Banitsas Vegan in Bulgaria

Vegan in Bulgaria (Vegan Travel Challenge Week #2)

We’re halfway through our 31-day vegan travel challenge this Veganuary, and still going! Last weekend we flew out to Bulgaria, not a country known for it’s vegan cuisine, but so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised about how well being vegan in Bulgaria has gone.

Our second week of travelling vegan has been… more challenging. After an easy transition into veganism in Luke’s home town of Brighton during week 1, finally getting on the road and travelling in Bulgaria has meant that being vegan hasn’t been such smooth sailing.

We’ve had more highs and lows this week – we’ve discovered amazing vegan places in Bulgaria’s capital city, but had mayo squirted all over our grilled veggie burger before we could get a word out and been grouchy about not getting to eat Bulgaria’s local yoghurt.

Charlie in Sofia Bulgaria 1

Vegan in Bulgaria

I read a blog by a native Bulgarian earlier this week saying that this is a country where “meat is king and bread is queen.” It’s pretty true – there are smoky meat joints everywhere and more bread than the average person would ever be able to digest. But despite all of that, we’ve enjoyed being vegan in Bulgaria exploring the vegan scene in Sofia (yes, there are a number of vegan restaurants that exist in Bulgaria!)

When we arrived at our Airbnb apartment in Sofia, we headed straight round the corner to grab a bite to eat and were ridiculously excited to find that the first restaurant was a vegetarian/vegan place called Sunmoon Bakery. We later found out that this is the best vegan restaurant in the city (probably the country). We eagerly studied the menu for items with a vegan sign next to them and were excited to find loads of traditional Bulgarian options that were vegan.

We got to try lutenica (a tomatoey relish), kyopoolu (aubergine relish), bob chorba (bean soup), vegan mish-mash (scrambled tofu with onions and peppers), and mashed nettles. Not only that, but the two relishes, two mains, homemade bread and a glass of wine only cost 19lev total (that’s £7.32). We thought the price was wrong, but it wasn’t! Massive high point #1.

Traditional Bulgarian Food in Vegan!

The next morning we were amped to get out and find more vegan options! We headed to a breakfast place called Hlebar where you can get banitsas, a long stuffed pastry that Bulgarians eat for breakfast. We saw someone mention the word “vegan” on TripAdvisor so assumed we were all good, read the little labels next to the pastries and ordered an apple, raisin and brown sugar banitsa and a potato and mushroom banitsa.

They looked good, smelled good and had the flakiest pastry. We had an espresso shot and started devouring them. Part way through though we had a horrible sinking feeling that maybe the pastry wasn’t vegan (low point #1) because it was so much like filo pastry (which usually has butter). We still don’t know if they were vegan or not, but we later had vegan banitsas at vegan cafes that had a very similar texture and flavour.

Vegan banitsa in Bulargia

We explored a couple of other vegan places, including a hippy teahouse, a hipster vegan and raw cafe, and a really gross vegan fast food joint (that was low point #2). We walked out really pretty far to another vegan place one night but were bummed to see it was closed, which is so much more annoying when you’re vegan than when vegetarian because you can’t just hop into any old cafe with the same confidence.

Are We Really Experiencing Local Culture as Vegans?

Although we were able to get some delicious vegan Bulgarian food at Sunmoon Bakery, we definitely experienced really massive grumpy spells because of not being able to try Bulgarian feta cheese and locally made Bulgarian yoghurt which are staple parts of Bulgaria’s traditional food. I couldn’t help asking myself whether we were really getting a taste for Bulgaria’s culture and cuisine by just eating in exclusively vegan restaurants and avoiding all non-vegan foods.

