Eating And Drinking In Slovenia

Slovenia
Sean McLachlan

Historic sights, art galleries, beautiful countryside – all these are important in a vacation, but one thing you absolutely can’t go without is the food. You have to eat, after all, and a country with poor local cuisine just isn’t going to get many repeat visitors.

Luckily, Slovenia has a distinct cuisine that takes influences from Slavic traditions and its Austrian and Italian neighbors.

The food has a Slavic heartiness to it, with lots of heavy meats, soups and breads. Sausages come in a limitless variety. Pork seems to be the favorite meat, with beef a close second. You can also find venison and game birds on the menu. Despite only having 27 miles of coastline, the Slovenians sure do like fish. Every restaurant I went to had an extensive fish menu. In the mountains you can also get fresh fish from the lakes.

For fast food there’s kebab (no thanks) and burek (yes please!). Burek is a flaky baked pastry filled with various ingredients, usually cheese and/or meat. It’s a bit greasy and heavy, but cheap and good for eating on the go.

Pastries are big for dessert too. A traditional favorite is potica, a rolled up pastry filled with sugary fruit jam and sprinkled with more sugar on top. Walnuts often make it into the mix too. Messy and delicious! Thanks to nearby Italy, gelato is universally available.

%Slideshow-668%Slovenia produces various beers, the most common being two lagers called Union and Laško. Both are good but not particularly notable. There are various microbrews too, including Human Fish Brewery, which produces an excellent stout as well as a Zombie Goat Lager. More interesting are the various liqueurs. I especially liked borovničevec, a blueberry liqueur that’s strong and fruity. Mead is also available thanks to a long tradition of harvesting honey.

Although Slovenia is a wine-growing region that’s beginning to get noticed, I knew nothing about Slovenian wines before I went. Wine writer Rachel Weil recommended Vinakras 2010 Sparkling Teran as a red and the 2011 Pullus Sauvignon Blanc as a white. She also mentioned that the reds were “grape-forward.” Like with most wine terminology, I had no clear idea what that meant. Once I was in Slovenia I discovered that meant the reds often had a pronounced grape flavor, especially the Magolio Zweigelt I brought home for my wife. While these weren’t to my taste (I prefer Rioja) they were well made and I suspect we’ll be hearing more from Slovenian wine in the future.

Being a small country, Slovenia is influenced by its larger neighbors. The Italian presence is especially strong, and you can find pizza and pasta in many restaurants. From Austria you can find strudel filled with nuts, fruit or cheese. This is good news for vegetarians who want to avoid the meat-centric Slavic dishes.

Speaking of meat, the Slovenians love horsemeat, something not very popular in English-speaking countries. When I was in Ljubljana I set out to try some horsemeat. More on that next time!

Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”

Coming up next: Horseburgers: Slovenia’s Unusual Delicacy!

FOOD & WINE Classic In Aspen Tickets On Sale Now, Discount Before March 15

aspenSeems like just yesterday Gadling was announcing the 30th anniversary of the prestigious FOOD & WINE Classic at Aspen, and already the next is almost upon us. Have you scheduled your annual cholesterol screening yet?

This year, from June 14-16, Food & Wine magazine will celebrate 31 years of incredible food and drink in one of the most glorious locations in the Rockies. Join the nation’s top chefs including José Andrés, Jacques Pépin and Marcus Samuelsson, as well as internationally renowned winemakers, master sommeliers, brewmasters, mixologists and food crafters at the most legendary culinary event in the nation.

The three-day weekend also features over 80 cooking demos, wine and interactive seminars, panel discussions, tasting events and classes on food and wine pairing, as well as twice-daily Grand Tastings featuring over 300 winemakers, craft brewers, distillers and specialty food vendors.

New this year are “DIY Sausage” from offal king Chris Cosentino; a “‘Top Chef’ Leftover Challenge” with Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons; “Next Superstar Value Wine” by wine expert Mark Oldman; “Great Cocktail Party Drinks” with über-mixologist Jim Meehan and F & W editor Kate Krader, and “Dim Sum at Home,” with Andrew Zimmern.

