Culinary adventures in Slovenia with Staša Krapež
I was full of excitement as I flew in to Ljubljana. I’d heard a lot about Slovenia and knew that, from a culinary point of view, it was a lot more than the sum of its parts. And each region is a gastronomic gem of its own.
So in order to get the most out of the visit, I would need expert advice. I needed a personal guide who could put what I would see and experience into a historic and social context and who would ensure I would see the most pertinent and the most fascinating. Staša Krapež had been the most highly recommended guide and I was looking forward to placing my explorations in her hands.
Staša (pronounced ‘Stasha’) can be contacted at email@example.com.
So what of Slovenian cuisine?
Staša met me outside my Airbnb, a slim, elegant lady with a generous smile and intelligent eyes. “Slovenia is a very small country” she explained, “but it has 24 distinct gastronomic regions.”
The Mediterranean area
“My husband, for example, comes from the Primorska region, which borders with Italy, this is a Mediterranean region known for a local variety of radicchio and where aubergines and zucchini are grown in abundance.”
“Until quite recently”, Staša continued, “these were unknown in Ljubljana where instead you would find sauerkraut made from pickled cabbage which is grated and fermented. The dish is thickened with flour and it’s supposed to be very healthy to eat. At the Central Market one can often see people buying fermented cabbage juices, also extremely healthy and a good source of vitamin C.”
On the following day Staša and I visited Ljubljana, and two of its wonderful markets. More links and posts to come on all that there is to see there from a foodie point of view!
Bujta Repa (sour turnip with pork meat)
Towards the north-eastern part of Slovenia the turnip is given a different treatment to become Bujta Repa, one of the country’s traditional dishes. “’Bujta’ means ‘killed’”, explained Staša. “because it was traditionally eaten at that time of the year when the pigs were killed, . This sour turnip is grated and boiled in water with pieces of pork meat and fat from the pig,. Then it’s thickened with millet.” It’s a sort of thick turnip porridge then…. I didn’t feel encouraged!
“Also from this region you will find a very particular type of pastry – Prekmurska gibanica. This is a very filling, not very sweet, type of pastry. The base is shortcrust pastry. Then there are four different fillings: poppy seeds; curd cheese; walnuts; and grated apples – always in that order as this pastry has an EU recognition of Traditional Speciality Guaranteed. The filling is interleaved with filo pastry and the layers repeated again. It’s usually served warm.”
You can read more about Prekmurska gibanica by following this link.
“Then, between the airport and Austria, there is the Gorenjska region where the famous and beautiful Lakes Bled and Bohinj are situated.” Staša comments that Lake Bohinj is much more tranquil and attracts fewer tourists than big-brother Bled.”
“In Bohinj, they make a traditional semi-soft cows cheese here called Mohant. It’s got a VERY strong, spicy taste, and it’s usually served with boiled potatoes. This cheese has a PGI.”
“There’s also another cheese, Trnič, made from cows’ milk. This is shaped into balls, and it often has decorative motifs put onto it with wooden moulds. When the shepherds come down from the mountains at the end of the summer they usually take two balls to give to their wife or sweetheart, to symbolise their breasts”. I wasn’t too certain just how romantic a present those might represent….
“The region we’re travelling through at the moment is called Karst” Staša told me. “This is an area of caves and limestone…. and a very special animal that lives in the caves, a proteus (or olm), it’s a kind of salamander”. This animal has a skin the colour of white human skin so it is often also referred to as the ‘human fish’.
Human Fish beer
And she went on to tell me that there’s now a craft beer being made at a brewery in Vrhnika which is called Human Fish, “great name” she comments. The brewery, which is based in an old dairy production facility, makes pale ale, stout, and India pale ale as well as seasonal beers like German doppelbock, Belgian white and Irish red ale.
This is also an area which produces a form of air-dried ham – a Slovenian version of prosciutto. More on this, and other culinary delights in this area, in a post to come.
Goriška Brda is an area towards the west of Slovenia, famous for wineries and also for cherries. “It’s often referred to as a small Tuscany”, Staša tells me.
And, these are just a few of the highlights, Staša says. Slovenia has a wealth of culinary riches and there’ll be many posts focussing on some of those that I was lucky enough to taste and experience to come!
Special thanks for this post, and for a fabulous tour, to Staša Krapež.
For an interview with one of Slovenia’s up and coming young chefs, Matej in Nataša Tomažič, who I was introduced to by Staša, follow this link.
Map showing some of the main gastronomic regions