Are you vegan and planning a trip to Croatia once this corona madness subsides?
You may be daydreaming of the beaches and islands of Croatia’s long Adriatic coastline, the stunning waterfalls and forests of its national parks, or the charming hilltop villages that dot the Istrian peninsula.
Or you may be packing up your laptop and heading to Croatia to take advantage of its new digital nomad permit.
Of course, you’ll also want to explore Croatia’s many food markets and excellent restaurants.
That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to travelling as a vegan in Croatia!
Why this vegan guide to Croatia?
I’ve been living in Croatia since 2013 when I ‘went back to my roots’ and made my home in the hilltop village in Istria my father hails from. I’ve been vegan since 2008 and have found that living in Croatia as a vegan can be a challenge compared to other countries I’ve lived in and travelled to. But things are changing quickly!
Useful vegan phrases in Croatian
Say: Ja sam vegan [pronounced: ya sam vay-gun] if you’re a man, or Ja sam veganka [pronounced: ya sam vay-gun-ka] if you’re a woman.
I do not eat…
Say: Ja ne jedem… [pronounced: ya ne yedem]
…meat – meso [pronounced: messo]
…fish – ribu [pronounced: reebu]
…eggs – jaja [pronounced: yaya]
…dairy products – mliječne proizvode [pronounced: mlyech-ne proyz-vodeh]
Do you have plant-based milk?
Imate li biljno mlijeko?[pronounced: imateh lee bilnyo mlyeko?]
Does the pasta contain egg?
Ima li u tijestu jaja?[pronounced: Ima li oo ti-yestu yaya?]
Does the soup contain meat?
Ima li u juhi mesa? [pronounced: Ima li oo yoohi messa?]
An intro to Croatian cuisine
Croatia is a southern European country at a geographical and cultural crossroads. Its long Adriatic coastline and many islands enjoy a Mediterranean climate and lifestyle that contrast with the northern and eastern parts of the country where a more continental weather system dominates.
Croatia’s cuisine is likewise made up of a mix of different regional influences. Italian, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish culinary influences have all left lasting marks on Croatian cuisine.
Traditionally Croatian cuisine is very meat-based, so not particularly vegan-friendly. A meal is just not considered complete if it doesn’t include a serving of meat, often pork or beef.
Attitudes to vegan diets in Croatia
Some people in Croatia confuse vegetarians with pescatarians since traditionally fish was eaten on Fridays instead of meat, so fish was somehow associated with vegetarianism. However, with the recent growth in popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets, most people now know the nuances.
More and more Croatians are turning vegan, but veganism has not yet gone mainstream here like in other countries. For this reason, being vegetarian or vegan is still considered to be something of a novelty here. But in a culture where hospitality is important, people are happy to make a special effort and cater to vegan visitors.
Eating out as a vegan in Croatia
As a long-time vegan living in Croatia since 2013, my experience so far has revealed that Croatia is not as vegan-friendly as other countries I’ve travelled to and lived in. Sure, you can get by as a vegan in Croatia. But the options for eating out are limited and lack some variety and imagination. I rarely enjoy eating out for this reason, but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.
However, things are evolving and getting better with each passing year: more and more vegetarian or plant-based eateries are popping up across the country. Most chefs are also willing to whip up something off the menu to please a customer. So don’t be shy about asking for a plant-based option.
Hotels and restaurants catering to tourists are usually clued up on ‘alternative diets’ and today it’s rare not to find at least one or two meat-free and maybe vegan food options on a menu. (For ‘accidentally vegan’ Croatian dishes – see below.)
What hotels in Croatia are vegan-friendly?
There are not yet any vegan hotels in Croatia, but hotel chains like Valamar and Maistra do a very good job at catering for vegan, gluten-free and halal diets. If you’re staying at one of the hotels run by these chains, let them know about your requirements when making a reservation and you’ll be sure to be well catered for. Smaller hotels will also be happy to meet your requirements if they have advance notice.
If you are looking for something a little more unique and intimate, check out this vegan guest house in the countryside.
What do cafes in Croatia offer for vegans?
Like in most European countries, Croatians love to chat over a cup of coffee so you never have to search too far or wide to find a café. These tend to open early in the morning – often at 7am!
