Editor’s Note: Veteran food/travel writer and world traveler.com, Debi Lander has been on a six-month European tour and she’s promised to send us stories about her adventures. Here’s one where she found the world’s largest baklava. –BH
My six-month European adventure included a stop in the city of Ljubljana, pronounced “lyoob-lyee-AH-nah”, the capital of Slovenia. It’s a small, landlocked country lying within the borders of the former Yugoslavia. Slovenia borders with Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary and has a total population of approximately 2 million people. Ljubljana is the largest city in Slovenia with a population that hovers just around 300,000.
Ljubljana became known as the 2016 European Green Capital for its diligent recycling program. The city cleverly uses that color to its advantage. The city mascot is a green dragon, the original from a scary looking statue on the Dragon Bridge and a cutesy grassy-green colored fellow developed by the Tourism folks. In Ljubljana, visitors constantly run into dragons!
The city sports a bustling café scene along either side of a small river. The Lubljancia River flows so gently it looks more like a moat and makes a soft 90-degree turn around the main square. Locals and visitors mingle, sometimes the entire evening, at the open-air dining establishments. Regional specialties include spicy Carniolian sausage, hearty Slovenia soups, and Slovenian rolled pastry, but the chefs mingle these favorites with Italian and French flavors. Many places offer a menu of Slovenian/Mediterranean fare. I dined on a delectable seafood risotto.
The town castle, built upon prehistoric and later Roman ruins, rests on the hill above. For ease, take the modern funicular up to the top for a panoramic view from the castle tower – simply spectacular. Up there I enjoyed an educational movie, toured castle rooms including the chapel- dedicated to St. George, the dragonslayer, and prisons. At night, emerald illumination bathes Ljubljana’s castle, and the surrounding mountains enlighten the daytime skyline with their evergreen foliage.
Visitors in Ljubljana feel safe and secure while shopping and strolling narrow cobblestone streets and across the many short pedestrian bridges. These vantage points beg for photo ops. Historic Catholic and Orthodox churches, indoor and outdoor food markets, plenty of festivals, parks and boat rides entertain tourists and locals alike.
Now That’s Big Baklava
I happened upon a food festival attempting to set the Guinness World Record for the largest baklava. The ZemZem Club of the Bosnian Women of Ljubljana (an organization of Slavic people from the region) baked the multi-layered, honey-infused treat. They arrived the morning of the contest in traditional costumes. A long, long table was set up, and sections of the baklava pieced together. Also present was the world’s largest Turkish coffee pot, so deemed a few years earlier!
During the event, younger single women and gentlemen performed traditional folk dances. It seemed like the entire city turned out to sample the delicious dessert and, yes, the record was proclaimed official at 50 cm wide (almost 20 inches) and 18.75 meters (61.5 feet) long. It weighed 683 pounds!
According to an article in the Slovenia Magazine for English, “We were not afraid of this challenge, and we broke the previously set record, baklava of 200 kg,” Ela Porić, a member of the ZemZem Association, explained to the gathered crowd. “We are happy to announce that the Slovenian baklava for the Guinness record exceeds that weight – it weighs precisely 309 kg and 839 grams.”
As baklava lovers can attest, walnuts are the most important ingredient in baklava. For this giant baklava, more than 130 pounds of walnuts were used, and more than 130 pounds of sugar.
Those who had waited, like me, until the finish of the official program, the speech by Mayor Zoran Janković and Mufti Nedžad Grabus, followed by the folklore dance group Ljiljan, didn’t get a slice of baklava. The visitors kept asking the cooks whether all the slices were really gone, but not even 130 feet of baklava would have been enough for all the hungry mouths. — Story and photos by Debi Lander, RFT Contributor