Food brings joy, comfort, excitement, reminiscence and, on occasion, recoil. It’s a great leveller and a gatherer of people and sometimes, it literally defines communities. Often, there’s no greater way of getting to know a place than by eating the food that locals eat in the restaurants and cafes that locals frequent. That’s why we think food and travel are a perfect match.
As part of our exploration of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, we were delighted to embark on the Taste Ljubljana Culinary Tour, organised by Ljubljana Tourism. Our guide would show us around the city by foot, stopping off at restaurants to try traditional Slovenian dishes and to sample wines and beers, with an aim of getting to know Slovenian cuisine and its historic tradition.
As we made our way around, one of the things we quickly learned was that the word ‘sample’ means something completely different in Slovenia than it does in Britain. We expected to graze on tiny portions from small plates, but we ended up eating a delicious full-on, slap-up meal with plenty of alcohol to wash it down.
Our Ljubljana Food Tour Begins
Our Ljubljana food tour started in the city centre at a tiny eatery called Klobasarna.
Sausage at Klobasarna
To experience life as a Slovenian, you must eat Carniolian sausage and for Carniolian sausage, there’s no better place in Ljubljana than Klobasarna. The name of the place derives from ‘kranjska klobasa’, which is ‘Carniolian sausage’ in Slovenian. It’s a pretty easy place to spot. There’s normally groups of hungry people eagerly eating these smoked, peppery sausages outside in the street. The two enormous plastic sausages hanging above the doorway are also a bit of a giveaway. The sausages themselves were really delicious. They were lightly spiced, firm and lean and had a strong flavour thanks to the high proportion of high quality meat content. Despite being served on a paper plate, our opening course was unexpectedly accompanied by a glass of red wine.
It was a good start to our Ljubljana food tour.
The next stop on our Ljubljana food tour was at Vodnikov Hram, a traditional Slovenian restaurant dedicated to Ljubljana-born poet Valentin Vodnik. The restaurant’s name loosely translates as Vodnikov Temple. Vodnikov was active during the Enlightenment period of the 18th century and is credited as becoming the first real Slovenian language poet and journalist. A statue of him stands out on the street nearby.
Vodnikov Hram serves lots of traditional Slovenian fare, including beef tongue which is what we were served (as well as another glass of wine). It was the first time we’d tried tongue (and the last time, now that we’re both vegetarian). The dish as a whole looked really rather beautiful and notably modern. Artistic swirls of pea puree and horseradish sauce and slices of warm pear encircled the tongue which glistened in the light. The meat was juicy and tender and marbled with fat. It was actually really good, though not necessarily something we’d have chosen ourselves from the menu.
Satisfied that we’d been able to tick tongue off of our ‘weird stuff we’ve eaten’ list, we set off for our next stop. On our way, we called in on a smart food shop called Zakladi Slovenije (‘Treasures of Sloevnia’), who offered us a small glass of blueberry liquor while we browsed their unusual wares. We were particularly drawn by the chocolate flavoured with fragments of Pancetta.
Walkthrough the Fish Market
To travel is to learn about how other people live and markets are a great place to do this, particularly those that are off the tourist trail. The fish market, hidden away underground near the Central Market Square, is a great example of a place not generally visited by tourists. The selection of fish on offer was wide, much wider than we’re normally used to. All of the produce was wonderfully fresh and carefully presented. It was great to be able to see this secret corner of the city centre.
Matevž – Creamed Potatoes & Beans
Matevž is a traditional Slovenian side dish, normally served with meat and vegetables. Pureed or mashed potato is mixed with Cannellini or kidney beans, sour cream and butter and occasionally finely chopped bacon or pancetta. Our first taste of this much favoured dish was at Druga Violina, a small restaurant which employs people with disabilities and, judging by the decor, seems to have a thing for violins. The Matevž wasn’t too special, but it was creamy, tasty and comforting. A glass of local beer helped to wash it down.
Fried Chicken with more Matevž
We were surprised to find fried chicken on the menu of our Ljubljana food tour. Could it really be classed as Slovenian? Well, according to our guide, yes it was. He reassured us that traditionally, fried chicken was a Slovenian working class staple and was therefore too important to leave out.
While the dish itself had a working class background, the establishment serving it was anything but. This was by far the smartest and most modern restaurant we’d seen and showed Ljubljana’s progressive side. It was the sort of place frequented by business-types on business-casual working lunches.
The chicken was really good. Tender, juicy and tasty. It was served with a sour cream sauce and a side of Matevž. By now, we were feeling really rather cheerful. This could have been due to the surprise of how much delicious food we were being served, or could have been that our chicken was served with more wine.
On our way to the fifth and final stop of our Ljubljana food tour, we were drawn to the unexpected sight of a peacock perched on a fence and squawking loudly. We noticed another peahen nearby and realised that one resident was keeping them in their garden. As we curiously peered through the fence, the owner herself arrived from doing her shopping and told us she was the wife of the former British ambassador to Slovenia. We asked a few questions about the peafowls, exchanged pleasantries and went our separate ways. We had a skyscraper to climb.
Potica – Tarragon Cake (plus others) at the Skyscraper
The final stop of our Ljubljana food tour was at Ljubljana’s Skyscraper (or Nebotičnik in Slovenian). This 13 storey high-rise is a landmark of Ljubljana, thanks in part to its classic ‘New York’ design, but mostly since it’s one of the tallest buildings in the city centre. As you might expect, the skyscraper houses businesses and residential flats, but crucially cafes, bars and restaurants on the top three floors. Via a lobby filled with floor to ceiling marble and a tiny lift that didn’t inspire a whole heap of confidence, we headed to the rooftop cafe where we were treated to fantastic views of the entire city and beyond.
After capturing what must have been our yearly quota of panoramas, we sat down for our last dish of the tour. Two types of Potica, a traditional Slovenian cake were served. One was flavoured with walnut while the other was intriguingly flavoured with tarragon. To accompany our cake, we were offered a choice of flavoured spirits. Jade and I chose one flavoured with blueberry and another flavoured with walnut. The walnut one was a bit odd, but drinkable. The high alcohol content meant we soon didn’t really care about the flavour anyway.
Our Food Tour of Ljubljana Concludes
Gazing out on a city bathed in late afternoon sunshine, we took the final sips of our Ljubljana food tour feeling happy and content. We’d experienced Ljubljana through its culinary heritage and seen corners of the city we’d have otherwise not seen. We had tried lots of fabulous food that revealed many facets of Slovenian society, all accompanied by a surprising quantity of alcohol.
The Taste Ljubljana Culinary Tour had proven our opening point that indeed food brings joy, comfort and excitement. Often, there’s no greater way of getting to know a place then by eating the food that locals eat in the restaurants and cafes locals frequent. In one afternoon, we felt we had gotten to know the Slovenian capital really well. That’s why we think the Taste Ljubljana Culinary Tour is a quintessential way of experiencing the city and we heartily recommend it to others.
Disclaimer: We paid our way on this tour in full, so you can rest assured our recommendation is completely unbiased.