The term “foodie” conjures visions of super fancy dining, minuscule portions, rules for proper tasting, and even adventurous eating. Smushing each bite around in your mouth, letting it linger a little too long in order to discern “hints” of flavor and seasoning might mean you’re in this elite club.
A foodie I am not. While I like to cook and I find joy in discovering different cuisines when I travel (though no fried bugs), I never really considered myself as a qualified food connoisseur. Give me grilled cheese and I’m happy. So, when I embarked on a trip specifically focused around eating with a bunch of actual culinary aficionados, I felt a tad out of my element. I was a fake foodie and everyone was going to know it.
Would I be called out on my lack of technique for tasting? Should I know proper terms and ingredients? Did it even matter as long as I tried things and immersed myself in the joy of gastronomy and culture? Probably the latter. So, I dove head first into my culinary journey through the pocket-sized country of Slovenia open-minded, hungry, and not knowing really what to expect. As it turns out, I picked up a thing or two in between bites: we’re essentially all foodies at our core and that you can, in fact, roll yourself onto a plane.
So if you’re a bonafide non-foodie like me, but you’re looking to unearth the delight in Slovenia’s scrumptious side, here’s a guide to prep and challenge your tastebuds for eating your way through the country. This is why they make stretchy pants, people.
A QUICK SLOVENIAN FOOD BACKGROUND
Slovenia is cradled between four other culinary rockstar countries, making it the perfect place to test your foodie chops out. The diversity cultivated within the cuisine is due in part to the influences from neighboring Austria, Croatia, Italy, and Hungary.
After breaking away from Yugoslavia about 28 years ago, Slovenia has quietly blossomed into a top travel destination for various reasons, including outdoor activities like hiking, absorbing fairytale vibes from the famous Lake Bled, and more recently, the epicurean scene. Notably, the country is also known for being a pioneering green destination.
Chef Ana Roš, who snagged the world’s best female chef title in 2017, is certainly responsible for helping to shine the culinary spotlight on Slovenia. Locally sourced, seasonal ingredients complement the homemade touch found in family-run establishments using recipes handed down from generation to generation. The tightly-knit bond between family and food is an obvious one when dining in this country. Everything seems to be rooted and centered around family: generally their businesses stay in the family and it shows.
WHY IS IT SO DELICIOUS?
It boils down to a trifecta of family tradition, cultural pride, and fresh-as-it-gets ingredients. You can literally taste tradition here. The pretty presentation doesn’t hurt either. The fact that you don’t have to be in the city to have a good meal is a draw, too. Exploring the countryside will have you discovering not only a diverse, varying landscape (a coastal region, mountains, forests, cities, etc.), but also flavors and foods particular to that region.
Mediterranean influences are reflected in the plants and animals, and cheese-making has been going on for an incalculable amount of time. Since ingredients are sourced from local farms, it’s also a commendable sustainability effort. It’s as if they must have been the original farm-to-table–that’s how timeless it feels.
Not only is the chow tasty, but the scenery offers a fairytale-like backdrop and you’re enjoying it somewhere exceptionally beautiful. Affordability is key too, as even the higher-end dining is more accessible. Luckily in Slovenia you can go from gourmet to casual without sacrificing taste.
HOW TO BE A NON-FOODIE IN A FOODIE WORLD
I mean, who doesn’t want to make food their hobby? It isn’t just about the cuisine (although, yes it is), but also about the experience of eating the food in Slovenia and truly enjoying the cultural connection. Here are some tips from a non-foodie foodie to help you dive into Slovenian cuisine the right way.
- Don’t be too picky. Be open to trying new things, combinations of flavors, and eating somewhat outside of your comfort zone. I tried foal carpaccio and only had one bite–but I tried it. As a non-foodie you may shy away from some things but you have to be willing to taste what you might not ordinarily go for, and doing this will open your palate to items that might surprise you (in a good way).
- Try food from various regions. Even though you can traverse Slovenia within about three hours, you’ll get different tastes. Dumplings in the city for lunch and seafood on the southern coast by dinner? Yes, please.
- Head the markets. You’ll get a glimpse at local seasonal produce and fare that will eventually be incorporated into the dishes you eat later on at a restaurant. The capital city of Ljubljana is home to one of the best; spend a morning strolling the Central Market, where you might just bump into one of the local chefs.
- Don’t want to navigate the food scene on your own? Join a tour. There are plenty available around the city.
PAIR YOUR MEAL
Because you need something to enhance and wash down all that amazing food. Wine is readily available in Slovenia. Mostly white wine is produced and the Zelen grape wine is the main variety to try. If you are thinking about dessert, make sure to try one of the country’s pastry dishes such as Blejska grmada in the Lake Bled region or Prleška gibanica in the northeast. All include a heavy dose of flour, sugar, and sweet goodness.
Getting to know the culture through food is a special experience in Slovenia and the people there don’t take their deep-rooted traditions for granted. This makes the pride shown in sharing their culinary creations wildly apparent. Food is family and family works together, giving a new level of insight into the country’s dishes. Perhaps being a foodie is more about uncovering the soul of a destination through tasting, learning, and interacting with locals by breaking their bread. Slovenia is like coming home. Hungry yet?
Which other countries you’ve visited take pride in their food culture? Share your experiences in the comments!
Header photo by Lauren Breedlove.