Rijeka is renowned for its fifth season, the carnival season, but true foodies know that the other four seasons have their own delights to offer as well – those of the gastronomical kind!
Just as every season has its typical foods, so too does every food have a specific season when it reaches the pinnacle of quality. The Rijeka Tourist Board organises the Ri Gastro Days four times a year in order to showcase the finest cuisine of Kvarner and this part of the northern Mediterranean. Restaurants and caterers prepare seasonally themed dishes made with local ingredients for the occasion by using traditional recipes that sensibly suggest that one should eat food from one’s own environment, in line with the vicissitudes of nature. Only then is food the best, the most delectable, and the healthiest!
Besides preserving the tradition of the Mediterranean cuisine of yore and once again making it a fixture on menus of households and restaurants, the Ri Gastro Days programme also abounds with cultural, charity, and entertainment events, such as gastro workshops and expert lectures, a charity cooking show, readings at the Rijeka City Library, art workshops... for everyone, big or small, young and young at heart, denizens of Rijeka, domestic and foreign visitors.
All you have to do is pick your favourite season(s), come to the Ri Gastro Days and enjoy yourselves!
April / May – Asparagus Week
A vegetable fit for a king, a treasure trove of health, food, medicine, and an aphrodisiac all in one.... are just some of the epithets used by asparagus aficionados worldwide to describe their fascination with the plant that has been considered a symbol of life and nature awakening from their respective slumbers since time immemorial. Asparagus (lat. Asparagus officinalis) is one of the oldest self-seeding plants in the Mediterranean with records of its medicinal benefits existing for thousands of years. Its strong detoxifying effect is the result of the amino acid asparagine that cleanses the body of the toxins that accumulate during the winter and strengthens the immune system.
In the rest of the word asparagus is usually grown, but Croatian cuisine favours the wild asparagus found in forests that has an intense and bitter aroma and is supposedly laden with minerals and vitamins, which are good grounds for addition to a healthy spring menu.
Asparagus or šparuge, which is the local sobriquet, is a part of folk tradition, as the locals spend the entire season harvesting it on steep and unapproachable slopes. Although it is common in Croatia, asparagus season lasts the longest in the northern Adriatic. It is a mainstay of Kvarner cuisine, especially during Easter, when it signals the blossoming of life and the return to the outside world. The Christian iconography is best exemplified in the gastronomical blend of asparagus and eggs, the fritaje, which is a common way of preparing asparagus in the region. It is an excellent complement to sea food, especially the sweet Kvarner prawn with sheep’s curd, a natural symbiosis of Kvarner right there on your plate!
June – Sardine is IN / Cherry Week
According to legend, the first sardine was eaten by the Greek God Dionysius, who offered it eternal life, if it were to substitute the sea with the wine from his goblet. The sardine refused by responding: the sea is my abode, and I belong to the fishermen and sea folk from all shores, islands and ports, thus I am obliged to assuage the hunger of fish and men alike! And so it was.
The sardine is the fishermen’s favourite, it has been dubbed the queen of the sea because it was the primary food source for many generations. Healthy food does not have to be expensive and the often underestimated sardine is living proof of this. Sardines are oily fish, although they mostly contain unsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 being the most common). The human body requires them to remain healthy because it cannot produce them on its own and pelagic fish contain more unsaturated fatty acids than farmed-raised fish.
Sardines (lat. Sardina pilchardus) are small, oily fish within the herring family. The largest sardine fishing grounds are located in the western Mediterranean and the Adriatic where the sardines are the primary fish species of exploitation. Sardines are fished throughout the year on nights where the new moon hangs in the sky, but those fished in May and June are supposedly of the best quality, especially if used for salting. Sardines are regular fixtures on traditional menus and despite their reputation for being the food of the poor, salted sardines were held in high esteem by wealthy gourmands and were used as food additives instead of salt.
Cherries are harbingers of summer. Due to possessing a high level of antioxidants, cherries are on a list of 25 foods that slow aging and are ranked third among fruits that lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. The anthocyanin that gives cherries their bright red colour has anti-inflammatory properties. Fresh cherries help reduce physical and mental exhaustion, while sour cherries help uplift your mood.
