You know that feeling you get when you go to a social event, like a family gathering, and sit at a table full of carnists and you find yourself looking around and notice that everyone you can see is eating animal flesh like their lives depend on it? And you understandably feel very out of place, because these people are clearly operating on a very different set of ethical beliefs?
Well, take that feeling, then prolong it for 90 days and nights, then increase the size of the table until it can accommodate another 340,000 people - and then you'll have some idea of what it's like to live as a vegan in Plovdiv for 3 months.
"Plovidv: The City of Seven Hills." Relaxing at the top of these hills at sunset is an experience not to be missed during your stay. I recommend a different one every night.
Meal times in this beautiful 8000-year-old city seem to be based around dead land-dwelling animals to an extent I've (thankfully) never experienced before. And to top it off, when we were there, there was not one functioning vegan restaurant, and only one fully vegetarian place.
But after diving into the culture as much as we could and living here for the last 3 months I've gotten to know the place pretty well, and we managed to find enough places to eat out. Unlike other countries though, in Plovdiv the vegan options were mainly limited to two or three things per restaurant, and the venue didn't always advertise these.
For other important advice on staying vegan in very vegan-unfriendly cities, check out this article I wrote while in Plovdiv.
Or just do what you came here to do and read below our list of only the best vegan-friendly places to eat around the city centre of Plovdiv, Bulgaria - pretty much in the order we first visited them.
Serves meat, two vegan options
website | no facebook
One of the first places we found was one of our absolute favourites. A little stall, tucked under a bridge right in one of the most active parts of the city centre, selling take away or dine in Mexican-style food.
The vegan options at Viva Zapata are burritos ("vegerito") and tacos ("vegetaco") that can come individually or in a small "meal deal" which includes side salad and more guacamole. These options are marked in green on the menu and everything they include is vegan - even the "bean cream" we were assured contained no animal ingredients.
This is the store to look out for. Dine-in area is to the bottom right, and through that window there you can witness them preparing your meal.
The veg burrito, which I wholeheartedly recommend, costs a mere 3.5 BGN (~2.6 USD) which is great value for money considering its size. The taco's are equally good value at only 1.5 BGN (~0.90 USD) each, just smaller.
The ingredients in both are beans with cream, a mix of chopped up vegetables including capsicum and corn, yellow rice, green salad, guacamole, and you can add "spicy" sauce as you desire (the Bulgarian definition of 'spicy' or 'chilli' is much, much weaker than we're used to in Australia).
The menu at Viva Zapata includes two vegan options which are pictured here in green. Notice the very small price tag. (Note: menu reportedly changed design in December 2017 but kept the same options)
Viva Zapata was a great place to get a take-away burrito and enjoy it in the near-by park. The staff were very friendly, we chatted with one lady for over fifteen minutes once after we finished eating, and it's great to see your meal being prepared in front of your eyes.
Serves meat, few vegan options
Located a mere sixty second walk from Viva Zapata is a "health food and juice bar" also with indoor and outdoor seating.
This is the cabinet where you pick out a salad, sandwich, or non-vegan dessert and take it to the counter. While not really good enough for conversation, the staff always had good enough English to answer whether or not certain things were vegan.
This colourful cafe and juice bar also serves fish, dairy and eggs... So watch out for those. Most of the smoothies and juices are vegan, but some do have honey and other animal secretions, so just confirm with the staff before ordering. They do not serve plant-based milks (except in one dessert - but it also contains honey) and when we were there, there was no vegan desserts.
This left us to choose from an avocado and hummus sandwich, about three different salads, a few choices of baked / dehydrated crackers (including flaxseed and zucchini) and two raw soups that weren't available to us because we were not there in summer.
This is the view if you sit out the front of Vitafix, which we always did. Featuring a green smoothie, a chick-pea based salad, and that flat thing on the right is a flax-cracker with zucchini.
When we first arrived in Plovdiv and were still getting a feel for things, I felt blessed by Vitafix because at least I could eat some fruit (in a smoothie) and salad every day. But as I got a feel for things, and we moved into our apartment, I stopped coming here and just bought my own fruit and veg from supermarkets. For people just passing through for a few days Vitafix may be a great resource if you like these kinds of foods.
Serves meat, vegan options
Finally, a real restaurant!