I realise that probably many people feel the same about meat dishes when travelling, but vegetarianism is so ingrained in us that we never think that way about meat. I guess that’s how many vegans feel about eggs and dairy. There always seems like so many vegetarian options on the menu that you can just pick one, but vegan options aren’t on the menu. The solution is probably to be braver and start asking if there’s anything vegan or if something can be rustled up.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about being vegan in Bulgaria though – aside from the language barrier – is that it’s just not a concept that people in Bulgaria are all that familiar with. One guy we ordered grilled veggies in a bun from was totally okay with us not wanting cheese then turned around and squirted mayo all over the bun. He gave it to us with a big smile, so we took it. Back in our apartment we grabbed a knife and started scrapping off the mayo into the bin, picking out chunks of lettuce that looked the least contaminated. Then we realised how pointless it was. The chicken had already laid those eggs and scrapping off that mayo wasn’t going to help, if anything it was just more wasteful. 

I also read a lot of vegans complaining on restaurant review websites that options labelled as “vegan” actually contained honey. In our experience though, in most of the places we ate the ingredients were written out on the labels next to food and on the menu.

Vegan banitsa and cookie at Sunmoon Bakery Sofia Bulgaria - Charlie on Travel
A delicious banana cookie (no honey) and vegan banitsa at Sunmoon Bakery

Out in the Mountains of Bansko

Two days ago we left Sofia and headed to the Bulgarian mountain town of Bansko where we’ll be skiing for a few days. Before taking the bus here, I grabbed some vegan snacks from the supermarket – including these delicious dried apple slices – as well as some vegan cookies from the vegan bakery.

Vegan travel snacks on the bus in Bulgaria - Charlie on Travel

We’re not sure what being vegan in Bansko is going to be like, as I’ve read that it’s filled with very traditional Bulgarian mehanas that aren’t very veggie-friendly, so bought supplies like oat milk and muesli from Sofia and made a conscious decision to book an Airbnb apartment that has a kitchen.

So far we’ve mostly cooked bean stews in our apartment, but we did speak to the very friendly owner of a cafe called Le Retro who kindly made us a vegan pea soup and salad for lunch. Over the weekend we’ll be heading out to some mehanas to see if we can manage to get maybe a vegan stew and some bread, but we’ll see!

Charlie and Luke in Bulgaria

How Are We Doing?

Aside from the moments of grumpiness and getting hangry when vegan places haven’t been open, we’re doing really well. We’re still happy and healthy, although are a little more tired than usual. This week has been much more up and down for us, but we’ve had a lot of support and advice from the vegan travel community (thanks, guys) and that’s helped to pick us up at our lower points. The highs are definitely still out numbering the lows though, and we’re feeling confident about our next two weeks of vegan travel!

If you’ve got any knowledge about being vegan in Bansko under you hat, do share it with us in the comments or over on our Facebook page.

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

14 thoughts to “Vegan in Bulgaria (Vegan Travel Challenge Week #2)”

  1. Glad to see you guys are still going strong! My number one tip is to stop thinking you’re limited to what’s written on the menu. If you explain what you need and ask nicely, 99 times out of 100 you will get it. This was a real revelation for me when I first went vegan, but it’s true. Often, chefs are happy to be presented with a new challenge rather than cooking the same thing over and over again.

    And I completely agree that scraping off the mayo once it’s been served is just wasteful and doesn’t help anyone. I’ve eaten mayo and cheese in exactly that type of situation, when I knew that sending it back would mean it would be thrown away. Recently though, a similar situation happened where I was served meat (twice on the same day!!), and I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. Both times the server saw how upset I was and whisked it away. I tried to confirm that it wouldn’t be thrown away and that someone among the staff would eat it. They said yes, but maybe they were just trying to shut me up. Another option would be to take it and give it to a homeless person, or anyone else willing to eat it, but that might mean paying for two meals.
    Wendy@TheNomadicVegan recently posted…10 Vegan Italian Dishes You’ve Never Heard OfMy Profile

    1. Thanks for the continued support, Wendy! I think that asking for something that’s not on the menu is something that we both find really difficult because we’re worried about coming across as annoying I guess, but you’re right though, I think most places are happy to help. We asked a cafe here in Bansko about vegan options and they were more than happy to make us something not on the menu, which we really appreciated. We just have to build our confidence about it!

