Slovenian Christmas dishes

December 2010

There are a great many Christmas dishes in Slovenia.

These dishes differ from each other not just in terms of region, but also in historical period, a variety of influences and also in whether they pertain to the urban bourgeoisie or rural folk. As far as Christmas dishes and drinks are concerned, the rural circles are especially traditional, archaic and in many respects ritualised. The old “order” was well-established and pretty simple. For this festival it was obligatory to partake of dishes that included honey, poppy seeds, dried fruit, millet, walnuts, hazelnuts and beans. These dishes were also strongly linked to veneration of the departed, who at this important time of year came to “visit” their kin; the memory of this is still alive in Slovenia.

Potica. Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

Ancient ritual and traditional foods

The ritual dishes include numerous special kinds of bread, cakes, pies, strudels and most particularly, potica roll cakes. This is an original Slovenian culinary speciality, known throughout Slovenia in various names and versions (povitica, optica, gubana, gubanca, gobana, pogača), and featuring a wide variety of fillings. Even back in the 19th century we “exported” it to neighbouring countries, and today it is known almost throughout the world. It was first mentioned in 1575. To begin with it was an upper class food, but later spread to the peasant class, too. Originally potica was a ritual Christmas dish, but for a long time it has also been an obligatory Easter blessing food. Traditionally there are around 60 types of potica, but today there are something like 120 recipes for it.

Slovenia’s greatest gourmands include the people of Štajerska

Gibanica. Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

In Prlekija people would eat bosman, decorated milk bread with eggs, potica, white coffee or tea plus wine or spirits for breakfast; for lunch beef or chicken soup with noodles, soup with pork or turkey giblets, poultry, for instance a stuffed chicken, roast goose, roast turkey with stuffing and flat cakes, boiled beef, roast pork, wine sauces, pickled cabbage with flour thickener, sautéed potatoes, rice, horseradish with cream or apples, various salads, compotes and fruit bread (in Haloze, for instance, the specially spiced krhljak).

In Prekmurje tables featured the special vrtanik bread and gènjene (leavened, risen) cakes – walnut and poppy seed potica. During the day they offered the now EU-protected prekmurska gibanica cake, krapci stuffed rolls, bread pastries such as retaši and bibe and cakes such as kuglof or moudla. In that area the special Christmas fruit bread made of apricots, pears, plums, walnuts, hazelnuts, figs and raisins is called pastirski kruh (herdsman’s bread). Alongside various soups, such as cream of cep mushroom soup, there were numerous side dishes such as keber, a salad of thick beans doused with pumpkin seed oil, and of course specially stuffed duck.

In addition to the krapci, something very typical of Koroška is čisava župa, a sour cream soup with diced lamb, and nabulana prata, a special stuffed roast.

For Christmas in the Loška valley in the Notranjska region they bake carob potica and prepare a fine lunch. They would bake pastries in the shape of tiny doves for little girls and little birds for boys. On Christmas Eve the table would also feature a crackling potica – špehovka or povanca.

A different world in Primorska

Bakala na belo, an obligatory Christmas dish in Primorska. Photo: Tomo Jeseničnik

Even in the Idrija area žlikrofi, a protected Slovenian food of dough parcels, are something special, but once you get to the neighbouring Primorska region everything is quite different. This is the Mediterranean area, which itself is divided regionally into Goriška and Brda, Vipavska, the coast and Istria, so there are considerable differences in Christmas dishes there, too. Of course in this area for Christmas, apart from guba(nc)a, a different kind of stuffed presnec cake, made from filo dough, and pinca, leavened pastry, traditionally they eat entirely different dishes from those elsewhere in Slovenia. In many parts of that region, gubanca is substituted at Christmas by cheese rolls (there are in fact dozens of varieties in Slovenia) and doughnuts or similar fried, savoury and sardine-filled fancl(j)i, which could also be a sweet Christmas pudding, and similar fritole and kroštoli, which are without filling.

The festive table in the Kobarid area features certain famous but slightly differently prepared dishes (soup with pork or beef) plus the traditional boiled (and not roast) chicken, boiled mutton, roast local rabbit, pocrt krompir (a special fried potato recipe), sweet cabbage, carrot salad, poštoklja, a “pressed” dish of cabbage, bulja (a stuffing for strudel or roll cakes), flat cakes, pies, sweet bread and, of course, potica.

Text by Damjan J.Ovsec, Sinfo January 2011