Traditional Slovenian Food: A Foodie’s Guide to the Tasty Regional Foods You Have toTry
Writing a Slovenian Food Guide… what were we thinking?
When we first visited Slovenia with the intention of eating local foods and then writing a guide about the food we gobbled down, we had no idea just how challenging it would be.
In part, because we were reminded that food around the world is always regional. Just as there’s no such thing as Italian food, or American food, or Japanese food — Slovenia is no exception, even if it is a small country. Given its small size (just 2 million residents and 7,800 square miles — roughly the size of south Florida) the regional variation among Slovenian food is vast. And there are several reasons for that.
Regional Variations on Slovenian Food
First, the influence of neighboring countries on the food of Slovenia can be felt practically everywhere. Flavors from Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, and Croatia to its south collide in Slovenia to produce some very unique and delicious dishes we’ve never had anywhere else. Imagine the Italian influence on food — fresh seafood, garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs. And the Austrian food? Can you say Slovenian Schnitzel?
Second, for many years the foods of the former Yugoslavia, part of which we now know as Slovenia, languished under a repressive government and was unknown to the world. But today, Slovenian cuisine is making its mark. Boasting 24 distinct culinary regions, chefs are putting modern spins on traditional dishes and introducing what farm-to-table means in this beautiful country. Dishes made from locally sourced seasonal produce along with meats and fish are a highlight, not to mention a selection of excellent wines. Slovenian cuisine is unique and diverse, yet these 24 regions share many common foods. For these reasons and many more, Slovenia should be a top spot on your Europe bucket list, though as you can imagine, all of these variations and interpretations make writing a food guide very challenging.
But trying new foods is one of our favorite things to do and we’re always up for a good challenge (a tough job but someone’s gotta do it!) One thing we discovered about Slovenia that really struck a chord with us is their commitment to the slow food movement which originated in the northern Piedmont of Italy (and also spurred the slow travel movement too). Whether it’s due to the local chefs’ desire to preserve traditional Slovenian food and create innovative twists of their own, or the inherent nature of the food in Slovenia dishes that takes hours to cook — food here is generally whole, hearty, rich and delicious.
So, what can you expect to eat when you visit Slovenia? Here are the main ingredients you’ll find in many typical dishes.
Traditional Slovenian Food Staples
Buckwheat - Much of the land in Slovenia is not suited to growing cereal crops such as wheat, rye, corn, and millet on a large scale. Buckwheat however can be planted on much smaller parcels of land or even just in a nice sized garden. It’s not a true grain and flour is made from its black triangular seeds. Buckwheat grows quickly and can reseed itself. It’s used all over Slovenia as a low cost nutritious dish on its own, dumplings and breads, or as an accompaniment to main courses. It grows quickly and has a second benefit. Its white flowers are a favorite of bees who produce buckwheat honey.
Mushrooms - With three distinct climatic zones, Slovenia has an abundant wide variety of mushrooms. Mushroom pickers show up in great numbers from March to November hunting for these aromatic delicacies in the woods. Porcini mushrooms are especially popular. Mushrooms generally are used as a side dish or in soups and stews, and some grow quite large. The ones we saw a little old lady selling along the side of the road were as big as our heads! A favorite Slovenian dish is baked cheese and mushrooms.
Pumpkin Seed Oil - This luscious dark green oil is produced in the Štajerska and Prekmurje. The pumpkin itself is not good to eat so is used to replenish the fields. Only the seeds are used for the oil. They are first washed and roasted then pressed. It takes about 30-40 pumpkins to produce just one liter of oil. It’s used on salads, side dishes and as a drizzle on appetizers. We’ve even had it on vanilla ice cream. If that it’s delicious isn’t enough, it’s highly nutritious as well.
Honey - How amazing is it that a country with just 2 million people has about 10,000 beekeepers producing 2,000 tons of honey a year! Beekeeping is one of Slovenia’s oldest traditional crafts and is an important part of the country’s economy, so much so that it’s the only member of the EU to have protected its native bee, the Carniolan bee. Clearly they are committed to keeping bees and making honey, and it shows. Their honey is as beautiful in color as it is delicious to taste.
Nuts - The European walnut is native to Slovenia but the wild trees were over-harvested for the beautiful wood. To bring walnuts back to Slovenia, plantations were established and seedlings were given to farmers for free. Today it’s estimated that there are over 100,000 walnut trees in Slovenia. That’s a lot of walnuts and great news for bakers and lovers of strudel and potica!
