“Dober dan” I said with a smile to the woman wearing a Mercator uniform. “Dan” she responded not returning my smile. “Do you speak English?” I asked her in Bosnian. “Ne”, she replied and started to walk away.
“This is my chance”, I thought to myself. I was eager to try the very little Bosnian I had practiced in the car just before entering Bosnia & Herzegovina. I managed to get out “Gdje je veganska sir?” hoping there was indeed vegan cheese in this big superstore after all.
The Mercator grocery employee responded but I could not understand. She motioned for me to follow her so I did, happy to leave the meat section anyway. I was pleased with myself that I could have a conversation, albeit short, in a language I had just learned in the car only a few days prior. I was also getting my hopes up that perhaps Mindy and I had overlooked the vegan cheese as we combed through each aisle in this huge Mercator in Sarajevo looking for anything vegan.
When we initially stepped into the large grocery store, reminiscent of ones back home, we were confident that a store this size would have a large vegan selection.
As I followed the Mercator employee, I realized she was leading me to the “Bio Zone” in the middle of the store, where I had already looked. “Is it possible that we missed vegan cheese?” I thought to myself. She walked over to the shelf containing a variety of non-dairy milk, picked up a block of tofu and handed it to me and repeated something that sounded like “vegetarian cheese” in Bosnian. Standing in the aisle with a confused look on my face, I managed to get out a “Hvala” (thank you) as the unenlightened woman walked away.
This comical interaction pretty much summed up our vegan experience in Bosnia & Herzegovina. We found that, unlike our experience in Slovenia and Croatia, the majority of people we encountered here were not familiar with the concept of veganism and even vegetarianism was still new.
But there is hope…
We met a woman named Maja Pilav, owner of Zdravo, a vegan bistro and store in Sarajevo. We were lucky enough to get the chance to meet her and talk with her only two days before the Grand Opening in August, 2018. Maja came across to us as someone who was ready and willing to put the necessary effort into opening the only vegan restaurant in all of Bosnia & Herzegovina as far as we could tell. She had been vegan for 13 years before deciding to make veganism her full-time job.
Maja told us that there had been other vegan restaurants but they had all closed. “There is a new wave now though”, she told us, one that was fueled by a younger population. More people are becoming aware of the plight of animals and are therefore turning to a more cruelty-free lifestyle.
Maja’s concept is to create healthy vegan food from scratch. This was evident even during our visit as they were making almond milk and date paste in anticipation of the Grand Opening, which we are happy to report was highly successful and the subsequent days saw even more traffic than expected.
Pansion Asim in Jablanica
We spent three nights at Pansion Asim while enjoying Lake Jablanicko. We were delighted to learn that not only had they heard of veganism, but they were willing to make a vegan breakfast for us since their menu did not include any vegan items. They grilled us up some vegetables and gave us a colorful fruit plate and even asked if there was anything in particular that they could make for us. The employees here, who are also the owners, seemed to be very eager to accommodate all their guests. Plus, you can’t beat the stunning view of the lake while enjoying your meal.
Food House in Mostar
We were happily surprised to come across a sign saying “vegan food” at Food House while walking around the Old Town in Mostar. After investigating, we discovered that they had two vegan options. We ordered the imam bayildi, a traditional Bosnian dish featuring an eggplant stuffed with peppers and zucchini in a tomato sauce with a side of traditional ajvar.
While vegan options were limited in grocery stores, big and small, they all seemed to offer at least one form of non-dairy milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals and an array of ajvar (traditional sauce made from eggplant and red peppers), pickles and olives.
When reviewing ingredients, be sure to avoid mlijeko (milk), jaja (eggs), sir (cheese) and med (honey).