A Tourist’s Mini Guide to Eating Vegan in Italy

A Tourist’s Mini Guide to Eating Vegan in Italy

Trying to maintain a vegan diet in Italy may seem overwhelming, tiresome, and your options seem limited. You’re thinking, parmesan and mozzarella is in everything! One good thing is, you rarely have to be concerned about butter, unless you’re looking at baked goods, which you should be avoiding anyways unless the pastry specifically states “Vegano”. People were very accommodating and they were almost always willing to whip up something to cater my diet – of course as long as it coincided with their original menu. Eating vegan in Italy (Florence, Cinque Terre, and Rome) isn’t as hard as you may think. My meals during this trip consisted of some accidentally vegan, some custom-made from the restaurant’s menu to cater my diet, and even a vegan croissant (cornetto).

Location @ ‘Bar La Licata’ in Rome

Below I have compiled a few tips when traveling in this beautiful country.

  1. Do the research and be prepared. Compile a list of vegan-friendly restaurants in each place you are staying prior to your travels to better prepare yourself. It will also be one thing less you have to worry about. Reduce the travel stress as much as possible. I recommend using Happy Cow. If you haven’t heard of it already, it is community based app that lets you discover vegan friendly options in the area of your choosing. Yelp and of course, Google will help too. 🙂
  2. Learn some Italian. If you’re traveling to major cities that attract a lot of tourists such as Milan and Rome, most people will speak English. Even in Florence and Cinque Terre, using English didn’t seem to be an issue. However, don’t take the easy way out, I strongly urge you to practice and brush up on your Italian. You’re in Italy after all and part of the experience is communicating with the people. Not to mention, your vegan diet may require a few modifications, thus being able to communicate that is quite important. Below are a few key words to know when ordering and eating food in Italy.
    • Things to Avoid…
      • Carne –  Meat
      • Pollo – Chicken
      • Prosciutto or Speck – Ham
      • Pesce – Fish
      • Agnello – Lamb
      • Delle carni Bovine – Veal
      • Uovo – Egg
      • Latte – Milk
      • Burro – Butter
      • Formaggio – Cheese
    • Vegan…
      • Frutta – Fruit
      • Verdure – Vegetables
      • Soia – Soy
      • Insalata – Salad.
  3. Consider home-stay or Airbnb. If the duration of your trip is a week or longer, stay in Airbnb’s or homes with a kitchen that you will have access to. This is a definite way to make sure your meals are vegan because you will be able to prepare your own food! Then you can walk to the local market around the corner, and grab a few key ingredients to prepare an easy breakfast to fuel you for the long and packed day ahead.  As long as you’re in or near residential areas, finding a market close by didn’t seem to be a problem. We had a market within walking distances each place we stayed and the fruit selection was always so amazing and abundant.
  4. A little flexibility can go a long way. If you’re a mad planner, and the restaurant you picked out is not open, it’s all good and you don’t have to go starved. As long as you are educated and know what you want, be open to the possibilities. As a vegan, I’m sure you’ve had much practice in this. It’s hard to be stubborn on a diet that is already considered strict (only because it isn’t a common lifestyle choice). So do yourself a favor, let go of a little bit of stressing when it comes to food and be open to what you could eat. Of course, as long as it isn’t anything that is animal derived. Although, you might be able to walk into a meat and sandwich deli to request a vegan sandwich. I did exactly this and I also wrote a little blog post about it here. 😉 Use your broken Italian, google maps, Happy Cow and go with the flow!
  5. Don’t hesitate to ask. In Rome and Florence, Italian servers were very accommodating and open to serving you to your desired diet as food allergies seemed to be a mainstream awareness. Pasta and pizza can easily be made vegan. For the pasta dish, request it to be prepared with a pasta noodle minus the “uovo” (egg), because fresca (fresh) pasta noodles tend to be made with egg. For the pizza, request it without “formaggio e carne”. You know the drill.
  6. (Italian) foods that are already vegan. If all else fails, go for the fruit, the bruschetta, or the minestrone soup.
    • Sweet, sweet sorbetto! However, although sorbetto is supposed to be vegan, be aware that some places add even the slightest bit of milk. Always be sure to ask! On the contrary, while gelato is not commonly vegan, I found the coolest spot in Rome where half of their gelato selection was vegan!! 
    • I found that many soups tended to be vegan like the minestrone I had in Cinque Terre and the tuscan bread soup (pappa al pomodoro) I had in Florence.
    • On the primi section of any menu, you will commonly find spaghetti in some kind of pomodoro sauce. Just be sure that their spaghetti does not include egg as an ingredient. You can also find many vegan dishes like bruschetta and fried or grilled vegetables such as eggplant and tomatoes.
    • Focaccia is a love. I found many spots that sold focaccia bread: in markets, at cafes, shops that specialized in focaccia bread, and even a pizza focaccia! I discovered La Boccaccia along my walk through Trastereve in Rome where they specialized in pizza on focaccia bread. Sure enough, one of the options they carried were vegan!And of course if you’re visiting the Liguria regions in Cinque Terre – the birthplace of focaccia, having some there is a MUST. While I was in Monterosso, I walked into the most delicious focaccia place that has FOREVER left an impression on my tastebuds. Like, I can’t even begin to describe to you – it was just sooooooo good. I took this quick, crappy picture for myself (posted right below), just so I can save it for memory and to drool all over it whenever I wanted. However, I decided that since it’s the only picture I took of this place, I have to share the wealth via eye-candy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    • Last but not least, fruit stands and freshly made juices.
      • In traditional Italian cafes, where you enjoy your morning espresso and pastry, you can typically find freshly squeezed orange juice.
      • Almost every cafe that sold gelato, espresso, and pastries in the same location, had a station to customize your own juice. Pick out the fresh fruits you would like and your customized juice will be prepared for you by the nice person behind the counter if you wait just a few minutes.
      • While walking around the busy streets of Florence, I also saw a few of these fruit juice kiosks set up along the way with the same customize-your-own juice set-up.

