Bordered by four countries and with a long, varied history of being a part of different states and empires, Slovenia is today an independent country with a beautiful melody of languages, cultures and cuisines. Check out these 10 must-try Slovenian foods and drinks that recall the history of its neighbors and its landscapes.
Take a picturesque drive through any rural area of Slovenia and you will see colorful bee hives tucked away here and there, in every direction. There is said to be over 10,000 beekeepers in Slovenia, a land of just over 2 million people. The bees do good important work for the environment, agriculture and especially the vineyards of wine we love so much. Bee tourism has really taken off in this eco-friendly country. Check out a variety of bee activities and even honeycomb chalets here. Slovenia has three types of EU-protected honeys, Slovenian honey, Kocevje forest honey and honey from the Kras region. Make it a goal to try them all. Most hotels or inns that serve breakfast will have a local honey in as a part of the spread. Pro tip: search out historic wooden bee hive sides with beautiful paintings as a souvenir. And of course pack a jar of honey to take home, too.
The best restaurants throughout Slovenian will have it, the gift shops will have it and you really need to try it. Slovenian salt is special to try and pretty cool to see in the making. Near the coastal city of Piran is Secovlje Salina Nature Park sitting along the Adriatic sea. Salt is still harvested in the traditional way in this area, the same way it was harvested over 700 years ago. Try the local fleur de sel with bread and butter served at the restaurants or take a jar home to enjoy later. The fine flakes make for a beautiful garnishing salt.
Wild brown bears are on the rise in Slovenia and their population is skyrocketing to numbers the country’s forests cannot sustain. Our guide told us that they should have 200 to 300 bears within their borders, but currently have over 900. Permits to hunt have been issued and chefs are getting creative! We were able to try bear cheek prepared by Chef Tomaž Kav?i? at Zemono. It was unbelievably rich, flavorful and so tender. Chef Tomaž uses the rest of the animal, the tougher parts of the bear in stews and braises.
Slovenia makes some great wine, but we’d like to hone in on orange wine. Orange wine has seriously hit its stride in the US and is popping up on menus everywhere. Quick background, it is produced in more than just Slovenia and it has nothing to do with oranges. Our first experience with orange wine was at a too-hip-for-its-own-good Brooklyn restaurant where a domestic orange wine left us wanting more and feeling like we had been cheated. (Hello, $20 price tag) But we can’t say the same for Slovenian wines! We tried the award-winning orange wine from Prus Winery and were quite pleased with its complexity. And if you’re really into orange wines, Slovenia hosts an Orange Wine Festival.
Belokranjska Pogaca Bread
Bela krajina is a small region in southern-eastern Slovenia. It literally translates to “White Carniola” and takes its name from the white birch trees that dot the region and the traditional white, handmade clothing worn by the people. It’s not too touristy, it’s loaded with history, good food, vineyards and even craft beer. It’s in this area that you will find the beautiful flatbread, Belokranjska Pogaca. With an egg-washed sheen, the scored bread is topped with flakes of Slovenian sea salt and caraway seeds. It’s the perfect pair with glasses of wine from the nearby vineyards or a traditional beef stew.
Slovenian Doughnuts: Krofi
Every culture seems to have its own fried dough and of course we want to try them all. Krofi are special because they come with a beautiful, bright hint of citrus, thanks to lemon zest. We tried krofi that had a layer of apricot jam inside- a favorite Slovenian flavor.
Bacalao – Baccalà – Bakala
However you say it or spell it, be sure you try salted cod when you are on the coast of Slovenia. This pâté or spread will be some of the best you will ever taste as it comes straight from the Adriatic sea.
Schnapps or Zganje
Don’t be surprised if you enter a home or a restaurant and are greeted with small glasses of schnapps. While you can find great bottles of local schnapps in bars, it is the homemade schnapps that are the best. Brewed in someone’s own home, each one is a bit different. We tried a plum and a pear schnapps, but they can be made with just about any fruit. Na zdravje! (Cheers!)
Horseradish can be found throughout Slovenian cuisine. It’s perfect with meats, delicious with their famed Carniolan sausage, sublime with the typical potato recipes, (Slovenia is laden with acres upon acres or potato fields and a slew of traditional potato dishes and varieties.) and makes any bread course especially exciting when you add a horseradish cream or butter.
Carniolan Sausage or Kranjska Klobasa
Similar to Polish kielbasa, Carniolan sausage is a Slovenian pork and garlic sausage. It’s quite fatty, which makes it so flavorful and comforting, and you can find it served at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Check out small batch sausages in the Carniola farm regions or head to a sausage stand in the Ljubljana outdoor market or the brick-and-mortar restaurant, Klobasarna.
With a cuisine reflecting many cultures and fertile lands erupting with fresh foods, it’s hard to make a list of just ten things to try. Along with the ones listed, it’s worth noting that you should also search out traditional beef stew, locally foraged mushrooms, Tolmin cheese, truffles, potica cake and more.
Mandatory family outings to the Detroit farmers' market and nightly home-cooked meals cultivated Annelise's respect and curiosity for food. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, she spends her free time in New York City recipe testing, eating breakfast all day, and dreaming up international culinary adventures.