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Konoba da Quinto

Traditional Croatian Eating

Just down the road from the Konoba da Quinto is a pizzeria. It is adequate, the food is okay, the owners are friendly and helpful, but it is the kind of eatery you can find anywhere. Most of us have gone to a foreign country and eaten at these okay places. But there are no memories of anything interesting! In Croatia, I have been to okay places, but once I discovered the Konobas, I was spoilt. A konoba (literally meaning a basement) is the essence of Croatia. What is a konoba? It is a local rustic eatery, where the building is usually old and perhaps renovated, set in a village or just outside in the countryside; its food is made from locally produced fresh vegetables and meats or fish, and the wines are from local vineyards. Importantly, the food is cooked to traditional recipes by the owner, and it is likely his family help out at table, the bar, or the kitchen. Often, a konoba will only serve one main dish, maybe two. But, if you request something else beforehand the owner will try his very best to get it for you. The Quinto is a great example of a konoba. It is owned by Klaudio Ritosa and his wife, Radmila. Klaudio speaks no English apart from one or two words. Radmila speaks a little more English with a charming accent. Both are very pleasant folks with huge smiles. They are also very kind, with big hearts.

Klaudio and Radmila Ritosa

Built in 1905 as a local school, the building is on the main road from Buje to Pula, Istria (north-west Croatia), in the small village of Ferenci, just outside Vizinada. Drive from Vizinada square towards Pula and after about five minutes, you will see the Quinto on your left, next to the road. It has a wooden frame outside, with tables. Klaudios son, Andrej, persuaded him to keep his tables to a minimum, so that he could both cook and wait on table himself. It was a good move even though

2 Klaudio is used to larger numbers he once ran a restaurant (in Italy I think) with a staggering 350 tables! Even though the da Quinto is very much smaller, Klaudio and Radmilas enthusiasm is infectious, as they describe what is on offer, and then when they serve it! It all adds to the atmosphere, which is wonderfully local and friendly. Klaudios grandfather bought the school after the Second World War, when Italy withdrew its troops. Between 1964 and 1976 the building was used as a village bar selling mainly beers, local ham and cheese. It closed, and then Klaudio and his wife took over, renovating it in the past three years. I made my first visit to the Quinto just after this, so we were some of the first foreigners to eat there as a konoba. I now go there on every visit. A motorway has just been completed in Istria, running from north to south. As the Quinta is located on what was once the main road from Buje to Pula, this was a terrific blow to the Ritosas, but they stayed open and have since welcomed foreign villa owners nearby. Klaudios son, Andrej, explained that his father would love to become the main eatery for these local visitors. If his treatment of myself and my companions is anything to go by, any visitors would be in for a treat! The Quinto is also great for travellers who come in from Trieste airport and do not want to use the motorway, for a lunch or dinner enroute, or if they are passing. But why wait until you pass? Just find da Quinto and pop in anyway! On my first visit, I stayed in a villa on the edge of Vizinada itself. Since that time I have stayed in Novigrad and, lately, in a luxury villa in the small village of Bajkini, just outside Vizinada. Each time, I find my way back to the Quinto.

Vizinada

The first occasion, my family and I were driving down the main road, saw the Quinto, and turned into the car park. The lights were out and we realised it was closed. But, this is where the genuine Croatian spirit came alive! As we were about to exit the car park, Klaudio came out of his door and waved for us to stop. Though closed, he invited us in to eat, and turned on all the lights!

3 At first we were not sure, but once inside we loved the place. Klaudio, with a huge smile, fussed over us, shook our hands, and took us inside, up some steps, to meet his delightful wife. The entrance room has an old fireplace with log fire, a bar, one table, and a TV. On the wall is an old photo of Klaudios father on a horse (looks like he is wearing an Italian uniform). Leading off was the kitchen, and, next to it, another smallish room with two tables, which easily took our party of seven. The rest was fast-talking Italian, Croatian and English. Klaudio invited us into his kitchen, where he opened every fridge and cupboard, to show us what he had on offer! Imagine a chef doing that in any other country! We chose our meal and waited. It was only after we had eaten the first course that we realised we had asked, in broken Italian, for six separate courses, one to follow the other!! Thankfully, we managed to put it right and we only had to eat two courses! Every time we go there Klaudio cooks generous portions, and we have to ask for a box to take the reminder of the meals in! The last visit we each had beautifully cooked sea bass, gently cooked to perfection; in the UK it would have cost a fortune, but Klaudios prices are very reasonable. Sometimes he even has the biggest fresh lobster you have seen. Like the owners of other konobas, Klaudio wants to please, and will cook whatever you want, so long as he can get hold of the ingredients. However, I suggest you just go along with the flow and have whatever he is cooking at the time. You will certainly get your moneys worth; superb cooking, wonderful fresh vegetables, great local wine, the delight of hearing Radmila speaking in cute broken-English, and natural warmth and friendship from a lovely couple. And their sons are just as nice! Do not think local wine means rough vino. We are talking about fine wines from nearby vintners such as the Arman brothers. You will not have heard of them abroad, but their wines rival anything listed worldwide. Eating at a konoba is a real treat, because it immerses you instantly in local culture and a generous welcome from a very open people. Forget those fancy restaurants that charge you big dollars, and join the locals. After all, it is a fact that locals usually eat at the best places. And if you cant eat it all, just ask for the food to be boxed to take home with you. Klaudio will not mind one little bit! And just before you leave accept a small glass of grappa it hits your mouth at 100 kms an hour! April 2008. Barry Napier barry.napier@ntlworld.com
Hotel and Travel Journalist

Contact: Vl. ritoa klaudio Vizinada Ferenci 44 Istria, Croatia Tel: +385 (0)52 44 6052 Nearest local rental villa: www.villaolivia.eu