Slovenia’s rich cuisine is based on seasonal ingredients and fresh local produce. Slovenians don’t always shout about it, however, so finding it can sometimes require a little detective work; while guided tours usually offer the chance to try some traditional Slovene cooking, independent visitors in the main tourist resorts often don’t know where to look. Slovenia has some excellent restaurants, in towns as well as in the country, but it can sometimes seem like there’s only pizza, schnitzel or Balkan fast food. The best way to find out which are the best restaurants is to ask around; Slovenians are very loyal to their favourite restaurants and are always keen to make a recommendation.
The ‘osmice’ is the name given to an eight day period when traditionally Slovene farmers are allowed to sell their surplus wine and cured meats without having to pay tax. It’s a custom that goes back more than two centuries and it is still practiced today as rural producers open their doors to tourists and local alike. As well as meat, cheese and wine, visitors can sample štruklji dumplings, homemade bread and potica, a delicious cake similar to a Swiss roll which is filled with walnut paste and poppy seeds.
Each region has its own distinct cuisine but the menu at traditional restaurants often include a selection of dishes from other parts of the country. These might include jota, a thick soup containing pork, sauerkraut and beans which originates from the west of Slovenia. From Prekmurje, in north eastern Slovenia, bograč is a stew of mixed meats flavoured with paprika; it takes its name from the cauldron-like pot it is cooked in. An annual competition to find the best bograč cooks takes place each year in Lendava, a town near the Hungarian border.
The warm Karst region is well known for richly flavoured dried meats and full bodied wines. One of the best is ‘pršut’, the Slovenian version of the Italian prosciutto, an air dried ham that is often served as a starter. A glass of Teran, a rich ruby red wine characterised by warm spicy notes, is the perfect complement for pršut. The most famous of all Karst products is ‘kranjska klobasa’; this thick pork sausage was granted protected designation of origin status in 2012.
A number of Slovenian products have been awarded special status by the European Union. Under European Law there are three categories of designation for food stuffs that are regionally distinctive. To have ‘protected designation of origin’ food must have been produced or prepared in a specific location. The Slovenian products that fall in this category include forest honey from Kočevje, and Bovec cheese. For a food to have ‘protected geographical designation’ at least one stage of its preparation in a defined area must be done according to a traditional method. Eight Slovenian products meet these criteria, among them Štajerska pumpkin seed oil. Nicknamed ‘green gold’, pumpkin seed oil is used as a simple salad dressing; it is also an unusual but delicious topping for some desserts. Foods which are similar to other foods but have their own particular method of preparation have the status ‘traditional speciality guaranteed’. Žlikrofi, a tasty potato dumpling from Idrija, is among the Slovenian specialities to have this protection.
Slovenian cuisine is heavy on meat but fish is popular throughout the country with some of the best fish restaurants to be found in inland locations; as the country is small, it is possible to get the freshest fish and seafood to all parts on the country on a daily basis. Slovenians usually begin a meal with soup. Salads are served year round, brought to the table just before the main dish. Desserts are often rich and calorific, involving some combination of cream, nuts and whatever fruit is in season. ‘Gibanica’ is a dessert containing poppy seeds, cottage cheese, walnuts and apples; it comes from Prekmurje though it is eaten throughout the country, most often at Christmas.
In recent decades Slovenian wine has remained in the country but things are starting to change. The country is known for a variety of distinctive wines of high quality. Cviček is a slightly sparkling light red wine that comes from Dolenjska; the north eastern Radgonske Gorice region is also famous for its highly regarded sparkling wines which are favoured as a home-grown alternative to champagne for celebrating special occasions. The west of the Slovenia supplies full bodied reds while malvasia grapes from coastal make excellent white wines. Rumeni Muškat, a very sweet wine, is made from muscat grapes which grow all over Slovenia; coastal producers leave the grapes on the vine as long as possible to produce the sweetest dessert wines.