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New Europe

Day Four: Istria

Buzet, Istria 
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Buzet, Istria. The world's largest omelette takes shape. I consolidate my reputation as a bit of a stirrer.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThe largest truffle ever recorded was found by a local man, Giancarlo Zigante, though there are muttered reservations about the claim, and rumours that Zigante took the credit for someone else's discovery.

At the village of Livade, a few miles away, a replica of the truffle, looking like an inflated brain, stands proudly on a plinth at the entrance to Zigante's restaurant, together with the citation from the Guinness Book of Records. 'A White Truffle (Eutuberaceae Tuber) weighing a world record 1.31kg was found by Giancarlo Zigante of Pototoska on 2nd November 1999.'

Giancarlo, an ordinary-looking middle-aged man with black hair brushed forward and a belly pushing at shirt and belt, has prepared us a special menu. Truffle cheese and ham is followed by home-made truffle pasta, which in turn is followed by truffle ice-cream. I personally feel that each dish would have been better without the truffles, but many, including Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill, would think me an unsophisticated lout.

I wish I liked them more, if only because there's no escaping them. Tonight, at a town nearby, Giancarlo Zigante will try to claim another place in the Guinness Book of Records as he personally supervises the making of the world's largest omelette.

A truffle omelette, of course.

In the centre of the small town of Buzet, a circular tent has been constructed to house the omelette pan, which measures 20 feet in circumference, 7 feet across, with a 6-foot handle sticking out from one side and getting in everyone's way. It rests on a mesh of radiating gas jets and an earnest young man I talk to says that the hardest problem of all was providing consistent heat over such a wide surface area. It was a problem he personally solved and he's now Mayor of Buzet - further evidence, were it needed, of the truffle effect.

The evening's ceremony is quite surreal. Crowds gather as night falls. Zigante, brow shining in the harsh strip light, fusses about, nervous in a suit and tie, whilst his team, in matching white T-shirts, fans out around the pan like Formula One mechanics at a pit stop, each clutching a large bottle of cooking oil. When the signal is given, they upend these into the pan, to be followed by blocks of butter which they move around with long metal rods like those croupiers use in a casino. Then, with TV cameras whirring, the signal is given and three large milk churns filled with the contents of 2,006 eggs, broken earlier, are tipped into the pan, to be followed by 10 kilos of white truffles.

Croatian TV and film stars step modestly forward to help stir the mix, and just when you thought it couldn't get any sillier, four musicians and a singer, in blue and white striped T-shirts and red-bobbled nightcaps, leap into the ring to play jolly omelette-making music.

The mayor offers me a glass of wine, Giancarlo's son offers me a glass of wine, and to cap a day of dizzy madness I am called forward by the Truffle King himself to be a stirrer.

The mayor winks as I step forward into the limelight.

'You are a big star in Croatia.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Four: Istria
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Buzet
  • Book page no: 18

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