      Yes. I think we were a bit heart sunk because we wanted to go “pure vegan” for our vegan challenge, but we both really, really hate food waste (I’d go as far as saying that we loathe it) and it was only when we took a step back and thought about what we were doing that we realised there was really no point. I am interested to hear what other vegans would do in that situation as well (ie. when you know the food would be thrown in the bin if you didn’t take it) so that’s really interesting. We wouldn’t be able to bring ourselves to eat meat either… not after so long.
      Charlie on Travel recently posted…Vegan in Bulgaria (Vegan Travel Challenge Week #2)My Profile

  2. This is a great write-up of your experiences Charlie! I’m also doing Veganuary and finding there’s such a big difference eating out as a vegetarian and as a vegan. It’s so true though that once you’re used to being vegetarian it doesn’t come into consideration if you’re missing trying the local food or not, and luckily more often than not plenty of local options are accidentally vegetarian anyway, but it does seem to be a big jump (for the worse!) when it comes to the availability of vegan options. Good luck with your next two weeks :)
    Natalie Tamara recently posted…An Oil-free Coconut Corn Chowder with BRITA | Vegan, Gluten-freeMy Profile

    1. Thanks Natalie! I’m excited to hear you’re taking part in Veganuary too – how’s it going for you? I definitely started Veganuary thinking there was going to be hardly any difference at all, but I’ve realised that there is. Being vegan when travelling (and eating out) is so much harder and pulls up a lot more questions about cultural/local experiences, than just being vegan at home. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’ve had great experiences being vegan in Bulgaria so far, but I think it’s made us somewhat more aware of what a big difference there is between travelling as a vegetarian and a vegan – maybe not so much in some countries (Thailand, for example), but in Bulgaria it’s quite big.
      Charlie on Travel recently posted…Vegan in Bulgaria (Vegan Travel Challenge Week #2)My Profile

      1. Naturally it’s much easier in the UK (no language barrier for a start!) and I’m really enjoying it but it can still be tricky at times. There’s definitely a dilemma when something has unexpected dairy in, like you had with the mayo. I ordered a takeaway curry last weekend and found out that they cook with oil not ghee… then the curry arrived with egg in it! I’ve never had a curry with egg in ever and it’s hard to believe they didn’t list it on the menu. But, I felt it would have been worse to waste it and that there was no point being hard on myself about it.

        It’s also harder overall doing it when my boyfriend isn’t even vegetarian – so if we were travelling I don’t think I could dictate that every restaurant be vegan. It’s definitely true that some countries will be easier than others though!

        Is veganism something you’re interested in longer term? For me, it really is but I still think I’d have to allow myself to be flexible when travelling and not see it as “failing” if it wasn’t possible to find vegan options.
        Natalie Tamara recently posted…An Oil-free Coconut Corn Chowder with BRITA | Vegan, Gluten-freeMy Profile

        1. Yes, for sure. I’d say that veganism is a familiar concept to most people in the UK as well, especially in the south. Do you mean that they cook the curry with ghee rather than oil? That’s also so crazy about the egg, I’ve never had an egg in curry and would definitely expect that to be listed on the menu (because how many people are keen on an egg in their curry!?) Definitely agree about it being worst to waste it. I’d have just eaten it too.

          Veganism would be practically impossible for me while travelling if Luke wasn’t also vegetarian (and vegan with me this month). I think that it would potentially drive most people crazy if their travel companion was vegan and they weren’t, especially if they care about what they eat when travelling. To be fair though, we’re in Bansko (Bulgarian mountain/ski town) right now and there are no vegan restaurant here so we’ve been ordering vegan food in meat restaurant and actually having really great success! Lots of veggies, spinach, potatoes, white beans and even a risotto.

          I’m still undecided about veganism longer term. I’m definitely interested in a lot of the values behind veganism, and when we’re at home around 75% of the meal I make are vegan anyway. My main concern though is the environment and also health (by that I mean not wanting to processed foods). Animal ethics is a factor for me of course, but not my main driving force. My concern with veganism is that sometimes it pushes you into eating processed foods (white bread, soya products) especially when travelling. Things like soya and palm oil too, aren’t always sustainably farmed and there are environmental costs of importing those foods as well.

