From Trieste with love

I love Trieste, that town right at the top of the boot, on a narrow strip of land wedged between the Gulf of Trieste and hills of the Carso. It is an elegant, grand city, with orderly and regal buildings, and tall, fair and often bilingual people. In the late afternoon, the dozens of seats in cafes that line the Piazza dell’Unita’ are filled with triestini, ordering spritz, beer or coffee and there they sit, looking outwards, towards the long waterfront of the Adriatic Sea. The triestini have always been outward-looking, largely from necessity, as Trieste is right at the intersection of Slavic, Germanic and Italian cultures. Over the years it has been attacked, invaded, conquered and bombed, but managed to not only maintain its composure, but thrive on it. This makes it a rather remarkable town.

piazza unita trieste

san marco-pidgeons-trieste-italy on my mind

When I was there in May last year, I stayed in an Air BnB attic apartment right next to Canale Grande in the centre of the central town grid; its elegant foyer was complete with an old-fashioned lift in a cage (rather like the one in the 1963 Hitchcock film Charade). It was the first time I had stayed in Trieste overnight – dozens of visits to Castello Miramare and for shopping expeditions when I was younger and staying down the road with family in Monfalcone didn’t count. But being Trieste felt a bit like I was at home, with a strong connection to the people, their dialect and their customs; a cross-road between my father’s homeland of Istria and my mother’s Veneto. Every morning I would head downstairs to one of the many cafes for an Illy coffee (the local brew) and a krapfen con marmellata. Krapfen is, as you may have guessed, a German word, and is what we call a donut round here (which most other parts of Italy call a bombolone); a salute to the days when the Austrians were in charge.

elena ferrante-trieste-italy on my mind

krapfen con marmellata

salumeria-trieste-italy on my mind

My morning became a ritual: mid morning I would wander along via Battisti to the historic Caffe’ San Marco, a Viennese-style cafe’ where writers like James Joyce and Italo Svevo used to meet in the glory days of the Austro-Hungarians. I would sit at one of the marble-painted tables, have my second coffee and read. It felt very luxurious and I felt totally spoilt. After my caffe’ stop, I would walk to Via Carducci, and spend time at 1930s mercato coperto (covered market). I loved the fact that the market sells my favourite radicio (baby radicchio also called “cicoria zuccherina di Trieste“) which papa’ used to grow in his garden back at home. The first cut (“radiceto de primo taio“) was always the sweetest and most tender (as the leaves become increasingly bitter as it re-grows).

carciofini-trieste-italy on my mind

The city is dotted with fish markets, and in the mornings there are dozens of trays of gleaming silver beauties caught less than 12 hours beforehand: orate (type of bream), branzini (sea bass), sardines and all sorts of cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish and octopus). It explains my father’s predilection for seafood – it was the food of the Adriatic and of his childhood, freshly caught and simply eaten. It dominates most restaurant menus. I stopped for lunch for delicious spaghetti allo scoglio on one of the days there; and a plate of barely grilled tender local baby scallops on the shell on another – the seafood was spectacular.

sardine vive-trieste-italy on my mind

pescheria-tram di opicina-trieste-italy on my mind

Those of you who have been to Trieste will know it is a windy city, sometimes fiercely windy when the cold “bora” blows from the north. Trieste is known for its bora; it is discussed, commented on and even sung about in old popular songs. One of these is called El tram de opicina (la nova bora), a song in dialect, about the northerly wind and the local tram/funicular that travels from the centre of Trieste up a steep hill to Opicina. These are the songs I remember being sung when the polesani and triestini got together for a meal at home, or to play cards – there was often singing. The other day I was telling mamma about youtube clips I had found of those old songs – and we started singing them out loud.  What lovely memories.

chairs-trieste citta vecchia-italy on my mind
on the water front-trieste-italy on my mind

I have only touched on the things I love about Trieste; missing is Miramare Castle, Gelateria Zampelli, the old port of Trieste which is now a museum, the ferry ride to Muggia on the Istrian peninsula, the castle of San Giusto, the story of the development of Porto Piccolo, and the incredible wines of the Collio. More to come in future posts as next week I am returning to Italy and will be spending almost a month in Trieste, at the start of a 3 month trip to take photos for and research my next cookbook. So please follow my travels on Instagram where I will be posting regularly. 

