I had arrived in Trieste to begin the research for my book Flavors of Friuli. Being particularly interested in the city’s local foods, I set out first thing in the morning for the waterfront, to what was labeled on my map as the Pescheria, or “fish market.” What the guidebook had failed to mention, however, was that the immense, brick structure had long ago been converted into an exhibition hall. The side of the building nearest its clock tower also contained the city’s aquarium.
Having previously visited aquariums in Milan and on the island of Elba, I felt compelled to see what Trieste’s had to offer. I should mention first that I live in San Francisco, just a couple hours from the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium—so I was clearly destined for disappointment. The first floor held a pair of lonely penguins, a coral reef tank with two brightly colored fish, and an octagonal tank with some sharks and rays. Upstairs housed the reptiles and amphibians, but it seemed that all the snakes and lizards were asleep. The only active creature was a snapping turtle that had been confiscated as an illegal pet—its shell had sadly been deformed from malnutrition.
When I left the aquarium, the sun had finally come out, and although the air was still frosty, I felt invigorated sitting in the vast Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia. For the first time, I was able to admire the sun reflecting off the brilliant gold mosaics on the Palazzo del Governo. It was still too early for lunch, but I decided to do some “recon” work, scoping out the countless restaurants on my list. Most were still closed, but I studied the menus that they typically post outside the door. Around 11:30 I came across one spot that was already open, Buffet Da Gildo. The menu outside listed gnocchi di susine (plum-filled gnocchi) and goulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew)—two of the dishes on my “to try” list. Unfortunately, there was no menu inside. The waitress quickly rattled off a couple choices: one soup and one pasta. I ordered jota, a soup prepared with beans, potatoes, and sauerkraut that is considered one of Trieste’s native dishes.
Later, I stopped by Pasticceria Bomboniera, one of Trieste’s oldest bakeries (Pasticceria Penso, which I had visited the previous day, and Pasticceria Pirona are the others). I was still curious to taste the city’s three signature desserts—presnitz, putizza, and pinza—but I soon gathered that they are not typically sold by the slice. So in the spirit of research, I bought one of each and returned to my hotel room for a decadent midafternoon tasting. The presnitz was a puff pastry spiral filled with dried fruit and nuts, practically indistinguishable from gubana Cividalese. The pinza was a plain, sweet, round loaf, rather like brioche or challah, with a decoratively scored top. The putizza turned out to be my favorite—similar to the dried fruit and nut spiral cake called gubana delle Valli del Natisone but with two distinct differences: a much greater filling-to-dough ratio and, most importantly, it also contained chunks of dark chocolate. On a subsequent trip, I was able to acquire the bakery’s recipe, which was the inspiration for my version in Flavors of Friuli.
For dinner that evening, I chose Ristorante Al Granzo. As their personalized tableware affirmed, the restaurant has been in business since 1923. For my appetizer, I ordered granzievola alla Triestina (crabmeat cooked with garlic, parsley, and olive oil). Granzievola translates as “spiny spider crab,” and it is typically served in its shell. Anticipating that I would eventually need to shoot photos of all my recipes, I asked the waiter if he would wrap up the shell for me to take home. At first he was reluctant (I think the restaurant preferred to reuse their shells), but he agreed after I explained about my project. Was it my imagination or did I see the kitchen staff peer out at me and snicker?
The meal concluded with an uninspiring portion of homemade panzerotti al salmone (salmon-stuffed pasta in cream sauce) and a side of boiled spinach. The complimentary glass of prosecco was a welcome touch, but overall I found Al Granzo to be a bit stuffy. It didn’t help that I was the only guest in the dining room for my entire meal.
That evening, back in my hotel room, it was a nice surprise to discover the Valentine’s Day card my boyfriend (now husband) had hidden in the bottom of my suitcase!