I recently returned from a long weekend in Trento, in the region of Trentino in the Northwest of Italy.
Before visiting, I was a little apprehensive. This was only my second time visiting Italy since deciding to go vegan in 2016 – and I’ll admit, the last time had seen a few mishaps.
But, what I learned on this trip about food in Italy, and what I realised I had known about Italian cuisine from previous trips to Italy and from living there in 2013, meant I am now much more confident to travel to Italy as a vegan.
But how? I hear you say. Pizza without mozzarella? Pasta without parmesan sprinkled on top? Secondi without a slab of meat on your plate?
And it’s great that Italy is quite catering to vegans in the form of non-dairy milk etc. People are starting to become more aware of what veganism is (perhaps not as quickly as other countries in Europe) and you’ll have a smooth ride in any of the bigger more touristy areas.
However the best part about eating vegan in Italy is that it’s actually very natural to do so! There are many vegan options which are traditional Italian dishes and don’t require any changes to be made to them in order for you to enjoy them. This is great because it means:
Here is some information on dishes you can eat as a vegan in Italy.
Traditionally, every meal in Italy is a family affair, with kids coming home from school at lunchtime and families eating together at the table for a couple of hours in the evening. This has probably changed in recent years (If you’re Italian and can share your insight, please do so!) but it is still much more common than in the UK. This doesn’t mean to say that takeaways are frowned upon; far from it; you’ll find pizza by the slice and meals to go available in every city.
Breakfast in Italy could be a little tricky on a vegan diet, but there will be no signs of a full English Breakfast or bacon & eggs!
Breakfast in Italy is generally ‘sweet’, and consists of croissants or other pastries. If you’re eating in a hotel and there’s a buffet, there will usually be a continental breakfast with cereal too, and you can request soy milk in many places.
If you’re going to be eating breakfast in your accommodation, be it a hotel, with a host in an AirBnB for example, be sure to let your host know beforehand so they are able to grab you some soy milk.
If you’re in a city and struggle to find something, head to the market for some fruit. There is usually a fruit market most mornings, and if not, there will be a grocers open nearby.
Generally Italians will have a full meal at lunch but if you fancy something quick or on the go, there are takeaway options available.
A panino is a sandwich, and the veggie option is usually fried aubergine and peppers (melazane e pepperoni). Check there isn’t any butter in it (there usually isn’t, it’s usually just olive oil).
You can get pizza a tagliere (pizza to takeaway, which is cut into slices already) in lots of establishments. More on pizza later.
This is the pre-dinner drink that you go to before indulging in your evening meal. Usually this is a glass of wine, a beer, or an aperol spritz. It often comes with crisps and peanuts and is worth checking with your waiter whether each of these snacks contains animal products (they normally come in a bowl without a packet).
A typical menu in a restaurant will be made of six parts:
Note that Pizza menus are normally separate from the main menu.
The go-to’s are bruschetta al pomodoro (crusty bread with tomatoes and basil on top), verdure grigliate (grilled veggies – usually courgettes, bell peppers and aubergine), and focaccia (a delicious bread, usually quite thick, topped with rosemary and salt).
Pasta can be tricky because some pastas are made with egg – these are usually the fresh ones that have to be refrigerated when being stored. Typical examples are tagliatelle, parpadelle etc, similar to what you’d find in the refrigerated section of the supermarket at home.
You can generally choose dry pasta as an eggless option (pasta asciutta). This is stored in a cupboard like at home. Examples include spaghetti, penne, fusilli…
There will usually always be a pasta dish on the menu called pasta arrabbiata which is basically just tomato sauce, herbs and a bit of spice. Another popular option is the simple pasta al pomodoro e basilico (with tomato and basil). You can always request more veggies. Be wary of carbonara sauce which contains bacon and other white sauces which contain milk.
Risotto is often made with cheese and cream – but these aren’t added until the end. If you want a risotto it’s worth checking with the waiter how it’s cooked to see if these ingredients can be omitted.
Soups are plentiful but there may not be much choice for vegans. Minestra di verdure is vegetable soup and pasta e fagioli is pasta and bean soup. Remember to check they won’t put cheese on top.
The most expensive part of the menu is this one, and there will likely not even be a vegetarian option here, let alone a vegan one. However, because of the way menus work, the sides are ordered separately from the main dish, so you can still order a heap of veggies! (see Cortoni below.)
As explained above, in Italy your sides are usually ordered as an accompaniment to your secondi. You can order extra cortoni though, or a whole meal of cortoni if you wish. Greens often make an appearance on cortoni menus (cime di rapa – brocolli) is a favourite. Potatoes can come in the form of chips (patate al forno) or French fries (patatine fritte). Salads (insalate) are usually served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
It might shock you that one of the first pizzas ever invented was made WITHOUT cheese on top! Yep, you got that right, senza formaggio, senza mozzarella!! This wonderful masterpiece is called the pizza marinara.
In the UK (and probably other places too) we’ve independently decided that a marinara pizza has seafood on it. Well, in Italy it doesn’t.
Sidenote: I really don’t understand why us Brits invent stuff that just doesn’t exist. Like Hawaiian pizza. Italians would never put pineapple on a pizza. And like Indian curries. Half the ones we see on takeaway menus in the UK aren’t a thing in India, vindaloo for example. Anyway I digress.
The marinara pizza originated from Naples in the 1700s, when fishermen needed something to take to sea with them that would keep in the conditions on board.
It is topped with simple ingredients, oregano and garlic, on a base of the traditional luscious tomato sauce and dough that is the wonder of an Italian pizza. Sounds plain, but it’s delicious. Trust me.
In fact, lots of establishments will be welcoming to offer you a marinara pizza with veggies on top. Ask for a ‘pizza rossa senza formaggio con…‘ and then list your desired vegetables. It’s really not that weird to have a pizza without cheese in Italy.
Some places do vegan alternatives of Italian classics, such as tiramisu. However, your best bet is sticking to fruit (frutti) and sorbetto ice cream.
I’m including a section on drinks because so many alcoholic drinks are produced using animals that I wanted to share some popular options that are safe:
For wines, prosecco, and other spirits and beers, please check with your waiter! There’s also lots of info on the Barnivore website for specific brands but I can’t list every brand here.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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