Despite its small size and population, Slovenia strikes by the diversity of its regional cuisines, each strongly influenced by the neighboring nations’ gastronomy.
As a consequence of its centric geographical position, stone baked pizzas, risottos and delicious pasta reminding of the fresh Italian lifestyle, tasty meat dishes from the Balkans or fish from the beautiful Dalmatian coast offer an alchemy of smells and flavors almost unfound in all Central Europe.
The cultural variety resulting from the country’s eventful history is perfectly reflected today in its gastronomy. Indeed, and given the land’s chronology of constant change of hands, Slovenian chefs have taken the best out of foods from surrounding cuisines and turned them their own.
Let us see what is on the menu:
This is a traditional Goveja juha. Made primarily of beef, carrots and onions, it is not uncommon to add up some corn, mushrooms and potatoes. Influenced by the Hungarian goulash, it is today a symbol of the Slovenian winter diet and a call to any traveller out there that is braving the cold to sit around a warm table and enjoy the good old Slovenian hospitality.
Due to its mere 26km of coastline, Slovenia has historically given less prominence to fish than to meat in its gastronomy. The vast majority of the territory is compounded of woods, thus hunting wild boars and deer is quite common activity. Something that also caught my eye in some restaurants and taverns are recipes including bear meat, abundant on the territory and which Slovenians seem to have particular predilection for.
Another distinctive ingredient in Slovenian gastronomy is the honey produced by their local bee, the Kranjska cebela. Proud beekeepers, their beehives fields are open to the public while their honey is used to sweeten desserts such as the Palacinke, the most popular Balkan pancake and a true memory of the Strudel brought to this land by the Austro-Hungarians.
Ljubljana, the capital city and a cosmopolitan hub, gathers a bit of every type of food. Indian, Lebanese, Mexican, Thai and other exotic menus constitute a melting pot of savors that can easily be experienced when wandering around the city center.
A personal favorite is Das ist Valter
Do not get fooled by the German name for only Balkan food of the highest quality is served there.
Originally inspired by the Yugoslav film Valter Defends Sarajevo, one can enjoy some mouthwateringly delicious grilled cevapcici over one beer or ten while enjoying the cult film’s surreal climax being played over and over; an explosion of senses at its best.
Nevertheless LJ is starting to experience the emergence of a new trend for local, organic, quality gastronomy that more and trendier restaurants identify their menus with.
When still a tourist I joined the Ljubljananjam food tour that gave me the chance to experience a tasting of diverse traditional dishes of Ljubljana while learning of its historical culinary traditions. A perfect start of the weekend to get a glimpse of what is hidden behind the walls of this magical city while enjoying great food, great wine and great people on the way. And to be honest, any tour that starts with a cake is adventurous enough to give it a try!
Finally, and leaving the best for the end, the Open kitchen ranks as my culinary reference point in Ljubljana.
Every Friday, Slovenian chefs and local producers reunite in the city center to offer their best products to the public. From horse meats (yes, and it was delish…!) to vegie dishes and desserts, only the “crème de la crème” is served along fruity wines and micro-brewed ales to any pedestrian soul who is up for a treat.
The great atmosphere radiating from a crowd that, week after week, never misses the call makes it the perfect start of a well-deserved weekend.
So let us first eat and then do everything else.
Enjoy your meal! Dober Tek!