Are you worried about your vegan options while traveling in Croatia? Here is our guide to being a vegan in Croatia written by Sanja Jovanovic, a Croatian expat living in Split.
Excited about your upcoming trip to Croatia – the small Balkan country that has topped destination lists for the past few years and everyone seems to be dreaming of, planning, or just returning from – but perhaps worried about your vegan options while traveling?
Well, forget anything you’ve heard about the Eastern European meat & potato, cabbage roll, and sausage menu because Croatia’s food scene has diversified exponentially in recent years!
Along with all the new restaurants and fast-casual dining spots that have opened, it’s good to know that beans, pasta, and vegetables are staples in Croatian cooking. Many dishes are centered around these very healthy and vegan ingredients.
While more inland and remote areas will have less selection and still primarily offer the traditional hearty country meals, there are many options to both stock up and eat out as a vegan during your time in Croatia.
Here are seven things to help set your vegan mind and belly at ease as you pack and prepare for your Croatian adventure!
1. Get the Right Tools to Help You Plan
Happy Cow is a great app to download and spend some time browsing before you arrive in each new Croatian city to know vegan-approved establishments.
You could even include proximity to restaurants when booking accommodations or planning out areas of the city to explore.
Zagreb is Croatia’s capital city and boasts many international cuisines and vegan/vegetarian options, from fine dining to fast-casual. Its food scene has exploded in the past few years, and even many locals and expats in Croatia make sure to check out new dining spots or plan foodie trips when visiting the capital.
On the Croatian coast, in larger cities like Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar (Dalmatia county), and Rijeka and Pula (Istra county), there are often a handful or more of vegan and vegetarian dedicated restaurants that are genuinely worth the dining experience.
Suppose you plan to travel to the Plitvice Lakes in Lika County (pictured above) or to Slavonija, the stunning flatlands of inland eastern Croatia. In that case, you may want to plan to spend more time cooking, requesting special order items in restaurants like a pizza without cheese, and having snacks in your daypack.
Grocery stores now have entire health food sections with vegan options for things like non-dairy milk and cheeses.
Whether you’re an almond, oat, or cashew milk in your coffee sort of morning person, a variety of brands and non-dairy options have filled supermarket shelves over the past couple of years.
There are also egg-free noodles, various oat, breakfast options, and spreads like hummus. You’ll want to head to a larger chain like Konzum, Interspar/Spar, Kaufland, or Tommy, as small local stores in city centers can have a more limited selection.
Bio-Bio is Croatia’s answer to a health food chain. It offers various non-dairy kinds of cheese, vegan and vegetarian tofu products, organic produce, healthy snacks like chips baked in coconut oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, and nut&fruit bars for long ferry rides or road trips.
With sixteen locations and counting, you can find them in Dubrovnik, Split, Rijeka, Pula, Osijek, and throughout Zagreb.
2. Shop The Local Markets
Not only will you have a chance to soak in the Croatian custom of haggling and bartering with the old ladies at the market, but the best selection of seasonal, local, and organic vegetables and fruits is undoubtedly at the local farmer’s markets.
Almost every town center throughout Croatia, including the islands and more remote towns inland, has a market where you can stock up.
As harvest season and selection can vary by region due to climate, if you’re traveling between April and October like most tourists, you will undoubtedly find a vast, colorful array of seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Swiss Chard from Dalmatia in the spring, mandarins from Neretva (near Dubrovnik) in the fall, and everything from salads, strawberries, peaches, pomegranates, apples, cabbage, cherries, plums, grapes, watermelon, broccoli, peas, beans, potatoes, beets, cucumbers and tomatoes between spring and fall.
Due to its temperate climate on the coast and rich, fertile soil in Slavonija, Croatia grows an assortment of fruits and vegetables year-round. It is an excellent destination for the vegan traveler, regardless of your fruit or vegetable preference.
When heading to the market, you’ll want to keep these two things in mind:
3. Go To The Markets Early
You’ll need to be up early as many markets will close or even possibly run out by the time noon rolls around.
Most of this produce is local and organic, which means it will spoil quicker than your supermarket produce from home, so shop mindfully and remember Croatia can hit the mid to high 30C’s in July and August, so you may only want to buy a day or two’s worth at a time if refrigeration is limited!
The great thing about this? There are so many markets you’re never too far from another, and you’re bound to have fresh and healthy options within walking distance – unless you’re hiking a mountain or off on a sea or inland excursion for the day, of course!
