For me, exploring the food traditions when visiting a new country or culture is essential. Learning about the ingredients used, the conservation and preparation methods, the serving customs and the social aspect food holds helps understand the culture on a different and deeper level.
During my visit to Ljubljana this winter I learned about the Slovenian cuisine in 5 fun, creative and meaningful ways.
1. Food Walk in Ljubljana
On my first day in the city I joined the Taste Ljubljana Culinary Tour that not only introduced me to the flavours of Ljubljana but also took me on a guided tour to get familiar with the city center. During the walk we covered the most essential parts of the city, stopping at 6 different locations including restaurants, fast food places and bars. We were served typical traditional and seasonal dishes from the Ljubljana area and learned about how they were made, served and prepared both from our guide and from the handy Taste Ljubljana brochure found at the Ljubljana Tourism office. I really enjoyed the Pražen krompir (Sautéed potatoes) that can be served both as a main dish and as a side dish, and tasted this in two different locations. The popularity of this dish showed itself when the «Society for the Recognition of Sautéed potatoes as a StandAlone Dish» was founded in Ljubljana in 2002.
During the walk I also tried and enjoyed the Kranjska sausage, a super tasty pork sausage made from the same recipe since 1896 and Struklij, the famous desert that can be baked or boiled and comes in 18 different styles depending on the region or family recipes. One of the more interesting dishes was the boiled beef tongue where I really enjoyed the taste and smell but had a bit of a struggle with the texture. Even so, the dish shows the Slovenian food culture based on the importance of not wasting and using every edible part of an animal as food.
Our Food Walk ended with a sweet and tasty local blueberry liqueur at the rooftop bar at the Nebotičnik Skyscraper with a stunning view over Ljubljana city centre and the castle. A perfect way to complete a fun tasting day in the city.
If you don’t want to go on a guided tour you can easily taste the special local dishes in Ljubljana by yourself. When searching through the menu at the restaurant of your choice, look for the Taste Ljubljana logo to identify the restaurant's special Ljubljana delights. Some places you can find a wide selection of dishes and some places maybe just one or two small dishes or drinks.
2. Attend a Cooking Class in Ljubljana
If you really want to learn about the Slovenian food culture and preparation of the traditional dishes you can join a cooking class. I participated in a super interesting and fun cooking class with Cook Eat Slovenia during my visit in Ljubljana and not only did I prepare all the dishes together with my teacher Spela, I also enjoyed all the delicious food paired with suitable Slovenian wine. During the class, which lasted for about 3 hours, we made 3 different dishes. First we cooked a starter of cured meat, fried and boiled in red wine and served on top of polenta. The main dish was fried, freshly made Kranjska sausage from the food market in Ljubljana served with sour turnip and mashed potato with cracklings on top. This was the first time I’ve ever been served sour turnip and it was very tasty! I do love sauerkraut but his cooking class just bounced it down to second place after the sour turnip as a side dish to fried sausages.
For dessert we made the traditional Struklij, which comes in both sweet and savory style and is, as mentioned earlier, cooked in 18 different ways all over Slovenia. The Struklij making was the most time consuming and also the dish that was most interesting from my point of view. Learning the technique of stretching the dough into the perfect thickness and shape and rolling the Struklij firm and tight, packing it into a kitchen towel, securing it with a rope and boiling it in a big pan of water for 30 minutes made me feel like being part of the Slovenian cooking traditions where the special techniques are delivered from one generation to another.
During the cooking class with Cook Eat Slovenia I didn’t just learn about the actual cooking but also got to learn about how the skills and techniques was developed and passed on and the importance of cooking your meal from fresh and seasonal ingredients every day, even today.
3. Go Traditional and Rural
If you want to enjoy a traditional home cooked meal in rural surroundings, look to the local small villages just outside the city centre. A lot of the small villages have one or two restaurants where you can taste the home cooked traditional and seasonal dishes just the way the locals prefer to enjoy it.
I visited the local tavern Vegov hram, located in the small village Dolsko, which was a family run restaurant preparing traditional Slovenian food. Because of their focus on using the seasonal and available ingredients at any time, they didn’t present a set menu but based their offer and dishes on the vegetables, meat and fish available at the time. They didn’t even present a written menu but gladly suggest a selection of dishes for me to try.
I had a delicious tasting menu during my visit and also learned about the making of the traditional Slovenian beef soup. The soup is often served as a starter during the Sunday meal in the winter season and is cooked by boiling a big beef roast with seasonal vegetables like onions, carrots, celeriac, parsley root and garlic for hours, filling the house with the delicious smell of boiling meat and vegetables. After the roast is boiled it is removed from the broth and the soup is served with the vegetables and homemade pasta or noodles. The meat is usually served as the main course and is not present in the soup.
These local taverns are not only passing on the local recipes but also represents the rural way of living and working. Because their customers mostly are locals and because they used to be farmers working hard from early mornings on the fields, the serving of lunch usually starts at 10am. Back in the days, the workers would return from the fields to enjoy a huge meal, storing enough energy for the hard work the rest of the day. Even though the physical work is not that heavy anymore the time for lunch serving remains the same and so does the portions. The typical rural lunch portion is huge, so make sure to ask for a doggy bag to bring home the leftovers!
4. Go Traditional and Contemporary
Some local restaurants in the more rural area around Ljubljana has a contemporary approach to the traditional food and dishes. Using local ingredients and preparation methods, the food is served and presented in a more arty and modern way.
I visited the Gostilna Kristof restaurant in a small village called Kranj. Their main focus was on traditional, bio-and ecological food and wine and the dishes were prepared using the known Slovenian methods but serving it in a different or surprising way. Instead of ordering different dishes I tried one of their tasting menus, getting a variety of both starters, main courses and dessert. Even before the starters was presented I got to see how they creatively mixed different traditional ingredients in a new way, presenting a basket of black, red and yellow colored bread rolls, colored with beetroot, saffron and squid ink, and a bowl of thinly sliced and dried snacks made of carrots, beetroot and celeriac.
The tasting menu was a selection of starters like Black pudding, crayfish, sausage and kale rolls, main courses of slow cooked Veal skank and grilled Seabass and on top a great selection of delicious desserts presented like small pieces of art in a way I’ve never seen before. The best part of it all, it tasted heavenly! After eating my way through all the courses I was so happy I did not have any hard physical activity on the program for the rest of the day.
5. Think and act Responsible
Some of the restaurants in Ljubljana is not only serious about preserving and presenting the traditional food but they also take on a wider social responsibility including workers that for different reasons can’t hold a normal job. One of these restaurants is Druga Violina (Second Violin), a small restaurant employing several people with special needs, located in the old city centre of Ljubljana. The restaurant serves typical Ljubljana dishes of high quality and the menu varies after the season and availability of ingredients. You can find dishes like beef soup, kranjska sausage, veal stew and beef roast and they also make a selection of vegetarian dishes. Their version of the famous Struklij, filled with cottage cheese and walnut, is highly recommended!
Visiting the restaurant as a customer you will not think of it as not being an ordinary restaurant. The workers with special needs are connected to a social-care center and working at the restaurant is one of the work training programs they offer. Being employed at the restaurant is one of the top jobs and the workers have a shift plan they need to follow. Their work tasks is mostly serving the food, cleaning the tables or refilling water mugs and sometimes they help take orders and welcome and show the customers to their table. I actually visited the Druga Violina twice during my stay in Ljubljana and would definitely recommend it!
Travel Tip shared by Janicke for Travel Dudes.