Barreling through the Balkans?
Bouncing into Bosnia?
Bobsledding into Sarajevo? (They still have the bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics).
We spent almost three months in as vegans in Sarajevo.
What did we do to survive as vegans in Bosnia? Wither away while others gorged on ćevapčići (Bosnian sausages) smothered in sour cream?
Or did we peruse every nook and cranny of this multicultural city to find the most delicious vegan food in Sarajevo?
Sarajevo, a city still recovering from the siege in the nineties, is full of history that is ever present in its architecture (including bullet holes). You can see streets that remind one of Istanbul, while brightly colored Austro Hungarian facades blind your eyes along the riverfront and Christian churches still ring bells on the hour.
Fortunately, I don’t need a church bell to remind me when it is time to eat. And eat our way through vegan Sarajevo we did!
The historic multiculturalism of the city, which used to be called the Jerusalem of Europe, is seen everywhere, from Baščaršija, the Old Town, to how people dress, but especially in what people eat.
Thanks to the Muslim influence from the Ottoman Empire, Sarajevo feels uniquely different than the rest of Western and even Eastern Europe. Despite being ethnically Slav, it’s quite typical for families to be a mix of Catholic, Muslim, and Eastern Orthodox. In-laws will celebrate Christmas, Ramadan, and/or every holiday that is represented in the extended family.
Vegan Sarajevo has much to offer the visitor, with an entirely vegan restaurant, a couple vegetarian spots, and a growing number of vegan friendly places.
Common vegan staples of the region include lots of fresh dates (which we delighted in) crunchy fresh cabbage, ajvar, a roasted red pepper and eggplant spread, and fluffy clouds of doughy white bread called somun that can be found in every bakery.
So if you’re a vegan in Sarajevo, look no further (than this article)!
Vegan Restaurants in Sarajevo
There’s one vegan restaurant in Sarajevo to rule them all, and don’t you dare miss it. You’ll notice that this restaurant disproportionately carves the biggest chunk out of this vegan Sarajevo guide, and for damn good reason: it’s the best vegan food in Sarajevo, hands down.
Zdravo, which means both “hello” and “healthy” in Bosnian, is located well outside the center, but don’t let that deter you as there is a tram stop located a short walk away. The intrepid vegan traveler will be rewarded upon arriving in the oasis that is Zdravo – we certainly were!
Zdravo is everything I want in a vegan cafe but usually hate because I can’t afford it in my home of New York City.
Read more: Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition
Eating at Zdravo, I felt like some rich bougie Westerner, able to just point and choose whatever I felt like eating, without worrying about the bill. I even broke my main rule: I ordered cold-pressed juices (the beet carrot apple one is my favorite). So luxurious.
Of course, this vegan restaurant in Sarajevo is inexpensive for us thanks to the much stronger American dollar and lower cost of living in Bosnia than the U.S. In any case, we decided to make a serious investment in this place on a regular basis. I lost count of how often we came here, usually a couple times a week – at least.
We realized one of the biggest downsides of Sarajevo pretty soon into our three-month stay. It seemed like 99% of Sarajevans smoke and it’s still legal to do so indoors. This means that every bar, cafe, and restaurant that you go into will be filled with a stinky smoke cloud. I hate cigarette smoke, so I was delighted to find that Zdravo is a non-smoking establishment (the only one we found during our 3 months in Sarajevo). It was a much needed escape from the ever-present smoke-filled air of the city.
It also didn’t hurt that the place was so damn pleasant looking.
The aesthetic and vibe are the first thing to hit you: it’s comfortably chic without a sense of pretension, cozy, and very welcoming. They want you to sit down and stay awhile. The water with oranges or cucumbers or ginger is the icing on the welcome cake. In addition to the figurative welcome cake, is a display case full of literal desserts that are all delicious (we nearly tried them all).
We practically tried the whole menu on our many weekly date night visits to Zdravo. There’s a lot on offer here, from savory dishes to raw desserts to smoothies and fresh juices.
Almost anything will please, but amongst the savory dishes, we especially enjoyed the simplicity of the polenta, cashew cream, and tomatoes with walnut parmesan. The polenta was perfectly tender, tomatoes oh-so-fresh (end of summer is a perfect time for some of the best tomatoes ever), and the crumbly walnut parm just pierced through all the flavor with more flavor. I enjoy simple food that doesn’t overly rely on oil and salt, and the minimal manner of this dish shows confidence in their food.
