Unlike many Slovenes who grow roots here and have no problem establishing where they’re from (usually always Slovenia), Syed Bashar has quite a story answering where he’s from. And now, in May 2019, he’s opening a Hawaiian Bistro called KOA Bistro and Bar in the center of Ljubljana. You didn’t guess this one, did you?

Tina and Syed with a “shaka” in their soon-to-open Koa Hawaiian bistro in Ljubljana. Aloha!

A fountain of words, stories and careers in hospitality and tourism management, Syed was born in Bangladesh, schooled in India and then Hawaii where KOA Bistro inspiration comes from. But it doesn’t end there – Hawaiian experience took him to Disney in Florida as a manager in training, then to New York as front desk agent and later manager at the Westin New York hotel, then as a Persian restaurant manager, then to a study program all over the world, including Denmark where he met his now Slovenian wife Maja in 2012, then to work and live Slovenia since 2014 – oof, his crazy adventures and career success endeavors never end! And we have a feeling that this Hawaiian restaurant in Ljubljana is yet another piece of his colorful lust-for-life-and-business puzzle … Let’s see what he says about that. Also, don’t forget to check out his recipe for Loco moco at the end of this post!

Why have you decided to open a Hawaiian bistro in Ljubljana?

Slovenes appreciate good food, people are also conscious and care about what and where they are eating, and sustainability. I think it’s a good time to introduce Hawaiian food to Slovenia. I know Hawaiian cuisine in and out as I have worked in the food and catering business, in Oahu, for 7 years. And I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant. Since 2014 when I was writing my thesis here in Slovenia, I first had the idea of selling street style food (basically on sticks) but I was just a student back then with no local business and legal experiences and contacts. Now I’ve learned a lot more about the country, business practices, and made many connections – because you need those, and money, to open a restaurant in Ljubljana. We’re a small team, we renovated and redid the venue ourselves. I’m running it together with Tina Runko who also manages Forksi.com. Tina, my wife Maja, and our business partner and web master Mario are my family, friends, and support system here in Slovenia. We have worked together on many projects and have won couple of startup competitions with our projects like Sre?ni Gams, Hi Luka, Simple luxuries, and Bride.si

What is Hawaiian food and which are you going to serve?

It’s clean, comforting, tasty food without many spices. It is a blend from various nations that populated the islands throughout history: Portuguese, Philipino, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and of course native Hawiian food. We’re using modern cooking techniques leaving everything else intact.

We’ll be open for breakfast and lunch and Friday & Summer evenings also for bar food at our tiki bar. Dishes include Loco Moco (beef patties with gravy and topped with eggs) – find our recipe below, Mochiko tofu (Japanese-Hawaiian vegan dish), Salmon in creamy coconut and lime sauce,  North shore style garlic shrimp, traditional Hawaiian Huli Huli chicken, Sweet & Sour meatballs … Obviously, we’ll be serving the signature dish called poke (meaning “cubed”) with salmon and tuna. We initially wanted to avoid it because we had a hard time finding fresh fish. We spent the past two months just finding suppliers! But now we have everything we wanted – we put a lot of emphasis on food sourcing and transparency, that’s why all our ingredients and their origin will be posted at our website www.koa.si. We also strive to be as gluten free as possible because we have celiacs in our families, and also gluten is not actually present in Hawaii – there’s no wheat growing there but rice and corn is. The syrups in our cocktails also don’t contain gluten (which many do).

What does KOA mean?

KOA means many things! For us it’s an acronym: K for kama’aina (local, Hawaiian, from the land), O for ono (delicious) and A for aloha (hello). So, serving delicious Hawaiian food with a bit of Aloha is our goal. But KOA also means fearless and brave, and it stands for the biggest Hawaiian tree, and it also means warrior in native Hawaiian – we found ourselves in all of the meanings above as we are standing strong, fighting for our vision, and putting all of our sweat, money and passion into this bistro to bring Slovenia its first Hawaiian Bistro.

KOA means many things: brave, fearless, and everything else the team behind it identifies with.

Syed’s recipe for Loco Moco

We have no secrets! In Hawaii, we believe in Ohana or family. Not just my family or your family, but all of us as one family. We are happy to share with anyone any of our recipes. Today we can tell you how to make Loco moco, which is tasty, delicious, hearty and comforting. We are also making this recipe easy so anyone can make it at home.


  • 150 grams of ground beef, 80-20 meat to fat content is great
  • Salt, pepper
  • Egg
  • Rice
  • Mushrooms (button)
  • Oil
  • Garlic
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • Corn flour
  • Butter (optional)
  • Green onion (optional)
  • Kona beer (optional)

Take ground beef, add some salt and pepper and shape it like a burger. (Trust us, you don’t need to add anything more here but you can add your favorite seasoning if you wish. You are eating it, you must be happy with the taste. Experiment! That’s the true essence of cooking.) Put it in a pan and cook it like a burger.

Take a nice organic, free range egg (any other egg will do as well) including the one your chicken laid this morning. Fry the egg but keep the yolk soft and tasty.

Cook up some good quality basmati rice (once again, you can cook any rice you wish). How to cook rice? Easy, take a cup of rice, add 1,5 cup of water. Bring it to a boil, remember to stir a bit. Lower the heat to one third of your max heat. So if you have 1-6 on your stove you need 2. Then just enjoy a Kona beer. 15 min later your rice is done.

Now we make gravy (yummy!). Take some mushrooms (5 button mushrooms is enough), chop them up, put some oil and garlic in a pan. Sautee the mushrooms, give them some color. Remember: no color no flavour. When your mushrooms have a nice color (not black, we are looking for brown), add in a cup of beef stock you buy at the store, use a cube or make your own beef stock like us and save it. Mix a little corn flour with some cold water, one little teaspoon is enough (we will use this to thicken the sauce). Pour in the mushroom sauce corn mix. Add some pepper to taste and wait till it simmers. If you want your sauce to look sexy, add in a small amount of butter.

Put it all together. First the rice on the plate, then put the the cooked burger patty on top, and next the egg on top of that. Pour over a nice, generous amount of your delicious mushroom gravy. To make it even sexier like pro chefs, take some green onions, chop them up and put it on top.

Ok, we’ll stop here because now you just have to enjoy that Loco Moco.

Thanks for reading!

If you crave some more delicious experiences, come join our food tours! Or buy our super informative, mobile-friendly and helpful foodie e-guide. Also, if you need help with your travel planning to Ljubljana and/or Slovenia, do not hesitate to contact us as we do also offer these services. Cheers from the yummy side of the Alps!