Dandelions - Slovenians look forward to Spring, the only time of year to pick dandelions. A nutritious natural green, dandelions are eaten in salads and a Slovenian favorite is Dandelion greens with potatoes or beans.
Potatoes - The Slovenian diet tends to be heavy in starches and the humble potato is used in dishes throughout the country. They are often roasted or added to just about every dish if there’s no štruklji, or even if there is!
Cream - No surprise here given the large numbers of cows raised in Slovenia. Cika cows in particular are prized for both the richness and quantity of milk that they produce. Cream is essential for butter, cheeses, baking, and is mixed with horseradish or paprika to be used as a condiment.
Fruits - When is season, wild strawberries, blackberries, and loganberries are harvested to be used just as you might imagine. If not eaten fresh, they’re used in baking and to make luscious jams and preserves. No country that makes strudel would be without apples and Slovenia is no exception. Like almost anywhere that apples are grown, they are enjoyed in desserts, cakes, strudels, and pie.
Similar in sound to foccacia, pogača from the Bela Krajina region (Belokranjska pogača) is one of Slovenia's very special foods and is protected by the EU as a Slovenian specialty food. It’s basically a yeasted flat bread a lot like Italian focaccia but that’s where the similarity ends. We learned how to make it from Sonja when we went glamping in Bela Krajina, and learned that instead of olive oil and herbs, pogača is coated with an egg wash, coarse salt and caraway seeds (what Slovenians refer to as cumin). The biggest difference however is that it is made to very exact specifications — diameter, thickness, and the size of the squares that are etched into it. It’s best served still warm and broken along those lines. Pogača is eaten at breakfast, to welcome guests into the home, or as we found out, pretty much anytime. We had it in the morning and at dinner with wine. It was soft and aromatic and the salt adds a wonderful taste to the bread.
Simply put, Decorativni Kruh is decorative bread, and you’ll see it everywhere no matter the region. What’s so special about the decorative breads is the time and technique that goes into making them. Often these decorative breads are given as gifts or served at special occasions like weddings, and it’s easy to see why they’re so beautiful. Clearly, they’re made with lots of love!
Meat and Fish
Although Slovenians enjoy meat and meat products especially pork, they also enjoy salt water and fresh water fishes. Because trout thrive in the cold river waters of Slovenia, it is the most common fish that can be found on almost every menu. Arguably some of the best trout comes from the Soča River although there are strict rules concerning the size of the fish that may be harvested. Served with a variety of side dishes like vegetables and potatoes, trout are first rolled in buckwheat or corn flour and then fried. We found them to be succulent and tasty wherever we tried them.
Bohinj Pork Spread (Bohinjska Zaseka)
Originating in the beautiful and rugged Alpine valley of Bohinj, the people here have been making this local specialty for well over a hundred years. It’s made using cold smoked bacon that’s been desalted and finely chopped or ground. It’s then put into a container and the fat from the bacon or pork lard is poured over it and left to ‘harden’. This produces a spread that Slovenians eat on bread or use as a topping on an a variety of dishes. OK, so this dish may not for everyone but at least give it a try (cuz it’s delicious). Bohinj is one of the more popular day trips from Ljubljana and an easy (less than an hour) drive.
Each of the gastronomic regions of areas known for karst phenomena and the cold wind known as bora have their own methods for drying meat products in a natural manner. Here in the place where the tradition of salting and drying meat has lasted for centuries, you must taste the Karst prosciutto, pancetta, and the Karst zašinek (dried shoulder of pork). Kraški pršut (Kras prosciutto) is considered the best of the Karst prosciuttos and is one of the most important Slovenian culinary specialities. Kras prosciutto is prized for its excellent flavor and texture.
Carniolan Sausage (Kranjska Klobasa)
Believed to have originated in 1896, one of the best known Slovenian foods from the Alpine region is Carniolan sausage. This protected Slovenian food is smoked and made with exact portions of pork, beef, bacon and pig intestines along with garlic and spices. The European Commission has approved its entry into the register of protected geographical indications and is claimed to be the only sausage which the astronauts ate in space. Usually grilled or fried, it is served a variety of ways with a variety of accompaniments.
