Table of Contents
- Ljubljana Food Experiences
- Plan Your Ljubljana Stay
- Hungry for More in Ljubljana?
- Pin It for Later
- About the Authors
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Our first impression of Slovenia was through a window during an overnight late June bus ride from Bologna to Zagreb. We exited the furnace-like Italian summer heat and found ourselves rolling through cool breezy alpine woods gazing at quaint chalet homes along green, pastoral hills.
It wasn’t until we visited two months later that we realized the addictive charms that Slovenia’s polished gem of a capital city, Ljubljana, has to offer.
Though most travelers spend just a few days in Ljubljana Slovenia before heading to nearby Lake Bled or deeper into the lush country’s rolling hills, we decided to stay in Ljubljana for two weeks. Prior to our visit, we assumed that a fortnight would be plenty of time to explore the compact capital city and its culinary scene.
Beyond devoting a day or two to Ljubljana sightseeing, we planned to spend much of our visit catching up on work. Unfortunately (or fortunately for us), these industrious plans never came to fruition.
From the moment we arrived in one of Europe’s most charming capitals, Ljubljana put a spell on us that never dissipated. We immediately took to the city’s pedestrian-friendly streets and Jože Plečnik designed bridges that traverse the Ljubljanica River.
Slowly discovering the city’s charms, we wandered through old cobblestone lanes, identifying Ljubljana restaurants and cafes we wished to try during our visit. The choices were numerous in a dining scene that could be humbly described as one of the most underrated on the European mainland.
Things started getting interesting once we met Ljubljana insiders during several Ljubljana food experiences. Welcoming us as if we were old friends, these locals generously helped us to quickly unpeel the city’s layers to reveal a gem shinier than we had ever imagined – a gastronomically focused city populated by some of the most genuine people we have ever met.
Ljubljana Food Experiences
Whether a visit to Ljubljana is for a two-day European city break or a two-week holiday, there are enough fun things to do in Ljubljana to keep travelers busy from dawn to dusk. Sure, the city has cool tourist sites like the Ljubljana Castle and Tivoli Park as well as funky street art and adorable shops, but, in our opinion, the best thing to explore in Ljubljana is the food.
Though most tourists aren’t familiar with Slovenian food, the tiny, chicken-shaped country occupies an important place in Europe’s vast food continuum with a range of foods that rival some of the greatest in France, Italy, or Spain. If you’re wondering what to eat in Slovenia, you will be surprised by both the quality and quantity of options.
Great produce like tomatoes is bountiful in the summer while giant glorious wild porcini and chanterelle mushrooms appear in autumn. Slovenia is no slouch in the wine world either, offering big reds like Teran and Refošk along with white wines like Sivi Pinot and Friuliano.
Most people have never eaten local foods like Štruklji, the most classic Slovenian dish. Inspired by neighboring countries like Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy, Ljubljana’s skilled Slovenian chefs make good use of some of Europe’s best ingredients readily available at local farms and markets. Spoiler alert – the food in Ljubljana is outstanding.
We dove deep into the Ljubljana food scene during our visit in an ambitious attempt to learn and taste as much Slovenian wine and food as we could fit in our stomachs. Based on our noble effort, we wholeheartedly recommend the following essential Ljubljana food experiences:
1. Take a Cook Eat Slovenia Cooking Class
Cooking classes are a great way to learn about a country’s culture through its food. Based on our positive experience with a Catalan cooking class, we jumped at the chance to attend a cooking class with Cook Eat Slovenia for an introduction to Slovenian food.
A self-proclaimed “local girl” who learned how to cook from her parents, Špela Vodovc operates Cook Eat Slovenia with the mission of introducing travelers to Slovenian food. Vodovc takes this mission seriously as we learned during the interactive, fun evening cooking class conducted at a restaurant in the heart of Ljubljana.
Armed with glasses of dry white Istrian wine and starters like salted, cured pork spreads and cottage cheese with wild garlic and toasted pumpkin seed oil, we started our cooking class by learning that Slovenia has 24 culinary regions responsible for 250 dishes as well as three main wine regions that produce numerous wine varietals. Our education didn’t stop with facts.
Vodovc soon had us rolling up our sleeves so that we could learn about Slovenian food by cooking it ourselves. Task number one – preparing dough for Štruklji that we’d be eating later.
Over the next four hours, Vodovc led us on a culinary journey with hands-on lessons on how to prepare Slovenian classics. The wine continued to flow as we cooked and ate traditional Slovenian food specialties like Toč with Proscuitto (polenta with Slovenia’s version of the dried ham made world-famous in Italy, yet no less great in Slovenia) and Chicken over Ajdova Kaša z Gobami (buckwheat kasha with mushrooms).
Each dish was a revelation but none more than dessert…
We finished the food portion of our Cook Eat Slovenia experience by eating the Štruklji that we started preparing at the start of the evening. Dating back to the 16th century, Štruklji can be sweet or savory with fillings varying by the season. Our Štruklji, filled with cottage cheese and topped with crispy bread crumbs, tasted all the sweeter since we had rolled it ourselves.
Vodovc ended the fun evening by serving us a selection of homemade liqueurs. She colorfully described each liqueur as we sipped the digestives made with blueberries, dandelion, wild cherry and spruce.
Though she explained that the “sun does the magic” with the liqueurs, we know that was only half of the truth. On this food-focused night in Ljubljana, Vodovc created the real magic.
2. Take a Ljubljana Yum Walking Tour
Although Ljubljana is a relatively small city, the number of restaurants, cafes and bars can be surprisingly overwhelming to travelers on an authentic food quest. The team at LjublanaNjam solves this dilemma with their excellent Ljubljana Yum food and drink guided walking tours.