Restaurant India is located in the same vicinity as the above two places, no more than fifty meters from Vitafix. This was handy for us when we wanted a salad for entrée and then a cooked meal for mains as the walk took no time at all.
The outdoor seating at Restaurant India is where we enjoyed all our meals here.
At the time of writing this, their website says they have exactly twelve vegan options, which already puts Restaurant India way ahead of anywhere else in the city in terms of sheer number of choices. The price here averages out at about 4 - 6 BGN (2.5 - 3.7 USD) per meal and the dishes themselves range from many rice combinations including veg briyani to naan bread, mushroom curry, dal or tomato soup and some onion bhajis.
My favourite though was the Aloo Jeera (boiled potatoes with cumin seeds) with the Peas Pulao (peas in white rice with mint). As usual with Indian food, the main ingredients sound pretty basic, but it's in the perfect combination of spices that really make the meal come alive, and Restaurant India is no exception to this. My only concern here was the amount of oil they used in their dishes, probably as a substitute for no ghee - but strangely enough I never asked if it was even possible to have no oil.
All the staff we saw here spoke great English and had no troubles explaining to us what was vegan on the menu and answering and annoying questions I had about the ingredients.
The Aloo Jeera is as nutritious as it is simple. Did you know that you can live indefinitely eating nothing but potatoes? They contain everything we need including more vitamin C than an apple.
Sitting on an outside table at Restaurant India and eating perfectly cooked and spiced potatoes and rice were my best memories of having cooked-restaurant food in Plovdiv, until we found the place below...
Serves meat, vegan options
website | facebook
A little further north of the city centre is another Mexican veg-friendly restaurant, but unlike Viva Zapata (reviewed above) which seems designed for busy people to get take-away meals, Sombrero is definitely the kind of place you want to come with some friends to fill a table and enjoy a Mexican-inspired feast.
My first course: Marinated red peppers, fresh green peppers, sweet corn, red kidney beans, two types of cherry tomatoes, avocado, spring onion and parsley. That white stuff is Feta cheese, but tell them you're vegan and they'll gladly substitute it for something else. All this is served in an edible bowl, which I thought was awesome.
The menu at Sombrero contains a lot of meat, but they were kind enough to list all the vegan options in a seperate section on the menu, making ordering very easy. Just tell them you are vegan and they will replace anything animal based with another sauce or side. They also don't mind removing an ingredient or two to veganise an otherwise ethically unjustifiable meal.
In addition to being further outside of the city centre than anywhere else we ate (though still walkable), Sombrero seemed to be slightly more expensive too, though considering the quality of the food and the setting I felt it was very fairly priced.
My main course: Two types of beans, two types of rice, olives, peppers, onion, garlic, fresh tomatoes, lettuce, wrapped in two types of tortilla. The meal is served with chips, rice, guacamole, salsa and vegans get to choose a sour-cream-substitute sauce.
I remember walking back home from Sombrero's with a full belly thinking, "Damn, Plovdiv just levelled up." And it would stay on that level until right near the end of our stay when we found another veg-friendly restaurant of comparable quality. But before we found that, there were a number of less-fancy places that kept us full and satisfied.
Parrilla y Asador
Serves a lot of meat - some vegan options
no website | no facebook
Parrilla and Asador is conveniently located in the walking street down the middle of the city center, and nearly every day we walked past it - which was nearly every day we were there - it looked very busy. And with good reason... they were giving the Bulgarians exactly what they liked: lots and lots of meat.
Due to the excessive amount of animal flesh they sell here, I would only use this dine in or take away restaurant as a last resort. But when we did go, quite a satisfying meal was made out of collecting a bunch of side-salads and putting them together.
This is what you look out for on the main walking street down the middle of the city centre.
As you enter Parrilla & Asador you'll see on the left a large, long, glass counter with a selection of meat and salads to choose from underneath. At the back on the right are inside dining tables if it's too cold outside, but this place got so busy there was hardly any seats available anywhere in peak times.
How it works is you choose what you want, they scoop it out for you and put it on a plate or in a takeaway container, then they put it on some scales and you pay by the weight.
