Croatian vegan recipes are not that difficult to find. You only need to know where to look. What I mean is that Croatian cuisine offers plenty of accidentally vegan food.
Why is that?
First of all, coastal Croatia thrives on the Mediterranean diet. This means you get to enjoy a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables. There is crazy healthy olive oil for seasoning. There is a variety of beans and legumes.
On the continent, we eat a central European diet. There is much more meat and dairy included, at least nowadays. But if you go back in time, our simple daily food was pretty much vegetarian. And some also vegan.
So, even though Croatia lags behind when it comes to veganism, we do have plenty of vegan food on our menu. Most people who are not vegan don’t even know it.
And most vegans who visit Croatia overlook this simple local food. So, before you search for speciality restaurants, let's explore our accidentally vegan dishes.
Explore my library of Croatian recipes. Hint: many are vegan.
How to explain vegan to a Croatian
There is no such thing as vegan Croatian food. At least not in the way you as a vegan might think. There are very few vegan restaurants that offer a vegan take on our traditional food. Most serve only international style vegan food.
This is why it’s really important to know which of our standard dishes are vegan-friendly. Once you develop your vegan radar, you’ll be able to find something to eat wherever you go.
It is safer for you to pick your own food from the menu than to explain what vegans do and don’t eat.
Let’s take this example.
When people say they are vegetarians in Croatia, they often end up with fish on their plate. In fact, if you are visiting a Croat’s home, they might try to teach you that chicken is not meat either.
So, remember. When you declare you are a vegetarian, also add: I don’t eat fish or chicken either. And to say you’re a vegan, repeat this: I don’t eat meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs.
This is just part one sorted. Next comes a barrage of questions: oh darling, how can you live like this, what do you eat then, are you sure this is healthy?
You get the point. But I’m sure you already have a strategy for these types of questions.
Accidentally vegan Croatian food
Being a vegan in Croatia is not easy. If you look only for the food labelled vegan, you might have difficulties with your meals. Big cities, such as Zagreb and Split, are slowly changing. But to get diverse and wholesome food across Croatia, you need to be creative.
And by that, I mean getting to know our accidentally vegan food.
One such nutritive bomb is blitva. This is Swiss chard prepared lesho style. It is boiled with cubed potato, drained and seasoned with olive oil, garlic and parsley leaves. Everyone in Croatia knows that blitva is the healthiest veggie you can eat.
At home, we love to cook vegetable stews, especially with savoy cabbage and green beans. We call this dish varivo or čušpajz and eat it with a side of breaded meat. No one will force you to eat the meat, so you’ll be spared from extra questioning.
Some of our favourite side dishes make a delicious vegan option. For example, we love rizi bizi (rice and peas) or đuveč (rice with stewed onions, tomato, and bell peppers. In northern Croatia, cooked buckwheat often replaces rice. Try it, it’s divine.
Beans come in various shapes and forms. A thick bean soup is our staple dish. But make sure it’s prepared with no added smoked meat. Our bean salad seasoned with pumpkin seed oil, on the other hand, is a true vegan dish.
When it comes to pasta or polenta, choose the šalša sauce. In Croatia, šalša is made just with tomatoes. Ripe, pulpy tomatoes cooked to perfection and seasoned with garlic and parsley leaves.
Finally, bread. Most bread will be without added eggs or milk. My favourite is dense cornbread.
How to order vegan food in a Croatian restaurant
Some of the food I mentioned before may not be on restaurant menus. But in most places, you can create a wholesome vegan dish by picking from these categories.
The best vegan soup is tomato soup. Next, pick something from the salads section. Your options are bean salad, potato salad, any leafy salad or roast pepper salad.
Carbs will be easy. You can choose various types of potatoes, blitva, rice, vegetable risotto or polenta. Here you can also opt for grilled vegetables and mushrooms.
Some restaurants bake their own bread. If you find yourself in one, you will love the selection. Corn and wholewheat bread are usually the best. Ask for some ajvar (roast pepper and aubergine relish) and you're set for a feast.
Finally, how to pick a Croatian vegan dessert? Go for any fruit strudel. Apple, sour cherry or blueberry strudel are naturally vegan. If the chef makes their own dough from scratch, you’ll be in heaven.
How to order vegan drinks in a Croatian cafe
You already know that most of our social life in Croatia takes place in coffee shops. But not all will have non-dairy milk.
So, what should you order?
Your choice is an espresso - short, black coffee. If you want an americano, ask for ‘produžena kava’.
Our cafes have a good selection of tea. But if you want something totally healthy, go for freshly squeezed juices.
Ask nicely and most waiters will make you a fresh lemonade, even if this is not on the menu.
Now with your vegan radar on, you’ll be able to enjoy our (mostly) healthy cuisine.
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