Travelling vegan in Bansko was the most difficult part of our 31-day vegan travel challenge while we were in Bulgaria. We loved our escapades as vegans in Sofia, which turned out to be a much more vegetarian and vegan-friendly city than we had expected, but just 170km away in Bansko things were very different.
Bansko is a Bulgarian mountain town and a popular ski destination. It’s not known for being a veg-friendly travel destination — because it’s just not, but there was no way that our veganism was going to stop us from learning to ski in Bansko this trip. So we braved the cold and snow in search of places to eat vegan in Bansko.
Where to Eat Vegan in Bansko
There aren’t a huge number of good looking places to eat out in Bansko unless you’re fond of heavy grilled meat and chips, but in my experience there’s always somewhere worth going — and it’s true of Bansko too. I searched online for the best cafe in Bansko and sure enough I found it…
Le Retro Cafe was the first place to come up online and it’s obvioys why. I read that they have freshly baked wholemeal bread and serve salads, so I sent a message to their Facebook page asking if they have any vegan options. It was the first time I’d ever contacted a place in advance to say I was vegan so I was a little bit nervous, but I got a reply from the cafe’s very friendly owner saying he’d be happy to make a vegan version of their food.
We went in for lunch and the owner explained that he had a couple of vegan friends and understood that it was difficult for vegans in Bulgaria especially. We ate a delightful vegan pea soup with wholemeal bread, and a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, pickle and ratatouille. Le Retro Cafe also serves toasted sandwiches and I’m sure they’d be happy to prepare a vegan salad sandwich as well if asked.
Eating Vegan in Bansko’s Механаs
When we first wandered around Bansko, we kept seeing this sign: “Механа” and thought it strange that a small Balkan nation had so many Mexican restaurants. But after being turned on to Matsurev Han by a review from a travelling vegan on TripAdvisor, we quickly realised our mistake. A Механа is a traditional bar or restaurant that you can find in the Balkans, Iran and Turkey. Pronounced something like “Meyhane” in English, you can expect to find traditional food, decorations and music in any Bulgarian Механа.
When I checked on HappyCow for Bansko I was surprised and excited to see that one of the traditional Bulgarian mеханаs was listed as being vegetarian friendly! This mехана is right across the road from Retro Cafe and the food is really delicious. We’re not 100% sure that everything is vegan because of some language barriers, but from what we can tell we think we were mostly safe.
The vegetarian hot plate, a scalding hot iron plate full of grilled vegetables and topped with a heap of chips, is definitely vegan. You can also get a smaller plate of just grilled vegetables if you prefer. We had a good bean soup with a tomato stock too. The sautéed potatoes are good and come covered in dill, but may be cooked in butter. The pita (parlenka) bread is incredibly chewy and delicious, though I read that sometimes the mix includes an egg but haven’t had this confirmed or not.
Banski Han is another of Bankso’s mеханаs, this one being located on the unpromising outskirts of town. However, don’t let it’s petrol stop exterior fool you! Stepping through the front doors of Bansko Han is like stepping into another world — a world of sweet fragrances, fine flavours and Balkan hospitality. We were recommended Banski Han by the 26-strong vegetarians and vegans in Bulgaria Facebook group and were pleased to find a number of vegan options pointed out by the friendly waiter.
The Bansko beans – white butter beans cooked in tomatoes with herbs – were really good. We also ordered spinach, which usually comes with cubed cheese though they adapted the dish for us so it would be vegan (the waiter did tell us that it would less delicious without cheese). There were also two kinds of risotto on the menu which were prepared vegan, and we went with the mushroom and courgette risotto which was great.
The price was a little higher than at Matsurev Han, (32BGN, £12.53) but so was the service and the quality, so we had no complaints.
Cooking Vegan in Bansko
If you’re planning on travelling vegan in Bansko, I would definitely recommend staying in a hostel or apartment with a kitchen because the vegan options when eating out are really limited. When we were in Sofia, I stocked up on supplies like muesli, oat milk and peanut butter from one of the heath food shops there and this turned out to be a good shout because of the limited choice as a vegan in Bansko.
Supermarkets in Bansko
There’s a small but good supermarket on ulitsa Glazne, the big road that runs alongside the river up through Bansko towards the mountain, called Big Super. They have a small health food section with vegan Roo bars, brown rice, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and similar. You can also grab staples like oats, muesli, red lentils, pulses, pasta and wholemeal bread.
However, we found that the vegetables in Bansko were quite often already on the turn and you had to be careful about which ones you were picking out. Mostly you could get decent red peppers, courgettes, mushrooms, dried mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Apples were available everywhere, and there were also bananas (though mostly speckled) and strawberries during January. Some of the better fruit and veg shops were in town along ulitsa Naiden Gerov.
Vegan While Skiing in Bansko
Deterred by the idea of paying high prices for mediocre food in the ski hut up the mountain and concerened that there wouldn’t be any vegan options, we stuffed the pockets of our ski jackets with peanut butter sandwiches, nuts and snack bars. However, we saw that you could get chips and white rice with peas and sweetcorn at the ski hut if you’d rather not prepare food in advance or carry it in your pocket.
If you’re travelling as a vegan in Bansko, my best advice is to have a lot of snacks with you and prepare as much as you can in advance. Though there are vegan food options around and plenty of restaurants and cafes in town, very few of them are a safe bet for vegans. That said, we had some really great vegan finds in Bansko and sometimes you just have to risk it when eating out.
If you’re travelling in Bulgaria and make any new discoveries for eating vegan in Bansko, do share them in the comments!