The Magical Rebechin Tour

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Rebechin. Photo credits Erin McKinney
Reading Time: 5 minutes

words and photography: Erin McKinney

It goes without saying that Italians have an extraordinary reputation for food. We’re all familiar with the beloved classics like pasta, lasagna, pizza, and gelato which can all be found almost anywhere you go around the world. But it wasn’t until my arrival here in Trieste that I discovered the lesser known yet equally delightful world of the buffets. There is a beloved tradition here in Trieste known as the rebechin: a typical Triestine snack. But what is it really?

It’s something  hot and affordable to munch on, eaten by every social class, to be enjoyed on a quick break from work, in between meals, or in my own personal favorite way, by spending the afternoon visiting multiple buffets around the city, trying small things at each place while drinking local wine. It’s not just about the food, it’s about the total experience and although there are numerous buffets in Trieste that I love to visit, this is my small personal guide of some favorites, all located within a few minutes walking distance from each other to help get you started on your journey.

Shortly after moving to Trieste, a friend invited me to meet him for lunch at Buffet Da Gildo. Now, being American, I have to say I was reluctant at first because I wanted to experience Italian culture and for me the term ‘buffet’  suggested an American style self-service, all you can eat smorgasbord of mediocre foods. Upon entering however, that notion changed.

All of my senses were awoken immediately. The people, all crowded together, shoulder to shoulder at the bar yelling out orders, the smell of fried food and cooked ham, the sight of the tiny open kitchen behind the bar where things were boiling and frying, watching in amazement as the small plates were passed over the counter as the staff somehow managed everything smoothly. I was in amazement and didn’t have a clue how to order.

Luckily my friend guided me through the process and a love affair was born. He ordered the classic porzina (cooked ham) between 2 slices of bread with a slice of fried eggplant on top and I, being a vegetarian at the time, had just the fried eggplant. It was perfectly crunchy on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside, and although I’m not a vegetarian anymore, I still go to Da Gildo just for that memorable, perfectly fried eggplant and experience.

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Just a few minute walk from Da Gildo, you can find Buffet Da Roby. Another charming, locals’ favorite located on a pedestrian street, which means you can sit outside for table service, order everything directly from the tiny window bar, or head inside, belly up to the bar while watching the  ham as it’s sliced by hand into chunks and served warm and dressed with a grating of horseradish to the hungry consumers.

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Now that your appetite is warmed up, head over to Buffet L’Approdo which is located near the historic Mercato Coperto. Paolo and Anna have owned the place for about 30 years and are a treasured part of the history of the rebechin. Anna is the chef, preparing the food fresh every morning and changing the options daily depending on the traditional customs of the day of the week, while Paolo makes the clients laugh amongst other things. He explained that the rebechin dates back to the 50’s when port and market workers needed a hot snack, beginning at around 6 in the morning, and then continuing throughout the day.

The traditional food back then was a hot bowl of goulash (meat stew), jota (sauerkraut and bean soup), or trippa (edible stomach lining) and while these are all still local favorites, the panino con porzina (ham sandwiches) or the polpette (fried meatballs) became more popular in the 80’s. This particular spot in the city is also great for people watching if you’d like to stand out on the busy sidewalk and watch the street scenes pass you by.

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Prominently situated on the corner of a small road and a pedestrian street, you’ll find the small, often less crowded but equally worth a visit, La Cantina. It’s less chaotic than some of the others, but that gives you more time to relax and talk with the owners Paolo or Emma, depending on which one of the sweet couple happens to be there at the time. They’ve also had the place for around 30 years and while they run things at a slower pace, there are a few slot machines frequented by older men sipping their wine and just the right amount of particular clientele which can keep you entertained while enjoying a quick bite and a spritz bianco.

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Now the tour takes us to one of the smallest and busiest of them all, Buffet Clai. You can’t miss it because depending on what time of day you walk by, there will be a crowd of people standing on the narrow sidewalk outside, made up of people consuming something or merely trying to get into the place. Massimiliano Clai has also had the buffet for around 30 years and learned the Istrian/Triestin recipes from his family. Watching the small staff function so well amongst the chaos would impress anyone. The most famous rebechin here is the baccala mantecato (whipped cod fish) and according to Mr. Clai, the secret is simply that he uses the basic ingredients with no fillers such as flour or bread crumbs. If he has a few minutes to spare, he’ll proudly tell you all about it.

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And there you have it folks. Buon Rebechin!

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Erin McKinney
Erin McKinney (USA 1982) is an American visual artist, creator, performer, and professional party starter living in Trieste. She moved to Trieste in 2015 after completing her photography studies in Amsterdam and has been working as a photographer/artist ever since. Whenever possible, she enjoys discovering new places in Trieste, going on adventures in the nature with her dog Lucy, and travelling the world while working on projects and searching for inspiration.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Fantastic article!! …and yes American buffets are … eh?. We recently bought in Maniago and are excited to explore Trieste.

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