All of Zdravo’s simple dishes, such as grilled sweet potato or hummus salad, are perfectly executed. The hummus is great, the salad is crisp and fresh, and there’s nothing much more to say than of course it’s great because they can’t seem to do anything wrong here.
Make sure to try their sunflower cheese and crackers, just to experience their excellent sunflower based cheese spreads.
The mock tuna sandwich made of chickpeas is another great choice. On our first visit, the server told us that it was her favorite menu item and that it blew her mind that it wasn’t vegan! Everything was excellent about the filling: chunky, mayo-ey, with a tart snap, and a fishy nori finish. This is probably the best mock tuna I’ve had while dining out (most have severely disappointed me). However, my favorite part is actually the incredibly soft, flavorful, homemade sliced bread they used. I grabbed their fresh homemade rolls on a weekly basis. Each time I was stupefied by this impressive gluten free bread. Moist, soft, with a crunchy outside and the slight bitterness of rye wheat, but it was gluten free! How?
After much investigation assisted by Google Translate, I discovered that the secret is a combo of buckwheat and oat flour. What a coincidence! Buckwheat has been my favorite wheat ever since an Estonian, who I affectionately named Buckwheat Lady from then on, introduced me to it in its whole form. I’ve since discovered the pleasures of gluten free buckwheat and I want it in everything. The other main ingredient of this delicious bread is my all-time favorite grain, oatmeal! So imagine my delight when I realized that this fluffy, flavorful crunchy crust wrapped cloud was created from buckwheat and oats. Zdravo is on to something here. New York City could take a cue for this ahead-of-the-game gluten free vegan goodness.
Now I haven’t even gone over all the myriad raw treats that Zdravo has in abundance. Snicker bars, peanut butter date balls, cakey donuts with raspberry in the middle – all delicious. And of course, you must try it with the excellent coffee.
Bosnian coffee is of course famous (it is very similar to Turkish coffee). Zdravo offers their own Bosnian coffee (served with a date instead of the traditional sugar lump), or you can try one of their stellar espresso drinks crafted with homemade hazelnut milk. I had a cappuccino here once a week and can attest that it is such an incredibly delicate milky and rich flavor, that doesn’t overpower the fresh espresso, topped with the perfect cap of foam.
To top it all off, all this is done by what I perceived as an exclusively female staff, adorably adorned in bandanas and overalls. What more could I want?
Banana nice cream.
Yes, we ate a lot of banana nice cream.
They provide a literal bucket of four frozen bananas, blended creamy smooth by the power of two horses thanks to the Vitamix. Get your banana nice cream swirled with homemade nut butter (peanut, hazelnut or even tahini), topped with more nut butter, cacao nibs, or chocolate date syrup. We also ate this about once a week.
Zdravo is vegan heaven on Earth, or at the very least, a desperately needed vegan Sarajevo oasis.
Vegetarian restaurants in Sarajevo
There are a few self-professed vegetarian restaurants in Sarajevo, but these two are worth your consideration.
It’s a good thing that their falafel is so perfect with a name like “Falafel Restaurant.” No points for name creativity, but it’s okay because this falafel is so damn delicious.
This is a cozy spot, conveniently located in a snug little alley in the Old Town. It’s easy to miss when strolling down the main street, but just keep an eye out down the little alleyways for their brightly colored sign and outdoor seating. If you walk in and are concerned about a lack of ample seating – fret not – there’s a ton more upstairs. Although the first floor is better for people watching.
While there are many items on the menu, we strongly advise you to share a sampler plate – it’s a lot of food. If you really want, order more sides in addition. You’ll also get to try Bosnian pillow bread (our affectionate name for somun, the bread that is oh-so-soft and everywhere). This is the bread that most places use to stuff the ćevapčići (Bosnian sausage) into.
Here, you’ll get your usual toppings of cucumber tomato salad, hummus, and french fries. The french fries were ok, but I can forgive this because the falafel was damn perfect. Fried food doesn’t mean it should be oily. Proper temperature and time cooked are key in creating a crisp fried-ness. These falafels have a great crunchy exterior with a softer, chickpea crumbly interior. But the beauty of falafel is that you get to eat it with a bunch of things or turn the whole ensemble into a sandwich.
Non-Vegan Restaurants for Vegan Sarajevo Eats
There are many restaurants with vegan options, and here we mention those we feel are definitely worth trying.
