Yesterday’s Harvest, Today’s Lunch

From the fields and onto the table

Sunny lunch in Restaurant Skok (2016) by Tomo JeseničnikSlovenian Tourist Board

Slovenia is a land of many culinary specialties. There are 24 different gastronomic regions in Slovenia, each with its own unique character and flavor, which must surely be a sign that Slovenes like to eat well. 

A hiker's lunch (2015) by Nea Culpa archiveSlovenian Tourist Board

Many dishes that used to be prepared centuries ago in Slovenia are cherished as authentic Slovenian cuisine even today.

Ričet by Meta Wraber

Ričet

One of these dishes is made of barley porridge, and it is called “ričet”. For its simplicity and nutrient-rich nature, it has been one of primary dishes served in prisons. However, it also used to be served to the bourgeoisie – probably because the authentic ričet has to have a piece of cured pork in it.

Beer fountain "Green Gold" (2017) by Nea CulpaSlovenian Tourist Board

Barley has also played a significant role in the alcohol industry – when it is hulled, Slovenians call it “ječmen” and it is a key ingredient in producing one of Slovenia’s most cherished products – beer.  There’s even a beer fountain in Žalec, the first of its kind in the world.

Women picking hops, along with the "hops princess" (2017) by Nea CulpaSlovenian Tourist Board

However, let’s not forget that hops is what gives beer its recognizable taste. And Slovenia is the fifth largest producer of hops in the entire world! Not only that, but records of first hop-growing efforts in Slovenia date as far back as the 12th century. 

It is therefore certainly no surprise that there is a plethora of microbreweries in Slovenia. 

Spirit distilling (1932) by Peter NagličSlovenian Tourist Board

Slovenians sure do like keeping warm in winter – schnapps, made from fermented fruit, and spirits are perfect for this job. While Slovenia was under the Austro-Hungarian and Italian rule, spirit distilling was forbidden, and so Slovenians performed spirit distilling in secret. 

No wonder there are so many different spirits made from different fruits and herbs, most notably those made from Williams pears. 

Buckwheat dumplings (2018) by Tomo JeseničnikSlovenian Tourist Board

You cannot drink on an empty stomach, though – that is where grain cereals come in. Agriculture was once a fairly widespread industry and even though nowadays, wheat and corn are the most frequent cereals on Slovenia’s fields, it was not always so. 

In the past, buckwheat was the king of the fields amongst the poor. However, it is quite delicious, especially in “ajdovi krapi”, a kind of dumplings made of buckwheat flour. 

Grain harvest (1940) by Anka NovakSlovenian Tourist Board

All grain cereals used to be harvested manually. For wheat, the workers on the fields had to use sickles to carefully cut it down, and then connect it into sheaves in a manner that would allow the wheat to dry properly. 

The land of the hayracks (2017) by Miran KambicSlovenian Tourist Board

There was an ingenious wooden structure that allowed Slovenes to dry their harvest efficiently – a hayrack, or “kozolec”. 

Around 80 % of all hayracks still around today can be found in Slovenia. Some of them were constructed without a single nail, others still were an expression of artistry.

The mill on the Mura River (2016) by Rok Deželak, arhiv EKVisuals d.o.oSlovenian Tourist Board

After the harvest, the grain was sold to a mill, which then proceeded to grind it into flour. There are dozens of old water mills still standing in Slovenia, a testament to the once-arduous process of getting the harvested grains onto the table in the form of a dish. 

Making "polenta" with Janez Bratovž (2016) by Tomo JeseničnikSlovenian Tourist Board

Corn grain has also yielded some authentic Slovenian dishes, especially “koruzni žganci” and “polenta”, a type of cornmeal mush, where “žganci” are a bit more dehydrated and “polenta” is more liquid in form. 

In Slovenia, there is a saying that those who lack the strength or experience must “eat a little more of žganci”, which is considered a hearty dish. If you haven't heard of it yet, well, you'll just have to eat some more of žganci

Mature Proso Millet Panicles (2018) by James SchnableSlovenian Tourist Board

A more compact dish is proso millet porridge, which is made by cooking dehulled proso millet grains in water or milk for about 20 minutes. The old Slavic people considered proso millet as a symbol of fertility, and so it was usually served at marriage ceremonies.

Making "žilkrofi" in IdrijaSlovenian Tourist Board

While porridge has been extremely vital for the survival of the working class in Slovenia, it would be wrong not to mention some other dishes, too. Take, for example, “idrijski žlikrofi”, dumplings made from dough with potato and onion filling. 

"Žlikrofi" by Jošt GantarSlovenian Tourist Board

They are the first Slovenian dish to be awarded a protected geographical status . . .

. . . and they may or may not resemble the shape of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hat.

Potica (2021) by Luka SvetičSlovenian Tourist Board

Dessert should be part of every meal, and Slovenians are quite adamant about that. One of the most-known Slovenian desserts is “potica”. It is a sort of rolled pastry, most frequently with a walnut filling, but can also be filled with poppy seeds, fruit jams, sour cream, etc. 

If you are celebrating a holiday in Slovenia, “potica” is a must!

"Gibanica" from Prekmurje (2016) by Jošt GantarSlovenian Tourist Board

In the eastern part of Slovenia, the preferred dessert is “gibanica”. 

It’s made of strudel dough and filled with either sour cream and cottage cheese (“Prleška gibanica”) or with 4 types of filling, as seen in the photograph: cottage cheese, poppy seed, walnut, and apple (“Prekmurska gibanica”).

Separating seeds from the pumpkin (2020) by Ciril Jazbec, Tent FilmSlovenian Tourist Board

While olive oil is predominantly produced in the west of Slovenia, the eastern part of the country is crazy about pumpkin seed oil. To get the oil, pumpkins, preferably the Styrian sort, must be cleaned out so that the seeds are separated from the rest of the pumpkin.

Then, the seeds have to be put under pressure and siphoned until the beneficial and tasty pumpkin oil is ready for use. 

The gastronomic pyramid of Slovenia (2019) by Tomo JeseničnikSlovenian Tourist Board

From the fields to the table – Slovenians are still immensely proud of their past as farmers and cooks, so it is no wonder that some of the dishes today still so closely resemble the eating habits of simple folk from 150 years ago. 

Tasting authentic Slovenian dishes and products means tasting history. 

Easter eggs from Metlika, Bela Krajina (2017-02-17) by Jošt GantarSlovenian Tourist Board

But some traditional food is almost too pretty to eat. Slovenia’s easter eggs are truly little pieces of art. 

Credits: Story

Illustration of a prisoner made by Meta Wraber

🔎 Sources:
Slovenska kuharica ali Navod okusno kuhati navadna inimenitna jedila. Pleiweis, M., 1878, available at The Digital Library of Slovenia 
Slovenian Institute of Hop Research and Brewing 
Kraševka.si
Slovenija25.si
Wikipedia: proso
Wikipedia: Slovenian potica 
Visit Idrija 
Okusiti Slovenijo. Bogataj J., Ljubljana: Darila Rokus, 2007.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Slovenian Stories
Discover with us the most densely forested country in Europe, it's natural beauties, intangible heritage, local crafts, people and how they're all connected to nature.
View theme
Google apps