The Beginner’s Guide to Food in Ljubljana

September 4, 2015 by

Europe, Food, Drink & Travel, Things to Do, Wine Tasting

Discover Ljubuljana's culinary delights.

Discover Ljubuljana’s culinary delights.

Ljubljana Food Basics

The Slovenes adore food and the ceremony of eating with family and friends; they are proud of their national cuisine and one of the best-loved sayings is “love comes through the stomach.” Their food is heavily influenced by the country’s history and surroundings. Arising from the ashes of the bitter break up of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, tiny Slovenia is a wealthy country with a healthy GDP and a small, sophisticated capital city. At a cultural crossroads in Europe — Slovenia is surrounded by Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria — Ljubljana has borrowed from the cuisines of these countries.

From Austria comes popular dishes such as schnitzel and klobasa (smoked sausage), from Germany a love of cured meats, pork and sauerkraut, found on virtually every menu. Hungarian influences can be tasted in dishes such as goulash and hearty chicken stews given a kick with hot paprika, while Italy is represented on Ljubljana menus by risottos, pastas and stuffed gnocchi.

Delicious Slovene food in Ljubljana

Delicious Slovene food in Ljubljana

Accompaniments include dumplings stuffed with cheese, red cabbage and piles of deep-fried potatoes, artisanal bread and vegetables served up in a multitude of flavored olive oils. And the pan-European influence can be seen in popular Slovene desserts as well; although the homespun favorite, from Bled, is the cream slice kremšnita, from Austria comes dainty, cream-filled pastries, and from Hungary thin slices of pancake called palacinke, which are ladled with chocolate or jam and laced with cream. Potica is the national cake, a thin, rolled pastry stuffed with honey, raisins and walnuts and sprinkled with cinnamon; there are so many carefully guarded variations on this recipe that it never tastes the same twice.

Ljubljana’s Culinary Scene

For eating on the hoof, Ljubljana has its share of burek (filo pastry filled with meats or cheese) and pizza takeaways, but the city also has a thriving restaurant scene. A traditional Slovene restaurant with a casual vibe and down-home décor is known as a gostilna; these simple inns have skillfully raised their game in Ljubljana, generally serving local — often organic — produce in well-cooked dishes at a decent price. And eating out in Ljubljana is still cheaper than in many other European cities.

Independence has seen the return of star chefs to the city such as Andrej Kuhar, who collected several Michelin stars on his culinary travels. His much-lauded restaurant Maxim is considered one of the finest in Ljubljana and it may well be the first to bring a coveted star to Slovenia, putting the country on the world’s gastronomic map. Another Slovenian culinary giant is Janez Bratovž, whose eponymous establishment JB has recently been voted among the top 100 restaurants in the world.

Ljubljana's Central Market

Ljubljana’s Central Market

Flow Festival in June celebrates Ljubljana’s gourmet scene, while the Open Kitchen foodie festival in Ljubljana has several weekend dates through summer, and the countryside comes to the city on September 5 when local farmers bring their produce to be sampled and sold. All events take place at the Central Market.

Slovenian Drinks

Slovenia has been making wine since Celtic times and has thousands of wineries, producing mainly whites. The quality of wine suffered under Communist collectivism but production is now back in private hands and in ascendance. The country has three distinct wine-growing regions; strong, hearty reds are made along the Mediterranean coast, while whites come from the southeast around Posavje, and sweet desert wines are produced in Podravje, in the northeast of the country. Although the majority of Slovenia’s wines have traditionally been consumed by the domestic market, they are now also being exported to the U.K., U.S. and Slovenia’s central European neighbors.

A vineyard in Slovenia

A vineyard in Slovenia

To celebrate the rise and rise of Slovene wine, Ljubljana’s fifth International Wine Festival takes place October 15-17, bringing together international wine-makers for tasting and buying at the Ljubljana Exhibition and Convention Centre. Another wine-related festival is the Wine Route (Ljubljanska Vinska Pot), which marks St Martin’s Day on November 7, when — according to folklore — grapes must be turned into wine. Stalls lining the city streets offer tastings of young wine along with smoked meats and cheeses to mop up the alcohol. It’s rather like a rowdier version of the Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations in France.

A refreshing pivo (beer) is the perfect pick-me-up after a day’s sightseeing, and the two most famous Slovene brands are Union and Laško, although several boutique breweries are garnering attention now in Ljubljana, including Human Fish, which was founded in 2008 and produces British-style pale ales. For funky, street-cool bars, head for the graffiti-strewn district of Metelkova to be served some attitude with your pivo.

As Slovenia is still largely an agricultural economy, homemade schnapps (žganje is the Slovene name for this strong, fruit liqueur) is made in any number of small rural communities and comes in just as many flavors, including blueberry, honey, pear, even hazelnut. As the national drink, schnapps can be drunk at any time, but in Ljubljana it’s served in every gostilna as a digestive after dinner. Na zdravje!

Learn more about Ljubljana’s food and wine scene on a guided tour.

Contributed by Sasha Heseltine

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