They have a pretty extensive selection of bean based salads, leafy green combinations, a few different potato based options, capsicum ("peppers") stuffed with rice, and a lot more delicious looking food. Below are pictures I took of most (not all) of the salads they have to choose from.
Some of the salads on offer. A few of these have dairy (like the white, creamy looking ones), so check with the English speaking staff members before placing your order.
Some of the staff here spoke enough English to understand "vegan" (pronounced "veg-n" not "vee-gan" in Bulgarian) and were able to tell us what dishes were appropriate. But if this isn't possible when you're there, don't worry, because there is a pretty legit pizza place only a three minute walk down the road...
Serves meat, but easily veganised
While walking down the main street of the city centre everyday to find a cafe to work in, I kept noticing the huge signage just off to the right for a "Pizza Lab". When we finally decided to go inside we were pleasantly surprised to find they could accomodate vegans quite well.
Before and after shots of our pizza's with all the vegan toppings and surprisingly spicy (for Bulgarian standards) additional side sauce.
They have a nice set up going here, where you choose your base, then your base sauce, then whatever toppings you want and you watch them make and bake the pizza in front of you, which is cool because the baking process only take 2 minutes.
For vegans the only suitable base is the "gluten free" base as the others use eggs and honey. The tomato and BBQ base sauces are the only vegan options. But of course all the vegetable toppings are vegan...
The price felt reasonable at 10.90 BGN (6.8 USD) for a 36cm pizza. Even though they don't charge less for vegans who don't use half the ingredients they offer, they were happy to keep piling on more vegetables to get our moneys worth to the point I had to tell them to stop.
All the veg toppings they offer, and some sneaky processed animal meat in the top right.
If you've ever been to Plovdiv you would probably know, as I mentioned earlier, that "chili sauce" doesn't necessarily mean "spicy". If you want that hot touch you'll need to go to a supermarket and buy some Tabasco sauce and bring it around with you everywhere. BUT, here at Pizza Lab they had the option to get a side of hot sauce that, for the first time since we were in Thailand, was actually hot. So you can leave the Tabasco at home when you come here. Yay.
Mayriges Lebanese Cuisine
Serves meat, vegan options
Conveniently located in the kapana, a two minute walk from the city centre, is a vegan-friendly Lebanese restaurant called Mayriges. The initial appeal to come here was for some falafels, but if you've ever eaten Middle Eastern cuisine before you'll know theres at least a few more options that come vegan as standard, and Mayriges delivered on all accounts.
One of the already-vegan-friendly Arab salads: tabbouleh.
The falafel wraps are great here, and, unlike all the kebab shops around town, this ones completely vegan, and comes with tahini sauce. The other vegan options we had were the falafel plate, tabouli salad and fatoush salad, all of which were top quality. From memory there were roughly 7 vegan things on the menu, and I believe they clearly labelled the veg options.
Falafel plate with some amazing tahini sauce. This comes with a side stack of warm Lebanese bread, and, of course, you wouldn't want to eat some of these without ordering some hummus to dunk them in.
It's obvious just when you see the restaurant form the street that it's a high quality venue. Everything from the menus to the staff's service to the home-made food itself was in line with this. (The above two picture's don't do Mayriges justice at all.) The only thing that wasn't in line with the high quality was the price... we were pleased to be paying not much more than other restaurants that skimped out on the details they nailed here, so we always left feeling like we got our moneys worth.
Fully vegetarian! with mostly vegan options
no website | facebook
Novo Zdrave is a very-vegan-friendly restaurant established in 2017 serving some Bulgarian style food with a that "home made" flavour you start to miss when you're travelling non-stop and eat at all your food at restaurants.
Even though it's located in the city centre, it's strangely hard to find; if you walk to the street address there is no view or signage of it at all. You have to go through a communal door, down a hall, around a corner, and then waiting for you at the end is the delicious reward. Navigating this maze, I imagine, unfortunately makes "walk-in" customers non-existent.
It took us almost three months to realise this - and to add insult to injury, one of the very first hostels we stayed at when we arrived was directly above Novo Zdrave, and shared the same communal door and hallway...
They have a surprisingly nice range of raw vegan, whole-food based desserts at Novo Zdrave, just confirm with the staff that there is no honey involved.
