Croatia’s cuisine is richly varied as the country’s vast coastline boasts dishes that have a slight Mediterranean vibe while the mainland’s cuisine borrows from Croatia’s central European neighbors including Turkey, Hungary, and Austria. Additionally, you’re likely to encounter culinary influences from the countries of the former Yugoslavia.
I can’t speak to Croatia’s mainland cuisine as we spent most of our time in Dalmatia, Croatia’s coastal region that extends along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, but over the course of about two weeks, we had many a meal with the locals and had a chance to navigate Croatian cuisine as two vegan travelers.
While one would expect the cuisine of this region to mimic aspects of Mediterranean cuisine, we quickly found out that Dalmatian cuisine is heavily centered on grilled meat (mostly lamb and beef) and locally caught fish. Vegetables have a presence and many of them are locally grown, but they’re more of a side note, or in many cases, a side dish.
Finding healthy, varied vegan food was a challenge at times, especially in the small villages and fishing ports scattered across Croatia’s Adriatic islands, but even though our food options may have been limited to salads and side dishes, the ingredients were consistently fresh and well-prepared. I’ll be honest, we ate salad after salad for about two weeks straight and often paired these mixed salads with grilled vegetables and boiled swiss chard and potatoes (shown below).
Ajvar, the thick red sauce below, can be added to just about anything. It’s a type of relish made from red bell peppers, eggplant and garlic. Though it originates in Serbian cuisine, today it can be found throughout the Balkan region. We asked for a mild version, but the ajvar flavor profile can range from sweet to piquant to very hot.
On a more exciting note, one of the highlights during our time in Bol on the island of Brac was our breakfast at the Hotel Bol. We bonded with two hotel employees who were both vegetarian and they made sure that there would be plenty of vegan options at breakfast. They pulled out all the stops for us!
We found ourselves eating fresh vegetables for breakfast every morning: arugula with boiled potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber, yellow pepper, and roasted vegetables (eggplant, zucchini and onions). This breakfast reminded me of the simple veggie-based breakfasts we ate in Japan earlier in the year. I quickly remembered how energized I felt following a whole food, plant-based meal versus eating my typical bowl of muesli, almond milk, and banana.
While such a breakfast might not be convenient to prepare on a regular basis, getting back into the “vegetables for breakfast” routine for a week offered a much needed reminder of how light and revitalized I feel when I kickstart my day with a varied and nutrient-rich breakfast that is naturally low in sugar. I can’t wait to integrate the Croatian approach to breakfast when I’m back in my kitchen later this year!