Trieste Guide – The Re-discovery of Italy’s “Forgotten City”
Over the years, plenty of neighboring cultures (from Austria to the Balkans, and even Venice) have swept through this windy, Adriatic city, bringing with them some of Italy’s most distinctive customs and cuisines. Hotel Major takes you on a tour of the best places to dine, drink, and shop in Trieste, this underappreciated yet truly romantic northern Italian gem.
Trieste has it rough in comparison to other Italian cities. There are no enchanting canals and Gothic palaces like those found in Venice, no lovely old grandeur like those found in Rome, and no Renaissance riches like those found in Florence. However, there is the “Bora,” a strong wind that blasts into the city from the mountains, which is especially striking on freezing winter days.
The often-overlooked “forgotten city,” as it was formerly known, does not open up to you all at once; it takes patience, which many tourists today tend to lack when rushing around Italy’s towns in search of strong impressions and outstanding selfie motifs. Trieste, on the other hand, presents a visitor with a task. The city requires some involvement—you must deal with its turbulent history, its unique geographical location on a narrow strip of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia that looks more like Slovenia or Croatia than Italy, and its gloomy charm. Many visitors, some Italians, and quite a few Triestini consider that Trieste is not “real” Italy or the Italy they anticipate. But it is just this, the unique combination of peoples, languages, and cultures that has shaped it, that distinguishes Trieste.
Trieste has been a part of Italy for just over a century. It had previously been a part of Austria for about 600 years. To this day, the city’s culture, architecture, and food have been shaped by those six centuries. Trieste, with its culture and cuisine, is also where Central Europe meets the Mediterranean and the Balkans, where the Latin linguistic region meets the Slavic and Germanic, where the East meets the West, and where the North meets the South.
In and around the city, there is still a considerable Slovenian-speaking community. Trieste is still home to a number of ethnic groups (including Germans, Greeks, Serbs, Jewish populations, and Armenians), who flocked to the once-dominant port of the lost Habsburg monarchy. And, albeit filtered and occasionally refracted, the much-vaunted light of the Italian south eventually shines in Trieste as well. The city’s cultural crossroads are its very core.
Its food, like the city itself, is significantly more than just Italian. The fragrance of cooked sauerkraut permeates the streets around noon, although fermented vegetables are rarely seen elsewhere in Italy, a sun-drenched country with extended growing seasons. The same can be said for the region’s smoked pork, which the Triestini adore alongside their boiled sausages and potatoes. However, many locals prefer lighter, more Mediterranean-style fare in the evening, such as grilled fish, pasta alle vongole (clams), or fritto misto, a mix of fried Gulf seafood. Grilled Balkan dishes, such as Bosnian-inspired evapii, small minced beef kebabs, and gibanica, a multi-layered dessert filled with cheese, poppy seeds, apples, and walnuts, are also popular. Others, such presnitz (a strudel-like wreath of puff pastry filled with nuts, almonds, and dried fruit), are more reminiscent of Jewish specialities from Central Europe.
A perfect day in Trieste includes a stroll through the ruins of Porto Vecchio, the Old Harbor (which feels like something out of a dystopian science fiction film), and a hike along the “Napoleonica,” a path on the rim of the Karst Plateau with breathtaking views of the city, its Gulf, and down to Slovenia and Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula. It could also land you in front of a glass of local vitovska (a minerally white wine) and a plate of homemade prosciutto in one of the many “osmize,” rustic, private establishments often owned by Slovenian speaking vintners in the Karst, for a non-Mediterranean lunch of smoked sausages, sauerkraut, and beer in one of the many typical “buffets” (or quick-service counters). Here are a few of our favorites.
In Trieste, there are a variety of places to eat and drink.
Buffets at the Top
The so-called buffets in Trieste are relatively simple inns where people sit or stand to eat ready-made meals, buy local street food like cooked ham, mustard, and fresh grated horseradish sandwiches, or stop for an aperitivo with cicchetti (small, Venetian-style snacks).
Restaurants, Bars and Other Dining Options
Trieste’s international atmosphere is mirrored in its food, which combines culinary influences from Veneto, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia. Brodeto a la Triestina and Granzievola alla Triestina (fish), Gnocchi di patate o pane loaded with raisins, and the Jota soup are among the typical dishes not to be missed. When it comes to cheese, try Tabor del Carso and Liptauer, a delicious cream cheese from the region. The local wines are a perfect match for the dish. If you’re a wine enthusiast, read our earlier article about where to get the greatest wines in Trieste. Vitoska, a white wine that pairs well with fish, and Maalvasia, an aperitif, come highly recommended. Buon Appetito!
Where to Shop in Trieste
This ancient wine shop in the heart of town offers an exceptional selection of local wines. www.bischoff.it
This unique shop and factory is owned by a couple of architects who make and sell regionally designed things made entirely of wood.
Natural sponges, spices, ostrich feathers, and horsehair brooms—stepping into the 115-year-old Toso store is like stepping back in time.