HEARTISTIC BEETS WITH IRINA

Ane, Leila, and Anthony with the Imotski Torta

The glowing headlights of the towering two-decker bus dilate into large spheres as it pulls to a stop inches from the bench we are waiting upon. The letters S-P-L-I-T are blinking in neon over the front windshield, signaling the start to our 12-hour adventure to the city of Pazin in the region of Istria. A man waiting next to us is the first to greet the driver, he mumbles something in Croatian and hands the driver a manila package. In exchange, the bus driver nods and hands him a few large envelopes. I smile at Leila as we realize the double duty of the bus driver and imagine a hybrid fedex megabus…megafedbus? We toss our lumbering packs into the luggage compartment below, flash our tickets to the driver, and climb aboard. 

 

By the time we reach the coastline, I can see sharp fragments of the rising sun tearing cracks in the patchwork of dark, blue-grey rain clouds. I hear the thunderous moan of a storm in the distance and see the waves angrily crashing against the cliffs below. The rain begins to pitter patter on the roof as we brace ourselves through the 45° angles cliffs and jagged curves of the Adriatic coastline. Leila spends the morning in a state of pure astonishment at the beauty of the landscape and shoreline. 

It’s 10 PM by the time we reach Pazin and our host, Irina, a pretty young mom in hip tights, hiking boots and a short boy cut, greets us at the bus stop. Her dazzling smile and exuberant energy lift us from our groggy state and before we know it we are sitting in her upstairs apartment sipping tea, sharing recipe and adventure stories. By the way, her apartment is wall-to-wall covered in her colorful children’s book illustrations, postcards, and sculptures. It’s like walking into a modern art museum with a bed. 

We spend the next few days, exploring Istria. Our first day we walk around Pazin, trying the cured meats and cheeses from Istria and visiting Pazin's gorge which Dante wrote about in Inferno, on the second day we hitchhike the countryside with grandmothers. and on the third day we attend a performance and befriend the members of the Istrian Folk Band; Veja.

Goran Farkas from Veja

Our last night in Pazin was spent learning Irina’s Recipe for her homemade heart-shaped Ravioli. Over cooking, Irina shares her story with us.

By the time she turned 18, Irina decided to leave home to explore Europe. Like all good renaissance's, her’s started in Florence when she happened to find a position as a maid in a affluent family's home. In her first days in her new position, Irina was asked to cook for a party of 30. Irina immediately confessed her ignorance of cooking to the head maid. Seeing the innocence and good spirit in the young Irina, the woman brought Irina to a book shelf and showed her all of the cook books and told her to buy whatever food she needed to help her practice. Irina smiles remembering her year in that kitchen, learning and creating the art of cooking. Leaving Florence, Irina continued to travel Europe picking up new culinary skills and an international knowledge of spices and cooking methods. 

“Everyday is a celebration,” Irina says as we sit down to eat her homemade, pink, heart-shaped ravioli. We know we were meant to meet Irina when she shows us her motto, written on all of her handmade jewelry: ”Handcrafted, Handmade, Made with Love.”

 

Irina was born by the sea in Rovinj, Croatia, to a father in the Croatian military and a Serbian mother. Irina can remember being interested in cooking at an early age, but she was rarely allowed in the kitchen while her mother was cooking. She received her first informal cooking lessons, from her father, learning how to cook all types of fish. Irina’s father was a marine, passionate for the sea and all of it’s creatures. Irina remembers her father coming home one day, bearing dolphin meat, stating “nothing goes to waste, all things are edible.” Given this mentality, Irina grew up eating frogs, snails, and other strange fish he would catch during his time out at sea.

IRINA'S ISTRIAN RAVIOLI RECIPE

Irina works as a freelance illustrator and as a curator in the Istrian Ethnography Museum nearby her home in Pazin. She resides in Pazin, Croatia, with her husband, and two children, Vito and Gaja. Gaja is an artistic, fun-loving girl with a sweet tooth, who also loves to bake...check out her Crunchy Chocolate Chip Made with Love Recipe here