If you want a more traditional experience in the heart of downtown, The Singing Nettle will gently entice you with its prickly barbs. Everything on the menu has nettle in it. Quite literally. So if you’re allergic, or don’t like nettle, don’t come. Even the bread served with the meal has bits of nettle in it.
The Singing Nettle is a cozy establishment run by just two people (at least when we went for an early dinner). The interior has an old school tavern like atmosphere, and on the walls, you’ll find proudly displayed articles in which the restaurant has been featured. Even someone from the New York Times has made it to this place, though don’t take that as a hint that this place has any whiff of snob, because it doesn’t. The Singing Nettle serves up Bosnian dishes with a nettle twist in a homey, low key atmosphere.
Vegan friendly items are labeled on the menu and there’s a vegan option in nearly every section. We ordered quite a few dishes to share, and glad we didn’t order more. The portions come heaping and generous.
The savory nettle doughnuts are a must-try. These are globular clouds of puffed, perfectly fried dough. Yet the donuts aren’t greasy, and instead are quite crispy on the outside with a pillowy soft inside. The donuts come with a side of hummus, a combo we hadn’t had before yet that worked surprisingly well. The hummus was clearly fresh and housemade, with a tangy, lemony snap, and a smooth yet slightly grainy texture (we mean this in a good way). This was no hummus made by a factory emulsifier.
Next up was a side of boiled potatoes with nettle pesto, tender and well seasoned. The coup de grace were the stuffed peppers, of which we savored every bite. Still not sure what they were stuffed with other than rice, but the dish tasted rich, well seasoned, and comforting. Sweet peppers are a thing here in Bosnia. Much of the Balkans shares a traditional spread of ajvar, made of roasted red pepper, onions, eggplant, and vegetable oil. Traditionally vegan Bosnian food for the win!
Normally we don’t write about places that we haven’t tried in our vegan city guides. However, we felt this was worth a mention since it comes up frequently as a recommended vegan friendly restaurant in Sarajevo.
There were many reviews online that raved about the food and simultaneously warned of a ravingly rude chef proprietor. Apparently, the leader of this one man show often yells at his customers, both in person and online, calling those who don’t make reservations either peasants or villagers. Yikes! But we decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and requested a reservation a couple days in advance. (It’s reservation only and apparently he will yell you out of the restaurant if you show up without one.)
Time ticked and days tocked as we waited for the response.
He didn’t confirm the reservation until 15 minutes before it was supposed to start, with no acknowledgement of the delay. Obviously we didn’t want to show up without a reservation as we knew how that would go! We understand that people are busy and know its a lot to run a small business. Despite this, we took his manner of response as an omen and decided to skip trying this place (we couldn’t make it there in 15 minutes anyway, and were wary about what showing up late would lead to). We want to head somewhere excitedly, not trepidatiously.
If you go here or have been, please comment below and let us know about your experience!
Vegan-Friendly Cafes in Sarajevo
Of course we recommend the aforementioned Zdravo for amazing coffee and vegan desserts, but if your caffeine fix strikes while you’re exploring downtown, here are a few of the options that we scoped out.
Marshall’s offers a bunch of vegan gelato flavors that are pretty amazing, especially the cantaloupe. It’s tucked down a street, away from the bustle, but with open doors for people watching. There’s always plenty of tables, and it’s one of the few places that does a good job steaming their plant milks for espresso drinks.
This is a vegetarian cafe and specialty coffee roaster (one of only a couple in Sarajevo). Word on the street (internet) that spoke of vegan pastries and plant milks lured us to this cute cafe located just out of the old town. It’s on an adorable street, but sadly there were no vegan pastries anymore and no plant milks. The barista said they were out of almond milk and who knows when they’d have it in again. So we’re including this in our guide in case you’d like to pop in and play plant milk roulette. Let us know if you go here and what the update is!
Vegan Bosnian Food in Traditional Bakeries
You’ll know these spots by the word Pekara, which means bakery. They’re everywhere in the Balkans, so stop into whichever one strikes your fancy. Your options will be bread (most are vegan) and flaky oily pastries.
Look out for the accidentally vegan Bosnian baked goods:
- somun (kinda like fluffier pita bread)
- krompiruša or krompir pita (Bosnian potato pie – usually comes with sour cream on top so order without)
- štrudla od maka (poppy seed strudel)
- štrudla od jabuka (apple strudel)
When in doubt, you can always ask about ingredients. Everyone we met in Bosnia was incredibly friendly and helpful, even when there was a language barrier (usually not the case with the younger generation).
