An Italian in Slovenia: An outsider’s perspective

16 Oct

Gesticulating at the Cevapcici, a grilled meat sandwich from the Balkans, my companion stuck his tongue out in delight, a gesture I well understood. With food this tasty, because it crashes into all your senses in a wave, from the glistening bread to the crunch of the raw onion slivers, it´s difficult to do it justice with mere words. Instead, you just sigh, stick out your tongue and babble contentedly.

I was dining with Pietro from Ptuj, an Italian who had moved to Slovenia 2 years ago as part of work. We had met earlier in an “authentic” Irish pub, where we had talked at length about our mutual love of food. He had then offered to take me to try some Slovenian food, which is how I found myself trying to get as much Cevapcici into my mouth as possible. The conversation provided a fresh perspective on the relationship between the Slovenes and their food, as well as arguably a more balanced viewpoint.

He thought that whilst Slovenian food was quite uniform in the ingredients it used, the ingredients were of a good quality. The meat, in his opinion, was some of the best in Europe. Coming from an Italian, people notoriously patriotic about their food, this was high praise.

His experience of British cuisine was limited; His response when I raised the idea was to exclaim “Ah fish and chips!” We had been done no favours, however, by an anonymous Brit in Turin. This miscreant had constructed a mayonnaise and cheese sandwich for dinner, complete with white cardboard bread. This appalled the gastronome in Pietro.

Yet Italy did not come away from the conversation scot free. Whilst he stated that people of his generation (He is in his late thirties) knew the field that the pig grew up in, he was unsure as to whether this was the case with the young people.

His recognition of the problems facing Italy became apparent when conversation turned to the Slow Food Movement and it´s attempts to preserve the unique regional identity of food. His view that “We cannot halt the mess, only change the direction it is going in” showed that all was not perfect.The blame was reserved for the media and that it had a negative influence on people’s habits. No comment was made on how much of the problem was Italy’s own doing.

Similarities were raised between the Italian and Slovenian cuisine, the most obvious being the intense regional emphasis. This was made all the more apparent by the information that Slovenia is a country of 2 million people, and 43 dialects.

This regional focus was neatly illustrated by the intense beer based patriotism that is found in Slovenia.The two main beers, Lasko and Union, are a source of great regional divides and identity. It amused me to find out that they are now brewed by the same company, yet the regional loyalties remain.Union being the weaker of the two beers, it is often said by Lasko supporters that they “Drink Lasko, and piss Union”.

The conversation moved onto a wider discussion of the differences between our respective cultures. A discussion about class in England led to me learning the expression “Figlio Di Popa”, which means son of the father. It applies to people who have only achieved their current status or position because they are their fathers son, rather than through any merit of their own. In return, I taught him about , that dreaded scourge of the Daily Mail, Hoodies. I also told him about English “Rahs”, with their bouffant hair, flip flops and jack wills track suit bottoms.

Our time together ended with us promising to keep in touch, and Pietro striding off to talk to his girlfriend in Leeds via the internet. Originally from Slovenia, she was doing a placement in a British hospital as part of her job as a nurse. I walked into the night, as ever, on the quest for more food.


2 Responses to “An Italian in Slovenia: An outsider’s perspective”

  1. Rachel October 16, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    I do not know the field that the pig grew up in. But now in Britain you can probably read all about it in the Guardian Food supplement.

  2. Kevin Cook June 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Sorry to be fussy, but cevapcici – often very tasty, though in my experience they can be greasy and over-salted – are not in fact Slovenian food, but a dish found all over the former Yugoslavia (I understand they originated in Bosnia). Now that Slovenia’s independent, I notice that they and a handful of similar dishes tend to be tucked away at the end of the menu, with no attempt to explain what they are in other languages. I get the feeling this is a kind of political statement…. 🙂

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