People become vegetarians for many different reasons, including health, concerns about animal welfare, religious convictions, or a desire to eat in a way that avoids excessive use of environmental resources. In Croatia… well, forget it! To most Croats, your reasons won’t be satisfactory. Moreover, you could end up being asked again “That’s all well and good, but why don’t you eat meat?”. It happens to me almost every time I declare myself a vegetarian (in Croatian: vegetarijanac/vegetarijanka). Since almost every meal in Croatia includes meat, and vegetarian cuisine has never been one of Croatia’s strong points, converting to vegetarianism or being a vegetarian in my gorgeous homeland, can sometimes be very tricky.
“Do you eat cheese and eggs?”
One of the most frequent questions about my “condition” called vegetarianism is: “Do you eat cheese (in Croatian: sir) and eggs (in Croatian: jaja)?”. Now, I know my answer should be: “Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat (in Croatian: meso). Strictly speaking, vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat or seafood (in Croatian: plodovi mora). Vegans, on the other hand, do not eat meat, fish, or any products derived from animals, including eggs, and dairy products”, but I usually only reply with: “Yes. But I don’t eat anything with a face.” Of course, I almost always get that ‘You are insane’ look from people. It doesn’t matter what my answer is: for most Croats, going meatless is simply insane, moreover, a bad choice for one’s health. In fact, skipping a meat meal means you won’t have enough energy for your daily activities or you will be hungry only one hour later. I can only add that I am a very healthy, energetic and rarely hungry person.
Traditional Croatian cuisine
Croatian food (in Croatian: hrana) is simply awesome! Traditional Croatian cuisine is wide and varied. However, it’s not easy to identify dishes that are exclusive to Croatia, mostly because Croatian food has been influenced by neighboring culinary traditions, such as Hungarian, Italian and Greek (the coastal region), as well as those of various nations that have ruled the territory of Croatia throughout history, such as Austrian and Turkish. However, Croatian dishes have their own unique interpretation, and taste. If you are a meat eater, you will probably enjoy reading this. The meat eaters in Croatia cannot believe I no longer eat the following traditional Croatian food: Pašticada (a stewed beef dish cooked in special sauce), čobanac (a hearty meat stew that is traditionally cooked in a cauldron hung over an open fire), dagnje na buzaru (Croatian mussels), purica s mlincima (turkey with flat pasta, soaked in roast juices), kulen (a type of flavored sausage made of minced pork that is traditionally produced in Slavonia), pršut (Croatian prosciutto), Skradinski rižot (Skradin risotto), etc. A few years ago, the famous Anthony Bourdain showed the world Skradinski rižot when he filmed “No Reservations”, making it a famous Croatian dish! Hard to believe it myself, but I no longer eat any of this delicious dishes.
Fritule by Ace Khoo
It is no secret that Croats love their meat. With the arrival of sunny weather, Croats begin greasing up their grills. If you are invited, expect specialties from the grill (Croatian: s roštilja), those roasted on the spit (Croatian: s ražnja) or kotlovina (kettle with a knuckle of pork and other meat and sausages). Yet, being a vegetarian guest in a Croatian home will require a certain level of preparedness on your part. Bear in mind that most Croatian hosts will need your vegetarian food instructions. I often inform the hosts that I can eat grilled vegetables (in Croatian: povrće), cheese and mushrooms. By informing others, I do sometimes feel like an outsider, but at least, we can solve “the problem”.
What can you eat as a vegetarian in Croatia?
The crucial question is: What can you actually eat as a vegetarian in Croatia? The answer would be: vegetables, fruits, pasta, mushrooms, rice, soy, tofu, beans, nuts, grains, eggs, dairy products, sweets… and the list goes on. I highly recommend meatless Croatian traditional food, e. g.: Zagorski Štrukli (composed of dough and several types of filling which can be either boiled or baked), Fuži s tartufima (Fusi with truffles, a traditional pasta from Istria), Samoborske kremšnite (custard cake from the town Samobor) and fritule (they resemble little doughnuts).
I can also recommend Paški sir (sheep milk cheese from the Island of Pag) and maslinovo ulje i kruh (olive oil with bread).
Croatia is rarely included on the list of olive oil-producing countries, most likely because it is still a relatively small producer compared to other European countries. Still, you can expect that olive oil with bread (on the coast) can be added to the plate just before serving – and it tastes heavenly.
Flavoured olive oils / from the private album of Mateja Horvat, SpeakCro teacher
In a restaurant
In restaurants (in Croatian: restorani), there’s usually plenty to choose from menus if you look hard enough. Strict vegetarians and vegans should be very careful: many vegetarian items – the numerous risottos, soups, stews and sauces could be made with meat. Even in well-meaning restaurants, it’s not unusual that vegetarian dishes have meat in them. Grilled meat is a staple menu item in most Croatian restaurants and grilled vegetarian dishes may have been cooked on the same grill as the meat dishes, so be sure to ask.
Do you have any experiences of being a vegetarian in Croatia?
Štrukli from restaurant La Štruk
Recipe for Zagorski Štrukli
250g of all-purpose flour
100 ml of water
One tablespoon cooking oil
Two pinches of salt
500g dry curd cottage cheese or ricotta cheese
1 cup of melted butter
1 cup heavy cream
One pinch of salt
To make the dough, mix the flour, egg, oil, salt, and warm water. Knead the dough until bubbles start to form, and the dough becomes smooth.
Shape the dough into a ball and let it stand about 30 minutes.
Making the filling:
Mix the cheese with one egg and one pinch of salt and 1/3 cup of melted butter in another mixing bowl. Blend until the mixture is smooth.
On a cloth sprinkled with flour, stretch out the dough – thin enough just so it does not break.
Brush the dough with 1/3 cup melted butter.
Roll up, then cut the roll into pieces.
Boil in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes.
Drain and arrange on a greased ovenproof dish.
Pour cream over and let bake for 45 minutes at 200°C.
Once ready, sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon, and serve.