One of the most beautiful views of Kvarner Bay can be seen from the terrace of the Kali tavern. We admire the largest Croatian islands of Cres and Krk, while we drink Grandpa’s Herb Brandy as an aperitif before great flavours. We are located high above Medveja, at the point where the sea and the forest of the Učka Nature Park meet, which is reflected in the menu of the tavern run by the Bistre family. During many visits to this place, it is still impossible to decide whether it is nicer to sit on the spacious terrace with a magical view or into the interior of the tavern, which conquers with its authentic antiquity and massive stone rock. It is best, of course, to try all the options at different times of the year, because in the Kali tavern the seasons are measured by the flavours on the plate and not so much by the calendar. Autumn, of course, is dedicated to one of the most original products of the Lovran region, which is the Lovran chestnut.
If we could start talking about Lovran chestnut anywhere, then it would certainly be this tavern. Ante Bistre not only runs the Kali tavern but is an enthusiastic activist for the Liburnian culinary scene, although more known outside Croatia than within it. On that stage, the Lovran Chestnut Association is dedicated to the promotion of not only chestnut but also the preservation of the past of this area. After all, Medveja was named after this noble chestnut. Harvested chestnuts were collected in one place and covered with leaves (med veje), so the place began to be called: Med-Veje.
Ante explains that the Romans were the first to plant chestnuts in Učka, but the connection between the Lovran region and the product itself comes only from the famous Croatian captain Petar Kružić, who created a port in Lovran that was the beginning of the Uskok navy. The ships sailed along the entire Adriatic and transported many products, including chestnuts grown in the dense forests above Lovran. Since the goods came from the port of Lovran, the chestnut was simply named - Lovranski! And while we are talking about the history of chestnuts, a very special dish comes to our table - pumpkin soup with Lovran chestnut. Ante's mother Zorica calls it drunken soup because it also contains wine, vinegar, cognac, rum, ginger, which all give it a palette of flavours.
The soup is simply great, good for both cold weather and hangovers! Lovran chestnut gives the final note, recalling that grannies used to keep chestnuts all winter because it fed generations in the meagre times of the year. By creating this soup, the Kali tavern is true to its motto: return to tradition.
That return is not reserved only for chestnuts. In the tavern Kali there is a constant combination of Učka and the sea in products of added value and respect for old culinary habits. Pots are used to make sauces from the past, which are then combined with a dozen types of pasta, especially ravioli. They are filled with various ingredients. Cheese is often procured high in the mountains, in a few still surviving small family cheese dairies, and honey comes from the same area. It will be found in combination with shrimp because Medveja is part of the shrimp territory. Locally caught or farmed fish and seafood are served here, and the same is true with the Shrimp labelled Local Fish issued by the Fisheries Local Action Group Vela vrata. We tried the homemade ravioli with mushrooms and chestnuts. This was pure autumn on a plate, again in keeping with the tradition of the house that chestnuts are always combined with seasonal food.
Many motorcyclists also come to Kali, which receive a ten per cent discount. They know each other very well, because Ante is also a motorcyclist, and it seems that this love flows in the veins of his daughter as well. Many of them will not resist the peka, meat or seafood made under the baking lid, that is made in the Kali tavern, among which the octopus stands out. Others will prefer a steak with ravioli in the mom’s style, one of the specialities of the house. All this should be seasoned with beautiful olive oil, which comes from the family’s homestead in Radovin, in the hinterland of Zadar. Father of his grandpa Ante, Dujam, and his brother Mijat are responsible for this family heritage. Mijat sailed on the famous ship Carpathia, which became famous also because it was the first to come to the aid of the survivors of the Titanic. One-third of the sailors on that ship were Croats because the ship sailed on the New York-Rijeka line. Mijat left the money he earned to his brother Dujam, who bought land in Radovin and planted first olives and figs. This dowry is still very present in the Kali tavern.
Namely, edible souvenirs of chestnuts, figs, apples, cherries, and plums are offered here. Smokvenjak (fig cake) Kali should be specially mentioned: “Returned from table oblivion, smokvenjak is the result of the search for a traditional, healthy and simple product of its region. Produced from figs and various fruits, Smokvenjak is another in a series of authentic products of the Kali tavern and has won several expo awards for a fig souvenir product ", say the hosts. The peculiarity of this, compared to every other fig cake in Croatia, is that it is alcohol-free and is therefore great for all age groups and especially for people suffering from diabetes. It should not be forgotten that smokvenjak is a biblical cake and as much as it has a combination on the Adriatic, the original recipe can easily be found in the Holy Scripture. Smokvenjak is completely natural, without added sugar, additives or preservatives, rich in calcium and magnesium, and gives strength and energy, so it is popular among athletes and recreationists.
Another indigenous product of the Kali tavern is Marunela, chestnut cream, which is served as a spread with pancakes and ice cream, but also as a base for chestnut soup. Marunela is a truly unique product whose taste is a combination of roasted chestnuts and chocolate. Fig balls are also indispensable, and fig vinegar is additionally produced. The process between harvest and bottling takes at least three years, and the vinegar has a sweet and rich taste.
For the end of our gastronomic story in the Kali tavern, we tried fig, chestnut and truffle ice cream with a topping made of mashed fig in thick fig vinegar, masterfully made so that each ingredient feels unmistakable and again gives an impression of top culinary quality. As noted, the Bistre family is committed not only to high quality but also healthy products. Therefore, you can also buy Manuka honey here, excellent for its anti-inflammatory and beneficial effects on human health, which is obtained from herbs that grow only in New Zealand.
Unfortunately, there is less and less cultivated chestnut in the forests of Lovran and Učka, due to low interest in its production. The Bistre family is certainly the most active in this field and is known for its delicacies not only in the tourist centres of our country but also abroad. Let us hope that this perseverance will be an incentive for others to protect the Lovran chestnut together and for this product to become the top gastronomic brand of Kvarner!
Kali 39a, Medveja 51415, Croatia
tel. + 385 (0) 22.214.171.124
gsm. + 385 (0) 126.96.36.199
Photos by Konoba Kali & Taste of Adriatic