Tickets for the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen are $1,150 before March 15, and $1,250 thereafter. There will be also be a la carte ticketed events, including the Last Bite Late Night Dessert Party; additional details will be released in March. To get your tickets (hurry, hurry; it’s always a sell-out), click here.

[Photo credit: Food & Wine magazine]

Mastering the culinary experience on Benelux trains


Hitting the rails around Europe can be a blast, and I particularly enjoyed it in the so-called “Benelux” countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). The scenery in the Netherlands was a bit thin, but the Belgian towns were incredibly cute, and it was fun to watch the Dutch signs yield to French as we approached the Luxembourg border.

And let’s face it: any alternative to air travel is a welcome one.

While the trains were a bit slow, they did offer plenty of space, and the ride was comfortable. The only downside was dining: some had a cart that was pushed around periodically, but that was the best available. In other cases, there was nothing at all.

So, if you’re going to hop the train to places like Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels and Luxembourg, you’re going to want to pack your own grub. You can always pick something up at the train station, but packaged sandwiches and snacks pale in comparison to what you can accomplish with a little planning.

You can do better!

Below, you’ll find tips for giving yourself a better dining experience when you ride through Benelux:

%Gallery-129425%The Netherlands: let’s focus on Amsterdam; after all, it is the country’s major destination. You might be tempted to pick up a “spacecake” while they’re still available to tourists (the fun, for those who indulge, comes to a close at the end of the year), but that only appeals to one type of audience. Instead, head into town and pick up some of the local cheese – one of the few areas where Amsterdam truly excels in food and dining. You’ll wind up spending $10 to $15, but you’ll walk away with enough cheese to feed a village on a three-hour train ride. To make it a bit better, add some spicy mustard to your order (it complements the cheese nicely).

Plan ahead: the cheese and mustard will stay edible for a while, so spend the extra cash to get enough for several long train rides. You’ll be happy you did.

Belgium: in Bruges, there’s a great farmers market in the main market square. Visit it. While the vegetables look delicious, they do have a fairly short shelf life (unless you happen to travel with a refrigerator strapped to your back). So, you’re better off heading to the sausage stand. Pick up a few sausages, and make it interesting by selecting from a variety of animals. You’ll be able to dine on pig, bull and ass, among others. Bring some variety into your on-train meal, and you’ll have a better experience.

Remember the cheese you picked up in Amsterdam? And the mustard? If you bought enough, you can add some awesome sausages to the experience. The meal builds on itself! Again, plan for future train rides, and buy some extra sausage.

Luxembourg: you have cheese and mustard from Amsterdam. You just picked up sausages in Bruges. And, you’re Benelux trip will likely end with a trek from Luxembourg to Brussels or Amsterdam to catch your flight home. What’s missing from your meal on what could be the longest leg of your Benelux train experience?

Wine!

Luxembourg’s local white wines are nothing short of delicious. Skip the Alsacian, French and German options in favor of what the locals produce. If the imbibing experience matters to you, spring for a few cheap wine glasses that you’re fine with tossing at the airport (or losing to breakage in your bags). Otherwise, a few plastic cups will do the job just fine. As you ride back to your final stop before leaving Benelux, you’ll wash down your accumulated sausage, cheese and mustard with something crisp, tasty and unlikely to be on the shelves of your local liquor store.

Gadling’s rankings of hotel breakfast buffet foods

gadling hotel breakfast buffet bacon sausage

One of the magical things about staying at a hotel is enjoying the breakfast buffet. At home, you might just have a bowl of cereal, a banana or a cup of coffee for breakfast. Heck, many people just skip breakfast. Does it mean nothing to you that it’s the most important meal of the day? At hotels, however, you can indulge in all of your breakfast fantasies. Rather than studying a diner menu while agonizing over whether you’re craving the sweetness of french toast or the savory goodness of eggs, you can have it all at the breakfast buffet. How you attack the buffet is critical to maximizing your enjoyment. That’s why we’re here with our official rankings of all of the hotel breakfast buffet foods.

