Vegetarians and vegans sailing the Danube River have plenty of locally inspired options. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
Feature image (above): Deak Street Kitchen at The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest is a good option for both carnivores and vegetarians. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
The Danube River’s most-traveled stretch — from Budapest, Hungary, to Passau, Germany, through Austria — is known for regional meaty delicacies such as beef goulash and wienerschnitzel.
But vegetarians and vegans sailing and stopping along the Danube need not fret. Just as the “Blue Danube” is not truly blue, traditional Austrian and Hungarian specialties need not always depend on animal protein. A lot has changed since the Iron Curtain fell — from the formation of the European Union to global trends in healthful and organic eating.
The following restaurants are vegan or vegetarian, or they have some options for everyone. Most serve some regional dishes made vegetarian and/or vegan, as well as some multicultural vegetarian options. And nearly all of them were just on the fringes of the main tourist sites — meaning they were quiet, fairly priced and frequented by locals.
Deak Street Kitchen (DSK)
The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest entered the city in April and brought with it a restaurant that’s modern, beautifully appointed and reliant on local and seasonal ingredients. While Deak Street Kitchen (DSK) is by no means vegetarian — with a menu dominated by traditional Hungarian specialties, burgers and meats — it does serve a few standout vegetable-driven options, which might be the freshest and healthiest items in town. The Summer Fresh Green Gazpacho served during my visit features fermented cucumber, green pea and summer squash, and the Hungarian ratatouille is made with a 65-degree egg. Ratatouille with egg is common in some regions of Hungary, according to Adam, the restaurant’s manager, who offered many insights about Hungarian cuisine during the course of my meal.
Must-Get Item: Ratatouille with egg, served with a glass of local Hungarian wine. Be sure to ask for the sommelier.
According to food historians, the Hungarian favorite of goulash dates back to the 9th century, when herders would dry pieces of meat into cubes, then reheat the dried meat with hot water when hungry. Yet even the meat eaters and locals who fill Napfenyes Etterem find the vegan restaurant’s goulash delicious. The brilliant paprika-colored soup, along with other Hungarian comfort-food dishes, are so popular that it’s no surprise that the restaurant recently expanded into a second location. Hungarian choices also include Hungarian Oat Fritters With Braised Cabbage and Potatoes, and Stuffed Cabbage a la Kolozsvar (made vegan through the use of seitan and vegan sausages). There are also international options such as pizza, rice-paper tofu wraps, falafel, smoothies and raw vegan and gluten-free dishes. The location on Rozsa Street is quite large, featuring a bakery at the entrance and two separate dining rooms.
Must-Get Item: Goulash soup.
A growing number of modern coffee shops in Bratislava are challenging the notion that old towns must be filled with touristy restaurants and traditional fare. One of those is Fach, which features side-by-side shops that can temper both decadent and healthy cravings. Fach Bread & Coffee sells espresso drinks, tartes and salads that take a cue from California and Australia; these can be enjoyed in its sprawling restaurant or on its outdoor terrace. A few steps away, there’s Fach Juice Shop, which looks just like California’s Pressed Juicery, with numbers connoting different cold-pressed juices made from vegetables, fruits and herbs. There are also smoothies, chia puddings, homemade hummus and healthful salads available for takeaway.
Must-Get Item: A latte and a pastry if you’re feeling indulgent, or a green juice and a vegan salad if you’re in need of a boost.
The Green Garden
With the obvious exception of DSK, all of the aforementioned restaurants are owned and operated by locals — and often by young, entrepreneurial women. So is the case at The Green Garden in Salzburg, Austria, founded by chef Julia Platzer. Though not technically right off the Danube, Salzburg is a popular drive-in destination for Danube cruisers due to its strong ties to the classic “The Sound of Music” film and for its general quaintness. Once I had my fill of the tourist-heavy sites, such as Mirabell Palace and Gardens, I retreated to the quiet Green Garden, where portions rely on organic produce, are beautifully presented and can be enjoyed al fresco in the company of locals. There are some lighter dishes, such as the fruit-filled, wild-herb salad and vegan “frittatensuppe” (Austrian pancake soup), but many of the dishes tend toward the hearty side. The vegan burger, for instance, replaces a meat patty with a huge piece of fried zucchini and comes with sweet-potato steak fries. Cheese lovers won’t want to miss the tarte flambee with zucchini, camembert and pears.
Must-Get Item: The vegan burger is a crowd favorite.
Simply Raw Bakery
If you think a raw vegan bakery — where nothing is heated beyond 118 degrees, and no eggs or milk are used — is the type of witchcraft pulled off only in places such as Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., you’d be wrong. Tucked away on a quiet street, Simply Raw Bakery embodies the adorable ambiance of a 1950s-style bakery, but with none of the guilt. Yes, there are plenty of obviously healthful options, such as “weizengras” (wheatgrass) shots and a green veggie bowl that features raw vegetables atop more vegetables pureed into a smoothie-like consistency. But there are also tasty options, such as a raw vegan version of “kaiserschmarrn,” the Austrian shredded pancake named after its most royal fan, Emperor Franz Joseph I, and a version of schmaltz bread that is topped with a perfectly seasoned coconut-butter-based spread.
Must-Get Item: Try the turmeric latte and the schmaltz bread.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Unlike other destinations, Passau has a more limited selection of vegetarian and vegan dining. While plant-based eaters might have luck at Chandni for Indian food or Selly’s Vegan Bar for an international selection (ranging from Thai curry to falafel burgers), I preferred to savor my cruise ship’s vegetarian lunchtime offerings. Unlike other river cruise lines, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offers a strong selection of vegetarian and vegan options at every meal — and it’s fresh, creative and typically locally inspired.
Must-Get Item: In Hungary, don’t miss Uniworld’s version of “langos,” a fried bread topped with cheese and sour cream. As the cruise nears Germany, try a dish of vegetarian sausage topped with sauerkraut.