In fact, during my backpacking stint through coastal Croatia way back in 2009, I would often pop by the market as we headed to the beach for the day and buy a few pieces of fruit to have for a breakfast on the go and a mid-morning snack instead of buying groceries or dining out for all meals.
Pack Snacks And Think Ahead When Heading Out On Daytrips And Tour Excursions
This one might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get caught up in activities and set your mind to vacation mode, completely living for the moment and not thinking about tomorrow’s lunch until the tummy starts to grumble.
You’ll find bulk nuts and dried fruits, as well as trail mix packs in most larger stores, but if you have some staples you’re used to, like almond butter, favorite brands of nut & fruit bars, or even nutritional yeast – it can be a bit tougher and much more expensive to buy those here.
It’s worth packing a few bars in your suitcase, at least for emergency hanger situations.
As Croatia has only started to catch up in the past couple of years with health-brand options and international offerings, it can be a saving grace to know you’ve always got something on hand in case Bio-Bio is a bit far or your local grocery store doesn’t offer what you might be looking for.
Decide How Strict A Vegan Traveller You Will Be
One of the first things you’ll likely notice about Croatia is its’ bakeries. They are everywhere – and I mean like Starbucks in Seattle – they are on every corner and waft a smell of freshly baked sweetness throughout the streets and old towns each morning.
Most Croatian traditional baked items like burek, strudels, and krofne (filled with jelly and chocolate donuts) are made with eggs. Whether in the dough, topped with an egg glaze, or filled with cheese, it can be challenging to find a genuinely vegan option in these popular on-the-go snack bakeries that will tempt you in moments of hunger.
Most savory options will include cheese or meat filling, but plenty of sweet options are more vegan-friendly (note that they are not 100% egg-free and vegan).
Most restaurants will be willing to tailor to requests like no cheese on the pizza but cannot guarantee that pasta (a safe and popular vegan option when dining out in a more traditional restaurant) is egg-free.
I have found that embracing local specialties when traveling while adhering to my diet choices like no meat or fish or cheese boards, but being less fussy around the ingredients of the main dish component (like the pasta example) allows for an easier and more enjoyable time dining out when eating off the charted app-approved restaurant choices.
It’s best to take a second to think about this before your trip and determine your own limits so you can focus on truly enjoying each moment and bite of your trip in Croatia!
Embrace The Carbs
Inland Croatia boasts hearty meals as traditional fare. The coast has many Italian influences to its flavors and specialties, so bread, pizzas, and pasta are available at practically every restaurant. They can be ordered without cheese and with plenty of vegetables for a satisfying meal. Especially when and if you find yourself in a more remote area or hangry far from Happy Cow’s recommendations!
Balance out these meals with snacks of fruit and veggies from the markets, and course, the many adventures and exploring you’ll do throughout your trip, and I bet you’d still go home with jeans that fit better.
Some Croatian Specialties Are Already Vegan
- Ajvar is a condiment made mostly from red bell peppers, oils, and spices like black pepper. Think of it as your ketchup option, as its naturally vegan
- Soparnik is a traditional Dalmatian pie filled with Swiss chard, garlic, and green onion. It’s savory, filling, and egg-free making it authentically vegan.
- Pasta Fazol is a bean & pasta stew that is traditionally made with sausage and bacon for flavor. Still, many restaurants have started to offer a vegetarian/vegan version that is meatless. This is a hearty Croatian meal that is easy to make if ordering out at a restaurant; make sure to ask that it was prepared without meat.
- Arancini are sugarcoated lemon, orange, and sometimes grapefruit peels that are popular desserts. They can be found on their own or partnered with sugared almonds, another southern Croatia snack favorite and, of course, naturally vegan.
If you’re interested in knowing more about Croatia’s national specialty dishes, check out this food guide, but be warned that many on the list are meat, cheese, and animal products.
With food culture at the top of Croatia’s tourism and a staple in the Croatian lifestyle centered around socializing and eating – it’s worth checking out the top places to eat around Croatia; here are a few guides:
You can always check out the restaurant’s website ahead of time, as they may have vegan-friendly options.
Just because it’s not yet on Happy Cow or on a Vegan tailored where-to-eat list, you may find some wonderful options and have your best Croatian dining experience at a surprise location!
No matter where your Croatian adventure takes you and how long you spend exploring this stunning gem of a European destination, rest assured that you don’t need to compromise your vegan diet and lifestyle, as there are many options, from eating out to grocery shopping to snack foods.
So get packing and come hungry because Croatia is officially vegan-friendly!