how to eat well in Slovenia
Sampling the local cuisine is usually one of the things we most look forward to when traveling, especially since Moldova’s food scene, though much improved since we first arrived here, still leaves a lot to be desired. Given the rather dour review of Slovenian food in some of the travel literature, its culinary delights caught us entirely by surprise.
After reading that “there are several truisms concerning Slovenian cuisine: in general, it is plain and simple, pretty heavy and fairly meaty,” we had expected dense, traditional fare once we left Slovenia’s vibrant capital. Our first meal at Lake Bled fit the stereotype: goulash, bread dumplings, and an assortment of game meat that made our stomachs feel as if they were weighted down with bricks.
The key to eating well in Slovenia is taking advantage of each region’s specialty. “In Slovenia, you are a big man if you get the good mushrooms,” quipped the hostess in one of the mountain hotels we visited. The Julian Alps are teeming with various varieties of wild mushrooms, and as long as one isn’t squeamish about eating fungus, the resultant dishes are to die for. For example, goat cheese with truffles and honey is a staple in several Lake Bled restaurants.
Bled’s unassuming, newly opened Penzion Berc, which we visited only because it was next door to our guesthouse, employs two world-class chefs whose dishes were so succulent as to practically leave us speechless. E.g. smoked duck carpaccio with veal pate and truffles, impeccably presented and garnished with sun-dried tomatoes and pickled onions. Every detail of each dish was carefully considered. We shared a dessert platter to go, which consisted of crème brûlée, macaroons, a chocolate ganache ball, and even chocolate pop rocks. It was so deliciously decadent that even combining forces, we had to leave half of it to finish with breakfast the following morning.
After reading the mouthwatering NYTimes review of the Vipava Valley, we were better prepared to seek out its culinary gems. One such haven, tucked away at the end of the main road in the village of Slap, was Majerija, built in a 300-year-old restored farmhouse that was nestled in the middle of a vineyard. It features smart, gourmet interpretations of classic Slovenian fare. The menu changes every couple of months, incorporating only the most local of ingredients, many of which are grown, raised, cured, pasteurized, and baked on the premises.
We put ourselves in the hands of the chef and owner, allowing him to pair wines with each course. In addition to excellent wines, Vipava is also known for its air-dried prosciutto, which supposedly gets its distinctive taste from the burja wind that pummels the valley at speeds of up to 140 km/hour for several months every year. Even before tasting the first dish of the four-course meal we had ordered, we were won over by the amuse-bouche – baked plums wrapped in Vipava’s distinct, thinly sliced homemade prosciutto.
We did not take any pictures of the creative dishes we sampled, but their flavor will remain with us long after the rest of the memories from this trip fade.