Sophie's Osmiza Experience
The concept of agriturismo – that is, an independently owned farm-stay offering informal accommodation and locally sourced food and drinks – is widespread and well liked throughout Italy, with the emergence of wellness, luxury and eco agriturismi in recent years solidifying the trend among tourists. But along the Italian-Slovenian border, a humble alternative of outlandish origins has come to shape triestini culture, functioning as a watering hole for both young and old: the osmiza.
Hidden in the Karst hinterland, osmize – meaning multiple ozmiza – first formally appeared under Trieste’s Habsburg rule when Emperor Joseph II introduced an 8-day window in which smallholdings could sell their produce to the public. This is where the osmiza gets its name: osem means ‘eight’ in Slovene. Nowadays, these bucolic boozing hotspots are open for as long as they please, or at least until the stock runs dry. And whilst osmize.com will provide you with a full list of locations and opening times, visitors were once forced to rely on red, arrow-shaped wooden signs to find these rustic taverns: decorated with a distinct branch of ivy (frasca) that would be attached to the signposts on the opening day, the colour and turgidity of the leaves signalled either ample or meagre stock.
The Karst Setting
Speckled across the Karst and well over the Slovenian border, the stereotypical osmiza tends to sit somewhat off the beaten track. Commonly found along narrow roads in sleepy hamlets, their presence is often only given away by a handful of poorly parked vehicles, and of course, the traditional wooden signs. However, it is their obscure location that truly adds to the experience, with the scenic journey into the Karst rendering most osmiza outings a full-day affair filled with far-reaching views of the Adriatic.
For those relying on public transport, the Karst setting also comes with a titillating sense of adventure: merry attendees have a tendency to miss the last bus, thus igniting a long and treacherous descent into the city centre along dark, cobbled streets. Indeed, ‘we missed the last bus’ appears to be a recurrent line in tales recounting the trials and tribulations of triestini teenagers.
Food & Drink
Offering a huge range of cured meats (including prosciutto cotto, prosciutto crudo, salame, pancetta, ossocollo and ombolo to name a few) and cheeses (flavoured with herbs, truffles or olives depending on the local tradition), the menu differs from osmiza to osmiza. Other typical victuals include courgettes, peppers, aubergines and olives, either pickled or preserved in oil (sottaceti e sottoli), and sweet treats like strudel and crepes (palačinke) served with home-made jams or chocolate spread.
The wine, consisting of variants native to the Karst Plateau such as Vitovska and Malvasia for whites and Refosco and Terrano for reds, is ordered by the litre (although halves and quarts are available too) and generally consumed as a spritz with sparkling water. For those seeking something with a bit more punch, Grappa is on offer as well. Whatever your drink, a hard-boiled egg is traditionally scoffed down in advance in order to line the stomach and while it is by no means a prerequisite, be prepared to get drunk.
A factor that remains constant across the board, however, is that all the food and drink on offer has to be produced by the osmize themselves: that includes everything, from the olives to the liquor. It is therefore one of the easiest ways to cast your vote in favour of local producers, especially considering the extremely affordable prices.
Atmosphere & Experience
Perhaps the most charming feature of the osmize is their unique social settings: a rowdy group of Italian students can be found playing drinking games next to an elderly Slovenian couple out for lunch, all to the sound of a couple of backpackers strumming a guitar in a corner. It is truly a cultural melting pot.
Typical activities include playing card games, like Briscola and Scopa, and as a hub of sociability, osmize are frequently the venues of various celebrations, from birthday to graduation parties. One triestina even recounted how she had been brought to an osmiza just hours after her birth, as her mother decided to stop by on her way home from the hospital.
While it is difficult to slot osmize into existing hospitality models of pubs, restaurants or even agriturismi, what remains clear is that they form an integral part of triestini culture and are ubiquitous in the lives of both young and old. The absence of a homogenous description, however, is in itself reflective of triestini identity, which is neither Italian, Slavic, nor Austro-Hungarian, yet all of these simultaneously.