I have always wanted to do a food tour. I’ve heard so much about them from friends and fellow travellers expressing what a great way they are to experience a new city/country. We looked into it in Venice but it was insanely expensive. So, the next day we scheduled a food tour through old town Ljubljana with “ljubljananjam.” The company is a one-woman show; Iva was enthusiastic and energetic, she clearly loves her job as much as she loved food.
We started our tour, joined by a young Scottish couple, with a walk through the local market where we stopped to sample different types of bread from a bakery stall. Not what I expected, at all. Buckwheat bread was their best seller followed by Splet, Kamut and another mixed one. I was completely shocked that these ancient grains which are relatively hard and considered something special or irregular back home so abundant and mainstream in Slovenia.
From there we walked to a butcher’s stall who specialized in game meat: bear, red-deer, pork, and horse. We tried a slice of tasty venison salami. Our last stop in the market was at a cheese stand and Dan sampled a piece of aged sheep’s milk cheese.
Outside the market Iva filled up a small bottle with unpasteurized raw milk from a vending machine. She made a joke about being arrested in Canada if we were to do this and the Scots were surprised, not knowing how forbidden unpasteurized raw milk is to North Americans. We would sample the milk later with coffee. Outside the market were fruit stands and she bought us fresh figs and grapes from Krošelj farm to share. Almost every stand was selling figs, grapes and peaches – the fruits of the season. The figs were incredibly juicy and full of taste – so good in fact that we came back later and bought more.
Iva then led us along the river explaining a brief history of Slovenia along the way and it’s culinary influences from former Yugoslavia, the Balkins, Italy, Austria – the effect of being a small country with so many neighbours. We stopped at a small restaurant, Gostilna dela, where there was a table in the back reserved for our group. We started with a cauliflower soup and more buckwheat bread. The next two plates (poultry roulade with fuži with truffles and tuna salad) were shared with the group so we all got to sample some.
After lunch, we popped into “Olivier’s & Co” to sample pumpkin seed oil. As with my love for balsamic vinegar which I previously explained in our post about Modena, I also love oils. Especially ones meant to be eaten cold – as a salad dressing or for dipping bread. We tried both a cold pressed and a roasted pumpkin seed oil. The roasted one was almost black in colour and had a thick consistency bordering on that of reduced balsamic vinegar. Just like the name suggests, the flavor was strong and roasted – almost burnt tasting. The cold pressed oil was more subtle but equally as unique. We also sampled gljarjev požirek and geruš liqeur, two Slovene liquers which we were told were similar to Jagermeister.
We stopped for coffee at a fair-trade coffee bar, cafe Čokl, with an eccentric owner who loves to talk; it was interesting listening to his stories and opinions after experiencing first-hand the coffee and cocoa farms in South and Central America. What had started out as a deary day was turning into a beautifully sunny one and we were roasting sitting out in the sun just off the main square. The owner brought out our coffees – Chemex Filter for Dan and I and espresso for the Scots – along with a sample of his latest cold brew coffee which “we had to try.” No one (except me, on the inside) flinched at all sipping from the same cup – and somehow I got the last sip. Cold brew coffee has a strange and unique taste, nothing like regular coffee and although I have tried it a couple times, it still hasn’t grown on me as something I enjoy.
After picking up two cakes to go (Ljubljana one from Čopomana and a raw strawberry cake from Sladkarnica & Marmeladnica Lotos which was lactose free especially for me) we walked to TOZD bar, our last stop. Iva suggested we each choose either a Slovenian craft beer or a glass of Slovenian wine. The boys went for beer, the girls for wine. Iva chose Vizir Black Jack Stout for Dan, Reservoir dogs Grim Repaer IPA for the other guy and a glass of Lisjak Sauvignon Blanc for us girls. We finished the tour enjoying our drinks and cake while swapping travel stories.
We may not have gotten exactly what I wanted – had food envy over certain dishes I’d seen eaten by previous groups – but it was a great experience and something I definitely want to try again in another city. It’s just such a great way to get to know a country, through their food.
In the evening, we got even more food! Every Friday Ljubljana has a food fair with a couple dozen stands selling both national and international dishes as well as plenty of wine and drinks. We walked through the rows of stands, our mouths watering, and chose an Egyptian flavoured chicken stir-fry dish.
One thing I love about Europe that I can’t get over is how civilized and open alcohol consumption is. At the fair, almost every person eating was enjoying their meal with a glass of wine (in a proper wine glass, even while sitting on the public stairs) or a pint of beer. It looked completely natural and seemed so right – yet this scene is unheard of in North America.