Rising up from the fog of barbecue smoke in the lands of cevapcici and gyros, the Vegans of Eastern Europe are starting to make some noise. For the uninitiated, veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle that aims to avoid animal cruelty in agriculture, fashion, cosmetics, entertainment and anywhere, really. The plant-based revolutionaries of South-East Europe are dedicated to fighting for the rights of animals to live without violence – and for the rights of Balkan vegans to enjoy their baba’s* cooking without causing a riot every time.
For the most part, the vegan scene today comes drenched in agave and sprinkled with quinoa. For some of us, however, no amount of overpriced and unpronounceable produce can fill the void left after we consider the ethical, environmental and health implications of our beloved feta cheese. How, then, can we reject cruelty to animals without rejecting our own culture? How can we stop hurting animals without hurting every aunt, cousin and neighbour’s feelings?
If you look beneath the layers of the notoriously greasy, cholesterol-heavy feasts the ‘free-from’ section of traditional Balkan cuisine is not that limited. Think about it – even your meat-worshipping uncle can’t start a meal without an elaborate salad to go with his rakia. In fact, the plant-based diet has been mainstream around these parts since way before taking pictures of your food became a thing – or even an option. In countries influenced by Orthodox Christianity, as was much of Eastern Europe, animal products were traditionally excluded over 200 days a year! It’s no wonder even today a table is rarely left uncovered by platters of bread, olives, nuts, spreads, lyutenitsa/ ajvar, dolmades and the like. The Eastern-European’s obsession with potatoes, beans and rice in all shapes and forms means no one need be left behind.
Here are just a few examples of delicious recipes from all over the place, which you can make at home or order when eating out.
#1. Kyopoolu – Smoked Aubergine Dip – Bulgaria
#2. Tavche Gravche – Baked Bean Stew – Macedonia
#3. Tikvenik – Filo Pastry Pumpkin Pie – Bulgaria
#4. Dolmades/Sarma – Stuffed Vine Leaves – Greece
Usually served with yogurt dressing, so if you are ordering this one out, make sure to ask them to leave it out.
#5. Djuveč – Vegetable rice stew – Bosnia
Of course, animal products like butter and milk especially are an omnipresent challenge on top of the already sufficiently awkward life of the east-bloc vegan, but they are definitely manageable. Yeah, being a picky eater is not exactly the mark of a classic Balkan hero, but having to deal with some silly comments every now and again is a small price to pay for standing up for your values.
While the wave of chia-loving vegan joints has certainly not escaped the hip-and-happening neighborhoods of Sofia and Ljubljana, the Balkans are definitely not the easiest place to navigate socially (fish are animals too, grandma!) and are still a far cry from European cities with entire stores dedicated to plant-based groceries. But then again, at least the vegetables don’t taste like plastic.
If you are interested in veganism and want to check some Balkan sites that support the concept locally, go to:
- Zagreb vegan community
- Slovenian vegan society
- Fork fork fork – Bulgarian blog about vegan lifestyle, in Bulgarian
All of these can provide you with some tips on where to find vegan restaurants & cafes in the respective cities.
Article by Darina Kokonova
Darina Kokonova is currently wandering around the planet taking photos, writing, and eating green. After spending more than half of her life abroad, she has been pulled back by the charm of her home (Bulgaria) and aspires to someday pet every dog in Sofia (she’s getting close). Follow her travels on cluelesschronicle.wordpress.com or @thatlookssketchy on Instagram.