Tiny Slovenia is sandwiched between Croatia, Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Adriatic Sea. Her delicious cuisine takes cues from all these cultures, yet remains true to itself.
Since Slovenia is at the foothills of the Alps, one-pot meals and soups are especially popular here. These dishes are warming and hearty, especially during the cold winter months.
Trieste, Italy, just over the Slovenian border, is the home of Jota. The soup is made with beans, potatoes, pork, and sauerkraut. Sometimes corn meal or flour is added to thicken the Jota.
So, if Trieste is in Italy, what’s with the sauerkraut, you might ask? Well, Italy was unified in 1861, but Trieste wasn’t a part of Italy then. Trieste remained a part of Austro-Hungarian until after WWI. That explains the popularity of sauerkraut in Trieste.
But, jota’s recipe changes when you cross the border from Italy to Slovenia. Instead of sauerkraut, the Slovenes often put cabbage in the Jota.
Almost every traditional Slovene restaurant will offer Jota, especially during the colder months. But, in the capital of Ljubljana, there’s a special place to enjoy this characteristic dish.
Gostilna Na gradu is in the Ljubljana Castle, high above the city. Take the funicular to the top and after exploring the castle, sit down for a wonderful Slovenian meal. Jota isn’t always on the menu here, but when it is, be sure to order it.
Ričet is similar to Jota. It’s a one-pot meal, but it adds barley for some texture.
The things about ričet is that it doesn’t have the best reputation in Slovenia. That’s because ričet was often served in prisons because barley and potatoes (two of the main ingredients) were cheap. And, prison kitchens often added low-grade, fatty cuts of meat to stretch the recipe.
Today, you can find ričet made with high quality ingredients at the Ledinek Inn. The inn sits on a mountain, so you’re going to appreciate a nice bowl of ričet when you get there.
Štruklji is everywhere in Slovenia. There are restaurants dedicated to štruklji and if you’re lucky enough to be invited into someone’s home in Slovenia, they’ll likely offer you a štruklji or two.
Štruklji is made with whole wheat or buckwheat phyllo dough. Inside the štruklji can be any number of fillings from apples to walnuts to cheese to herbs.
Traditionally, štruklji were served at holidays. But, today, štruklji is available year-round.
My favorite spot to get a štruklji is at the Central Market in Ljubljana. Mojo Štruklji has every kind of štruklji imaginable. Of course there’s the traditional with cottage cheese or tarragon or walnuts. But, they also offer their own spin on štruklji with chocolate-banana, lemon-cream, or honey (Slovenes are crazy about honey).
The Central Market is also a great place to browse or shop for a picnic. Produce stands are piled high with whatever is in season and there’s lots to sample.
Like I said, the people of Slovenia love honey and beekeeping is a passion here. Beekeepers colorfully paint their hives with unique designs originally thought to help the bees find their homes.
The honey can have different flavors depending on when it was harvested and what kind of pollen the bees gathered. Many vendors at the market will happily let you taste some to find your favorite. If you decide to take some home in your luggage, be sure to pack the jars securely or you could be in for a sticky surprise when you get home.
If you’re craving dessert in Slovenia, kremšnita is the answer to your prayers. The custard and vanilla cream cake with a crispy crust was invented in neighboring Croatia. It came to Slovenia in 1953 when pastry chef Istvan Kovačevič began making kremšnita at the Hotel Park in Lake Bled, Slovenia.
Hotel Park still cranks out thousands and thousands of slabs of kremšnita every year for hungry visitors. Or, you can visit one of the many cafes near picturesque Lake Bled to get your kremšnita fix.
You probably won’t see any wine from Slovenia at your local Costo. Slovenian wine production is minuscule compared to neighbor Italy. But, that doesn’t mean the wine from Slovenia is lacking. There simply isn’t enough to export massive quantities.
Vintners grow some varietals you’ll recognize like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. Others, like teran or refosco might be unfamiliar.
One of the most respected wineries in Slovenia is Movia, in the Brda Hills region of western Slovenia near the Italian border. Here, Aleš Kristančič makes acclaimed wines. And best of all, Movia has a wine bar and shop located right in the Ljubljana City Hall Building. Here, you can get most wines by the glass for 3.50€ to 6€; a tremendous bargain for such high quality wines.
St. Martin’s Day
One of my favorite times to enjoy wine in Slovenia is St. Martin’s Day. On November 9th, Saint Martin is celebrated all over Europe. Each country has its own way of marking the occasion.
In Slovenia, this is the day that the must officially becomes wine.
We were walking to our hotel in Ljubljana late on November 10th when we ducked into a small café for a hot chocolate and a piece of kremšnita. Inside, the bar was decorated with huge antique armoires, dressers, and hutches, draped with lace and stacked with mismatched antique plates.
A few locals were sitting at the bar and tables. The young lady tending bar took our order and when she returned I asked her about all the signs I had seen for “St. Martin’s Day.”
She explained that tomorrow, Nov. 11th, was the day when the must was christened and could officially be drunk as wine. She also mentioned that their wine was sitting in the basement, waiting for tomorrow’s official celebration.
It was late, so I checked the time and commented that it’s almost “tomorrow.” She must’ve liked my observation because she went to the basement and brought up a couple bottles of the unofficial “wine.” Pouring a glass for each of the patrons, she reminded us not to say anything to anyone about our crime against viticulture.
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