The culinary image of modern-day Slovenia incorporates the influences of cultures and civilisations from the Alpine, Mediterranean and Pannonian regions. Centuries of social and historical development at this junction have created specific types of culture and lifestyle, not in the sense of assimilation, but in the sense of creating a unique and original variety, which can also be found in the culinary field.
Slovenian cuisine is based on wheat, dairy products, meat (especially pork), sea and freshwater fish, vegetables, legumes and tubers, olives and grapes. Slovenia's cuisine combines the influences of the rural population, medieval lords, the bourgeoisie and monastic orders.
A 'culinary diagonal' of Slovenia can be drawn from the Mediterranean (Istria, Kras, Brkini, the Vipavska Valley, Brda, Goriško, the Soča Valley) to north-eastern Slovenia (Slovenske Gorice, Prlekija, Prekmurje, Haloze, Kozjansko, Štajerska/Styria). In the middle of this diagonal is central Slovenia, with Ljubljana and its surrounding region, where the highest quality of modern culinary delights are offered in a number of restaurants.
Starting with the Slovenian Mediterranean, you can enjoy the best (and also the healthiest) dishes in the Kras region, which offers delightful vegetable combinations, meat sauces, pasta, and the local prosciutto called kraški pršut, complemented by a selection of fine wines, including Teran. The people of this picturesque landscape also make excellent omelettes, or frtalje, which combine creativity and culinary resourcefulness.
Similar dishes can be found along the margins of the Kras, in Istria and the coastal towns, where they are complemented by savoury combinations of fish and other seafood seasoned with Mediterranean herbs and spices and the delicious Refosco and Malvasia wines, which add a specific touch to the culinary experience. If you happen to be visiting that part of Slovenia, do not forget to visit the Soča Valley: in Kobarid and the surrounding region alone you will find a bounty of superior food, with a combination of traditional and innovative dishes.
Central Slovenia, with Ljubljana and the surrounding region, offers excellent original dishes such as wheat or buckwheat štruklji (with walnut, tarragon, apple or cottage cheese fillings), and various types of potica, the most famous being the walnut, tarragon, honey or raisin versions.
But if you fancy a taste of poppy-seed potica, you will have to make your way to Prekmurje, a region which is a treasury of flour-based food. This region and its surroundings are home to different types of pogača, gibanica, kvasenica, zlevanka, posolonka, krapci, and also to a myriad of different types of bread, some of which are true masterpieces, braided and decorated with dough embellishments. As everywhere in Slovenia, the traditional custom of slaughtering a pig (koline) has a special significance here. At a koline a large assortment of fresh, semi-cured, and cured meat products are prepared.
If you are visiting Koroška/Carinthia, you must try the mežerle, an excellent warm appetizer made of pig lungs and other offal. In the Gorenjska region, people still prepare culinary specialties such as ajdovi krapi or masounik. Another excellent dish is buckwheat, bean or mushroom porridge. The most identifiable food is the buckwheat žganci, seasoned with crackling and served with a side dish of sauerkraut or sour turnips.
It is only in the Primorska/Littoral region that various other foods and pasta-type dishes are more famous (e.g. the njoki or gnocchi). When visiting Bled, do not forget to try the Bled cream cake (kremna rezina). For freshwater fish, the zlatovšica trout is a special delicacy. It can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as rolled in buckwheat flour and deep-fried. The other freshwater specialty is the Soča trout, which is rolled in corn flour and fried to a nice crisp.
In Ljubljana, the old Gostilna Žabar located in the city outskirts offers the house specialty of fried frogs' legs. In the Dolenjska region, they prepare various kinds of štruklji. Another regional delicacy of Dolenjska/Lower Carniola is matevž, served as a side dish or a main dish of puréed beans and potatoes.
The region of Bela Krajina is famous for roast lamb and suckling pig, and across Slovenia, they prepare different kinds of soup, stew and tasty casserole (e.g. jota and minestrone soup in the Primorska/littoral region, and bograč in Prekmurje). Poultry is relatively well-represented on Slovenian menus. Apart from the popular fried chicken, we should also mention roast duck and goose. The latter have become ritual dishes for the greatest modern-day wine festival of St. Martin’s Day (11 November), when people attend festivities to celebrate the new wine harvest.
Prof Dr Janez Bogataj