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Trieste Province


brazilian hairThe capital of Friuli-Venezia Giulia occupies a picture-perfect setting, the city practically spilling from the Carso slopes into the Gulf of Trieste. On a clear day, the azure sky echoes the domes of Trieste’s most recognizable landmarks, while the hilltop Castello di San Giusto stands watch over the dark sea, its distant horizon, and an ever-constant flow of ships.

In 1382, after more than a century of warfare with the Venetian Republic, Trieste placed itself under the protection of the Hapsburgs of Austria. It was during this lengthy reign that Trieste enjoyed its true golden age, a period of growth, wealth, and prosperity. When Trieste was declared a free port in the 18th century, merchants arrived from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. This spawned an unprecedented population boom, which in turn stimulated urban development. Over the next two centuries, countless palazzi were designed in the baroque, neoclassical, neo-Renaissance, and art nouveau styles. Churches built during this period—including the Serbian Orthodox San Spiridione, the Greek Orthodox San Nicolò, and the Jewish Synagogue—reflected the mix of cultures and ethnicities that coexisted in relative harmony.

During the early 19th century, a new grid of streets was laid adjacent to San Giusto hill. Named the Borgo Teresiano after the beloved empress Maria Theresa, this district was square and linear, more Viennese in character than the winding roads of ancient Tergeste. Canals connecting the Borgo to the waterfront were an efficient means of conveying goods to and from the docks; only one—the Canale Grande—remains today. Between San Giusto and the Borgo Teresiana lies Trieste’s largest square, Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia. Overlooking the sea, the piazza is bordered on three sides by ornate Viennese-style palaces that currently house the city and regional government offices. In and around Piazza dell’Unità, a few original coffee houses still linger. Modeled after those found in cosmopolitan Vienna and Budapest, they evoke a sense of nostalgia for life in 19th-century Trieste.

Buffet da Pepi

Best described as an old-world fast-food counter, the buffet emerged from the habit of Trieste’s dockworkers and shopkeepers to take a quick midmorning snack, or rebechin (from the Italian ribeccare, meaning “to pick at”). Conveniently located near Trieste’s seaport, train station, markets, and office buildings, buffets have served satisfying Mitteleuropean food for several centuries.

Established in 1897, Buffet Da Pepi is said to be the oldest still in existence. Ask any resident of Trieste where to eat and he will no doubt mention Buffet Da Pepi. Boiled pork sandwiches, liptauer on rye bread, and hard-boiled eggs make an ideal rebechin eaten standing at the counter with a glass of wine or beer. For a heartier meal, sit at one of the few small tables and order the piatto misto. You will be served a pig-shaped platter of assorted types of pork, including ham, bacon, sausage, and tongue, accompanied by sauerkraut, mustard, and freshly grated cren (horseradish).

Pasticceria Penso

One of just a few surviving bakeries from its era, Pasticceria Penso was founded in 1920 by Trieste native Narciso Penso. When Penso died, the store was bought by one of his young employees, Italo Stoppar. Today, Stoppar passes on the trade to his two sons, Lorenzo and Antonello. Pasticceria Penso is truly a family business: brother-in-law Giovanni also helps out in the kitchen, while Italo’s wife, Rosanna, and Giovanni’s wife, Silvana, tend to customers.

True to Trieste’s multiethnic roots, Pasticceria Penso specializes in the pastries from Austria and Hungary, such as the ever-popular Sacher and Dobos cakes, as well as the ubiquitous local desserts presnitz, putizza, and pinza. In all, they make around thirty-five different types of pastries, cakes, and cookies. The quality of their product is surely what has kept Penso in business for so many years. They use only butter—unlike many modern bakeries that rely on margarine to prolong shelf life—and always top-quality ingredients, from the richest, darkest baking chocolate to the Bulgarian rose oil that flavors the pink fave dei morti. Their key to success is perhaps identical to the inherent nature of Trieste itself—classic Viennese precision combined with pure Italian passion.