most of their guests are regular costumers, meaning that they know their business well. Note they are almost always full, so book your table in advance.
Konoba Buščina – Coordinates: N45°26.81.6 / E013°35.99.0
#2 Konoba Astarea
A little bit further out of Umag (15 kilometers) lies another surprise when it comes to Istrian traditional cuisine.
Konoba Astarea in Brtonigla is perfect for everyone looking a true home atmosphere. You will come as stranger, but leave as family.
Konoba Astarea is best known for its open fire dishes. Try their fish, baked in metal lid, placed on a hot fire-clay slab and covered with hot cinders. The taste is amazing!
Their specialty is fish soup, black risotto, scallops and fish. Trying them, you will certainly be back for more.
Konoba Astarea uses local and fresh ingredients for their dishes and that is why they like to say: »we have something, but not everything«. The best thing to do is asking them for their daily recommendations.
They are well aware, their style and taste cannot suit to everyone, but getting more than 90% of their guests due to good recommendations, says it all.
You should not expect that you will be served with white gloves in konoba Astarea, as your waiter will often be the owner itself, his wife or son. They are very open and will be happy to start a conversation with you, if you’d be up for it.
Konoba Astarea – Coordinates: N45522.45.1/ E013°37.21.1
#3 Konoba Malo Selo
We have been to Istria many times, but it looks like we have not even got to its best kept secrets yet.
Our last stop during the days of asparagus was konoba Malo Selo, which was definitely the best surprise on our trip.
Konoba Malo Selo lies near Buje town, which is about 12 kilometers from Umag, and has been a family business since 1988.
Their passion for cooking and catering can be recognized as soon as you step into the room. The owner Neda has cooking in her blood and cannot wait to bring her knowledge on the table.
Go for their grilled beefsteak- it is said they have the best one in whole Istria. If you really want to spoil your senses, make it with truffles. Amazing!
They make all their dishes by themselves and we totally fallen for homemade gnocchi with asparagus and homemade ravioli with black truffles. Can it get any better than this?
In the last couple of years their business was having a tough trial, as they faced with heavy disease and death in the family. But they are still here, stronger, better and more passionate than ever.
I have never really understood how some people could taste passion for cooking in someone’s dish… until now.
Konoba Malo Selo was our best discovery on our trip and I guess their mixture of passion, taste and hospitality were the right ingredients for us.
Konoba Malo Selo – Coordinates: N45°25.55 / E013°38.08
Exploring Istria from culinary point of view was very tasty and successful. Istrian events like days of asparagus clearly show that Istria is becoming more and more culinary oriented destination. After all, the best tourist destinations are the ones you can taste, smell and experience. Istria is with no doubt the right destination for true foodies and people, who charis good local food.
You can read more about days of asparagus here, where also menus are published – starting from 9 EUR for a 2 course meal.
#4 Recommendation: For a true romantic and gourmet getaway stay at Melia Coral Umag hotel. The hotel has 5 stars and is adults only. Perfect place for relaxation.