The Unquestionable Top Five

1. Bacon

Because it’s bacon. When I was a kid, my mother limited how often we could have bacon. It was a treat. At the hotel breakfast buffet, however, you can have an entire plate dedicated to just those salty, succulent strips. And that plate can be refilled.

gadling hotel breakfast buffet foods fruit2. Fruit

Bet you didn’t see that coming! Fruit, when purchased individually from a menu, can be expensive. Restaurants will rip you off if you just want a bowl of fruit and yogurt. At the buffet, however, you can go to town on some fruit like some sort of crazed monkey. Adding fruit to your plate helps you justify the amount of bacon you plan to consume. If you’ve traveled a great distance, fruit is also an excellent way to prevent scurvy.

3. Omelet Station

Omelets are tricky to make at home because we often don’t have all of the ingredients to truly do them justice. How many times have you found yourself with eggs but no cheese? Or eggs and cheese but no vegetables? Or eggs, cheese and vegetables but no frying pan? Plus, flipping omelets is tricky. That’s why it’s best to just let someone else do it for you while you hover over them and realize that watching someone make an omelet is pretty boring. Maybe just use that time to get yourself some juice.

4. Waffles

This refers only to waffles that you can freshly make on a waffle maker. Firstly, you feel satisfied knowing that you prepared part of your own breakfast. You can survive anywhere! Secondly, you’ll be able to top your waffle with syrup, powdered sugar, butter, fresh fruit and nuts. Sure beats those Eggos that you normally toast up!

5. Assorted Breads

At home, you might have some bread that you can toast up. It’s OK but nothing special. At the hotel breakfast buffet, your cup runneth over with bread options (tip: don’t put your toast in a cup). Muffins, sliced breads with multiple grains, croissants (both mini and standard sizes), bagels, rolls and the holy grail of buffet breads, biscuits. Grab as many butter packets as you can fit in your pockets and carbo load like you’re running a marathon. But, remember what your mother used to warn you: Don’t fill up on bread.

The Questionable Remainders

gadling rankings hotel breakfast foods eggs6. Eggs

Here’s where things get tricky. Buffet scrambled eggs suck more often than they don’t. They’re always bland, often overcooked and occasionally just loose disasters. Our advice: skip the scrambled eggs. If you really want scrambled eggs, however, and there’s an omelet station, we recommend that you ask the omelet sommelier to prepare you some freshly scrambled eggs. Plus, you can ask for omelet items in your scramble. Win-win!

Hard boiled eggs are a nice treat because preparing them at home is just not that enjoyable. They make your kitchen smell, you get shells everywhere and there are more exciting things to do with your eggs. But when ready-to-eat hard boiled eggs are just presented to you, you best take advantage. All other eggs dishes such as frittatas and quiches should be judged on a case by case basis.

7. Sausage

Like eggs, sausage at hotel breakfast buffets can be a mixed bag (tip: decline all offers of mixed bags of sausage). Avoid sausage patties. You’re not at the hotel breakfast buffet so that you can replicate the experience of eating at McDonald’s. As for links, always take a close look to see how shriveled they are. If they look dehydrated, walk away. You want the casing to pop in your mouth, but you want that to lead to a juicy explosion. Dry sausage is not your friend. Besides, your bacon serving should eliminate the need for sausage.

8. Cereal

You can eat this at home!

9. Oatmeal

Unless the buffet is free, don’t get oatmeal. If you’re paying for the buffet, you already threw health out the window. Put down the raisins and start enjoying life.

10. Potatoes

Like the scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes at a hotel buffet tend to be underwhelming. Often, they’re just a big batch of mushy, bland starch disappointment. If you’ve handled your bread decision properly, you don’t even need potatoes.

11. Pre-cooked Pancakes

Bland hockey pucks served with packets of “pancake syrup.” I know that you think that you love Aunt Jemima, but she’s a cruel mistress and you deserve better.

The next time you’re staying at a hotel and wake up hungry, we hope that you’ll remember these handy rankings. Whether you’re on vacation, a business trip or anything in between, you need fuel when you’re on the road. Start your day right at the breakfast buffet. The decisions you make in front of those chafing dishes may just save your life.

