Famed for rich, earthy stews and seafood dishes packed with fresh flavours, Croatia’s cuisine has often favoured meat eaters. Today, Zagreb is leading the charge in a new direction with an array of innovative restaurants that expertly cater to vegans and vegetarians.
“Vegetarian and vegan options are now trending in Croatia – especially in Zagreb and along the coast,” says Toni Krasnic, founder of Istria Gourmet Food Tours. “Whether you’re vegetarian or not, you must try Croatia’s take on vegetarian dishes during your visit.” Go meat-free with this handy guide to Zagreb’s best vegan and vegetarian restaurants.
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This stylish bistro on Medulićeva Street is Croatia’s first certified organic vegan restaurant and sources all its ingredients from its own organic farm (Croatia’s oldest eco-farm). The interior is light and airy, and the leafy outdoor terrace creates a tranquil vibe for al fresco dining. The menu is chock-full of plant-based choices: from pasta, rice and quinoa plates to Asian-inspired noodle dishes and classic salads with homemade sourdough bread. Gluten-free food options are readily available, as well as an intriguing selection of gluten-free beers and organic wines. “Zrno Bio Bistro are devoted to macrobiotics and they really know how to cook with vegan protein: tofu, tempeh, seitan, all prepared in delicious ways,” says Andrea Pisac, anthropologist, author of Croatian Desserts cookbook and creator of Croatia Honestly blog, “Their take on the Croatian classic dessert mađarica (chocolate layer cake) is as scrumptious as a vegan cake can get.”
Located down colourful, cobbled Vlaška Street near the city centre, Gajbica specialises in health-focused fast food that’s inexpensive and utterly delicious. Not strictly vegetarian, the menu is largely meat-free and features an impressive range of creatively crafted salads and top-notch veggie sandwiches. Its selection of scrumptious vegan desserts should not be missed. If you’ve only got time for a fly-by visit, you can stop by its small grocery stand to stock up on fruit, vegetables and health foods – or grab a reviving smoothie to go.
This neon-coloured café in the centre of town is the place to go for vegetarian burgers. Browse an innovative menu that features tofu, seitan and hemp burgers (the hemp cheeseburger with vegan mayo is a top seller), with sides including fries, hummus, grilled veggies and fried oyster mushrooms. If you’re after something a little lighter, Green Point also serves up delicious tortilla wraps, Thai curries and veggie skewers.
The menus at Namaste are a revelation, showcasing an abundance of South Indian dishes that naturally lean towards vegetarianism. “When I arrived in Zagreb, our vision was to introduce the unique tastes, spices and techniques of authentic Indian cuisine to the people,” says head chef Sourabh Khandekar. “I noticed people having different dietary preferences, such as vegan or gluten-free. Southern Indian food plays a major part in our Indian cuisine with many of their dishes, like dosa (crispy rice pancakes), idli (savoury rice cakes) and appam (pancakes made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk) naturally suited to vegan or gluten-free diets.” Star dishes like chickpea masala and apricot kofta curry make this the place where carnivores come to be converted.
Specialising in raw foods, vegan and vegetarian dishes – with additional gluten-free options and biodegradable packaging – Vegehop (three tram stops from the main square) is an environmentally conscious food-lover’s fantasy. Using ecological whole grains as the foundation of most dishes, Vegehop turns out incredible moussakas, lasagnes, tortillas and colourful salads. Grab a zingy fruit or vegetable smoothie or satisfy your sweet tooth with desserts made using natural sweeteners like agave and dried fruits. With an interior that is light, fresh and calming, a visit here leaves you feeling nourished from the inside out.
“Koykan is a perfect place to enjoy world food and get the local experience at the same time,” says Ana-Marija Kolak from Koykan World Foods. “We are known for our fair prices, friendly environment, quick service and homemade delicious food.” Koykan has become such an integral part of Zagreb’s foodie scene that the restaurant, which opened on Gajeva Street in 2012, has since opened two additional eateries in the Arena Centre and on Tkalčićeva Street. This vibrant, modern hotspot wouldn’t seem out of place on the streets of Tokyo and offers squishy Japanese mochi balls, bubble teas and a huge range of vegetarian and vegan wraps, salads and wok-fried dishes.
Simple Green is a vegan, raw food restaurant nestled away on Jablanska Street in the neighbourhood of Rudeš. Here you can get traditional Croatian dishes adapted for a vegan diet, with seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers and producers. If you love the food (and you will), you can take some of the magic home by attending one of their vegan cooking workshops or grab a snack to go from their vegan, gluten-free bakery that recently opened onsite. The interior is laid-back yet sophisticated with sleek, simple furnishings in earthy green tones. What’s more, the restaurant is dog-friendly, so feel free to bring along a furry friend.
With its tranquil Provençal-esque courtyard and chic but rustic interior, La Štruk is a bustling yet peaceful oasis in the heart of the city. This eatery only serves štrukli, a traditional northern Croatian dish composed of doughy pastry layers filled with cheese. Although typically a savoury dish, sweet jam-filled options are also available – and both varieties can be served either boiled or baked. “It’s a souvenir you can eat,” say owners Igor and Sven Mladinović and Alen Markulin. Sarah-Jane Begonja, who blogs at Chasing the Donkey, adds “Štrukli is Croatia’s answer to comfort food, and everything on the menu is vegetarian. You never leave hungry, as the portions are enormous and very budget friendly.”
If you’re in the market for a Michelin-star fine-dining experience, head to stylish, Art Deco-designed Zinfandels in the opulent Esplanade Hotel. Oozing with old-world glamour, this decadent restaurant – under the expert leadership of award-winning celebrity chef Ana Grgić – caters to a wide variety of dietary requirements, with some exceptional vegan and vegetarian dishes including risotto with celery leaf juice and truffle cream and hazelnut and butter roasted cauliflower. Not sure what to order? Zinfandels have iPads readily available so customers can browse their thoughtfully curated picture menus.
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