Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Once upon a time, there was a pregnant lady, ready to give a birth. She was travelling and couldn’t find a place in an inn. Thus, she gave birth in a barn. Or in a cave, as the different traditions of nativity scene suggest. That inn, shelter or resting place is translated from Hebrew to Greek “katalyma”. You feel safe and well there. So, we went to it.
Somehow, we also needed a shelter from the scorching heat. As the travellers of old, we were not only relieved when we saw the stone wall of a unique Istrian “stancija”, but also astonished when we entered it. A beautiful blue swimming pool surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers is the first thing person sees upon entry. And then there is the house. A perfect Istrian country home, with seven apartments and four rooms, is open year-round. Businesspeople come here for a day or two to relax, while tourists stay for up to two weeks.
Most of them stop also at the Katalyma restaurant, which was our reason to come here. It is the traditional event Jakovlja (St. Jacob’s Day) and the whole Kanfanar celebrates with the best examples of the Istrian ox and fuži pasta. Katalyma prepared a special festive menu and we are here to try it out.
Before we started, together with homemade grappa, we had innovative cheesy bites. The staff welcomed us with cottage cheese and baked pancetta, together with cherry tomatoes, in a form of deep-fried balls. In turns, we managed to encounter whole staff of Katalyma, together with the easy-going chef Jozo Garić and later we had a glass of wine with young and prospective owner Stefano Mužina. He opened this place with a new name only in April this year, after the house existed for some 15 years.
With a few bottles of Poletti’s Cabernet Sauvignon, we were prepared to face a menu dedicated to Istrian ox or boškarin as it is often called. First, we had a rich, meaty, chilled and fresh boškarin carpaccio, served with truffles, Aceto balsamico crème, grated cheese and olive oil, everything on herby rucola. Istria on a plate was a great excuse to talk more about the place envisaged as an Istrian konoba with a modern twist and to visit the kitchen, where these culinary introductions are made.
Boškarin, it should be noted, is, in fact, the widely used “personal” name for the ox. It is an affective, patient and brilliant animal and thus Istrians used to give him affective names such as Boškarin, Gajardo, Istro, Bakin, Srnela, Sivo… In fact, our reporter and klapa singer Edvard remembered a few verses from an old Istrian song “Our Gajardo”, dedicated to this remarkable ox.
You might wonder why exactly ox and not beef or calf is used for these recipes. It is a simple explanation. Boškarin was a labour force, not raised for meat. When his strength faded away, people used to prepare food for it. No wonder, thus, for beautiful Istrian boškarin soups, just as the one we had in Katalyma. Meaty beef soup is excellent in hot summer weather, and that is not a joke. Balancing the body temperature with the outside heat makes us sustain the warmth.
And the top culinary achievement with the ox is, without a shred of doubt, homemade fuži pasta with boškarin. So typical, yet so warm and cosy dish, became lately a signature dish of inner Istria. Almost gamey meat in a rich sauce and pasta cooked in seconds-measurement is indeed a sign of talented and knowledgeable chef. Another bottle of Poletti was needed to meditate on it!
We finished in a classic way, enjoying traditional fritule sweets and familiarise ourselves with a sudden guest from Slovenia, a wine maker that is famous for its chilled Malvasia. We had to let him know that Taste of Adriatic visited his region of Vipava. But we both agreed that Katalyma serves well to its name and offers every guest an enjoyable introduction to the Istrian countryside.
So, you want to have your chances to dive into the swimming pool of Katalyma, and enjoy the classic Istrian cuisine afterwards? Katalyma is fairly easy to reach. You can follow the Istrian Epsilon highway to Kanfanar, turn towards Rovinj, and a large billboard will point your way to the village of Pilkovići. There is no chance not to find the house afterwards.
Katalyma Restaurant and Boutique Hotel
Pilkovići 26/27, 51019 Kanfanar
+385 (0)52 803 720