Soups and Stews
A strong soup typical of western Slovenia, Jota is made with turnip, beans, onions, and sometimes smoked pork ribs are added. These are common ingredients found in the cellars of cottages. They are easily stored and can be prepared in many ways. Jota can be found throughout the country, but with regional variations. For example, in the Istrian region jota is a thick stew made of sour cabbage and beans but without potatoes. In other areas local vegetables or even barley will be added. This is a true hearty peasant dish, but of the best kind.
This rich stick to your ribs kind of stew is made all over Slovenia and varies regionally. For instance, Prekmurski Bograč is a traditional dish from the Prekmurje region. The name ‘Bograč’ comes from the large pot that was traditionally used to cook beef or pork stews. Here it’s a thick goulash made with three different meats, spices, pepper, tomatoes, potato and when in season, fresh mushrooms. In Kamnik, the dish is often made with venison (deer meat) from the hunting tradition in Kamniška Bistrica Valley. But no matter what meat and other ingredients are used, what must be added is quality paprika. If you’re a goulash lover don’t miss the annual ‘bograč’ cooking competition for a real treat usually held in August
Potatoes, Dumplings and Pasta
This simple omelette dish from the Soča valley is made of eggs and grated cheese (usually Tolmin) and is fried in fat or oil with potato, cheese and sometimes bacon or sausage added. The hearty dish was traditionally eaten by shepherds, but it looks delicious, doesn’t it? We’d eat in!
Buckwheat is a staple in Slovenia and is served in many ways. It is used in breads, stews, as a side dish, porridge, and spoon dumplings. Because it is plentiful and nutricious it is often combined with meat dishes. But the national dish of Slovenia is special and combines spooned buckwheat dumplings with veal. This dish was on the menu at all of the Ljubljana restaurants we visited.
A very popular Slovenian food made with buckwheat flour and often served with cracknels, small pieces of pork fat that have been fried until they’re crisp. If not buckwheat then wheat or potato flour is used. It’s cooked like one would cook oatmeal. The flour is mixed with water and a little salt and oil. It’s then simmered and crumbled into a bowl. If cracknels aren’t used žganci will be topped with lard, honey, sour milk, mushroom soup or cabbage. This is a nutritious and real stick to your ribs food that is inexpensive to make and was at one time eaten daily at all three meals by those living in the countryside. This is a Slovenian farm dish that you can try with sour milk at the Herdsmen huts in Velika Planina.
This is what Americans might know as strudel, only…different. Once served only on festive occasions, it can now be found all around the country at any time of year. It’s made with different types of dough and served either baked or cooked. The Štruklji are filled with a seemingly endless variety of fillings ranging from savory to sweet. We’ve had them with poppy seeds and walnuts, but the savory with a creamy cheese and tarragon filling is a Slovenian favorite.
Idrija Žlikrofi Pasta
Originating in the old mining town of Idrija and awarded European trademark protection since 2010, Idrija žlikrofi are soft pasta dough pockets that have a distinctive shape and are stuffed with a potato, onion and spice mixture or minced bacon and lard. They can be dressed with cracknels, butter or with “bakalca,” a special lamb, sometimes rabbit, and vegetable sauce and can be enjoyed as a starter, a side dish, or a main dish. Eaten with roasts or sometimes topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, this dish carries the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed label so it can only be served to you by certified experts of this Slovenian delicacy. They are really good but also really filling.
Slovenia has a cheese making tradition that can be traced back to over 500 years. Being a historically agrarian and pastoral culture, cheese making was essential to preserving essential nutrition from the milk of cows, sheep, and goats. Today these fine cheeses have achieved International status and are enjoyed at tables around the world. Here are three of the best known.
This is the most romantic Slovenian cheese or maybe in all the world! Traditionally made with cottage cheese, cream and salt, two Trnič cheeses are made at the same time and molded into a pear shape resembling the shape of a woman’s breast with the same imprints on both as decoration. We saw these on Velika Planina (the high mountain plateau) above Kamnik. Tradition has it that at the end of the pasturing season a shepherd would present one to his wife or girlfriend as a sign of love and fidelity and keep the other for himself. If presented to a girlfriend, it was considered a marriage proposal. If she kept it, she had accepted the proposal. Today, fresh Trnič is grated over pasta, risotto, salads and most any dish calling for a grated cheese. It’s also served in thin slices drizzled with olive or pumpkin seed oil.
