“Let’s make ajvar”, I said to Mindy after looking up “vegan Croatian food” online. For the first time, the men’s World Cup actually captured our attention simply because Croatia, a country we were planning to visit, was participating. After trying this thick red sauce, we were hooked and very excited to learn that ajvar, made from roasted red peppers and eggplant, was readily available in all grocery stores in the Balkan country.
This savory topping, which can be made as spicy or as mild as you’d like, is understandably a staple in the Croatian diet and we were happy to adopt it into our meals, using it as a pasta sauce, a dip for crackers, a sandwich spread, a baked potato topping, a salsa for chips – the possibilities seemed endless and we couldn’t get enough of it!
With its many trails around lakes and waterfalls set to a beautiful green backdrop Plitvice Lakes National Park should make everyone’s list of places to visit while in Croatia. During high season (July and August) be sure to get in line well before the park opens to ensure photographs sans people.
Just outside the park was a small hut selling delicious-looking desserts, including strudels. We asked if they had any vegan options and to our surprise, not only did they understand exactly what vegan means, but they also offered several vegan strudels: apple, cherry and poppyseed. They also had some pretty nice looking fruit cups.
We rented an Airbnb in Smoljanac, a small village only 3 kilometers (1.85 miles) away from the park. Just outside the front door were apple and plum trees, yielding ripe fruit, so I collected some and made a fruit cocktail out of them which went nicely with our local brandies.
The Croatian seaside town of Zadar made our travel list because of its sea organ, where the music is dictated by the the waves of the sea. One of our favorite memories of Zadar was waking up extremely early (5am) to explore the narrow streets of the pedestrian old city without people. It is also in Zadar that we discovered what was later referred to as “my favorite restaurant in Croatia”.
The Art of Raw at the Garden Lounge, located at Liburnska obala 6, serves upscale raw dishes in an outdoor casual setting by the sea. We ordered the Burger and the Gnocchi for our meal and were so impressed with the flavors that we decided to get dessert as well.
When the Chocolate Mousse and the Poached Pear in a vanilla beet sauce came to our table, we knew we were about to enjoy something special. I loved the obvious thought and care that went into selecting each ingredient of every dish. It was clear that each flavor was intended to be there and every bite was amazing!
When we arrived to our Airbnb accommodations in Split, we were greeted by grapes growing right above our terrace and a bowl full of freshly picked figs that our host brought us along with the key and a map of the city.
Because we had a kitchen our first stop was Bio Planet in the Mall of Split, where we found lots of vegan products. We picked up some pumpkin seed pesto and ajvar made with habanero peppers, which was amazingly, but not surprisingly, spicy. A few days later we also discovered a Bio Planet in Joker Mall (pronounced Yo-ker).
While exploring Diocletian’s Palace, making up about half of Split’s Old Town, we were happy to come across Stixberry, a small shop offering popsicles that you could dip in your choice of chocolate and topping. Mindy got a cherry popsicle dipped in dark chocolate topped with pistachios. I got a lemon raspberry, half-dipped in dark chocolate, topped with shaved coconut.
As we strolled around Old Town we came across Vege Fast Food, the only all vegan restaurant in Split as far as we could tell, as well as Marta’s Veggie Fusion and Up Cafe, both offering many vegan options. We were most intrigued by the multi-day vegan hikes offered by Better Green World, which includes hiking, swimming and kayaking, and overnights in an ecolodge. All meals are vegan. This sounds amazing and right up my alley!
After our looong travel day (we had waited 7 hours to cross the Serbian/Croatian border), we were rewarded with a delicious meal at what quickly became Mindy’s favorite restaurant. Zrno Bio Bistro, located at Medulićeva 20, has an impressively inventive menu and is known for its vegan baked goods.
All their food is grown on their organic farm about an hour east of the city and handmade in-house. Too bad we had to leave the city the following day to catch a train in Ljubliana, as we would have loved to try more on their menu, as well as visit their farm to which they welcome visitors.
We had planned to also visit Simple Green Vegan And Raw Restaurant in Zagreb but due to the long border crossing, we weren’t able to fit it in. Their menu looks very creative and healthy and we are sorry that we missed out. This restaurant will be at the top of our list the next time we visit Croatia.
Another restaurant that we are sure to check out the next time we’re in Zagreb is Barcode Mitra. This eatery (with two locations) specializes in superfood with many raw options and claims to be the best vegan burger bar in town. How could we not try it?
In addition to Bio Planet, which we already mentioned above, grocery stores Konzum (Croatia’s largest supermarket chain), Spar and Interspar all had lots of vegan options, some that require cooking and some that you can easily takeaway. Tommy’s Supermarket on the other hand, which we came across in Split, had very few vegan options. We left that store very disappointed.
One of our most exciting grocery store finds was ajvar hummus, which we came across in a Konzum in Split.
When reviewing ingredients, be sure to avoid mlijeko (milk), jaja (eggs), sir (cheese) and med (honey).
Kuterovo Bear Refuge
We got to meet Marko Kralj, Mladi Dol and Mlada Gora who were fun to observe in their outdoor home. We were surprised to learn that these bears, just like bears in the wild, eat a 95% vegan diet. They get most of their protein from sunflower seeds at the refuge. I decided to remember this the next time someone hassles me about where I get my protein as a vegan.
Croatia has wonderful places to visit and like many countries in the region, veganism is growing.