Around the world, horse meat is a hotly contested, polarizing food. It’s illegal to slaughter horses for meat in the United States, but horse-based dishes are beloved in countries such as China and Kazakhstan. Some Japanese connoisseurs consider horse sashimi haute cuisine, while Slovenians have made it the star of a small fast-food chain.
At Hot Horse Burger in Ljubljana, owner Jure Ažman has been selling patties sans beef since 1995. Ažman conceived of the idea after marrying the daughter of a horse butcher, then began sourcing from the family business for his supply. In the beginning, Ljubljanans were skeptical. Horse meat, thought perfectly legal, wasn’t widely consumed in the 1990s. But after the restaurant extended its hours to cater to the city’s late-night crowd, the concept found its niche. One taster commented that, though he thoroughly enjoyed their burger, he didn’t find the signature, thin patty to be any better or worse than beef. He also described the meat itself as well-seasoned and chewy, “though not in a bad way.” Rounding out the patty are optional toppings such as cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, mayo, and ajvar, a zesty red pepper–based condiment.
Hot Horse has grown considerably in the last two decades, and the company now operates three locations. Ažman also hired his own butchers, though apparently his in-laws have no hard feelings about the loss of business.