Once we arrived we were welcomed warmly by the staff and were pleasantly surprised to then be choosing our meals not from words on a menu, but from a live display of all the meals on offer sitting on the counter. This was a unique idea that I really liked as you could easily see the size of each meal.
The food they offer includes pancakes, lasagne, pizza slices, soups, salads, and a decent selection of raw cakes as well as tea's and coffee with plant milks. All of this is vegan, except some desserts that contain honey, that they will hopefully replace with one of the many vegan substitutes. There is also a spice tray that you can use as you please with at least 10 different spices on it, and a mini-store section selling dried dates, coffee, teas and other healthy vegan snacks that I can't remember.
Three of my meals: mushroom based pizza, beetroot based salad (the tastiest thing I got) and that's a lentil soup in the background.
Novo Zdrave is a tasty, inexpensive almost-vegan restaurant that, once you know where it is, is actually in a great location, and the friendly English speaking staff member (I think he was the chef actually) made us instantly feel right at home. We left with a few take-away desserts wishing that we found this place much earlier. Highly recommended.
The Green Lemon
Fully vegetarian! with vegan options
website | facebook
The Green Lemon is located just to the left of the bridge crossing the Maritsa river due north of the city centre.
It is a whole food cafe, juice and smoothie bar serving a daily lunch menu of baked meals, great wholemeal bread, salads, soups, and desserts (some of which contain dairy). All of the main dishes are always vegan, and they have an additional little store section that contains a freezer with ice creams and other frozen treats, and some shelves with savoury snacks such as brown rice chips. Most of the store section is vegan, but some things contain dairy.
Mains and dessert... which would you rather have?
The main dishes are in buffet styled trays on display in the cabinet as soon as you enter the building and immediately looked very appetising to us. Next to that are a couple large, covered bowls that contain the soups of the day. Above is some great bakery style breads and some desserts.
The meals are served with plastic cutlery that the customers dispose of themselves in the bin provided, "food court" style. Aside from the unnecessary amount of plastic usage this creates, the only other thing I didn't like is that they run out of food and close before dinner time, making this a lunch time only venue. But that probably won't be an issue for people who aren't in as serious a relationship with fruit as I am.
Legume based burgers? These weren't available when we visited, but damn they look good.
The Odeon Hotel & Restaurant
Serves meat, some vegan options
The Odeon Hotel Restaurant is located in a pretty handy spot in the Old Town, next to Roman remains and only a few minutes walk away from the Ancient Roman Theatre. It is a lot more fancy than nearly every where else on this list, which means what it usually means: the food tastes awesome the but the servings are too small.
Even though the price of individual meals is not much more than anywhere else we ate, which was very surprising considering how extremely nice the Odeon is, it ended up costing us more because we had to order more meals.
The Odeon Hotel & Restaurant website states, "our chefs use Bulgarian, Asian, Italian, French techniques and molecular gastronomy to satisfy every taste."
They conveniently have a dedicated "vegetarian appetizers" page on their menu, and they seem to list the non-vegan ingredients quite clearly, such as cow cheese or butter, which makes it pretty easy. As usual the vegan options are few and far between, and they also serve several veal dishes.
Everything considered, we only ate here once. Don't get it twisted, the quality of everything at Odeon is amazing, including and especially the service, but for a few reasons it just wasn't our cup of tea. I would recommend it if you like the experience and taste of posh restaurants but don't want to spend the usual a fortune to get it.
That's all the places we enjoyed enough to recommend you go to as well, but unfortunately for the entire duration of our 90 day stay (and a few months prior we have since found out), the following two vegan-frienly restaurants were closed with no sign of reopening soon.
Veggic - I got in touch with them on facebook and they said they were moving locations and waiting to hear back from the Ministry of Culture about permission to move into their new building. Best of luck.
Country Life - Their facebook says: "Unfortunately, at this point, we are having difficulty continuing our activities. I believe that when we are able to overcome the current challenges, we will be able to welcome you again with our loving collective and delicious dishes! Be Healthy!"
Hopefully they both reopen soon, because they are both fully vegetarian and claim many vegan options. Plovdiv needs you!
PS. Something I did not mention yet was the abundance of road side fruit and vegetable stalls that are around Plovdiv. These are everywhere and make it very easy to pick up healthy vegan food on the go. Click here for more information on these in another article I wrote.