Written by: Sanja Krmpotić
The interweaving maritime and continental climates, along with the environmentally sound surroundings of Kvarner, have, from the nutritive point of view, enriched the Littoral cuisine with the traditions of the Mediterranean diet, extremely beneficial for our health and recommended all around the world, with autochthonous flavours and aromas you can enjoy right here!
The Kvarner scampi from the blue mud, according to the connoisseurs the most tasteful by far, preserved seabed rich in fish, wild plants and aromatic herbs such as wild asparagus, wild garlic, sage, laurel, rosemary…crowns of the sweetest chestnuts and crunchy, ruby red cherries, unspoilt forest full of game, king bolete mushrooms known for both their size and taste, while the nearby islands, rich in marine aerosols, offer lamb, sheep curd and cheese as well as extra virgin olive oil - the elixir of youth and health! – these are just some of the top quality fruits of the generous nature of the Kvarner region.
However, the hallmark of this city is contained in its name (Rijeka - eng. river), and it is one of the few cities in the world that boasts exceptional quality drinking water from the river that flows through its centre. Rječina is considered one of the biggest springs in Croatia and has been used as a water supply source since 1915, there’s even a legend that says: Once you have tasted Rijeka’s water, you will always come back…or stay here forever.
The Littoral brunch
Situated where the Mediterranean is deeply indented into the European continent, Rijeka’s geostrategic position is exceptional, which is why many wanted and tried to conquer it. Rijeka’s turbulent history has weaved into the local cuisine with recognisable influences – those Austrian, Italian, even French. However, if you want to get to know the real soul of the Littoral, taste local dishes that have retained the features of simple Mediterranean dining accompanied with a glass of wine, and be sure to include here marenda (the Littoral brunch) – a meal preceding the afternoon lunch, made of fried small pelagic fish with chard and potato as a side dish, fish stew, various vegetable minestrone soups or jota (beans and sour beet stew), octopus salad, codfish sailor’s style, homemade gnocchi with goulash…
Taverns surrounding the fish market
The catering offer is mainly determined by the seasonal food offer at the main city market, the so-called Velika placa (Big Market), around which you can find the majority of authentic taverns, especially close to the fish market or only a few steps toward the main promenade – Korzo.
Immediately next to the fish market you’ll find the Fiume tavern, where people often seek for an extra table and where the owner is always ready to run over to the fish market if the fish species you wanted has just run out! Continuing toward the Mrtvi kanal (Dead Channel) there is the tavern called Na kantunu, which, as its name suggests (kantun – eng. corner), is at the corner and has a terrace close to the former mouth of the Rječina river. Although decorated in a feminine style, it is a place where even the opposite sex feels comfortable and where special attention is paid to the recipes deriving from the family fishing traditions from the island of Pag. Between the market and Rijeka’s waterfront, in the House of Istrian Prosciutto, besides tasting the local meals, you can buy different autochthonous Istrian products – prosciutto, truffle sauce, olive oil, brandy and wine.
A place where the citizens of Rijeka gladly come for brunch is the archaic Feral tavern, hidden in a backstreet opposite the Ivan pl. Zajc Croatian National Theatre, whose motto is from a fishing boat to your and our table, the proof of which is a glass display cabinet with the daily catch.
A bit further, under the famous Petar Kružić’s Steps, with a beautiful view of the Rječina rapids, the Nebuloza tavern has been satisfying the palates of its clients for a hundred years, with traditional dishes presented in a modern way, with homemade pasta and homemade bread!
Dishes interwoven with history
The La Grotta tavern is located in the labyrinth of the Old Town, allegedly the most famous brothel in the city during the Italian occupation of Rijeka, where only captains were allowed. A reminder of that is the original price list from that time, a curiosity hanging on the wall. In the past fifty years they have been serving seasonal local dishes.
But the restaurant that has witnessed Rijeka’s catering history the longest is Zlatna školjka (eng. Golden Shell), operating continuously since 1885, today mainly oriented towards Rijeka’s business people. The Bonavia Hotel has also had a long tradition, being the leading city hotel for decades, its restaurant was one of the most popular ones in the former state, hosting famous guests from the world presidents, renowned musicians and actors to the Holy Father himself. Although having a more modern approach today, green noodles with scampi remained a symbol of its legendary past.
Tastes of new generations
Younger generations and hectic life have brought new tastes that can be found in pizzerias and spaghetterias, the most popular among which are Pizzeria Bracera, with a colourful and playful interior made by the famous Rijeka’s artist Vjekoslav Vojo Radoičić, then the Spagho restaurant offering Italian dishes prepared according to original recipes.
For those looking for a touch of Parisian charm, in the heart of the Old Town there is Bistro La Rose, where French dishes are prepared with seasonal littoral ingredients, accompanied by selected Croatian wines served in glasses, while opposite the Theatre Park, in the Mexican Cantina Bodega you can spice up your day with Mexican specialties.
A bit more of local cuisine
Although only few kilometres away from the city centre, but close to the Tower Center Rijeka shopping mall, there is a praised Na Sušaku tavern, offering local dishes under the lid or grilled dishes, homemade bread and pastries. But if you decide to climb the aforementioned legendary Petar Kružić’s Steps, all 561 of them starting from Rječina at the foot of the hill to the Marian Shrine at Trsat, you will surely want to compensate the calories burnt in the Tarsa tavern, a favourite place for family and group (particularly men’s) gatherings with huge portions of meat dishes, often accompanied with singing!
Since there's no arguing about tastes, you can find out more about Rijeka’s catering offer yourself right here.