Street Food for Vegans in Bosnia
There are quite a few staple street foods that you’ll find in areas with substantial food traffic. There are potato tornados (mostly downtown), seasonal items like roasted chestnuts, and cold-pressed juices. These not only dot the Old Town, but consistently show up all over Sarajevo.
Here are our favorite picks for vegan Sarajevo street food:
Hungarian Chimney Cake at Tredlnik Sarajevo
A big favorite of Sam’s, and fortunately you don’t have to go to Hungary to try it! Sarajevo used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The empire’s legacy lives on through all the Austro-Hungarian architecture in the city – as well as in the food! You’ll undoubtedly walk by Trdelnik Sarajevo at least once during your stay. The little eatery’s is located (address: Sarači 3) near one of Old Town’s main crossroads, right by the Crossroads of Culture sign inlaid into the stone walkway.
Make sure you get your order in, as this one person show must roll, cut, shape, and slowly grill the cakes. Watch her use a hand powered conveyor belt to move the cakes down the line as they slowly rotate on a spit.
The finished product is a super soft middle with a very crunchy and crispy exterior. As is, just rolled in cinnamon sugar, this is vegan. They have a bunch of other toppings that are unfortunately not vegan, but you won’t miss them as the classic version is oh-so-tasty.
Street Stands for Juice, Roasted Nuts or Cups/Ears of Corn
It doesn’t get much cheaper than this for freshly squeezed, cold-pressed juice. While we were there, the juice on demand was pomegranate.
Also everywhere we looked, chestnuts were roasting over a gas lit fire. Or sometimes, corn on the cob roasting on an open fire. But if you’re really hungry and can’t wait? Get a cup of corn, right in your hands.
Markets and Grocery Stores for Vegan Food in Sarajevo
There are two main grocery chains worth your vegan eyes: Mercator and Dm. Just don’t expect the vegan options you usually find in the rest of Europe. We will also mention a couple of specialty stores.
This Slovenian grocery chain has a steadily growing vegan inventory. We stayed just a few blocks away from the biggest Mercator in the country, Mercator Ložionička 16. Apparently, this location has the biggest variety of vegan options available, conveniently located in one health food aisle. You’ll find the basics here: plant milks (including a local brand), tofu, dehydrated textured soy protein, seitan (occasionally), and baby food size jars of hummus.
Other than that, don’t expect to find your usually explicit vegan offerings. There are a variety of smaller Mercators located throughout the city, so your mileage will vary in terms of products offered.
This German-owned chain is a godsend for the vegan in Sarajevo. There are many locations, all offering the same array of store brand shelf-stable organic vegan foods. We mean not only milks, but spreads, patés, pestos, sauces, tofu, seasoned tofu, almond tofu, an assortment of dried nuts and fruit, protein bars, with many explicitly labeled vegan. These German products will delight your vegan taste buds as many of them did ours when we felt like something different towards the end of our three months in Sarajevo.
Specialty and Organic Stores for Vegans in Sarajevo
Tiny Kana sits nestled in an old building, next to an indoor tourist market. They frequently slash prices on foods nearing expiration and we took full advantage of this. They offer all manner of vegan, organic, and health-oriented products, such as plant based protein powder blends, nut and seed butters, veggie bouillon that’s free of msg, dehydrated raw delights, other crunchy snacky things, and more.
Most importantly, they’re one of two places in Sarajevo that carry nutritional yeast. The other place that does is none other than our fav…
That’s right – our favorite vegan hangout also has some pantry items you may want to take a gander at. They have less items than Kana, but don’t let that deter you. If you need protein powder blends or concentrates, they have them. If you want other powders like maca, or chlorella, they got em. If you need cacao nibs, or megapacks of organic flours, they got em. Himalayan pink salt. Even some cute, locally made, cutting boards if you’re looking for a souvenir.
Outdoor/Street Produce Markets
Outdoor markets selling produce, usually seasonal, are everywhere. They offer very similar stuff to supermarkets. Some items are cheaper, such as staples like cabbage. They’re spread throughout the city, but notable ones include the produce market that was tragically bombed during the siege of Sarajevo, and Merkur (along the river, further from the center).
Vegan Sarajevo Further Resources
Vegan and Vegetarian Bosnia Facebook Group: most posts are in Bosnian but even if you post in English, people will be happy to answer your questions.
So there you have it: vegan Sarajevo. Any other recommendations for traveling as a vegan in Bosnia? And don’t forget to pin this post for later! 😉