Cherries are part of the rose family and originate from Asia Minor. Depending on the sort, cherries can ripen either in May or June. In these parts, the best known sort is the biggest and the most succulent one, the so-called brtošinka, named after the seaman Brtošin, who supposedly brought it here from South America. It is the most succulent in mid-June, during the celebration of St. Vitus, the patron saint of Rijeka.
September - Squid and Fig Week
On a gastronomic inscription chiselled in stone from the 5th century BC that was discovered in Athens by accident, among the sea foods listed is the wise sorceress, the godlike squid, supposedly able to predict the future of Poseidon himself, who was the master of seas high and low.
That is proof that people have savoured squids (lat. Loligo vulgaris) since ancient times. Of all the cephalopods, squids are supposedly the most delicate and most frequently used for food in these parts. The local population fishes for squid during fall and winter, although they are scarce at the time, but are also larger and taste better than the ones fished in the summer. Fresh squid is very healthy and rich with high quality proteins and fats as well as other micronutrients. Due to cromatophores, squids change colour if touched, which is an indicator of freshness.
Squids are an unavoidable part of Mediterranean cuisine and there are various ways to prepare them. You can serve squid raw or grilled, sautéed, and even stuffed because of its shape.
No fruit has been the subject of legends more often than the fig, the most frequently mentioned fruit in the Bible. This paradise fruit (lat. Ficus carica) is one of the oldest cultivated fruits, and apart from olives and grapes, it is the most common plant in the Mediterranean. It is the product of its surrounds, weather-resistant and with a high fertility rate, making it a symbol of fertility and opulence among the people.
Figs were highly valued in folk medicine and cuisine because of their medicinal and nutritional qualities, low levels of calories, and edible leaves. Some derive most pleasure from the taste of fresh figs; however, their dried counterpart is not without merit, and it can become a perfect complement to salty dishes. Figs are also used to make grappa, and in the coastal parts of Croatia it is usually served with the popular smokvenjak – a cake made from dried figs with nuts, grappa, and with medicinal and aromatic plants added for flavour.
December - Cod and Chocolate Week
The cod (lat. Gadus morhua) is one of the best known fish species, which has tantalised palates around the globe with its unique flavour and an intriguing history of following intricate routes before finally ending up on our plates, and which has become a gastronomical classic that has served as a link between northern and southern Europe for centuries.
Despite advancements in technology, the tradition of cod processing has remained virtually intact. It is usually dried in open spaces so that it can remain preserved for years. In some Mediterranean countries, the cod has become a national dish prepared in numerous ways and consumed year long, while in Croatia dried cod has practically become synonymous with fasting during the Easter and Christmas holidays. It is usually prepared in two ways: in bianco as a spread or as a red-tinted stew with potatoes – maritime style.
The cod is a white demersal fish, it is mild-tasting, and due to the concentration of nutritional ingredients during drying, the energy value of 1 kg of dried cod is equivalent to 5 kg of fresh fish. It does not contain any additives or preservatives, which makes it a healthy and well-rounded food. The cod also stimulates the synthesis of serotonin – a hormone that uplifts your mood – in the body, which is particularly welcome during the winter days.
Another food that elevates your mood by just thinking about it is chocolate, of course. Chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, also known as happiness hormones, in our body. A single piece of chocolate supposedly contains the same amount of antioxidants as a glass of red wine. This goes for high quality dark chocolate that has a high percentage of cocoa (over 70%).
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, the seeds of the cocoa tree (lat. Theobroma cacao or food of the gods). Its history can be traced back thousands of years to the Mayans, an ancient people of Central America. It was Christopher Columbus who first spread the word about chocolate in Europe. In gastronomy, it is usually used to make sweets, but due to its peculiar taste dark chocolate is an excellent complement to salty dishes.
Due to its maritime and merchant history, Rijeka’s connection with chocolate does not stop at mere consumption. As early as 1896, the first chocolate and cocoa factory was opened in Rijeka. It was the first of its kind in this part of Europe and it produced various chocolate treats until the end of World War II when it was closed down. Lest this sweet part of Rijeka’s history be forgotten, a local souvenir was designed - chocolates and pralines from Rijeka - which unlike other souvenirs most certainly will not collect dust, if it even makes it to your house, that is!
More information on Ri gastro events - rigastro.visitRijeka.hr