Many traditional Italian recipes are vegan: pappa al pomodoro, ribollita and panzanella from Tuscany; caponata from Sicily; farinata di ceci, one of Liguria’s celebrated snacks; and polenta.
The capital of Tuscany, Florence is a foodie paradise where veg-friendly eateries are abundant. The locals are known for their open-mindedness towards other cultures, ideas and lifestyles, and this is definitely true for those following a plant-based diet.
A great place to start is Veg e Veg, a bright and cheery restaurant that offers delicious vegetarian alternatives to classic Italian dishes (think veggie carbonara) and mouthwatering international fare like vegan pad thai and vegetables in tamari sauce with jasmine rice.
While a lot of pasta and pizza is made with eggs, if you order them dry or opt for the vegetarian option you will find most dishes are naturally vegan. It’s worth checking the menu before you order to make sure the pasta is vegan, but if in doubt just ask. Also keep in mind that many Italian restaurants use boxed pasta, which is always vegan, but if you want freshly made pasta be sure to order it with a marinara base instead of a meat or fish sauce.
In southern Italy, where Kate is from, it’s easy to find flour and water based pasta such as orecchiette and cavatelli, which are natural vegan options. The region is also famous for its olives and they are usually served fried Roman style or shaved into a salad. Depending on the season you may even be able to enjoy grilled or roasted porcini mushrooms or deep fried artichokes – yum!
The most important thing to remember when traveling in Italy is to approach your meals with an open mind and a positive attitude. Italians are very hospitable and they want you to enjoy your experience, so be sure to communicate clearly with your server about what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of ingredients and preparation.
If you have a good grasp of the language, try using phrases like “no animal products” or “I’m a vegan” to get what you need. It’s also a good idea to bring your own snacks and beverages in case you can’t find what you’re looking for at a restaurant or coffee shop.
When it comes to food Italy has always excelled. So it’s not surprising that Italian restaurants are some of the most vegan friendly in the world. You can find several options in Rome alone, from family-style trattorias with a few vegan dishes on the menu to more edgy and modern vegan eateries.
One of our favourite vegan restaurants in Rome is So What?!, which has an edgy alternative atmosphere and serves top quality buffet style food. This restaurant is a must-visit for vegans and non-vegans alike. Located near the Pigneto metro station, this place is a true gem and can get pretty busy at weekends.
The Italians love their bread and if you’re a vegan it’s easy to find delicious options such as whole grain or sourdough, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side. They also have a wealth of vegetable side dishes. Kate, our vegan expert in Italy, says that she loves the Sicilian dish of caponata – a rich stew of eggplant, peppers, zucchini and olives which can be served as a side or even eaten on its own.
Another of her highlights is the grilled porcini mushrooms. They’re served with a light sprinkle of salt and drizzle of olive oil – simply delicious. Kate also advises that as you travel south within Italy, you’ll find flour and water based pasta dishes like orecchiette and cavatelli, which are great alternatives to the northern egg-based versions.
On pizza, the Italians tend to favour the so called “original” Pizza Margherita, which is tomato sauce with garlic and oregano, with a few basil leaves. Cheese is seen as a luxury topping, so no one will blink an eyelid if you ask for your pizza senza formaggio (without cheese).
Many Italians are familiar with veganism since there are quite a few celebrities who follow the diet. However, they still believe that vegetarianism isn’t healthy enough and that you cannot get the same nutrients as those who eat meat. This belief is totally misguided and not backed up by any medical research.
The food-centered culture of Italy can make it difficult to find vegan options, especially if you’re traveling. You’re likely to dine out for most meals (unless you choose self-catering accommodations) and the menu will often be a mystery. However, Italians are usually well-versed in the concept of vegetarianism and are willing to make changes if you ask nicely.
That said, it’s best to approach each restaurant with an open mind and work with your server to build a meal you can enjoy. They want you to be satisfied!
As you head further south within the country, you’ll find that many traditional dishes are naturally vegan. Orecchiette and cavatelli are delicious examples of flour and water pastas that are easily made vegan. And risotto can also be veganized by omitting the cheese.
Polenta is another classic dish that you’ll find throughout the country. Traditionally, it is served as the first course of an Italian meal. It’s a hearty, thick stew/soup type concoction that contains beans, diced vegetables and oregano. However, you may find that some restaurants add in meat or lard which makes it non-vegan. So, be sure to check the menu carefully before ordering!
Other popular vegan dishes include fennel, orange and olive salad or panzanella with arugula. In terms of side dishes, grilled porcini mushrooms are always a great choice and can be ordered as a replacement for a meat entree.
Sicily is a fascinating region that’s well worth exploring. In particular, Matera is an incredible UNESCO World Heritage site where you’ll find houses built into caves. It was even used as the set for Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ!
Benevento is another destination that you should consider visiting. This city is famous for its history of witches and is also the home to Strega Alberti, a unique herbal liqueur. The enchanting city is full of ancient architecture and pretty gardens to explore. It’s a great place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of larger Italian cities.
The city of canals and bridges is also home to some of the best vegan food in Italy. From seitan and polenta dishes to eggplant lasagna and vegan tiramisu you can find it all here. The trick is to look in the contorni (side dish) section of the menu for the veggie options. And don’t be afraid to ask your server for suggestions if you can’t find anything you want. Italians are very accommodating to dietary restrictions and will often go out of their way to please you.
Talking about side dishes, one of the best things to try in Venice is grilled porcini mushrooms, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with parsley. It’s a dish that’s perfect for vegetarians and vegans alike. You can also get delicious polenta with grilled vegetables and a variety of sauces. And the pasta here is great – you can even get risotto with vegetables, or linguine with a mix of seafood and veggies.
In general, a good tip for dining in Italy is to avoid ordering anything that has eggs. If you see that a pasta or risotto dish has egg in it, ask the waiter if it can be made without eggs. Most of the time this will be no problem but it’s always worth asking to be sure.
You can also ask for pizza senza mozzarella (with no cheese) or a capricciosa pizza (tomatoes, artichokes, black olives and mushrooms). And don’t forget to order a glass of vino to go with your meal!
There’s a lot to see and do in Italy, so make sure you pack your bags, book your flights and plan your trip. From traditional Tuscan foods in Florence to the culinary specialties of Emilia-Romagna to the classics of Rome, you can have a wonderful vegan trip to Italy. And don’t forget to try a shot of Strega Alberti (Witch’s Liqueur!) while you’re there!