We spent 10 days in the beautiful country of Croatia for our family holiday this year. Having been there 13 years ago long before we had kids, we were keen to bring the boys and spend some more time exploring. My only concern was how we would fare finding dairy free foods and eating out with their allergies.
We have played it safe the last few years by visiting France with the boys where I knew there would be no difficulty managing food for them, and we have also visited Spain, but allergies weren’t on my radar at all last time we visited Croatia so I didn’t know what to expect. Croatia is an EU country so the rules along labelling ingredients would be the same at home and the same with eating out. I turned to google and read a few lonely Planet forum comments where people had no problems managing to find dairy free alternatives here.
We stayed on Pag Island, which is connected by a bridge to the mainland Croatia, but is still very rural. The tiny shop in the village Vlasici where we rented an apartment had no soya milk or other milk alternative but the supermarkets in bigger towns had plenty. Alpro is the main brand available and I found everything the same as home bar the yogurts and ice-cream.
They had milk alternatives – soya, almond, coconut based milks, cream alternative, custard, coconut, vanilla and chocolate desserts, but all long life stuff, nothing in the fridge section. Perhaps in the bigger cities Zadar, Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik there would be a better selection. We saw a hypermarket in Zadar but I didn’t get time [wasn’t let] to go in to check. Anyway the good news is it was fine to find the basics. The bad news holiday-wise is that we couldn’t find any dairy free sorbets or ice-cream to buy in the supermarket. We settled for ice-pops but had to buy them singly. I did find something like Mr. Freezes which we could bring home and freeze ourselves, strawberry, cola or orange flavoured, the boys were delighted with these. I didn’t look for a free from butter alternative as we always use jam on holidays.
Labelling was good on items in general, the same as at home and as is required by EU law, the 14 allergens are highlighted where they appear on an ingredients label. There was an issue with some goods however, e.g. Coco Pops where the ingredients label on the box were covered over by a sticker with larger writing of the ingredients. There was nothing highlighted on the sticker, and when trying to read a foreign language to discover the word ‘mlijeko‘ when not highlighted and the excited boys have chosen that exact moment to ask me their 452nd question of the day, I realised how much I needed the allergens highlighted. Anyway I ripped off the sticker to reveal the proper manufacturer’s label and was happy there was no milk. Phew!
I also noticed the same as I had noticed last year in France, that there seems to be a lot more ‘may contain’ notices on ingredients labels than you see here. It wasn’t unusual to see may contain dairy, egg, nuts, and sesame – several of them on the one product.
With regard to Gluten Free goods and goods free from other allergens, the selection was minimal in the supermarkets just one small 2 metre wide section of an aisle, with one or two options for gluten free bread, some gluten free bread mix and a few other items. Obviously I was only in a few supermarkets, the selection is likely to be much better in bigger cities and towns but overall there doesn’t seem to be as much available as in Ireland and the UK.
When we travel with the boys we always do a mix of self catering and eating out partly due to tempers and timing, sometimes it’s just easier to eat ‘at home’ and partly due to their allergies. We discovered a whole new challenge eating out in Croatia though. None of the restaurants cater for children, at all. Children are welcome as far as I can see and one restaurant we were at had a little play area and everything for kids, but there were no kids menus, no half portions – one place did say they’d do half portions but only of spaghetti bolognese or carbonara. Everywhere else we ended up ordering full adult portions for them. Look at the size of the salad and bolognese below! And the fish and chips! Of course the fish couldn’t be halved, I get that. I think that Croatian boys and girls must learn to share when they go out to eat, I think if mine had been used to that it would be fine, but my 8 year old was wanting octopus and squid and tuna salad, partly wanting to try new things but partly not wanting to share. Most times we ate out we ended up with a lot of food left over.
With regard to the milk allergy and eating out, the waiting staff seemed to be aware enough once I explained about the milk allergy but there was no allergy guidelines either written up or on the menu, no information at all. It was difficult to know if I had explained it and they had understood completely each time. We went for fairly safe options, stressing not to put cheese on the spaghetti bolognese or the hamburger etc. I would have felt happier if I had a Croatian allergy card explaining the allergy and I will have one available on the blog here very soon.
We only had dessert out a couple of times, once where they had Apple Strudel on the dessert menu which was free from milk, and twice in the Dupin restaurant in Vlasici, where they had an ice-pop/ice-cream freezer and they had a choice of two different non dairy containing ice-pops.
Overall, we managed well in Croatia, I think I would’ve been a lot more nervous if boys were gluten free or had a very serious allergy. I was disappointed I couldn’t get them ice-creams as it was holidays, but we made do. Definitely do your research before you go if your child has other allergies or multiple allergies. The owner of the apartment we rented was very helpful, if you’ve a contact like that to speak to before you go, make sure to. And I would advise bringing enough safe snacks or essentials for a few days anyway if you have room in your luggage.
Some of the main supermarkets in Croatia are Konzum, Plodine, Tommy and Lidl, if you wanted to contact them directly.
Have you visited Croatia with food allergies? I would love to hear from you..