You might have noticed by now that food tours are our favourite kind of tour. What better way to get to know a place than spend a few hours with a local showing you the best places to eat? So we were really pleased that just a few months before our visit Ljubljananjam launched. This new company offers food experiences in Slovenia’s lovely capital city. We were tempted by the cooking classes and wine tasting, but in the end opted for a food walk.
One question we always ask when booking food tours is if it’s suitable for vegetarians. Usually we end up skipping the meat that others try on a tour, or substituting it with a veggie alternative, but Ljubljananjam responded by arranging a custom vegetarian themed tour for us so that we could discover all the best spots for meat free meals in the city.
As our guide Iva explained Ljubljananjam’s philosophy at the beginning of our walk we knew that this was our kind of food tour. Groups have a maximum of five people (we got lucky and had a private tour), they are happy to customise them to your tastes, and they take you off the beaten track, away from tourist traps to locally owned independent businesses that cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Iva is a passionate foodie and was proud to show us around Ljubljana’s blossoming food scene. She explained how it’s difficult to describe Slovenian cuisine which has elements that you’ll find in neighbouring Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, although she’s quick to point out that Slovenia wasn’t influenced by those countries, that food like ravioli and strudel have been here just as long as in those countries.
We spent about three hours walking and eating our way around Ljubljana. It’s a compact city and it didn’t take long to leave the tourists in the old town behind and head to the more modern part of the city. In minutes we were looking at one of the urban gardens that you find everywhere in Slovenia. Slovenians love to garden and eat homegrown fresh produce, and this allotment had a great location with views of the castle.
As we walked Iva chatted to us about Slovenian life and culture and pointed out vegetarian-friendly restaurants and hole in the wall cafes that we made a note to return to. We learnt that lunch is the main meal of the day here (in the evening friends meet for drinks not dinner) and that a three course meal is the norm. There are loads of fantastic lunch deals in the city where for €6-7 you get a soup, main and dessert. We were surprised by how many of the places had vegetarian options. We would never have found them by ourselves and as these are local places the menus are only in Slovenian. Most locals speak English though and are happy to explain the options.
Ljubljana is a university city and has a youthful vibe with lots of funky looking cafes decorated with street art. As we wandered the streets Iva pointed out the best spots for coffee, pizza, falafel, burek, gelato, and even bubble tea. It’s not a hugely culturally diverse city but there are plenty of eating options.
Our eating stops were divided into soup, ice tea, main course, and dessert, each in a different restaurant or cafe, all small independent places frequented by locals not tourists. We had a delicious fava bean soup with homemade buckwheat bread at a cafe on a pretty cobbled street. It only serves soup during the week as they’d rather do one thing well, and it happens to be vegetarian because they don’t see a need for meat in soup when you are using delicious fresh vegetables.
Next we stopped for an unusual and refreshing cherry and orange ice tea in a social enterprise cafe that provides employment for 17-25 year old dropouts.
Our main course was beautifully presented pistachio and cottage cheese ravioli with vegetables straight from the garden at a restaurant owned by one of the best (and surprisingly down to earth) chefs in the country.
We finished with a decadent fig pie made with fruit from the owner’s mum’s garden at a cool cafe that is mostly vegetarian.
One of the things that makes Ljubljananjam unique is that at each place we visited we met the chefs and chatted to them about their food philosophy. This isn’t something that big tours could offer, and added to the informal atmosphere. Iva doesn’t have a polished spiel that she repeats to multiple groups a day. We felt like we were being shown around the city by a friend not a tour guide, who was introducing us to her friends, who just happened to be making the food we were eating.
We had a fantastic half-day with Iva and got to visit off the beaten track restaurants we’d never have found by ourselves. Ljubljananjam is a new company that’s evolving and there’s a couple of improvements that could make the food walks even better. At the end of the tour we were given a Ljubljana culinary survival guide with lots of helpful tips on eating etiquette. It’d be great to also get a list of the restaurants that we visited and were recommended on the tour, perhaps by email afterwards, as a useful reference guide (Update: Iva has let us know that she does usually send a list, but forgot in our case). This may sound greedy but we’d also like to try more food! Although we had plenty to eat, we’d love to have tried smaller samples of things as we walked around, so that when we hear that this place does the best coffee or gelato, we can actually try some.
These are small things though and we still highly recommend taking a food walk with Ljubljananjam to see an alternative side to the city, meet some locals, and to compile a long list of restaurants and cafes to try during your stay in Ljubljana. We want to return to the city just so we can carry on working our way though our list!
A Ljubljana Essentials food walk costs €40, and they are many other food experiences on offer. Visit the Ljubljananjam website for more information where you can also find a list of vegetarian restaurants in their “Where to..” section.
A big thank you to Iva and Ljubljananjam who gave us a complimentary food walk.
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