In previous years our Balkan train trough Ljubljana ran south towards Postojna, Pivka and Sezana onto Villa Opicina above Trieste and along the Adriatic coast to Mestre and Venice.
Nowadays the train, en route to Zürich, runs north toward Jesenice and Villach in the Alps. Great for our travel story, not so good for our food story. So we are going off on a tangent, toward Ilirska Bistrica near the border with Croatia, to allow us to talk about Slovenia’s traditional food culture. And collect some recipes from a friend.
The Slovenian recipes (in Ice Travel and Snow Food) were inspired by Mirka’s ideas and by Slovenia Cooking, a great little book about the country’s traditional dishes, with editions in various languages. The route to Ilirska Bistrica is serviced by bus and train, so we are taking an early bus to Postojna to have yet another wander in the fabulous caves. What we find is amazing.
During the first two weeks of February 2016 one of the female olms at Postojna Cave laid 45 eggs and became an immediate celebrity throughout Slovenia. Olms are endangered members of the proteid species of salamanders whose ancestry is 190 million years old. These cave-dwelling vertebrates thrive in the subterranean darkness of places like Postojna and are likened to tiny dragons with their distinctive heads, limbs and toes. The olms in Postojna are known as proteus and are believed to have evolved from several species.
The management at Postojna Cave established an infrared camera to allow biologists to keep a close watch on this significant event, and the recordings revealed the delicate process. The olm clings to the surface of the water when she is about to lay, and after 20 minutes the egg is laid. Olms tend to reproduce once a decade and the behaviour of this mother is changing the knowledge about olms.It was also believed that the egg laying period lasted three weeks. In Postojna Cave the process continued for eight weeks, which surprised the biologists.
’It is also becoming increasingly obvious that we do not know all that much about the mysterious life of olms,’ said one of the biologists. ’The proteus is very sensitive to changes to its environment, including temperature and cleanliness. We hope that this amazing event will emphasise to the world just how important it is that rivers such as the Riva Pivka, which arises in the cave, are kept clean. Otherwise there would be no “baby dragons”.’ Now we must sustain ourselves with some potato soup, and continue by train.
Unlike the olm, which can survive for ten years without food, we are hungry again.
Slovene Railways: www. slo-zeleznice.si/en