The Taste of the Three Worlds: Original Material About the Culinary Traditions of Slovenia
Slovenia is known for its ski resorts in the Alps and small towns on the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, you can come here for the sake of diverse local cuisine and old winemaking traditions. The editor of Lenta.ru, Anton Shiryaev, shares his impressions on the gastronomic peculiarities of Slovenia.
Slovenia is a unique country. In a small, even according to the European standards, territory, there are high mountains, lovely seaside towns, and the capital Ljubljana with its large historical centre and a combination of classical and neoclassical architecture, secession and baroque. This is the result of a terrific geographical location of the country and its rich history. Slovenia is located at the intersection of four geographical worlds – the Mediterranean, the Karst, the Alps and the Pannonian Plain.
In different historical periods, the lands of modern Slovenia were part of the Venetian Republic, the Austrian Empire, as well as various Slavic principalities and kingdoms. This fact influenced not only the culture of the country, but also its cuisine, which absorbed the Italian, Austro-German, Hungarian and Slavic traditions. All this makes the Slovenian cuisine definitely.
The Life Giving Water
On the northern coast of the Adriatic, the winemaking culture existed before the invasion of the Roman Empire. According to archaeological data, the Celtic and the Illyrian tribes cultivated the vine in the 5th–4th centuries BC. The Slavs, who came to these lands in the Middle Ages, quickly adopted the local traditions. It is known that the ancestors of the modern Slovenes were engaged in winemaking as early as in the 12th century AD. Now 28,000 farms are engaged in viticulture and winemaking, which produce around 80–90 million litres of wine.
It is curious that 75% of Slovenian wine is white. Slovenians cultivate both Pan-European grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and autochthonous varieties. There are 53 varieties of vines in the country, wherein two-thirds of the total wine belong to Vrhunsko vino (high-quality wines without added sugar) and Kakovostno vino ZKGP (with a controlled geographical origin), while Namizno vino (table wines) account for one third only. Just the first two categories are sold for export.
During the time of united Yugoslavia, almost all wine was sold domestically. However, when Slovenia became independent, it started exporting its wine. Of course, Slovenian wine is still loved and appreciated in the former republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) – Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Besides, Slovenian wine is well known around the world. You can enjoy it in a number of famous restaurants from New York to London and Tokyo.
The use of foreign wine materials is prohibited in Slovenia. Therefore, you can be sure that all the wine that you try in this country is made from local grapes. Vineyards occupy more than 18 thousand hectares. Despite the great love of Slovenes for white wines, perhaps the most legendary Slovenian wine is the red Teran produced from the Refosco grape. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it grows in the red karst soil. This variety differs from all red wines produced in this part of Europe by a high content of anthocyanins – substances with a proven beneficial effect on health. Scientific studies of regular moderate consumption of Teran confirm its positive effect on the health of the cardiovascular system and the brain.
In total, Slovenia has three main wine-producing regions, which differ in microclimate, soil composition and methods of wine production: Podravje, Posavje and Primorje. The Podravje region got its name in honour of the Drava River, which flows in the east of Slovenia. Its slopes, according to experts, are included in 4% of the best wine-growing slopes of the world. The region is famous for its white wines of international and autochthonous varieties.
In Podravje, you should visit Maribor, where, in the very centre of the city, the world’s oldest vine grows. It is over 450 years old. The vine is listed in the Guinness Book of Records and is the only plant that has its own museum – the House of the Old Vine. In Maribor, you can visit a variety of events held in its honour, such as Cutting of the Old Vine, the St. Martin’s Festival, and the Old Vine Festival.
The most common grape variety is Laski Riesling. Sipona, Rhine Riesling and Chardonnay are also widespread, followed by Sauvignon, Traminer and Yellow Muscat. The red varieties are represented by the Blue Frankish, Pinot Noir, and Žametna Črnina grapes. The Primorje winemaking region is famous for its wonderful dry wines. The Briška, the Vipava and the Kraška wine roads pass through the region. Kras is the birthplace of typical Slovenian wine Teran. Due to the red karst soil (terra rosa), it is extremely flavourful.
In the Slovenian part of the Istrian peninsula, which is famous for its white wine Malvasia, the red Refosco variety is also grown. In addition to the classic white and red varieties, autochthonous wines, such as Zelen, Pinela, Pikolit, are grown in the Vipava Valley.
