This July, I had my first vegan travel experience. After years of traveling as a vegetarian, I was curious how much more difficult it would be to find vegan food, or if there was not going to be much of a difference.
Greece is not a particularly vegan-friendly country. “But there are so many Greek vegan dishes,” I hear you exclaim. While that may be true with regards to side dishes, Greeks love their meat, dairy, and eggs. While you can definitely find vegan Greek recipes you’ll be hard-pressed to find vegan main courses at Greek restaurants, and, let’s be honest, living off of salads isn’t exactly satisfying. Add to that the fact that veganism is fairly new here, and people are not very familiar with the idea of not eating animal products. If your Greek friends tell you that during Greek Lent you will find an abundance of “vegan” dishes, please be aware that fasting food may contain seafood and honey, and is, therefore, not always vegan. You’re better off checking the exact ingredients in a dish in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. Even Athens, the capital of Greece, and a fairly multicultural city with a population of several million people does not have a single strictly vegan restaurant. With this in mind, I was curious about how it would be in a much more isolated place like the island of Corfu.
First things first, when traveling with another person for more than a weekend, I prefer to stay at apartments that have a kitchenette. This really helps eliminate the amount of money spent on eating out. In particular, breakfast is something I don’t want to have to eat outside. If you have access to a kitchenette you just have to find a supermarket to buy anything you would also use back home.
I had looked up vegan-friendly places on HappyCow before leaving for Corfu. The list was small enough check out all the listing within the ten days that we spent in Corfu. However, as we had planned on cooking at home as well we only went to some of the places listed.
As luck would have it, the first place we went was also the most impressive. Rosy’s Bakery is a small pastry shop in the old Jewish quarter of Corfu Town. Rosy is a sweet Jewish lady who has been offering vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, but also regular pastries for years. She knows exactly what veganism is and can tell you which sweets are vegan. I have to make it clear right away that she has the best baklava I have had in more than two years of living in Greece. Having Bulgarian-Turkish roots, I take my baklava pretty seriously and have been hugely disappointed by the baklava in Greece. It is usually dry and way too simple for my taste. There seems to be no interest in trying something new and exciting. Germany offers more diversity in baklava than Greece. But then I tried Rosy’s vegan baklava – and it was heavenly.
Some of the sweets contain the local citrus fruit kumquat, which I have to say is not my thing. It has an odd combination of sweet and sour flavors, and I believe the liquor is more popular than the fruit itself.
There is a limited amount of savory options, but for vegan ones you should specifically ask Rosy. I didn't think of doing that, so the only one that got to try the savory pies was my boyfriend who said they were really good.
We went back several times, because everything was so good, and we took a huge amount back home to Athens with us. Her pastries are honestly so good, that I would fly back to Corfu for a weekend just to get some of the baklava. It’s so good, that if you are vegan and unsure of where in Greece to travel I would suggest Corfu.
There have been some comments on HappyCow regarding the prices, and the first thing Rosy said to us was that things would be a bit expensive. While the prices are not the same as in the baked goods section at the supermarket the supreme quality, by all means, justifies the prices. This is part of a much bigger discussion about what we are willing to pay for good quality, and why some companies can keep their prices extremely low. Rosy’s Bakery is a small family-run business which is open more than twelve hours, seven days a week. Consider that when you ask about the prices.
There are two locations within a few meters from each other, and you will find either Rosy or her equally lovely daughter Oretta behind the counter. They speak at least Greek, English, German, and Italian, which helps with the communication.
