Gastronomy Europe's surprising new foodie hotspot
Eat your way around Europe’s newest gastronomic holiday destination
a melting pot of influences and flavours
Food is an essential part of travel - and that’s certainly true of Slovenia.
For a small country, the variety of tastes for a foodie is incredible. Alpine dishes are a total contrast to those found along the Adriatic coast, while foods in the Karst region and Pannonian Plain offer yet more flavours and cooking techniques. In the summer months there are myriad food festivals and open kitchens celebrating food in all its glory.
And recently, with the rise of home-grown super chef Ana Roš, Slovenia is definitely the one to watch in European gastronomy.
Diversity, tradition and Slovenian food culture
Slovenia has the good fortune of being nestled between Italy, Austria and Hungary, absorbing food culture from all its neighbours, creating something of a melting pot of influences and flavours.
Food is a huge part of the culture too, so to really understand Slovenians, it’s vital to eat with them and enjoy the food that has developed in different areas. Today there are 24 separate gastronomic regions, with over 170 distinguishable dishes and a wide variety of tastes for every palette.
Hearty, rustic foods such as soups and stews, with dumplings and a variety of home-grown breads are the perfect reward for long walks in the beautiful countryside. And if you’re a potato fan, you’re in luck. Roast potatoes are such a big deal in the country that there’s even a Roast Potato Festival to celebrate the humble spud.
Sunday lunch is the perfect opportunity to enjoy hearty roast meats with vegetable and salad side dishes - look out for Slovenian pumpkin seed dressing on big, healthy salads, a particular favourite of the natives.
For hiking and biking energy in the mountains, try traditional porridge made with soured milk, favoured by shepherds and found in the kitchens of the mountain huts that dot the landscape.
Make sure you leave room for dessert, though, because the cakes, tarts and strudels are delectable. Look out for Sirova zafrk(n)jača, a type of cheesecake, but like none you’ll have ever tried before. Layered cakes, leavened sweet breads and pastry tarts are all popular last courses.
Healthy ingredients, light food
Warming stews and rustic potato dishes are a big part of the country’s traditions, but much of Slovenia’s food is light and summery, with a big focus on using fresh ingredients grown locally.
Slovenia can also thank its blossoming bioculture, with fresh, unpolluted waters and protected landscape for some of its most delicious fish and vegetable dishes.
Salad is an important dish so look out for local areas’ takes on it. And other lighter bites to try include frika - an omelette made with potatoes and cheese, and šmorn, a scrambled pancake.
Street food is a great way to experience interesting flavours on the go in Ljubljana, and look out for local honeys, cheeses and sausages that vary region to region.
The rise of home-grown vineyards
Wine has experienced a huge boost in Central Europe over the past decade, with vines maturing and expertise growing. In Slovenia, there are three distinct regions, each known for their individual wines, and each worth a visit. In the Primorska Region, try the Teran, in the Posavje Region taste Cviček, and in the Podravje Region taste white wine varieties, such as the Rhein Riesling and Traminec.
Slovenia is particularly proud of its indigenous wines, some of which have become part of the protected geographical indication. Look out for teran, refošk, rebula and cviček.
Of course, trying wines with local cheeses is an excellent way to support local produce too.
Ana Roš and modern Slovenian cuisine
Ana Roš was named World’s Best Female Chef 2017 by The World’s 50 Best and has been putting a modern twist on Slovenian cookery as head chef at Hiša Franko, in the Alpine corner of the Soca Valley.
Her episode on Netflix series Chef’s Table, along with her 2017 award, gave Roš an international platform to showcase her passion for Slovenian food and her ability to innovate while keeping her favourite traditions alive.
Ana has worked her way around Slovenia, meeting artisan food producers, farmers and growers, and finding the best in local ingredients, from mushrooms foraged in their peak season to trout from the ice cold waters of the country’s lakes. She has been lauded for boosting Slovenia’s modern food culture, allowing local ingredients to shine and offering creative twists on traditional dishes to raise them to Michelin-star level (unofficially, as the guide doesn’t currently cover Slovenia) for sophisticated visitors.
Booking, as you can imagine, is advised!