Ljubljana (pronounced as lyoob-lyAH-nah) is one of the cutest European cities I have visited. We spent only a few hours experiencing a Slovenian cuisine food tour, and fell in love with the city. The pedestrian-only town center with its colourful buildings seems straight from a fairy-tale. There is lots to explore and experience in this charming Slovenian capital. My recommendation would be to get your hands on the free guide-cum-map provided by the Tourist centre (near the Triple Bridge) to begin with.
Quirkiness galore in Ljubljana, colourful graffiti, colourful markets, Butcher’s bridge
After World War Two, Ljubljana and Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia, under Josip Broz, or ‘Tito’ as he was better known. Tito died in Ljubljana in 1980, and with him gone, Yugoslavia slowly began to unravel. As the final decade of the 20th century came around, a plebiscite was held to decide on future of Slovenia, which led to independence being declared on June 25th, 1991. A short ten-day scuffle followed, and a mere 4,000 years or so after the first dwellers made their way to the area, Slovenia was a sovereign state, with Ljubljana its capital.
Drive from Zagreb
The cab-driver who dropped us to the Zagreb airport, from where we picked up our rental car to drive to Slovenia, gave a non-stop commentary – he warned us to buy the vignette (mandatory for driving on all Slovenian motorways), the steep fine to be paid if caught driving in Slovenia without a vignette, the differences between Slovenian and Croatian police and how the Slovenian police cannot be bribed, his colourful encounters with Croatian police. Stuff like this makes travel fun and interesting. 🙂
We had an uneventful drive from Zagreb to Ljubljana, and almost no wait at the border crossing. The crossing was also where we bought the vignette. Once we reached near the city center in Ljubljana, we did take some time to find a suitable parking. Our destination was the pedestrian-only center, where we were to meet Iva, our guide for the Slovenian cuisine foodwalk.
Headed to Croatia? Do check the two week itinerary we followed.
Red graffiti packed trains at the Ljubljana train station, next to which we found parking
Do read – An atypical Museum experience in Zagreb
The pedestrian-only town center
We sighted colourful buildings and interesting public art en route to the center; and then came upon the Ljubljanica river flowing through the city center, and the Triple Bridge. All around us, people were walking or cycling, or sitting in cafes.
Ljubljanica river, flowing through the city center
We met Iva near the tourist centre and got introduced to other people joining the foodwalk with us. Iva does small-group culinary walks, she doesn’t have a fixed list of restaurants or a fixed route since she varies the itinerary based on the season, local produce, guest preferences, food allergies.
I highly recommend this foodwalk (book via Ljubljananjam). Not only did it give us a beautiful introduction to both traditional and modern fusion Slovenian cuisine, Iva was also happy to answer any historical and cultural questions that came up while walking across the city center. Though there were only adults in the foodwalk, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised by how much the 6-year old brat enjoyed both the food and the walk.
We started with the traditional. Slovenian food has heavy influences from German, Austrian, Italian and Hungarian cuisines. We tried the Jota (traditional cabbage stew) and Struklji (dumplings with different fillings; we tasted cottage cheese and wild garlic ones). The cottage cheese filling in the struklji tasted different from the cottage cheese you get in India. I mentioned that to Iva, and suddenly everyone had an India-related story. Iva had visited Kerala sometime back. So had the Canadian women who were part of this foodwalk. One of them mentioned her love for trekking and her multiple visits to Nepal and North India. Iva asked us the reason for many more Indians to visit Slovenia now than ever before. A lot more Indians are visiting Croatia, perhaps because of the popularity of the Game of Thrones series and the beautiful Plitvice National Park; there is bound to be some spill over to Slovenia.
We then moved to a refurbished space in a basement – part art gallery, part lounge and restaurant – to taste some pumpkin seed oil and craft lager, made locally at the Kranjska pivovarna brewery. I usually don’t like beer, but this one went down smoothly. Iva warned us that the pumpkin oil leaves horrible stains, and the group swapped stories of having some clothing with stains from pumpkin, beetroot, pomegranate, which have never washed away.
Clock-wise from top: pumpkin seed oil , Jota and Struklji
Potica: Part of Slovenian heritage
A cute shop was next on the list, that has transformed the Slovenian Potica in miniature sizes.
Potica is an important part of Slovenian gastronomic heritage and serves as a means of achieving culinary visibility around the globe. In the minds of Slovenians, the potica is a typical traditional holiday pastry connected with wealth and prosperity.
This shop offered mini-poticas with a variety of fillings; we sampled the ones filled with cheese and tarragon, plum, walnuts.
Modern Slovenian food tasting
The Texan vegan couple – part of our foodwalk tour – were delighted with the dish of zoodles with beetroot at the restaurant we visited next. They had quit meat-eating few years back, but smiled indulgently at my daughter enjoying the Carniola sausages. The seating here is out on a narrow street, and we all sat there happily enjoying the breeze and the blue sky. Iva introduced us to the couple who run this restaurant. First, the camera-shy and not-too-talkative husband who helps with both the cooking and the serving. He served us a crisp Malvazija (Brataševec wine maker from Vipava valley) and some bread with pumpkin seed oil spread. And then the wife, who diligently plans the menus and cooks, came out to chat with us about the lunch menu for the day.
To give us an experience of modern Slovenian food, Iva had chosen one of the finest restaurants in Ljubljana. This place while serving gourmet food had a relaxed vibe. They had beautifully plated dishes; sauvignon blanc from Čarga complemented these dishes perfectly. The server offered an elder-flower drink to my daughter, which she didn’t like much.
Clock-wise from top: john dory with young potatoes and porcini mushroom sauce, zoodles with beetroot, baked carrots with porcini mushroom sauce and chanterelles
We were now satiated; but there is always space for ice-cream! Iva took us to a small, family-run gelateria which offers flavours such as elderflower, tarragon, cheese, plum besides the usual. By this time, the small group felt like it had known each other for longer than the 4 hours we had spent together. As we walked down a green, tree-lined avenue, we heard wafting notes of music from a building, and saw two kids playing the saxophone in front of another building. We discovered that many buildings on this avenue had been converted to music schools. For the last part of the walk, the group walked into a large room – it looked like a cosy, bohemian living room – with books arranged on one end, a hammock thrown in another part and some quirky furniture and knick-knacks strewn almost haphazardly. The café offers fair-trade, organic coffee and teas. You can go to the kitchenette, make your own tea or coffee and spend the day chatting with your friends. And that’s what we did!
Food in Ljubljana
You can book the foodwalk in Ljubljana via Ljubljananjam