In the very centre of Barban, there is a restaurant that explains the great heritage of this Istrian town with its name, as well as its offer. It is the Prstenac restaurant, a family place serving delicious Istrian meals, right next to the racetrack where the equestrian and knightly event of the Prstenac Race takes place. The oldest records of that race date back to 1696, and it was renewed in 1976 and is becoming more and more famous, like the Sinjska alka. Skilled Barban knights have to eat something, and we have no doubt that the flavours of the Prstenac restaurant are part of that champion diet.
All four corners of the catering facility are run by the same family, according to the principle from field to table. It is an amazing offer that comes from one's own garden, so it is not surprising that the younger generation does not even think of leaving Barbanština to find their happiness in restaurants with strange recipes. It is luck for all of us who have the opportunity to try the skills of Suzana Žufić and her son Antonio, a trained cook who is an excellent chef of Barban dishes. But all this cannot work without daughter Lucija, who impresses visitors with her hospitality, and especially with homemade brandies. We tasted two, grappa and biska, and it's hard to decide which one is better for a serious warm-up.
The restaurant is a combination of everyday Barban meetings, filled with irresistible Čakavian dialect, and a traditional Istrian tavern with a beautiful fireplace decorated with porcelan wine jars (bukaleta) and various household items of the past era. Prosciutto and cured meat products are cut next to the fireplace. All this is produced by the family themselves, which is quite rare among Istrian taverns, and it is even rarer to hear that a good part of it comes from pigs in their own breeding. They are preserved until the last day by Suzan's mother, and the final product comes to our table.
Books and songs have been written about prosciutto. It's no wonder when the Istrian village cared so much for prosciutto as the pride of its household. Usually only one pig was raised, and care was taken to feed the pig plentifully. In fact, the bigger and heavier it was, the better it was for delicious snacks during the year or for selling end products. Every day, various vegetables were mixed with cornmeal, and pig was fattened with corn. Pumpkin, turnips, gourds, all of that was intended for the pig, and sometimes you can still hear a surprised person wondering how the guests could eat the pumpkin, when it was intended for the piglet.
The main lesson of this story is that Istrian prosciutto must be large, juicy, but also carefully cut. Antonio showed us how it is done expertly, while the meat was arranged on a handmade board made of olive wood. In addition to prosciutto with a strong meat smell and mild aroma, there is also local Istrian sausage, and rich and fragrant pancetta with an excellent peppery edge. The flavours are neutralized by mild cow's cheese, and all this has been known in the Prstenac restaurant since Christmas 1986!
We dip homemade bread in the award-winning olive oil of Dalibor Gribarić, Suzana's brother, who does wonders from the family olive grove in Puntera, a position that descends from Barban towards the sea. It is Barbanština's only exit to the sea, there is a joke among the locals about the Barban Riviera, but this is really a beautiful and untouched part of the Istrian coast, which is particularly marked by the mouth of the Raša River. During the summer, a few beach bars open there, but we believe that the underdevelopment of the coastal offer is an advantage.
In the forests around Barban, a wild boar met the end of its life and was ready for Antonio's pot and prepared as a stew with fusilli. The beautifully rendered soft meat turns this powerful and dangerous animal into a sweet morsel of game, so abundant in some places that such dishes will be available in almost every restaurant. All this can be tasted on the outdoor terrace decorated with flowers or next to the warm fireplace, and it is not uncommon to find capital specimens of fish at larger celebrations.
As we arrived in Barban in the spring, we inevitably tried the pljukanci pasta with prosciutto and asparagus. First, all the praise to the pljukanci. The optimal hardness of this traditional Istrian pasta is an obvious result of the combination of culinary knowledge and family heritage, because the pasta in Prstenac is made by hand - aunt Nevenka, whom Lucija tells us about - makes it according to carefully kept recipes. It is a huge job and therefore one should always have great respect for the effort of preparation and the joy of satisfied and hungry guests.
In ancient times, asparagus was called the imperial plant, and as a harbinger of spring, it provided enough vitamins and health to an organism weakened by winter. It is particularly good for better blood flow, so it is no wonder that our ancestors saw asparagus as an aphrodisiac. Tasty asparagus goes well with prosciutto and is complemented by pljukanci, and with the saltiness of the Istrian violin, Teran wine, which is incredibly drinkable and rich in berry aromas, goes great. Since Barbanština does not have many vineyards, the wine usually comes from the Medea and Arman wineries.
Antonio made sure that we did not leave without a sweet bite of chocolate and orange cake, which, with its harmonious texture and les sweetness, is a welcome end to a very special family gastronomic oasis. The racing spirit lives in the family, here the Trka na prstenac was plucked from oblivion, and now tempting recipes are snatched from oblivion as well. If you came to Barban and didn't visit the restaurant Prstenac, you came for nothing!
Barban 60, Barban
+385 52 567 019
Photos: Taste of Adriatic & Restaurant Prstenac
Text translated to English by Mehdi El-Ammary