And for when the journey ends…. I still have places available in cooking classes in Melbourne in June, July and August 2017 and a few spots available for the 6-day workshop I am running at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school in Sicily from 1-6 November 2017. Until then … arrivederci Melbourne!

view from porto piccolo-trieste-italy on my mind

27 Comments

  • Barbara says:

    Lovely post! It made me feel very nostalgic. Can I come too?!
    Babi xx

  • Chiara says:

    grazie per aver scritto del tuo viaggio a Trieste, mi fa sempre piacere leggere della mia città e vedere belle foto… un caro saluto da Trieste

  • ciaochowlinda says:

    I love Trieste too and can’t wait to return. I made friends with Chiara, who left a comment above, and last time I was there, she took all over the city. I wish I could take that workshop at Fabrizia’s place in Sicily. – someday, I hope.

    • What a small world of blogger foodies it is – it is lovely when you meet those you connect with online. Well I hope to meet you one day too – maybe in Sicily 🙂

  • Laura says:

    Beautiful Trieste. As a daughter of ‘Triestini’ I always take great pleasure and pride in this wonderful city, less known than the others, maybe a good thing, but truly one of the most majestic cities of the world.

  • Rob burich says:

    Ciao Paola. Everytime i hear the word Trieste. I get goosebumps. El mio papa eira nato a Trieste. E.la mamma a Parenzo
    Ive been to Trieste with my mum 4times and visited all the places you mentioned plus more… including Parenzo where my mum couldnt stop talking. Reliving her childhood. Even though im born in Melb eastern suburbs. Trieste/Istria i feel it in my blood. I even visited where my papa worked .just off Via D’annunzio. Via tesa. Apparently there was a Segaria (sawmill) there. I actually approached this fairly old man in that residence and asked him. If he remembered La Segaria. Mygod he toldme everythng.including i Panificci(breadshop) that my fathers papa owned and also worked at. My Zie worked at El guanto. (Glove shop) near Via mazzini. The most amazing thing i remember about my Zia telling me this…….
    Roby no ti ze sposi
    No Zia. Le donne Australiane no cuzina. No le fa niente. And she replied.
    Alora Roby. Ascolta mi. Va fuora con elle. Fa cosa te ti devi far. E sta casa con la mamma.
    Lots of memories. Keep up the goodwork Paola. Ciao Rob

    • “Le donne australiane no cuzina. Non le fa niente” you made me laugh Rob!! I know that this is what my parents also thought when they arrrived in Australia. I know exactly how you feel that Istria & Trieste are in your blood – I feel exactly the same way. Thanks for your stories about “la segaria” and “el guanto” – I love our dialect so much

  • jac says:

    What a beautiful town. I love that first photo. Enjoy your trip!

  • Jo says:

    Have a great trip, Paula! Sounds wonderful! I still remember you dad surprised that I would eat the raddichio, declaiming that I would prefer Iceberg, and his rather huge smile when I took on the dare of eating whole garlic cloves! Have a wonderful time. Jo

  • Lesley Anne Foxton says:

    I have never been and now it is top of my list of Italian trips. Thank you.

    • Glad to have convinced you!! It almost doesn’t feel like italy, or at least a different version of – I guess that is true of so many towns that border other countries.

  • David says:

    I have always wanted to go to Trieste since I was just out of college. I young colleague was from there and gave me a book – Un Sapore di Trieste. I can’t eat to go!

    • I don’t know that book David – I will have to look it up. I have several Italian language books of “la cucina triestina” but not that one

  • Graeme says:

    Looks and sounds great! Looks like another place to go on the list. We’ve never been further north than Venice. We’re going to Sicily in September and Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School is on the itinerary. Fai un buon viaggio!

    • A lot of people do not get past Venice – but there is Treviso that is definitely worth a visit, Udine, Gorizia and of course Trieste. All lovely in their own way. September is a beautiful season to be in Sicily – I was there last year at that time – it was grape harvest time, and you should definitely go to the school or at the least the Tasca D’Almerita winery. Grazie e buon viaggio pure a te!!

  • pblevitt says:

    My family and I spent some time in Friuli a number of years ago and Trieste is without a doubt one of the most picturesque and interesting cities in Italy and for that matter anywhere. We treasured our time there and look forward to a return trip.

  • A city that I somehow managed to miss during my years in Italy, much to my regret. It’s high up on my bucket list.

  • Sarah says:

    What a gorgeous post! Please enjoy your time in Italy! xox

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