Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Potica Is Not Pizza: A Papal Joke and a Culinary Lesson, thanks to President Trump

Pizza, from Wikipedia

I try to steer clear of politics in this blog, but it is impossible to resist this breaking news story. 

During his historic visit to the Vatican, the stocky President Trump was subject to a little gentle teasing by Pope Francis and the First Lady. 

During a cordial exchange, the Pope asked the Slovenian-born Melania:  "What are you feeding him? Potica?"  

Melania replied with a smile: "Yes, potica." 

Apparently, some of the news sources misunderstood this as a reference to pizza, which might be Italy's most famous culinary export.  

The New York Daily News has a full and accurate report of this gaffe, which was not (for once) the fault of President Trump. 

So, just for the record: Pizza has no connection to potica, beyond the obvious: Both are treasured national dishes that use yeast dough as a base. But otherwise, the differences are pronounced.

Potica is rolled and filled. The dough is rich and the filling is usually (but not always) sweet. It is an elaborate creation that is normally reserved for holidays and other celebrations. Pizza is flat, just a simple yeast dough covered with a savory topping. It is an everyday dish that probably began as a quick way to use leftover bread dough. 

Pizza looks like that tasty photo at the top of the page. Potica looks like this: 

Homemade Walnut-Honey Potica, from Blair K's kitchen

Pretty hard to confuse the two dishes, no?

But here is the likely source of the confusion: Italy and Slovenia share a border. In the border regions, there is a blending of both food and language. The rich, rolled yeast pastry/bread that is called potica in Slovenia (where it originated) is called "putizza" in Italian. So the meaning probably just got lost--or tangled--in translation. Potica/putizza morphed into pizza. But it's not.

The most famous Italian version of this shared dish is called putizza di noci. It is a specialty of Trieste, a cosmopolitan port city that is now part of Italy but was previously within the borders of the former Yugoslavia. There is a particularly delicious version of putizza filled with chocolate and nuts that is also a holiday dish in the Jewish community of Trieste. That is how I discovered this fascinating culinary overlap across three cultures.

If you would like to try your hand at the chocolate-filled Trieste version of putizza (or just want to learn more) see my previous post:

In the photo below, the putizza di noci slices are on the left and the potica slices are on the right. They look very much the same. But you would never confuse either one with pizza!

Left: Putizza di Noci with chocolate-walnut filling.
Right: Potica with almond-honey (top) and poppyseed filling (bottom)
From Blair K's kitchen 


  1. I have been making potica for a Christmas treat for decades. It wasnt until quite recently I realized the correct pronunciation.

    I doubt the rest of my hillbilly-root clan will ever stop calling it pot-ik-ah....but we love it anyway.

    Mine is a walnut/honey based filling, and what elevates it in my opinion is the grated lemon peel in the dough. The recipe came from a realtor holiday cookbook, of all things, and was described as yugoslavian wedding cake. The family loves it.

  2. Love your commentary :-) I always knew the correct pronunciation, but my mother's original recipe spelled it "poteca." So does your "hillbilly-root clan" have Slovenian roots too?

    1. Not so far as I know. We just tried it and liked it.

  3. And we spell it povatica. The Slovenians put an extra syllable in it.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Patti! Trying again to reply: Well, the usual spelling in Slovenia is potica. (You can read a long discussion about the dish, including specs, on the official government tourist website!) But yes, terminology can vary. "Povatica" sounds like it is taken from povitica, the Croatian term. You will sometimes also find it used in parts of Slovenia that are near the Croatian border. The easy solution that some people adopt in the US: just call it Slovenian nut roll :-)

  4. My Grandmother would spend all day making the walnut potica; she also made apple, but the walnut was my favorite!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Maria! Yes, I agree, walnut was the favorite in my family too. That is the only kind I recall my grandmother making, the walnut honey potica we make today, although my mother recalls some of those unusual savory fillings like "speck" (bacon) from her childhood. Grandma also great apple strudel.

  5. Potica, one of my favorite holiday treats.

  6. I'm a chocolate hound, and that chocolate potica looks really, really good!

    1. Thanks, it is! And thank you for visiting--from far off Canada, if I"m not mistaken :-) Perhaps you can find potica in Hamilton. Another surprising discovery--it has a Slovenian community--and church.