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June 27, 2021

Why Trieste Food Stands Out in Italy

Trieste food is no ordinary Italian food. From sour cabbage to James Joyce and the Iron Curtain, Trieste cuisine walks visitors through her history. Here’s our tasty, inside guide on what to eat in Trieste.

See also: the best things to do in Trieste, Italy's surprise city.

Motorbikes in Trieste

Trieste Cuisine: Understanding the Trieste Food Scene

An Introduction to Trieste Food

When I sat down in the Buffet da Pepi, I stood out because I wasn't standing.

In Trieste, it's customary to stand at the bar for lunch, as you wolf down platefuls of pork and mountains of mustard. You're supposed to know which cut you want and how you want it served, leaving me feeling sheepish under the gaze of the busy waiter.

Italy - Trieste - Buffet da pepi bar in Trieste

Buffet da Pepi, Trieste

It's wet and cold outside, and steamy, warm and loud in here. Groups of friends and colleagues lounge at the bar, while staff in white shirts race, dart and dive to haul hunks of meat from hot water ready to slice and serve with sauerkraut.

This is not "typical" Italian food as you'd know it: it's Trieste food.

The waiter is still waiting...

"Er..."

"The mixed platone is good," he says and I give in and accept. Half an hour later, I want to applaud. It's the best sliced meat since, well, sliced bread.

But it's not what I've come to expect from international Italian food.

Trieste statue at the sea view onto the Adriatic

The History of Trieste Cuisine

The pork is sweet, salty and succulent, the sort to give rise to the phrase melt-in-your-mouth. The sauerkraut brings a refreshing sour balance and, after scraping off most of the mustard, I find the perfect balance.

Yet the pork at Buffet da Pepi comes with more than just great garnish. It comes with a personal history that dates back to 1897 and a regional history that stretches for centuries. Trieste lived under the Habsburg rule of Austro-Hungary until the end of the First World War - and much of the city still reflects that that.

Inside tip on dining in Trieste

  • Trieste's culinary culture unfolds in down-to-earth taverns across the city.
  • Most restaurants are family owned and provide an intimate atmosphere during meals.  
  • It is customary to stand at the bar for lunch...
  • And to enjoy yourself :)
Italy - Christmas lights in Trieste

Vienna's Influence on Trieste's Food

Outside and around the corner lives a cafe that many describe as a vestige of a Viennese coffeehouse. Having since been to Vienna, Caffe Tommaseo in Trieste is a far more enjoyable version. 

Legend has it that James Joyce conceived his masterpiece Ulysses while sipping cappuccino around Trieste.  And so in the spirit of literary improvement and researching Trieste cuisine, I drank coffee and ate chocolate cake on his behalf.

 Art is a sacrifice, as they say, and I was ready to surrender to my craft...

Trieste food - chocolate cake trieste in Caffe Tommaseo
Trieste coffee in Caffe Tommaseo where James Joyce worked

Caffe Tommaseo

Caffe Tommaseo, although recently renovated, seduces through its history, its atmosphere and, yes, through its chocolate cake.

In addition to the gilt-edged antique till, the polished wooden floor, the whipped cream and the white walls, this legendary cafe also provides free, fast wifi. Heaven.

But in case I leave you with the false impression that Trieste is simply a patchwork of complicated history, great pork and good chocolate, it's only fair that I point out a third and final dining establishment.

Italian foods pizza trieste

"Typical" Italian Food

Pizza and pasta at the Fratelli la Bufala: part of a network of restaurants dedicated to buffalo mozarella, contemporary art and wine.

Trieste is still modern Italy, when all's said and done.

The Trieste Food Dishes You Need to Know

Jota

Jota has memories of Slovenia written all over it and dates back more than 500 years. Originally a 'leftover dish', Jota is prepared using leftover pork, cabbage and a few beans. Better than it sounds, the trick is to prepare it a day in advance and allow the flavours to soak in to each other.

Risi e Bisi

This is a traditional dish prepared mostly during spring. Risi e Bisi is originally from Veneto and it is made of rice and peas. It is very easy to prepare and mostly served during lunchtimes. Since Trieste is not too far from Venice, you'll find it has become a core part of Trieste cuisine.

La Calandraca

The La Calandraca was originally prepared by fishermen to provide long-lasting sustenance during lengthy fishing trips. It’s a simple stew prepared using salted meats and potatoes.

You’ll find it wearing a number of different hats: Calandraca co'l vin (a glass of white wine is included in the recipe), Calandraca al bianco (cooked without tomatoes), and Calandraca (with a tomato based sauce).

Chifeletti

This is a common side dish in Trieste, prepared to accompany various dishes in Triestine restaurants. Chifeletti is made from eggs, butter, flour and mashed potatoes which are mixed to make a soft dough.

The dough-like mixture is left to stand and then fashioned into crescent shapes and deep fried.

Legends link the crescent-like shape back to the 1600s when the Turks invaded.

Throw in enough sugar and Chifeletti makes a tasty dessert as well.

Sardoni Impanati

The name may sound sexy but the translation means fried pilchards, typically caught straight from the Riviera Barcola. Chefs prefer to use the biggest they can find and Triestines enjoy them with a bowl of radicchio and a glass of chilled white wine.


This post originally formed part of #ironroute, a journey from Istanbul to Berlin by train. It was updated in 2021.


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Food Guide


  • Great story. I’m from Trieste (but live in Sydney, Australia) and have just started a blog called ‘The Good, the Bad and the Italian’. The first few posts are about Trieste’s rich coffee history as well as a special type of “radicchio” from the Friuili-Venezia Giulia region which I grow in my garden. Hope you enjoy it.

    cheers
    Ambra

  • My husband’s family is from the south of Italy, so I immediately think of thin pizza, fresh tomato sauce, and frito misto when I think “Italian food.” But it’s such a rich and diverse culture as you travel though Italy! Though pizza is always good it seems! :)

    We were going to go to Trieste this spring, but it didn’t quite work out – some day! We will be in Vienna though!

  • What a shame your trip to Trieste fell through. Hope you get there some day. Well worth it!

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