          Mainly, not eating meat and fish, eating locally where possible, eating unprocessed foods, and ethically farmed foods are my main priorities. Sometimes veganism slots in really well with that, but sometimes it clashes with it. It’s still a learning curve for me, and I think this January will be useful for experimenting and thinking about it further. What about you? Are you thinking you might stay vegan longer term?

          1. Yeah it was rubbish with the egg curry :( And since they didn’t use ghee, I thought I’d be in luck and that’d it’d be vegan.

            That’s so true about processed food sometimes being the only option and overall that’s going to be worse health-wise! I think longer-term, I want to continue being vegan when I’m at home and travelling in the UK (as much as possible), but I suspect I’ll see how it goes when I travel and not fret about eating dairy if it means a) healthier food and b) being able to eat at all!
            Natalie Tamara recently posted…Eating Out: That’s Amore, LeedsMy Profile

  3. Yes, well done to both of you.
    When disappointed that despite all your efforts you still might unknowingly be eating an animal product, do bare in mind that many healthy eating places are organic, free range and/or ethically sourced.
    While it is not totally vegan, it is still a step in the right direction.
    So don’t feel too down at your attempts, which are to be praised and admired, especially while travelling and being unable to be in total control of your food preparation.
    Keep rolling through Veganuary and decide what works for a healthy you and sits well within your moral compass.

    1. Thank you! I think that you’re right to say that there are other factors at play, such as the ethical sourcing of products and avoiding food waste where possible. Really appreciate your encouragement, we’re constantly discovering more and more vegan options here in Bulgaria, even in predominantly meat restaurants so there’s always something for us.
      Charlie on Travel recently posted…Vegan in Bulgaria (Vegan Travel Challenge Week #2)My Profile

  4. Great Bulgaria related post, Charlie! Now there’s a lot of snow here. If you go to the town of Veliko Tarnovo there is a great place called Go Green – it is on Happy Cow. I am sorry to hear you are not lucky with Mix of Figs, actually the guys are doing well – the pizzas are tasty. You missed Kring – this is absolutely great place too – they produce tempeh and seitan.

    1. Hey Kaloyan, thanks for your comment! We’re in Plovdiv now and there’s a lot of snow here too! We are thinking about going to Veliko Tarnovo actually but we are undecided because the roads have been bad (so bus travel is not so easy). If we go then we will definitely check out GoGreen – thanks for the recommendation!

      Mix of Figs had quite a few customers when we were there, so it must be popular! I think that we both really aren’t fond of vegan cheese, but we do know that other vegans love it. I am glad that they have good business though :)

      Hopefully we will come back to Sofia some time and get to try Kring and all of the other places. There are so, so many it seems and we are learning about even more places now!

  5. A good post Charlie. Very informative indeed!! My search for vegetarian/vegan food in Bulgaria led me to your post. Am Indian and as you might know, vegetarianism is a way of life in India. However a major difference in being vegetarian in India is that you dont eat eggs & cheese that is processed using animal rennet. Dairy is fine as is honey. Oil is also ok as long as its not animal fat/lard. Knowing these things, the only course that I have is to go the vegan route. All your sggestions are handy and would save my time. I would not mind wastage as I cannot eat non-vegetarian in my context of usage of the word.

    1. Hi Ram – thanks for your really interesting and informative comment! It’s really interesting to hear from the perspective of an Indian vegetarian/vegan. I hope that you find some delicious vegan food during your travels in Bulgaria!

    2. Hi Ram, Steve and I live part time in Bulgaria and can recommend lots vegan restaurants in Sofia at least: Soul Kitchen for a more special meal. Dream House, Sun & Moon, Mix o Figs & Loving Hut for daily food. Rawlly on facebook for cakes. All great and you can find them on Happy Cow. Zoya in English and Spirala in Bulgarian (but staff speak English) are healthfood stores for your staples. Hope this helps.

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