Palaiologou 37 & 71, Corfu Town. Open Monday to Sunday, 10am-10:30pm. https://www.facebook.com/Rosys-Bakery-913742852054570/
Now that I’m done raving about Rosy’s Bakery, let me assure you that vegans will not have to live off of sweets alone. Not far from the bakery, at the town hall square, there is a tiny place called Pane e Souvlaki. Don’t be misled by the name, there is nothing Italian about this place; it’s just that Corfu was under Venetian rule for centuries, so there is a strong Italian influence on the island. The few times we went here, I chose the tabbouleh and the falafel. They were decent and filling enough, but having lived in Montreal which has a large Lebanese community, my standards regarding both dishes have never been met in Europe. Of course, you can find good falafel in Europe, but it will not be extraordinary. The best thing about Pane e Souvlaki is definitely the location. The town hall square is beautiful, especially at night. The interior of the place is very pretty but very small, and because of the wonderful weather we always sat outside. Due to the tiny size, the place is usually packed, and we have seen a pretty impressive amount of people waiting for a table, many of whom were locals.
Gilford 77, Corfu Town. Opens Monday to Sunday at 12pm. http://panesouvlaki.com/en/
On the last day that we visited Rosy, we realized that we should simply ask her for suggestions on vegan food rather than going back to Pane e Souvlaki every time we were in town. Rosy recommended a small family-owned taverna called To Diporto. We had a look at all the options, and they told us exactly which ones were vegan. I chose a dish with black-eyed peas which was good and quite filling. My boyfriend really loved his non-vegan dish, so it’s a good place to go if your group doesn’t only consist of vegans.
Palaiologou, Corfu Town. https://www.facebook.com/DiportoCorfu/
For our everyday cooking needs and breakfast, we went to the local supermarket, Dimitra, which had several vegan and organic options. In fact, considering its size it had more options than many supermarkets here in Athens. We were able to get vegan muesli and plant milk, so we were covered for breakfast. They also had soya mince which meant we were able to make pasta with a bolognese sauce.
Taking a stroll through Corfu Town, we walked past an ice cream place that offered vegan options. Needless to say, I had to try it out and was pleasantly surprised. It was not too sweet and tasted really good, actually. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which flavors I had, nor, and this is much worse, the name of the place. If anyone knows, please leave a comment.
Another place that I don’t remember the name of was at the gorgeous beach of Prasoudi. There are only two restaurants/bars there. It’s quite a difficult beach to get to but well worth it. When we were hungry we went for the place with the better view. The owner was very helpful in letting me know what vegan options they had. The food was decent but totally overshadowed by the incredible view.
One place that we missed out on was Gran Aladino in Palaiokastritsa. This was another place that was listed on HappyCow, but when we arrived there we were told that the kitchen wasn’t open yet. As we had decided not to spend any time in the town (the views are gorgeous, but it is also completely overrun by tourists) we continued our trip further north. On our way back we didn't make it through Palaiokastritsa again, so I don't know how the vegan burger they advertised tastes. If you have been there please leave a comment, I'm really curious.
The last vegan tip for Corfu is unrelated to food. The olive soap factory of Patounis has been around since 1850 and is still owned by the Patounis family. They manufacture four different types of olive soap: pure olive oil soap, green olive soap (you can also buy this in flake form for your convenience), olive palm soap, and laundry soap. Before my Corfu trip, my sister had seen a documentary on the Greek islands, and the Patounis soap factory was mentioned, so she had asked me to get her the green olive soap.
The factory still looks like one would imagine it to have looked in 1850. It is a very charming place with a friendly owner. They offer daily visits through the production facility, but, unfortunately, we missed out on it. You can buy Patounis soaps and other items, such as local olive oil, which I got for my dad.
All soaps are vegan, and the owner even explained to me that for the marks that are used as a guideline when cutting the soap, they consciously decided not to use carmine in order to be vegan.
Ioannou Theotoki 9, Corfu Town. Open Monday to Saturday 9:30am-2pm, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday also 6pm-8:30pm. http://www.patounis.gr/index.html
In conclusion, while Corfu is by no means a vegan paradise, it has some lovrly gems to offer the vegan traveler, most of all Rosy’s fabulous pastries. It’s definitely worth a visit, with its beautiful old town and stunning beaches, and vegans will not have problems, as people in restaurants understand what veganism is and will try to accommodate you.
Half Bulgarian Turk, half German living life as an expat in Greece.