Formerly a photojournalist, owner Iva Gruden began her Ljubljana food tour business in 2013. She now offers tours focused on Ljubljana craft beer and Slovenian wine in addition to the company’s signature food walks.
Our Ljubljana Yum food walk provided us with a great start to exploring the city’s culinary bounty. We learned about craft beer’s long history in Ljubljana dating back to the 19th century – with tastes included. Plus, with stops at five stops at local eateries, we ate the equivalent of a full-course meal while we chatted about the city’s history, architecture and food culture.
If you think that Ljubljana is nothing more than a little city with a long name that’s difficult to pronounce, taking a food tour will show you that the city has much to offer visitors including those who like good food. In other words, the city has something for everybody.
3. Drink during a Ljubljana Wine Experience
Slovenian wine was a revelation to us. After drinking wine around the world from Spain to South Africa, we were ignorant about Slovenia’s Podravje, Posavje and Primorska wine regions and the wine varietals. Looking to correct this situation, we signed up for a Ljubljana Wine Experience tour soon after we arrived in Ljubljana.
More than up to the challenge, tour guide Andrej Mežnarčič started our wine tour with a funicular ride to the Ljubljana Castle so that we could visit a clone of the world’s oldest vine in Maribor. He then walked us into the former military fortress’ Archer Tower for a private wine tasting of three excellent Slovenian wines.
Mežnarčič made us feel at home in the grand space as we started our tasting with a limited edition Blanc en Blanc from Zlata Penina paired with bites of Slovenian prosciutto, aged cow cheese and local figs. By the time we sipped funky, fruity wine from Versus that reminded us of Tokai, we were practically experts. And, once we finished glasses of semi-sweet Traminec from Steyer paired with thyme macarons, we were Slovenian wine fans.
After strolling through the castle’s vineyards, we walked down to the city to continue our wine education. At Vinoteka Movia Cenik, we sampled three wines from the Primorska region along with a gorgeous plate of pancetta and cheese.
Hours after we started, we finished our Slovenian wine crash course at Dobrote Dolenjske where we drank wine from the Dolenjska region and nibbled on marmalade and cheese.
4. Eat Your Way through Open Kitchen (Odprta Kuhna)
Open Kitchen is the place to be every Friday from March to October when restaurants from all over Slovenia convene at Ljubljana’s Pogačarjev trg square to sell exciting food at reasonable prices to crowds of hungry locals and tourists. Eaters mingle with chefs while the beer and wine flow freely. Yes, visitors can purchase wine and beer to go with their Ljubljana dishes at this unique market.
Started in 2013 by Lior Kochavy, an Israeli entrepreneur who moved to Ljubljana after falling in love with a Slovenian woman, Open Kitchen celebrates the amazing diversity of Slovenia’s cuisine by bringing the food to the street.
Wildly popular, the market has three criteria of participating restaurants:
- The restaurant must be of excellent quality and rated in the top nationally for its class.
- The restaurant must use creativity in their preparation.
- The restaruant’s offerings must be unique so that no two stalls serve the same food.
Beyond the restaurant selection, the organizers of Open Kitchen Ljubljana take pride in being Europe’s greenest market with a zero-waste policy using 100% recyclable products. In other words, eating at Open Kitchen is good for the environment, a win-win situation for people who like both good food and the earth.
Kochavy took time out of his busy schedule to walk us around the innovative market and introduce us to many of the proficient chefs and their food. While we walked and talked, Kochavy gave us a culinary tour of Slovenia and encouraged us to taste foods like horse filet, gypsy cake, ravioli with cracklings and fried veal.
During our tour, we sampled global cuisines more typically eaten in Asia and the Middle East. And macarons. We always find room for the tiny French treats even in Ljubljana.
5. Sign Up for a Secret Dinner
Ljubljana’s Secret Dinner concept takes restaurant dining to the next level with monthly pop-up dinners in unusual locations. And by unusual, we mean super cool. Beyond the fun factor of dining in venues like a gothic church or a Harley Davidson dealer, diners at a Secret Dinner can expect creative menus prepared by the country’s top chefs.
Thanks to some maneuvering by Cook Eat Slovenia’s Špela Vodovc (see above), we attended the inaugural Secret Dinner at Krizevniska Cerkev also known as the Church of the Cross. This Baroque building reconstructed in the early 18th century served as an epic venue for a multi-course dinner inspired by the Last Supper.
To say that this setting made for a unique dining experience is nothing short of an understatement.
Celebrity Chef Bine Volčič left no stone unturned when he trail-blazed the inaugural Secret Dinner. We still can’t get over the opportunity to eat his creative menu in one of Ljubljana’s most historic churches while listening to classic rock music. Without a doubt, the monthly Secret Dinner is a unique Ljubljana food experience that should not be missed.
6. Dine at Gostišče Grič
Located in the picturesque village of Šentjošt nad Horjulom 20 kilometers from the capital, Gostišče Grič is a restaurant worthy of a Ljubljana day trip. Not that a special trip is a hardship when the scenery is so pretty, but the real reason to trek to Gostišče Grič is the spectacular food.
Chef Luka Košir started his culinary career at JB Restaurant and ran his own restaurant before returning home to open Gostišče Grič in 2009. Fast forward to the present and Gostišče Grič is a family affair with Košir’s sister serving food and his father crafting custom wood plates while not running the family’s duck farm.
Košir takes pride in serving food that’s as local as possible, with many of the restaurant’s ingredients grown in the onsite gardens or foraged from the nearby forest. Besides operating a duck farm, the team at Gostišče Grič also produces its own liquor.
Our meal was a culinary masterpiece filled with world-class cooking and beautiful food. Humble and kind, Košir is creating some of the best food we’ve eaten not only in Slovenia but anywhere in the world.
Plan Your Ljubljana Stay
Pin It for Later
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.