Originating in the Goriška region of the Upper Soča Valley, this semi-hard cheese made from raw cow’s milk is only produced in the towns of of Tolmin, Kobarid and Bovec. 80% of the milk used to make tominc comes from Cika cows, a breed indigenous to this area. This typical Slovenian cheese must be produced in accordance with strict regulations to be called Tolminc. It is another Slovenian product given the European Commission’s Protected Designation of Origin label. Because of its earthy aroma and a sweet flavor it’s becoming popular for baking and among locals is called the 'King of Mountain Heaven'.
Bovec is a hard cheese made from raw sheep’s milk and is only made on Mangartska Planina, in Loška Koritnica and Krnica. Some producers will add a small amount of goat or cow’s milk. Bovec is a full-bodied cheese with an equally full aroma and a slightly spicy flavor. This is another cheese that is produced according to regulations and has been given the European Commission’s Protected Designation of Origin label.
Gibanica is the most famous and the most popular of all Slovenia desserts, and as all the other foods of Slovenia, there are several variations. The popular Prekmurska Gibanica hails from the Prekmurje region of Slovenia along the River Mura, made from two types of dough and four different fillings stuffed into eight layers. Another version is the more traditional Serbian Gibanica, which is flatter and cheesier, and found throughout Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia.
Krofi (Slovenian fried dough)
In the US these are called doughnuts, in France they are called beignets, and in Slovenia they are called Krofi. And the best Krofi come from Trojane, northeast of Ljubljana. These are unique because of the addition of lemon zest giving them a slight lemony flavor. After rising, pieces of the dough are fried in oil until a golden brown. They can be eaten plain or sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, glazed with chocolate, or filled with fruit jam. Krofi have grown in popularity especially during the carnival time of year and several thousand are fried up and eaten daily.
Bled Creme Cake (Kremna Rezina)
Made with a layer of puff pastry and filled with sweet vanilla cream and custard, this decadent pastry is Lake Bled’s culinary speciality. Oh my! It was the first thing we wanted to eat when we took a day trip from Ljubljana. We decided to hike the trail first though, the one that takes you to the high scenic overlook for that fantastic view of Lake Bled. After we came back down, we made a beeline for the nearest restaurant for a big slice. It was heavenly!
Fun Fact: Bled creme cake was first served at the Park Hotel on Lake Bled in 1953, and thanks to a recent granting of protected designation of origin status by the EU, it only comes from the pastry shops at Lake Bled. Go to Lake Bled to hike, for the incredible scenery or a boat ride. But definitely go for creme cake!
Potica (Nut roll)
Similar to štrukli, potica is multilayered roulade-like baked pastry filled with walnuts and young cheese. This typical Slovenian dessert made of dough comes with at least 80 different types of fillings. Typical fillings include walnut, cracknels, and poppy seeds but the most preferred is potica with tarragon. One of the oldest known potica varieties has a honey filling – an old sweetener used in a country with a long bee-keeping tradition.
Rušovc Tips and Pinecone Liquor
This liquor is made from young tips of green mountain pinecones. The tips and cones are placed in a jar along with sugar and honey until fermented. Pinecone liquor is a traditional specialty of the Kamnik area that celebrates the herdsmen of the Velika Planina and the long honored tradition of gathering herbs and other plants for medical and nutritional purposes. The liquor is sweet and as you might expect has a completely unique taste. You might love it, or not. But if you do, hang on! It can kick you hard if you overdo it.
Rakjia is a type of fruit or herb brandy that really packs a punch! The alcohol content is 40% but homemade versions can be 50% or more. It’s common for local farmers and families to make their own wine and distilled spirits. Rakjia can be made from fermented plums (the most popular), and often fermented grapes, which are distilled until a clear liquid is produced. This can be drunk as is or infused with herbs or other fruits like apricots and berries. Enjoying rakjia is only part of the experience — but the etiquette is just as important. To toast, you should look your drinking buddy right in the eye as you toss it back. Anything less is considered shady and untrustworthy, and who wants that!
Beer is popular in Slovenia with national brands Laško and Union being the two most popular. The beer is Slovenia is mostly pale lagers, and there is a burgeoning craft beer scene found in Ljubljana and smaller regional towns around the country. Beer is typically served in liter or half-liter glass mugs in pubs, and served with some good Slovenian pub fare.
