The walkable, car-free center of Ljubljana is one of the world’s best places to work up an appetite. Somewhere between the Dragon Bridge and Ljubljana Castle you realize you’re HUNGRY. Fortunately, there’s a way to combine your sightseeing with the authentic tastes of traditional Slovenian food: the Ljubljana Food Tour.
Secrets of Ljubljana Farmers Market
We met our local guide, Mateja, in Prešeren Square at the statue of Slovenia’s greatest poet. Then, we walked across the Triple Bridge designed by master architect Jože Plečnik. We were on our way to another of Plečnik’s creations: the Roman marketplace on the riverfront. Plečnik located the seafood stalls closer to the water on the lower level, while mostly butchers command the ground level. The structure is also the backdrop for a lively, open-air produce market in the adjoining Vodnikov Square. If you’re not with a local it would be easy to miss the Pokrita Tržnica — the underground passageway where you can sample artisan cheese, bread and other delights. Enjoy this video from Visit Ljubljana.
Before we go on, I need to point out that this tour is customized to your tastes and what’s available on the day you visit. I’m a vegetarian who’s okay with fish and dairy products but not red meat. My companion is a carnivore who dislikes fish. No problem in a city that offers something for everyone, as long as you let your guide know your preferences when booking the tour. Note that if you do the food tour on a Sunday or on a national holiday like I did, the marketplace is closed and you’ll go directly to the restaurants. No matter when you visit, expect to tase at least 7 dishes and 4 wines.
Food for Thought at Gostilna pri Kolovratu
The word “gostilna” refers to an inn, usually one offering traditional Slovenian dishes. Only steps away from the Farmers’ Market in Ljubljana’s Old Town is Gostilna pri Kolovratu, the Inn near the Spinning Wheel. Despite the homespun name, it was a well-known gathering place for intellectuals between the two World Wars, making it the Slovenian counterpart of the famous Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. But the building is much older. Mateja showed us the restored baroque courtyard that is used for cultural events.
Once inside the restaurant, our wine-tasting began with a hearty glass of ruby-red teran from Slovenia’s karst region. It paired nicely with juicy dumplings called Žlinkrofi from Idrija, a town known for its mercury mines and the lacemaking tradition brought by the wives of Belgian mineworkers. Poor miners couldn’t afford much meat so they filled their dumplings with potato, but the restaurant also offers a meat filling.
On our way to the next restaurant, Mateja stopped to share a few interesting facts about St. Nicholas Cathedral on the other side of the square named for Saints Cyril and Methodius.
Regional Classics at Gostilna Sokol
This Old Town restaurant’s folksy atmosphere is a cross between a farmhouse and a hunting lodge. While it might seem a bit touristy, it’s also popular with locals. Mateja pointed out a lively table of actors as we headed upstairs. During Yugoslavia times, the building — with very different decor — was a trendy disco and nightclub where you might have spotted a young model named Melania — now better known as the First Lady of the United States.
Meat-lovers can enjoy the traditional kranjska klobasa sausage paired with Sokol’s craft beer. Traditionally, it’s eaten with horseradish in the months with an R, but my Slovene-American dad always enjoyed it with raw onions. On the side, we tried a sour beet salad called kisla repa. Mateja related the story of US Astronaut Sunita Williams, whose grandmother was Slovene. She obtained NASA’s permission to take kranjska klobasa with her into space.
Although this restaurant specializes in pork and game, it also has vegetarian and vegan options. The layered and baked loparnice was almost too beautiful to eat, so that’s why it’s the featured image at the top of this post. I enjoyed every bite with a glass of cviček, a blend of red and white low-alcohol wine. Many Slovenes make their own cviček, and it should get more respect in culinary circles; the restaurant’s version was the perfect lunchtime beverage.
Next came struklji, a rolled dough filled with sour cream and boiled. While many different fillings are used, Sokol’s manager assured me that sour cream is the only authentic one. We finished off our taste of traditional Ljubljana regional food with palačinke, a dessert pancake with cream and tarragon sauce.
Taste of Prekmurje at Gujžina
Walking a bit farther into the Old Town we passed the Three Rivers Fountain and the City Hall. Our next stop would take us to the eastern part of Slovenia, where the cuisine is strongly influenced by neighboring Hungary and Austria.
The name “Gujžina” means a light lunch eaten in the field. I had a vegetarian version of bujta repa, a sour turnip soup which can also be made with slices of pork. Carnivores will delight in the hearty brown goulash called bograč with three different kinds of meat and cubes of potato. Don’t miss the opportunity to try pumpkin seed bread and a regional red wine called Zweigelt. More about this restaurant in this post on how to sample all of Slovenia’s wines without leaving Ljubljana.
Dessert with a Heart at Druga Violina
Wandering through the Old Town to the square called Stari Trg, we reached Druga Violina or Second Violin. This restaurant was filled with more locals than tourists, attracted by the opportunity to eat good food for a good cause.
About five years ago the neighboring school for adults with disabilities persuaded the city to sponsor a restaurant here. It provides jobs in the restaurant and at a farm where some of the ingredients are grown. The name comes from the school’s philosophy that disabled people may not be seen by others as the “best” in society, but while they are not the first violin, they play an important role as the second one. Visiting on Slovenia’s National Day of Culture, we were treated to an impromptu concert.
Terry’s Travel Tips
Reserving Your Ljubljana Food Tour: Because this is a custom tour, you should reserve a few days in advance. Groups are usually limited to 8 people. The website has the phone number and email for making reservations, as well as a further description of the tour and the prices. Guides are happy to meet you at your Ljubljana hotel or in Prešeren Square. Allow about 3.5 hours. The amount of food served is equivalent to a full meal. Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Ljubljana Food Tour, which sponsored this post. Opinions are my own and the post reflects the experience any typical visitor can expect.
Other Ways to Explore Ljubljana’s Food Scene: For a hands-on experience making traditional Slovene dishes with an expert chef, check out my post on Cook Eat Slovenia. As a European capital of gastronomy, there are plenty of opportunities to dine with famous TV chefs in and around Ljubljana. If you are in the center on a sunny Friday from March to October, the Odprta Kuhna or Open Kitchen in Pogačarjev Trg next to the cathedral is a chance to sample restaurant dishes from all over the city in a festive atmosphere. And keep checking back here on the blog as I add more posts about cheap eats on trendy Trubarjeva Cesta and search for the best pizza in town.
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