There is no question that Ljubljana is a culinary influencer. Big enough to have an air of cosmopolitanism, yet small enough to be aware of its hinterland.
Ljubljana leaves its mark on all who visit it, finding its way into their hearts, so that they remember it and carry it with them wherever they go. Back in pre-pandemic times, visitors from all over the world sat in Ljubljana’s trendy bistros and posted lines of poetry to their Instagram profiles, tried to capture the best image of the Triple Bridge reflected in the calm surface of the Ljubljanica, photographed Plečnik’s walls and columns against the backdrop of an Alpine-blue sky, swayed to the rhythm of concerts at Križanke. The smell of tarragon, a juicy beef heart tomato, a carefully prepared mini-potica, a sumptuous slice of Ljubljana torta, a hearty Carniolan sausage with mustard, artfully drawn patterns in the foam of a cappuccino and the creamiest ice creams – all these things seemed like a fitting, almost self-evident complement to the experience. Because it is not only Ljubljana’s appearance that enchants visitors, it is also the things that the city contains, including gastronomy, culture, arts and tourism. The title of European Region of Gastronomy aims to combine all these areas.
It was at the prompting of Ljubljana, a vital and green capital city that over the last decade has totally reinvented its culinary identity, that Slovenia decided to submit its candidacy for the ambitious title of European Region of Gastronomy. Ljubljana, for its part, has committed itself to implementing and building on numerous existing projects and food-based guided tours and experiences.
This January, Slovenia has begun its year as the proud bearer of the title of European Region of Gastronomy 2021. Ljubljana is therefore facing the challenge of how to announce a year that is supposed to be a festival of Slovenia’s culinary superlatives using the language of the new reality. Eating out has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet Ljubljana’s restaurants and loyal local customers are proving themselves capable of something that only the strongest cities manage to show: solidarity and resilience. Thus in 2020 the list of masterful creations by chef Janez Bratovž also included jars of pickled vegetables and assorted condiments, nimble cyclists delivered the most popular dishes the city has to offer in attractive and sustainable packaging, takeaway food from Monstera and dinner boxes from Jorg Zupan’s Atelje or Igor Jagodic and Mojmir Šiftar’s Strelec conjured up gourmet experiences in the new conditions. And so the threads of innovative, original cuisine that begin with local growers and producers and then interweave in the kitchens of experienced chefs, are now joining together in homes across Ljubljana. We are, after all, a city of gourmets!
The commitment to sustainable principles in Ljubljana’s culinary reality is more than just empty words, it assumes a concrete form in the everyday lives of the city’s young and innovative chefs: a long-standing cooperation with the local producer who, in collaboration with the restaurateur, grows the most fragrant Ljubljana carrots; the cultivation of relationships with the cabbage grower who ferments the most delicate, almost buttery sauerkraut; and so on.
Major gastronomic events and the promotion and cultivation of local produce and cuisine take place in Ljubljana under the aegis of the Gourmet Ljubljana and Taste Ljubljana brands: a 2020 full of challenges ended with a different kind of November Gourmet Ljubljana festival, adapted to the current conditions but still vibrant and exciting. Green Supply Chains is a sustainable initiative linking producers from the surrounding region with restaurants and institutional customers in Ljubljana, with the produce that makes up these supply chains ending up on plates, either as part of the Ljubljana Breakfast project, as one of the dishes in the Taste Ljubljana selection, or as a dish inspired by the monthly Culinary Calendar. Producers and customers also have an opportunity to form new green supply chains at the annual Locally Grown Food Exchange, where numerous ties that link the city more closely to its hinterland are forged.
For it is through its relationship with its hinterland, the wider region that it reflects, sums up and enhances, that a city establishes itself as a capital.
Ljubljana’s mission in the extraordinary year ahead will not be an easy one. In a year of new conditions, the experience of eating out will change, the city itself will be quieter, but in a period in which sustainable and local are becoming an imperative, the new Ljubljana “bistronomy” is set to scale new heights. The flattering challenge faced by Ljubljana this year will undoubtedly be an incentive for this photogenic influencer.