Bizarre foods: European “delicacies,” by country

European foodsWhat constitutes “food” is relative, depending upon what part of the world you call home. In Asia, pretty much anything on no (snakes), two, four, six, or eight legs is up for grabs. Europe, however, has its own culinary oddities, as detailed below. Got maggots?

Iceland
Hákarl: Fermented, dried Greenland or basking shark. This tasty treat is prepared by burying the beheaded and gutted shark in a shallow hole in the ground for six to 12 weeks. Unsurprisingly, the end result is considered noxious to pretty much everyone on the planet aside from Icelanders.

Norway
Smalahove: Boiled lamb’s head, traditionally served at Christmas. The brain is removed, and the head salted and dried before boiling. Because they’re the fattiest bits, the ear and eye are eaten first. More fun than a wishbone.

Sardinia (yes, it’s in Italy, but this one deserved its own listing)
Casu marzu: This sheep’s milk cheese has maggots added to it during ripening, because their digestive action creates an “advanced level” of fermentation (also known as “decomposition”). Some people prefer to eat the soupy results sans critters, while the stout of heart go for the whole package. Be forewarned: according to Wikipedia, irate maggots can propel themselves for distances up to six inches. Here’s fly in your eye.

Northern Sweden or Finland
Lappkok: This charmingly-named concoction consists of blodpalt–a dumpling made with reindeer blood and wheat or rye flour–served with reindeer bone marrow. Well, Santa’s herd had to retire sometime.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fjords]

European foodsSweden
Lutefisk: This dried whitefish treated with lye is beloved by Scandinavians and their American Midwestern ancestors (let’s just say it’s an acquired taste). It’s traditionally served with potatoes or other root vegetables, gravy or white sauce, and akvavit.

Scotland
Haggis: Who doesn’t love a cooked sheep’s stomach stuffed with its lungs, heart, and liver, combined with oatmeal?

Poland
Nozki: Literally “cold feet,” this dish of jellied pig’s trotters isn’t as repulsive as it sounds. The meat is simmered with herbs and spices until falling off the bone, and set in gelatin. Think of how much fun this would be as a Jello shooter.

Ukraine
Salo: The cured fatback of pork is actually quite delicious, and similar to Italian lardo when seasoned. It’s chopped and used as a condiment, or eaten straight-up on bread. Plan your angioplasty accordingly.
European foods
England/Ireland
Black (or blood) pudding: Technically a sausage, this mixture of animal blood (usually pork), spices, fat, and oatmeal or other grains is surprisingly good. It’s served uncooked, fried, grilled, or boiled. Sound bad? At least it’s not called Spotted Dick.

Italy
Stracotto d’asino: A northern Italian donkey stew, often served as a pasta sauce. Donkey and horse are eaten throughout Italy, but this particular dish is a specialty of Veneto, and Mantua, in Lombardy.

France
Tête de veau: You have to love that the venerable French culinary bible, Larousse Gastronomique, describes this dish of boiled calf’s head as, “a gelatinous variety of white offal.” Mmm. While there are many different preparations for the classical dish, it was traditionally served with cocks’ combs and kidneys, calves sweetbreads, and mushrooms.

Eastern Europe
P’tcha: A calves’ foot jelly enjoyed by Ashkenazi Jews throughout this part of Europe. It’s uh, high in protein.

Germany
Zungenwurst: This sausage is made of pork blood and rind; pickled ox tongue, and a grain filler, such as barley. It’s available dried, or can be browned in butter or bacon fat before eating. And bacon makes everything better.European foods

Netherlands
Paardenrookvlees: Culinarily-speaking, the Dutch usually cop grief for their proclivity for pickled herring and eating mayonnaise on their french fries. That’s because most Americans don’t know this smoked horse meat is a popular sandwich filling. Trust me: Seabiscuit tastes pretty good.

Greece
Kokoretsi: Lamb or goat intestines wrapped around seasoned offal (lungs, hearts, sweetbreads, kidneys), threaded onto a skewer, and cooked on a spit. You know what’s good with grilled meat? Meat.

[Photo credits: black pudding, Flickr user quimby;lutefisk, Flickr user adam_d_; kokoretsi, Flickr user Georgio Karamanis]