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Scampi - A Culinary Journey in Adriatic Sea

Updated: Jun 25

Scampi, a term often used interchangeably for both the delicious seafood and a method of preparation involving garlic and butter, holds a rich history and diverse culinary significance. The culinary history of scampi spans centuries, with its roots firmly embedded in European gastronomy.

Historically, scampi refers to the small, lobster-like crustaceans found in the Mediterranean and northeastern Atlantic. These marine creatures were prized in ancient Roman cuisine and have since become a staple in various European dishes. The term "scampi" itself derives from the Italian word for these prawns. Over time, the culinary use of scampi evolved, especially with the Italian diaspora, leading to the popular American-Italian dish "shrimp scampi," which features larger prawns or shrimp cooked in garlic, butter, and white wine.

In Greek mythology, there are numerous sea creatures like the Scylla, a monster that was part woman and part sea creature with several heads, each of which could snatch sailors from their ships. This creature represents the fear of the unknown and the dangers lurking in the sea, themes that have been common in maritime folklore and could be connected to the habitats where scampi are found​. These mythological stories, although not about scampi specifically, highlight humanity's long fascination with the sea and its mysterious inhabitants, a fascination that continues in modern gastronomy and folklore.

In modern gastronomy, scampi can refer both to the shellfish and the dish prepared using them. The traditional Italian method of preparing scampi involves sautéing the prawns in olive oil, garlic, onion, and white wine, often finished with a squeeze of lemon and parsley. This preparation highlights the delicate, sweet flavour of the prawns while the garlic and wine enhance its natural taste.

Croatia, particularly the Kvarner Gulf, is renowned for its exceptional scampi. These crustaceans thrive in the cold, clean waters of the Adriatic Sea, contributing to their superior taste and quality. In Croatian cuisine, scampi is often prepared in a buzara style, a method that involves cooking the scampi in a rich sauce made from white wine, garlic, parsley, and breadcrumbs. This dish is a celebrated part of the local culinary heritage and is frequently enjoyed during festive occasions and coastal gatherings.

In addition to the buzara preparation, Croatian scampi are also grilled, steamed, or incorporated into pasta dishes, showcasing their versatility and the country's rich maritime culinary traditions. The unique flavour profile of Kvarner scampi, characterized by their tenderness and sweetness, makes them a sought-after delicacy not just in Croatia but across Europe.

Beyond Croatia, scampi dishes have a strong presence in various European cuisines. In the UK, scampi is often breaded and fried, served with chips, and is a beloved pub food. Meanwhile, in Italy and France, the approach tends to be more refined, focusing on the natural flavours of the scampi paired with simple, high-quality ingredients.

It's important to note that the popularity of scampi has led to significant fishing pressures. Sustainable fishing practices are essential to ensure the long-term viability of scampi populations. Methods such as limiting bycatch, protecting habitats, and implementing quotas help maintain the balance of marine ecosystems.

Scampi holds a special place in both historical and modern culinary traditions, particularly in Europe. Its versatility and delicate flavour make it a favourite among chefs and food enthusiasts alike, with each region offering its unique twist on this classic ingredient. Croatia’s Kvarner scampi, in particular, stands out for its quality and traditional preparations, reflecting the country’s rich culinary heritage and connection to the sea.

Photos: Pixabay


Scampi in Kvarner

The history of scampi catching in the Croatian Kvarner region is a tale of tradition and culinary excellence. Scampi, or "kvarnerski škampi," have been a delicacy in the Kvarner Gulf for centuries, and their capture is deeply embedded in local culture.

Historically, the Kvarner region, particularly around the islands of Krk and Rab, has been renowned for its scampi due to the unique marine environment. The shallow, sandy sea beds of the Kvarner Gulf provide an ideal habitat for these crustaceans. Scampi are caught using trawl nets and fish traps, with the fishing season extending from April to October. This method ensures that the scampi are caught at their best, contributing to their reputation for exceptional flavour and texture.

In the past, scampi were more abundant and larger, but decades of overfishing have significantly impacted their population. Today, a kilogram of scampi often requires catching around twenty individuals, compared to just five in earlier times. This decline has made Kvarner scampi a rare and expensive commodity, with prices reflecting their scarcity and the labour-intensive process of catching them.


The craft of scampi fishing, known locally as "škamparenje," is practiced by a small number of dedicated fishermen called "škampari." These fishermen rise early and spend long hours at sea, maintaining a tradition that has been passed down through generations. The physical demands and the skill required in this profession are considerable, underscoring the value placed on scampi in the local culture and cuisine.

Scampi play a central role in the culinary identity of the Kvarner region. Dishes such as "škampi na buzaru," where scampi are cooked in a garlic, white wine, and tomato sauce, are iconic and celebrated in local festivals, including the annual Kvarner Scampi Festival in Rabac. This festival is a testament to the cultural and gastronomic importance of scampi, attracting locals and tourists alike to savor traditional and innovative scampi dishes.


Where to taste scampi in Kvarner?

While many restaurants offer scampi, we would like to point to several restaurants and taverns featured on our website with long tradition of "škamparenje" in their immidiate vicinity.

Our scampi path begins in Mošćenička Draga, an old fishing place where many modern scampi fishermen live. We begin our journey in the renown restaurant Johnson. Fresh quality fish, scampi and clamps are why people cherish Johnson, and all of these comes directly from the local fishermen and is being served the same day. Tonight, this scampi was still roaming the Adriatic seafloor and now its jelly and rich texture is the source of our immense enjoyment.

On a picturesque and widely popular beach of Mošćenička Draga, amongst various cafes and bars, there is a special restaurant Zijavica, a destination for imaginative and elaborative kinds of seafood, including scampi mousse and other nice magic coming from the kitchen of Stiven Vunić!

The next step is to find a taxi boat or board the ferry to the island of Cres. The channel between the mainland and the island is called Vela Vrata (Big Doors) and is rich with scampi. In the Tavern Mareta, Adriatic scampi are served with polenta and tremendously good sauce, and tools come handy if you don’t want to have red dots all over your clothes. After few trials and errors, people mostly use fingers to extract those mouthful pieces of meat hiding beneath cooked and red scampi’s shell.

In the nearby island of Lošinj famous restaurant Za Kantuni will serve you marinated anchovies with Pepe-Fish tomatoes, pasta with scampi, tuna steak, shrimps, bonito pate, and octopus salad. Even a bit of this fish plate shouldn’t be wasted, as the fresh aroma gives impulses for more. Do not be afraid of dipping the bread into olive oil afterwards, as Za Kantuni bakes its own bread.

Crossing over to the island of Krk brings us on the eastern side of the Kvarner Bay. In the picturesque town of Vrbnik, perched on a cliff above the sea, stands wine hotel Gospoja where scampi tartar and Adriatic scampi risotto served with dried fig feature this celebrated seafood.

On the northern side of Krk, in Malinska, Restaurant Mulino features classic Krk pasta, šurlice, with scampi in a rich and tasty combination that leaves the taste of Adriatic scampi deep into memory of visitors.


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