James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Any App That Helps You Find Open Wine Taverns is Probably a Good Thing

Any App That Helps You Find Open Wine Taverns is Probably a Good Thing

Liquore di Terrano on the Karst Plateau

My sporadic visits to Trieste always risk ending in mushy nostalgia, triggered by all the changes to the city since my time there as a student. But one thing I trusted would never change was the occasional day out at an osmiza.

Osmize (or ozmica in Slovenian) are rural public houses scattered across the Karst Plateau above Trieste, some on Italian, some on Slovenian soil, serving simple fare such as cold cuts, pickles, eggs, and (generally unfancy) wine. The tradition dates back to 1784, when a decree issued by the Austro-Hungarian Empire allowed local farmers to sell their extra products to the public for periodic intervals of eight days (or multiples of eight) at a time.

Nowadays, osmize still open for short times on a rotating basis. An osmiza indicates it’s open by hanging leafy branches and signposts at nearby crossroads. To me, half the fun has always been the outbound drive from the city, setting off without knowing exactly where you’re headed, reaching the plateau, and keeping your eyes open for the tell-tale branches to reveal that day’s destination.

But the last time I visited Trieste, this cherished treasure hunt for an open house went down a little differently.

“This osmize app is super useful,” my friend said, keeping the phone above the steering wheel and checking the directions for the best option nearby. “What about the branches?” I asked, worried that spotting one wasn’t going to be much fun if we already where we were going.

Then the robotic voice coming from the phone instructed: “In 200 meters, turn right.”

At the osmiza, the mid-February sun was warm enough for us to sit in the yard. As usual, we started off with salt and pepper on boiled eggs. As usual, the cheese and charcuterie platter presented a glorious mix of local specialties, including my favorites of cured loin and crusted ham with horseradish flakes. And as usual, the harsh red wine was not for the faint of palate.

Still, I noticed some things that seemed new. The menu looked a little fancier than a typical osmiza menu, featuring a couple of cooked dishes next to the traditional, basic entries. The ambience seemed less homey and more restaurant-like. And why no one was playing cards? What about guitars and folk songs?

Later, as the sunset filtered through the Karst’s olive trees, my friend ordered shots of Liquore di Terrano, a local spirit similar to mulled wine, but stronger and served cold. I had forgotten about this natural end to a day at the osmiza, but its sour-sweet flavour was still familiar, combining Mediterranean grapes and citrus with honey notes and hints of nutmeg and cloves.

The osmize are still the same oases of rural hospitality they used to be. Just switch off your phone on the way up.

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