One of the best things about Trieste is the food. It’s not typically Italian, but a delicious mix of Italian, Germanic and Slavic tradition.
The culinary scene in this city, perched on a hill overlooking the Adriatic ocean, is as varied and colourful as it’s past. Whether its fine dining or grabbing a bite on the run, Trieste’s history is etched onto almost every plate – be it porcelain or plastic.
Restaurants, cafes and bars all reflect the city’s Austro-Hungarian roots as a prominent trading port and shipbuilding centre throughout the 19th century. So while pasta and pizza are easily found on the menu, so too are dishes like jota, a bean and sauerkraut-based soup, wurzel, and krapfen (the German word for doughnut).
The city’s development as an urban melting pot was the product of Habsburg mercantilism, beginning with Charles VI’s declaration of Trieste as a free port in 1719. Foreign merchants and traders were welcomed in order to foster a merchant community.
With the arrival of Greeks, Serbs, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Croats, Bosnians, French, English, Turks, Armenians, Italians and Jews from all over Europe, Trieste become the most prosperous port city and an important Mediterranean ‘bridge’ and a vital ‘gate’ to Eastern Europe.
After being annexed to Italy in 1918 Trieste’s economic significance diminished but its eclectic combination of flavours is still alive and well.
Near the city centre, in Via Dante, there’s Eppinger Caffè, a historic pasticceria and restaurant that soon becomes a personal favourite. It’s the best place for a pre-dinner aperitif, all of which are served with freshly baked savoury nibbles, or a sweet treat afterwards.
A short walk away is Via del Ponte, a narrow laneway in the city’s old Jewish quarter that is jam-packed full of bars, restaurants and a few boutique shops. Come here any night during the week and it is swarming with people. So it’s a great place for a casual meal and a few social drinks.
Shifting through the crowds here I find the inconspicuous Taverna del Ghetto, a pint-sized, rustic tavern with a home-style menu and two incredible bar men, Eugenio and Michele. I order a hamburger – served on a toasted, ciabatta roll and stuffed with beautiful things like pancetta and provolone cheese – accompanied by a beer. Talking with the two kindly gentlemen behind the bar, I am soon very well acquainted with the cocktail list and after three delightfully refreshing Moscow Mules, I decide that is my favourite of all.
Next door is Osteria da Marino, another cosy tavern with a scattering of eclectic antiques, fish nets hanging from the ceiling, a fresh, seasonal menu and a hugely impressive wine list.
I stumble out of the Via del Ponte at 11:45pm – just enough time for me to walk across town to Gelateria Zampolli (in Via Carlo Ghega) before it closes at midnight. There is a ridiculous variety of flavours to choose from, all the classics are present, but so too are some original concoctions, like walnut, pink grapefruit and pumpkin. On a whim I chose ‘millefoglie’, a gelato reincarnation of the French mille-feuille dessert. It’s deliciously creamy with hints of vanilla and crunchy flakes of puff pastry. It’s better than the original and at 12:01am I quickly order another scoop.
My advice – visit Trieste on an empty stomach and stay a couple days so you can really appreciate its epicurean offerings.