I have just come back from a food tour of Slovenia, organised by Dr Sylvia Onusic of Taste of Slovenia, and helped in situ by Kimberly Hartke, the publicist for the Weston A Price Foundation (check out her photos of Taste of Slovenia trip here).
Slovenia is beneath Austria, in the former Yugoslavia, also bordered by Italy, Croatia and Hungary. It is a beautiful country, with historic towns, immaculately kept villages and farms, mountains, wild flower pastures, a small but interesting coastline, AND a vibrant and healthy food culture.
What is more, most people speak English, because Tito, the President of Yugoslavia before its breakup into separate countries, chose English rather than Russian as the main second language to learn in school.
We were a group of mainly American (plus two Canadians and myself) Weston A Pricers, passionate about real food, and eager to taste whatever was presented to us. Even the first hotel breakfast in cosmopolitan Ljubljana was refreshingly different to the normal hotel fare, with beetroot juice taking pride of place alongside the usual fruit juices and pouring yogurts.
At home I often make Sally Fallon’s Beet Kvass, (see her book ‘Nourishing Traditions’)a fermented health drink that is a great way to start the day. Needless to say I fell upon the Slovenian beetroot drink. A word of warning: don’t drink too much beetroot juice undiluted because it can cause the liver to detox too quickly.
Back to the trip: what a great bunch of people we were. Amazing how eating three meals a day together unites a group. We really ate a lot more, what with ‘having’ to eat every time we had a wine or honey tasting as well. Conversation ranged from the intricacies of bee keeping, the lowdown on keeping backyard chickens, the dangers of nicotinamides on crops, the art of fermenting foods, to the joy of cooking combined with nourishing ourselves with real food.
In Slovenia there is still real food aplenty. The danger now, as was pointed out to me by a Slovenian Professor of Bee Keeping (they take it very seriously in Slovenia) is that with increased prosperity comes increased consumption of meat. But, as in other countries in Europe still largely immune to ‘new fangled’ fads like low fat eating, and five a day (with the exception of Great Britain and Ireland) you can still see in the young the health benefits of quality protein, with very little need to snack inbetween meals.
Thriving and vibrant markets are a delight. Dairy stalls selling bottles of whey, raw milk vending machines, sauerkraut stalls selling cabbage and turnip sauerkraut, with bottles of ‘fermented cabbage juice’ on the side for just €2.5 (a couple of dollars), farm made salami and ham stalls, honey stalls selling propolis infused with organic and raw honey, pumpkin seed oil stalls, and stalls selling pine tops to make fermented health drinks.
All of this is normal everyday food to the Slovenians. Even the Slovenian version of pizza made in a wood fired oven in the back of a lorry in the market was not your normal pizza. It comprised a mixture of buckwheat flour and ordinary flour. Smothered with a creamy cottage cheese and other delights it did not put the fear of God in us. It tasted wonderful! Fast forward a month to my visit to the US, where I almost cancelled a trip to the beach in North Carolina because without self-catering there was no possibility of eating affordable nourishing food (quality protein, good fats, no high fructose corn syrup, fresh organic vegetables). Here in Ljubljana market we all felt energized just thinking about the food before us, and even more heartened to see the deep connection that the sellers had with their produce. Because they did not know that anything else existed, I can’t say they felt pride. The point is it was NORMAL to them! It was only us temporary refugees from countries that only have pockets of resistance to the tide of chemicalised and industrial food who felt elated, and ….. envious!
So just imagine then our delight on this tour to taste food that was cooked with pride, with a great combination of traditional wisdom and modern presentation and lightness of touch. New tastes abounded, from the homemade bread with sage rolled inside, to gin sorbet served whilst inhaling the heady aroma of juniper infused steam!
Traditional soups were almost always served, with proper stocks, and satisfying flavours. We were never served any wine without delicious home made food, usually salamis on sage bread, or cheeses and olives. Or any food, such as honey, without a drink to go with it.
Stuffing all this into eight days was a bit of a challenge to my already developed capacity to eat good food, and drink stunning wine, in between clambering on and off a coach. But its a testament to that food and drink that we all stood up to the challenge, and did so with gusto and enthusiasm. After all no one was preventing us from taking a rest! Or a walk!
One of the food highlights for me was after our visit to the Fonda fish farm on the last day, the founder and owner served us a Carpaccio of her sustainably farmed 8 year old sea bass, on a shady terrace overlooking the saltpans near the seaside town of Piran. In a later post I am going to talk more about how the farm is so special in the way it raises their fish, in waters that are amongst the least polluted in Europe. The tour was so memorable because of Sylvia’s passion for Slovenia and all it has to offer, and her deep connection to the country of her forebears. Her superb contacts in Slovenia made a huge difference to our overall experience, and all I can say is if you want to experience a country that has a food culture to be proud of join Sylvia’s next tour, or take the train from Venice and work your way up from the sea to the Austrian border. Either way, you won’t regret it. Because finding real food is something to experience – before its too late.
(I paid for my place on this trip, so anything I say about it does not come from anywhere else but my own enthusiasm to share)