I hope this was a little helpful to you future vegan travelers going to Italy! This is all based on my personal experiences during my short trip there, visiting Milan, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome. Please note that in other cities across the country, this may or may not apply as each region has it’s own food specialties.

X,

J

No Carne Per Favore

No Carne Per Favore

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The smiley, curly brown-haired Italian dude on the other side of the sandwich station nodded towards me indicating it was my turn. The shop displayed a classic Italian deli set-up with men down the line chattering excitedly in loud voices as they took up their individual tasks. I went up to the glass that served as a divider to the rows of freshly prepared sandwich ingredients. I had been eyeing them excruciatingly, which I decided seemed for the most part, veggie friendly. He cut up a slice of focaccia bread, ready to pile on the ingredients for my custom sandwich.

“No carne per favore.” I requested calmly shaking my head as he pointed towards the selection of meats gathered in front of him, conveniently piled next to the mechanic slicer. This caused the entire row of pro-sandwich makers to let out loud animated gasps, eavesdropping as they went about busily completing each of their tasks.

In response, I sort of did one of those half-smiles where only the corner-right side of my lips raise, awkwardly forcing my cheeks to clump up on the same side. I continued to peak at the array of vegetable options behind the glass, convinced that I would walk out with a sandwich that I could enjoy. After making my way to two different vegan places, which were conveniently located in opposite directions from each other, I discovered that they were both temporary closed due to the holidays. I was pretty much thinking, grrrreeat. Despite this slightly disappointing excursion, I was still very much determined to find something to eat. After Mr. “smiley, curly brown-haired Italian” dude’s initially taken aback demeanor, he quickly composed himself, answering with, “Mozzarella?”

“Anche senza formaggio.” Came my reply.

Reactively, he replied, “Veh-gan?!?” I was surprised at his awareness of the vegan diet. Without a single objection or judgment shown on his face, in English he continued with, “OK. I make for you.” And then, he proceeded to put together my vegan sandwich among their meat filled line of sandwiches.

At the end, I was presented with an Italian sandwich full of eggplant-something, olive tapenade, juicy tomatoes, fresh greens, other veggie dishes that I don’t remember and olive oil drizzled on top. I had carefully watched as he concocted my meal, which I completely trusted in him to customize for me. I am a pretty big control freak and perfectionist, so allowing him to pick the ingredients to go in my vegan sandwich at his beloved meat shop, could have easily been nerve-wracking. However when traveling, you gotta let all that shit go, keep an open mind and have a little trust – it does wonders with ridding my anxiety.

The nice, jolly older gentleman who rung me up, held the hat I had been holding for me as I juggled the sandwich in one hand and rummaged through my bag for my wallet with the other. He then tried on my hat, but quickly took it off saying, “Looks better on you.” Accepting his joke and his playful attitude, I laughed. “Molto bella,” he said as he waved goodbye. I paid an unbeatable 5 euros for a hearty veggie-full sandwich.

I walked out beaming and eager to bite into my vegan sandwich. Often times you’ll be surprised what an open mind and a positive attitude will result in. So need I remind you, practice this mindset when you are traveling to make your time the most enjoyable one.

When you are in Florence, don’t hesitate to walk into All`antico Vinaio  – that is, if you don’t mind that they sell meat in the same location.

X,

J