Those who are looking for something truly special should go to the Posavje winemaking region named after the Sava River. After all, it is the birthplace of the Cwiček wine, which, due to its low alcohol content and positive effect on human health, is recognized as a real specialty of the Slovenian winegrowing culture. In addition, wine with the protection of traditional local origin (PTP) is grown only in the Dolenjska winemaking area. In this and other areas of the Posavje region, red varieties of Žametna Črnina, Blue Frankish, Pinot Noir, Portugieser, as well as white varieties of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Laski Riesling, Pinot Blanc are grown.
To try, it is not necessary to make a tour throughout the country. Despite the fact that the centre of Slovenia is not a wine-growing region, you will find top-class wine bars in Ljubljana. This city hosts a variety of wine-related events, such as the Ljubljana Wine Route and the International Wine-Ljubljana Fair, which is one of the oldest wine fairs in Europe.
For All Tastes
If you cannot decide, which of the Old World’s cuisines you prefer more, stop pinballing and just go to Slovenia. The Slovenes have inherited and creatively adapted many dishes of the neighbouring nations. The Italian Parma ham has turned into “pršut”, the Hungarian goulash soup has become “bograč”, and the German sausage culture has transformed into Slovenian “Kranjska sausage”, which has become one of the main culinary symbols of the country and was even sent to the space thanks to an astronaut of Slovenian origin, Sunita Williams.
However, the Slovenes did not forget about their Slavic roots. Residents of the former USSR can easily find many familiar dishes in the Slovenian cuisine. “Belokranjska pogača” is a copy of Russian pocket-shaped bun (“kalach”), “Idrijski žlikrofi” is a local variety of dumplings (“vareniki”), and “Zgornjesavinjski želodec” is a typical jellied meat dish. Like the rest of the Slavs, the Slovenes love cracklings and lard, hot soups, mushrooms and meat. In short, Slovenian dishes will catch the fancy of both fans of European cuisine and those who value their domestic culinary traditions and, when being abroad, are looking for food, which most closely resembles familiar Russian cuisine.
Even the seasonings that the Slovenes use when cooking dishes are very diverse. They include the famous Piran salt, which has been produced in salt marshes for more than 700 years, and extra virgin olive oil from the Slovenian Istra, and pumpkin oil from Styria and Prekmurje, and, of course, the Kraška and the Kočevje forest honey, which has its own sign of protecion.
The sweet teeth will also find something to treat themselves, because one of the main stars of Slovenian cuisine is considered to be “Prekmurska gibanica” – a sweet roll, which is traditionally made in Prekmurje. It is also worth trying the traditional “potica” – a must-have element of any holiday feast. In different regions, you can taste completely unique and different types of “potica” – from simple nut rolls to real masterpieces with various fillings.
Little secrets that are so important for creating good “potica” are passed on from generation to generation. “Potica” is a typical dish that can be found all over Slovenia, but on the island of Bled it is simply delicious. In a local “potica bar”, you can see the process of its cooking. In general, the variety of local cuisine in various parts of the country is amazing, given the small size of Slovenia.
Therefore, you can go on a realto taste “gibanica” and “šunka” – a special sort of ham – directly in Prekmurje, smoked delicacy “Zgornjesavinjski želodec” in the Solčava region, and Bovec cheese in Bovec.
In general, you can go on a trip just for the sake of Slovenian cheeses. The above mentioned Bovec cheese will appeal to fans of sheep milk products. In the Soča River Valley, you will find the Tolminc cheese with a sweet savoury taste, while in the Alpine region of Bohinje, you must try the Mohant cheese with its sharp specific smell and delicate taste. However, if you do not like to move a lot on vacation and prefer to stay at one point, Slovenia again will suit your tastes.
Firstly, each region has a rich culinary offer and, secondly, each restaurant of national cuisine will serve you a choice of dishes typical of different parts of the country. Finally, there are plenty of restaurants, thefollow the latest trends in cooking, easily go on experiments, cook dishes from around the world and creatively transform the culinary heritage of their country. To experience all these advantages, there is even no need to go outside Ljubljana. You can easily perform your culinary journey inside the capital of Slovenia. This city has an ocean of tasty places for every budget.