Though more and more cafes are adding plant-based milks to their coffee menus, these are not yet available everywhere. As demand increases, this will surely change.
If you ask for a simple coffee, you’ll get the equivalent of a milk-free espresso. Order a cup of tea, and you’re bound to get fruit tea unless you specifically ask for black or green tea.
Shopping for vegan food in Croatia
A self-catering holiday is a better option for vegans planning to explore Croatia or spend some time here long-term as a digital nomad. I’ve noticed that supermarkets are adding more and more vegan products with each year.
I like to keep up on new vegan products being introduced to the Croatian market by following Vegan Food Croatia on Instagram.
The Lidl supermarket chain is especially vegan-friendly, stocking basics like plant-based milk, tofu, soy yogurt, mayonnaise, vegan burgers, and even vegan ice cream.
On the shelves of Croatian supermarket chains like Plodine, Konzum and Studenac, you’ll find plant-based milk at the very least.
You’ll have better luck at shops like DM, Mueller and BIPA. These shops are similar to Boots in the UK: they sell cosmetics and toiletries, but also have health food sections with plenty of vegan goodies.
The bio&bio chain of health food supermarkets are a must for vegans visiting Croatia. They stock all vegan staple foods, organic produce and dry goods, and vegan takeaway sandwiches. You can also order from them online for delivery.
Vegans in Croatia will love the local green markets. Every town and city has a city market (tržnica) and this is where you can stock up on fresh and locally-grown greens, fruits and vegetables.
Accidentally vegan foods in Croatia
‘Accidentally vegan’ foods you’ll find on almost any menu in Croatian restaurants and eateries include side dishes like roasted vegetables (povrće na žaru), Swiss chard (blitva) – served plain or prepared in a purée with potatoes, a variety of salads, and fried or baked potatoes. Vegetable soups and stews often use pork fat as a base.
In Istria and coastal areas you’re bound to find risotto (rižoto) on the menu, prepared with mushrooms (gljive) or asparagus (šparoge) in the spring. Another option is pasta with mushrooms, vegetables, tomato sauce or truffles (in Istria). Note that fresh pasta almost always contains eggs. Pizza is another easy option – just say you would like it without cheese (bez sira).
Burek and strudel are snack foods you can find at any bakery. Vegan fillings include apple, cherry and potato (burek). I make it a point of checking the ingredients list posted at every bakery and these rarely contain butter, milk or eggs. Soparnik is one of my favourite snacks that comes from Omiš in Dalmatia. This is a flat bread filled with spinach. Do try it if you come across it!
Discover the accidentally vegan foods
The best places for vegans in Croatia
The capital city Zagreb offers the most variety for vegans when it comes to the number of vegan-friendly restaurants and shops. Happy Cow currently lists 35 vegan- and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Zagreb!
Best vegan restaurants in Zagreb
VegeHop is a firm favourite. Tucked inside a courtyard off Vlaška, a main thoroughfare, this tiny restaurant is fully vegan with a changing daily menu as well as the option to choose à la carte.
Down a side street just a few steps from central Cvjetni Trg (Flower Square) is Green Point serving up falafel sandwiches, seitan and tofu burgers, and stir fries.
My favourite vegetarian restaurant in Croatia is in the coastal town of Split, Croatia’s second city that’s becoming a magnet for digital nomads from around the world. It’s a brisk stroll uptown from Diocletian’s Palace, the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and tourist hotspot, to Up Café.
Best vegan restaurant in Split
There are plenty of vegan wraps, burritos, lasagna, sandwiches and desserts tempting you from the glass display case, as well as hot dishes like varivo, a delicious and hearty vegan lentil soup.
Šibenik often gets sidestepped but this stunning coastal city is home to gems like its handsome 15th century UNESCO-listed St Jame’s Cathedral, centuries-old fortresses, historic Venetian palazzos and the delightful cobblestone lanes of its old town.
Best vegan friendly restaurant in Sibenik
Bistro & Rooftop Bar SHE is a popular vegan-friendly eatery with a patio set on a pretty sunlit square. Run by a social enterprise, the menu here is largely plant-based, while the rooftop bar offers views over the town’s terracotta rooftops and waterfront.
Looking for activities in Split? Read more about vegan holidays in Split.