Alyssa is vegan and has been for eight years now. She comes from California which is known for having plenty of vegan-friendly restaurants, shops, and markets. However, she suggests this hasn’t always been the case. Her experience of Dubrovnik is overwhelmingly positive, but getting food was not always easy. She spent one month living in Dubrovnik through the Digital Nomads-in-Residence program. During that month she struggled to keep her diet healthy and balanced. There are some good vegan options in Dubrovnik when it comes to restaurants. Still, the selection is pretty limited. On the other side, there is very little information out there for any foreign newcomers to the city as to how and where to find suitable food.
Through a long coffee-fuelled meeting with Alyssa, we managed to craft a list of 5 steps that Dubrovnik can make in order to become a vegan-friendly destination. Most of these steps would also be of great help for local vegans. Not only that, but the local omnivores might find themselves interested in going vegan a few days a week. This would be good for the environment and the local producers.
Produce Markets and Shops
The main mission of a travelling vegan is to find a reasonably priced, good quality, diverse selection of fresh vegetables and fruits. The good thing about Dubrovnik is: there is plenty of locally sourced, seasonal produce around. There are also a few farmers’ markets, with the biggest one being in the Gruz Harbour area. Along with a few greengrocers in the city, the selection is actually not bad. The problem is, these places rarely advertise. They never advertise to foreigners. This is a clear consequence of short-stay tourism. The average guest to Dubrovnik coming to the city for 2 or 3 days is hardly looking for vegetables to buy during this time.
The potential solution calls for the higher visibility of these businesses. Advertising, branding, and inclusion in promotional materials promoting the city are obvious solutions. Another beneficial thing would be to educate the people selling their produce on the needs and market share of the vegan visitors and local people alike. Various food delivery services have become popular in Croatia. They would probably have an interest in cooperating with these businesses which could then offer online ordering and delivery of fresh produce.
Updated Restaurant Menus
Many Dubrovnik restaurants are lacking a decent offer of vegan dishes. Aside from two dedicated vegan restaurants, very few other places offer quality vegan options. Most of the offer comes down to grilled vegetables or seasonal salads. These dishes don’t have the main food groups necessary for a balanced meal. Carbohydrates, protein, and fats need to be present on the plate in all the vegan main dishes. They rarely are in restaurants offering vegan dishes only to satisfy the format.
Restaurant menus need updating. However, this doesn’t just mean additional work or expense incurred by the restaurant. This means a chance for more business. Most restaurant owners in Dubrovnik underestimate the share of vegan guests. Not only that, but they fail to realise vegan customers usually come to their restaurants with their partners or friends. If the restaurant is not offering vegan options, they will lose not just that vegan guest, but the people they are coming to eat with as well. In order to make their efforts worth it, restaurants need to be upfront with their vegan options. Things like HappyCow stickers or similar signs let the potential guest know the place offers vegan options.
Enriching Local Cuisine
Tied to the previous step, Croatian and Dubrovnik chefs might want to step up and make themselves heard about the vegan issue. The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of Croatian vegans that want the changes described here. There are also a number of talented and highly skilled local chefs. They might be encouraged to re-visit some of the most popular local dishes and create vegan versions of the classics. This action could be tied to promoting local cuisine to the vegan market. Creating new delicious dishes reminiscent of the traditional Dubrovnik cuisine is a great thing in itself. When these dishes are also modern, healthy, and environmentally friendly, the promotional opportunities are endless.
Labelling for Vegan-Friendly Food Items in Shops and Souvenir Shops
There are plenty of food items in Dubrovnik’s shops and souvenir shops. Spreads, preserves, sauces, or pastes are usually labelled in such a way that they are perhaps understandable to local people, but rarely are easy to read for foreigners. Additionally, sales staff often doesn’t know whether certain food items in the shop are vegan safe or not. Many potential buyers will refrain from buying these because of this lack of information. Clear labelling for food that is vegan-friendly would distinguish these items. Education of staff would help this innovation along as well. Much like restaurants with vegan options, shops offering vegan-friendly items could use signage or stickers to inform their potential customers. Sauces and spreads are a great addition to simple vegetable homemade dishes in order to take them up a level.
Education of Dubrovnik Locals
Perhaps the most important step is educating local people about vegan food. The majority of people are not aware of what real vegan food is. Many of them don’t know just how delicious, healthy, and balanced a proper vegan diet is. By raising awareness of the health and environmental advantages of vegan food, Dubrovnik would start a chain of dominoes resulting in becoming a truly vegan-friendly city. With more local vegans and people interested in having occasional vegan meals, businesses would be quick to adapt. The vegan community is tight-knit and dynamic. In an area renowned for locally sourced food, vegetable-based cuisine could be the next big thing, not just for visitors.
Majority of steps proposed in this text stem from problems caused mainly by lack of knowledge or interest. Informative events, pop-up food stands or food trucks celebrating vegan food would do wonders for the local food scene. The future is green. Let’s make Dubrovnik a city of the future!
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