Ringing in the New Year in a Most Un-Italian City

I’m just back from a few days of New Year’s celebrations in Trieste, which is tucked away in Italy’s far northeastern corner. After a quick look at the map it will not surprise you to hear that this sliver of coastline has been contested  through the ages and it’s not entirely unreasonable to presume that Trieste could now be part of a different country if 20th Century history had gone a little differently.

New Year's fireworks in Trieste

New Year's fireworks in Trieste

Trieste was the only port of the Austrian Empire for centuries and then with the birth of Austria-Hungary in the 19th Century the city’s importance grew as it became the empire’s most important port and fourth-largest city (after Vienna, Budapest and Prague). With this much non-Italian history in its past, Trieste promised to offer some interesting eating opportunities.

The menus of most of the city’s restaurants look as if they could have been imported from someplace a bit further north and east. Lots of goulash everywhere, sausages and other Mitteleuropa goodies that after a meal leave you wondering if your heart and veins will go on strike to protest the fat content.

I ignored my heart for three days (hope it doesn’t hold a grudge) and indulged. I’m normally not a fan of boiled meat, but in Trieste they boil pork to perfection and they pull the meat out of the water long before the taste has seeped away, as happens with boiled meat in the Cremona-Mantova area. Another enjoyable local dish is goulash with gnocchi di pane. The goulash is the goulash of Hungarian fame though the gnocchi rather than the small potato gnocchi common on Italian menus are large balls of bread, milk, eggs, cheese and meat that make them essentially like the canederli you find in Trentino-Alto Adige.

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is barely more than an hour from central Trieste so a visit to one really should include a stop by the other. More sausages, more meat, more testing of my heart’s resilience.

The conspiracy against my heart continues in Ljubljana

The conspiracy against my heart continues in Ljubljana

Ljubljana is positively beautiful and I’m already negotiating with my heart and veins about when I can return. It seems I’ll be allowed back in a year’s time as long as I limit myself to one sausage a day.



7 thoughts on “Ringing in the New Year in a Most Un-Italian City

  1. It sounds strange to me to hear Trieste called “un-italian” because I grew up with the history of Trieste irredenta – a guess we were brainwashed in school. There are all sorts of songs about Trieste that we learned to sing and that made us feel patriotic. That is as far as modern history went, they never taught us about fascism.

    Places that sit astride different cultures are always interesting.

  2. I cannot resist pointing out the importance of the city known as ‘Trst’ to the denizens of the former Yugoslav countries. Historical connections aside, along with Graz it was a popular weekend destination of those who held those magical passports that were valid for both the West and East during the Cold War. Shopping for Italian jeans or the latest rock records in Trieste was a weekend ritual for many Yugoslavs that helped contribute to the cosmopolitan character of the country in the ‘golden years’ of the ’70s and ’80s — before war and visa regimes put an end it. But I’m getting away from the topic at hand.

    Just a couple of notes on meat here.

    My friend who is half-Dalmatian and half-Zagrebcanin makes a delightul Croatian-style goulash to which he often adds gnocchi. This usually ends up being Italian-style potato gnocchi when we’re in the US but I wonder if he’s going for something more akin to the canederli-style monsters you describe. I’ll have to ask.

    In Kratovo, Macedonia there is a policeman and pig farmer’s son locally known as “Kucka” who at the age of 19 or so had mastered the art of boiling meat, specifically pork, to a finer effect than anyone else I have ever encountered, and I live in Lombardy. Although I watched him labor and tasted its fruits many times, I’m not quite sure how he pulled it off. Seemed to be some combination of quick boiling and then pan-frying. Fresh meat from the homestead probably didn’t hurt. He was forever trying to get a visa to the US so he could open a restaurant, and I hope he did.

    The South Slavs do meat really well. I’m glad to see this influence extends up to Trst, too. For obvious reasons, I’ve long had an unfulfilled desire to go.

    • Hank, any word from your friend on the gnocchi. I’d be curious to know it he was indeed aiming for the big pseudo-canederli I found in Trieste. Funny you should say that about the boiling procedure. I just found out this weekend that the meat used for boiled meat varies depending on whether you actually want to eat the meat or are more interested in just getting the broth at the end.

      Do yourself a favor and get to Trieste. You’ll fulfill that long-held desire and if you are in Lombardy it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away.

    • There is a cookbook, pubelshid in 1976, apparently out of print but available used, called Favorite Recipes From Our Best Cooks Sisterhood of St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church Johnson City New York. My Baba’s holubky recipe – which predates this book by decades – is virtually identical to one found in this book, except that it is called holubtsi in Ukrainian. My Slovak great-grandparents were from a pair of tiny villages in what was then the Hungarian County of Ung. His village is just barely in modern Slovakia, just south of Michalovce, and hers was in what is now Zakarpattia oblast in Ukraine. Many of the Slovak immigrants of a century ago were actively recruited from the eastern Slovak regions. They would have had many Ruthenian and Ukrainian neighbors. Since this recipe appears in a Ukrainian cookbook, and the recipe is mostly known among the descendants of Slovak immigrants to America, my guess is that it was adopted by Slovaks living in or near western Ukraine, which is why holubky are so common among American Slovaks yet so rare in modern Slovakia. That same Ukrainian cookbook also has several Paska recipes, one of which is just like hers, and several hrutka recipes, one of which is close to hers, except she never used a double boiler and tied 6 or 7 whole cloves in the hrutka while it cooked down.

    • Beth,Second dish I’ve made of yours this week, for the first time, and I’m hooked on your site. This was a big hit as well. My fiaence had 2 helpings and I had one big one and had to practice some self-control to not go back for 2nds. It also made the house smell so good. Even the cats were sniffing the air, and one of them got to my plate after I was done and he approved. I served this with crescent rolls. The only thing I changed was I used a 12 oz bag of macaroni, and my fiaence requested a smaller macaroni. I think I used medium. Cheers!Tracy

  3. Well, Croat friend has replied that, no, he wasn’t going for that effect. I don’t what he was going for. His reply was terse. What can one say, Croats are inscrutable.

    I hear you about the meat. My suocera does the same with chicken and then my wife vociferously forbids her from serving the boiled chicken parts (which I imagine in her time in the rural Veneto they ate with glee). This generation ain’t having it (although the guest has been known to indulge).

    • Well, the red wine really does give it a uinuqe flavor. In its absence I would say use some beef stock but a half cup of beef stock is hard to come by without having extra… I would say you could also try adding 2 Tbsp of either balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar for that extra zing that wine usually adds. It will still be different but I think it would be nice. You may also need to add a little water (1/4 – 1/2 cup) in the absence of the wine but play it by ear. Add it in at the end if it looks like the macaroni made it too dry. I hope that helps! Good luck!

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