Slovenian cuisine. Slovenian cuisine. What on earth is it? It was a question I was asking those I encountered in Ljubljana, and it was met with the same inquiry…”Hmm, what is Slovenian cuisine?”
Control of this country has changed hands so many times over the years that, from a culinary standpoint, they are influenced by quite a few of their neighbors. And when you factor together the cuisines of Hungary, Italy, and Austria (just to name a few), you get a rather interesting answer when it comes to the initial question. There’s pizza on every corner, goulashes galore, soups for those bone-chilling days, giant gnocchi, and quite a lot of meat. After overdoing it for the last two weeks or so on pasta in Italy, I was pretty happy to up the iron intake, I have to say.
Today, I met with a woman who has authored a cookbook in Slovenia, and has a second one about to go to print. Her mission is to get kids into the kitchen, and also to improve the quality of food in schools. Evidently, their system leaves a lot to be desired, not unlike the school lunch program in America, and so she has made it her mission to visit schools and teach kids how to make better food choices. Emilijia is such a fantastic woman, and I felt really lucky that she took a few hours from her busy schedule to visit a market with me and talk to me a bit more about “Slovenian cuisine” (whatever that is).
I met her at the train station, and from there, we went to a pretty swanky market in central Ljubljana. It was actually quite interesting because housed in the basement of a would-be department store was a Whole Foods-eque market. And it was packed with people. We stopped first to check out her cookbook on the shelf next to Jaime Oliver’s, and then moved over to the “bio” foods section. They are very popular, and through somewhat broken translation, I gather “bio” equals organic.
It was a rather large cross section of aisles with everything from jams and dried fruits, to chickpeas, lentils, pastas, breads, tofus, teas, and herbs. Emilija is from Koper, Slovenia, which is a coastal town to the south, so we talked a bit more about what their diet looks like. Not surprisingly, it includes fish, and she told me she eats many small meals throughout the day. Most everything comes from their garden, the fish her husband catches, the bread that she bakes, et al. In fact, she showed up to meet me with a bunch of fresh herbs, homemade pasta with calimari her husband had caught, fresh-baked bread, an apple from her garden…all for me. And in the market, she insisted on buying me salt from Piran (another amazing gorgeous Slovenian seaside town) and dried figs that are good for your blood.
Incidentally, when I jumped on the train after meeting her, I had a smorgasbord of treats to sample. And as we glided along the rails and I sampled her delicious gifts, I thought to myself, “So, Kyle…what the heck is Slovenian cuisine?” As you’ll see from the picture, I’m still looking and trying to figure it out.
Next Stop: Zagreb