I'm finally home from our big trip to Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Italy... and I'm hungry!!! Here's a massive posting, with thoughts on eating vegan while travelling, and lots of snapshots of what I found at the store or in the restaurants. First off, some thoughts on eating vegan in each of the places we went:
Being Vegan in Croatia & Bosnia i Herzegovina
Croatia & BiH are hard places to be vegan, because most of the meals are based on (or consist solely of) meat or fish. There is also a lot of cheese on the menu. I was travelling with my boyfriend Musty, who is an omnivore, so that definitely affected what I ate. Because he was excited to try all the local specialties, we/he ate mostly at restaurants. There is not much for a vegetarian and pretty much nothing for a vegan at most restaurants.
There is a lot of Italian food in these countries, so we had that from time to time. I had 4 or 5 vegetarian pizzas with no cheese before I became completely disenchanted with that flavorless option. Generally, I ate a lot of raw vegetables and fresh fruit (purchased at the open air market in each town), and far far too much plain bread. At times I was able to have my bread with some jam (although we didn't have a cooler and we were moving around a lot... so I had to use little packets since I wouldn't be able to keep anything in the fridge). At the grocery store I also discovered a great condiment called Ajvar which is quite tasty! Available in mild or hot, it is made up of bell peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and spices. Very very good.
Toward the end of our trip I did start to discover a few vegan standards that were widely available at restaurants. Blitva is a green veggie, quite similar to chard, that is native to Croatia. You can order a big plate of it steamed pretty much anywhere, but it is worth emphasizing that you do not want butter on it. At one restaurant I had an amazing dish called "Blitva s krumpirom" in which the blitva is cooked together with potatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper. SO GOOD! Think of mashed potatoes that are 50-60% greens. Very good. Here are some grilled veggies, steamed potatoes, and steamed blitva. Not so bad... wish I had figured out earlier in the trip that I could piece together a nice meal like this off pretty much any standard menu. Also, grilled veggies is a commonly available option, which never has butter or cheese. (this platter is actually from Italy, but you get the idea) It may not be the most complex or delicious thing you have ever eaten, but you will be grateful for something warm and something that is not bread. When in doubt, your best bet is a "mixed salad" ... this is a simple salad comprised of: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions - and occassionally grated carrots and/or corn. With remarkable consistency, this is the same salad that you will get all over the Balkan region. The dressing is always just oil and vinegar, which you usually apply yourself, so dressing is not a concern. Here you see the standard mixed salad on the right. This version has tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, onion, and lettuce. This restaurant also had "bean salad" on the menu, which I ordered. It was a massive bowl of beans and onions, with a light vinegraette. I ate almost the entire thing... it must have been about 2 cans worth of beans!
Incidentally, I LOVE bread, which is quite lucky for me. Although I lost some enthusiasm for it temporarily on this trip, the bread is generally fantastic. Bread is available from bakeries (Pekara) or from supermarkets, and is made fresh everyday. It is very good. Most places have "integral" (whole wheat) bread, and sometimes it's made with seeds and flax seeds and soy flour and such for added nutritional value.
Pretty much everything I wrote about Croatia also applies for BiH, except perhaps a bit more so. There is a LOT of meat in Bosnia, and the veggie and fruit selection is quite limited. Incidentally, neither country has anything like the variety that we do.
Most of the places you stay in Croatia & BiH are individual rooms or apartments rented out by citizens. It's not unusual to have a mini fridge and even occassionally a little kitchen. If I had been travelling with another veg we could have cooked up some meals I suppose.
The super markets in Croatia and BiH are a lot of fun. As I mentioned in a previous post, most of the packaged items have ingredients written out in about 5-10 languages, one of which is almost always english. This is how I knew that the Ajvar was vegan, for instance. I found some fun cookies, and a few other goodies too. In towns where we were staying for a few days and had a fridge, I was easily able to find soy milk and muesli, which as a great breakfast treat. I also bought some great big TVP chunks there, which I brought home. I have never cooked with TVP before, does anyone have any suggestions for me?
Being Vegan In Italy
Italy felt like a paradise compared to Croatia & BiH! I found focaccia with cherry tomatoes and spices, I found great huge salads, I found vegan apricot tarts at the grocery store, vegan sorbet at almost every gelato place, and even delicious SOY GELATO at a few gelaterias!!!! Wow! You can see the elation on my face as I order my 2nd soy-based Hazelnut gelato. This is no small affair... hazelnut was my favorite gelato flavor when I lived it Italy, but it's not a favorite flavor in the US. I hadn't tasted it in years!!
Overall, I ate a few more plates of pasta with red sauce than I would have ordered otherwise, but still, I wasn't complaining. In Italy, even pasta with simple red sauce is often very, very good. We were in Bologna the whole time (5 days), and ate at a few traditional Italian places (which had less for me), but also a great Indian place, and even a macrobiotic vegetarian restaurant!! This was my meal at the vegetarian macrobiotic restaurant. It was quite yummy! I had tofu with greens with some nice spices, seitan curry, and barley soup with veggies... yum!! I felt so fully and nourished after dinner, a rare feeling on this trip!On your own, I would recommend looking for bakeries and grocery stores... there were way more vegan options in the grocery markets than I had time to explore unfortunately. Here are the muesli, bread sticks and vegan fruit tarts that I bought at the grocery store in Italy. I intended to go back and stockpile these, but our last day was a sunday, and the markets were closed. I'll just have to dream of them I guess.This was a great salad we found... with beans and olives and corn... huge and filling. Very good.
Here I am, perusing the offerings at the market in Bologna, Italy. We have about 20 pictures like this from our trip.
At the Airport & On The Plane
The airports in London (Gatwick and Heathrow) have great, healthy vegan food. Here I bought a hummus sandwich with veggies, pine nuts, lettuce... and a few other things. It was sincerely delicious. I also got an all-fruit smoothie drink. Even the egg-salad sandwiches at this little cafe were "free-range eggs". Pretty cool.
Here is my vegan dinner from British Airways. It was some Indian kofta curry with rice, a fruit salad, some apple slices, and a little piece of bread with some vegan margarine. Quite tasty, although the indian food did come back to haunt me with a rare and powerful case of heartburn. Ack!
So, all in all, I survived without massive famine, but I am happy to be home. I am looking forward to doing some cooking and getting back to more regular postings.