Wine has been produced in Slovenia for over 1000 years. There are three main wine growing regions and where the best Slovenian wine comes from is always a debate.. The largest is the Drava region in the northeast. The Lower Slava region is in the east and the Littoral region in the west. Over 75% of the wine produced is white with the same varietals in the different regions producing regionally distinct wines. The majority of the wine production from some 28,000 wineries is drunk in Slovenia with a small portion being exported mostly to the US.
Whether you’re a foodie or not, when you visit Slovenia, be sure and try the regional variations of food. Given that Slovenia is just becoming known for their food, it’s a cultural opportunity you don’t want to miss.
Na Zdravje! (Cheers!)
Where to Stay in Slovenia
Terme Snovik Eco Resort, Kamnik
In the valley below Velika Planina near Kamnik, the thermal spa and eco resort of Terme Snovik is a great place to stay. The natural beauty of the Tuhinjska Valley surrounds this resort from its beautiful evergreen forests on one side to the Kamnik-Savinja Alps on the other. The resort proudly lays claim to being the “highest lying thermal spa in Slovenia” and are committed to preserving the environment and coexistence with nature, a concept that’s dear to our hearts. In 2008 they received the international designation Ecolabel (Eco Label) and numerous awards for environmentally friendly behavior at home and abroad. Besides the inviting and ginormous thermal pool with its mineral rich natural water and fun water features scattered throughout, there’s also a relaxing sauna, whirlpool, and an outdoor pool that’s like a small water park. Families will find a lot of things to do at Terme Snovik for kids, like horseback riding, an outdoor fitness course, climbing wall, and cycling. Or you can all simply relax and enjoy some spa services like massages, manis and pedis. Accommodations at Terme Snovik range from studio apartments and larger apartments with kitchens for 2-6 people, to a superior apartment with a water bed, fireplace and its own jacuzzi and sauna. Rates vary per person/per night and by accommodation type and range from 100-250€ (around $100-$285 USD). Check the latest rates, more details, and availability.
Grand Hotel Union
The Grand Hotel Union is a 4-star hotel in the historic heart of Ljubljana, and the largest conference facility in the city. And while you might think staying at such a hotel wouldn’t be the most charming, that’s exactly what we loved about it and surprisingly so, not to mention the superb location just a 5 minute walk from the Triple Bridge. Despite being renovated to a modern luxury standard, the elegant hotel retains an inviting, even downright cozy feel. The hotel has everything you’d expect or could want — sumptuous wellness treatments and a lovely indoor pool, elegantly-appointed guest rooms, reliable wi-fi, several on-site restaurants, and a full-service barber shop including custom cuts and shaves. Yes, the Grand Hotel Union is that kind of place, well-appointed and approachable, with a more than ample and delicious breakfast buffet. It’s close to everything and all you could want in a Ljubljana hotel. Rates start at $125 USD for a queen room. Check rates and availability here.
Vander Urbani Resort
This is the place if you want a hip and happening urban stay in Ljubljana. The design aesthetic is fun and stylish, and when you want a bit more down to earth, meet up with friends in their downtown Haus Restaurant for good food and drinks. There’s even an intimate rooftop bar that’s, well, pretty amazing — with a rooftop sundeck and pool, the Bubbles Bar, and endless hours of fun. It’s a really cool place to stay! Check availability and more details.
If you can’t make up your mind whether to go with a hotel or AirBnB in Ljubljana, the B&B Slamic might be just the right fit for you! It feels like a bit of each in one hotel — part hotel and part B&B with an intimate and homey feel at once. The rooms are spacious and the location can’t get much better right in the city center. Plus, there are lots of cozy places to sit and enjoy a drink after a day of exploring. Check rates and availability.
Big Berry Luxury Lifestyle & Glamping Resort
You may have seen our review about our stay at Big Berry. What a completely unique experience! This lifestyle resort set along the tranquil Kolpa River in Bela Krajina is so peaceful and a perfect getaway if you and your family love glamping or just being in the outdoors. Big Berry is far from camping, and the modern 1-3 bedroom pods are uber comfy with private bathrooms, full walk-in showers, living spaces, full kitchens, and luxury beds that overlook the countryside. Besides playing on the river, swimming, and kayaking, you can spend your days traversing the quiet roads meeting local farmers, artisans, and producers, or hiking the breathtaking landscape around Bela Krajina. We highly recommend this experience rich in nature and the green outdoors. Check rates and availability.