After a little research I realized I was eating rock samphire, also known as sea fennel. It is mentioned as an aphrodisiac on websites – and, as we all know, everything we read on the Internet is true. (The site I looked at also lists bananas, sea snails, garlic and Champagne for “the sex.”)
I swallowed the motar, as samphire is called in Croatian, and wished I were back at Batalina instead. Located in the town of Banjole, Batelina is run by David Skoko and his two parents. David has quickly risen to fame in Croatia, thanks to his appearance on the popular Croatian TV show Master Chef.
Case in point: I sat on the terrace sipping local wine as Skoko brought out a procession of plates to my table: conger eel mouse, angler fish liver, shark confit, grilled shark belly, grilled grey mullet in a dandelion emulsion. I ate well while I was in Istria but this was the best meal I’d had in a long time.
Eating raw or partially raw fish is a sort of new phenomenon in Istria, sort of because, as Skuko told me during one of his trips out of the kitchen, “Raw or freshly caught fish – not frozen – was always eaten in the home. Never in restaurants.”
A fourth generation fisherman, Skoko goes out to sea every day and cooks up that evening whatever he pulls out of his net. Starfish? Yes. Shark? Yep? Squid? You bet.
Batalina isn’t the only restaurant in Istria serving up fresh, sometimes raw fish. In the last few years, a small handful of restaurants have put it on their menus, including Marina (which does straight up sashimi like dishes) and Damir e Ornela, both in Novigrad.
And have visits increased since he and Batelina were featured on No Reservations? A Bourdain Bump? “Not really,” he said. “At least not until it airs on European TV, which it is scheduled to do in a couple months. Then we might see an increase in business.”
That would be a real aphrodisiac.