Your Culinary Guide To Eating Vegan in Italy
Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world. For many, the country conjures up romantic notions of gondola rides, enchanting architecture, and history that is thousands of years old.
But what is the real reason people come to Italy? What is it that makes the country so unforgettable?
Eating in Italy will be one of the best culinary pleasures of your life.
But what we truly love is that the Italian cuisine is one of the most-vegan friendly cuisines in the world. Even as a vegan, you never have to miss out on eating at Italian restaurants in Italy.
With that being said, you will still have to inform your waiter that you're vegan and avoid animal products which is why we'll start this culinary journey with some helpful Italian phrases before we delve into a food infused adventure.
Here are the Most Important Italian Phrases and Words for Eating Vegan in Italy:
Io sono vegano/vegana – I’m a vegan
Senza formaggio – Without cheese
Senza latte – Without milk
Senza uova - Without egg
Hai qualcosa vegano? - Do you have anything vegan?
Non mangio - I don’t eat
Carne - Meat
Pesce o frutti di mare - Fish or shellfish
Pollo - Chicken
Latticini – Milk products
Non mangio prodotti di origine animale - I don't eat products of animal origin
C’e’ formaggio? - Is there cheese?
C’e’ carne? - Is there meat?
Ci sono delle uova? - Are there any eggs?
Vegan Aperitivo in Italy
Let’s start this vegan Italian food journey the way an Italian would start off the night, with an aperitivo of course.
The Italian tradition of aperitivo quickly became a new hobby for us. Drinks WITH FREE SNACKS? Sign us up.
We know it sounds too good to be true, but this customary tradition is widely enjoyed throughout the country. For vegan travelers in Italy, aperitivo is a must-try!
Aperitivo is a great time to get together with friends to have a spritz and munch on some delicious vegan Italian finger food like olives, pizzette, bruschetta, small plates of pasta, roasted potatoes, and more.
What is a Spritz?
A spritz is an ultra-refreshing cocktail made from three parts Aperol or Campari, two parts prosecco, and one part sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh orange.
Once, we had a bar in Rome prepare a completely vegan aperitivo for us with vegan ham, mozzarella, savory pastries, and roast beef.
But don't worry, all bars and restaurants have plenty of vegan options for their aperitivo so you don't necessarily have to search out an all vegan place. In fact, we've come across bars serving vegan puff pastries with spinach, mushroom, and vegetable fillings on more than one occasion.
The food you get served will depend on the place. Some might offer an aperitivo buffet where you can pick and choose what you want, although it is also common to find places that serve you a set of dishes.
Aperitivo is usually enjoyed in the evening around 6 or 7 pm, and a while after you’ve finished you can move on to the actual dinner at a second restaurant.
Pro Tip: Aperol is vegan but Campari is not since small amounts of gelatin is used during the clarification process. So always opt for Aperol in your Spritz which happens to be less bitter in taste.
Eating Vegan in Italy - Vegan Italian Dishes
Cena – Vegan Dinner in Italy
Similar to most of Southern Europe, dinner in Italy is enjoyed later than you might be used to. In fact, most restaurants don’t even open until at least 8 pm so remember that before you make dinner plans. And always double check the restaurants opening hours.
Thanks to Italy's exceptionally vegan-friendly cuisine, every Italian restaurant will serve a handful of vegan dishes in some form whether as an antipasto (appetizer), a primo piatto (the first course which is typically pasta), or a pizza.
With that said, the secondo piatto (second course) will typically be a meat or seafood dish not suitable for vegans unless you are at a vegan restaurant.
Antipasti – Appetizer
Most dinners in Italy start with an appetizer, not to be confused with aperitivo. For vegans in Italy, that usually means vegetables and beans prepared according to regional traditions.
Some vegan antipasti dishes to try in Italy:
- Fagioli all’uccelletto – Beans in a tomato sauce
- Verdure grigliate – Grilled vegetables
- Bruschetta al pomodoro – Bread with fresh tomatoes, basil, and a drizzle of olive oil
- Carciofo alla romana – Artichokes simmered in olive oil, wine, garlic, and parsley
- Carciofi alla giudia - Deep fried artichockes
- Focaccia - A flatbread often made with olives, rosemary, or tomatoes with olive oil
- Insalata mista – Mixed salad
Primo Piatto – The First Course
In Italy, the primo piatto is known as the first course and typically includes dishes such as pasta, risotto, and polenta. Pasta dishes will tend to vary based on the region, but some popular and delicious vegan pasta dishes include:
- Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino – A classic Roman dish made with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper. Simple but ah-mazing!
- Pasta al pomodoro e basilico – Pasta with tomato sauce and fresh basil
- Pasta con i carciofi aka Victoria’s favorite pasta dish of all time – Made with artichokes, garlic, and olive oil
- Pasta primavera - Pasta sautéed with seasonal vegetables
Remember to always stick to pasta asciutta. Pasta asciutta is dry pasta which is completely vegan and similar to pasta you find at grocery stores. A lot of restaurants in Italy make their own fresh pasta by hand (pasta fresca), and they often use eggs in the process.
Moreover, if you end up at an all-vegan restaurant, you’ll be able to feast on other Italian pasta classics like amatriciana and carbonara veganized.
Pro Tip: If a pasta dish you want is vegan but made with fresh pasta simply ask the waiter if you can change it for a dry pasta like spaghetti or penne.
Obviously, pizza is always readily available at restaurants throughout the country and a great option when traveling as a vegan in Italy. Simply opt for a pizza marinara or a pizza vegetariana senza formaggio and it will be vegan.
And don’t dread eating pizza without cheese - a well made vegan Italian pizza doesn’t need cheese, the tomato sauce and fresh vegetables carry the dish on its own.
In very rare cases, some pizza in Italy can be made with strutto which is lard. This is usually not the case, but it never hurts to ask. Come è fatta la pizza? (How is the pizza made?) È fatto con strutto? (Is it made with lard?)
Gelato - Dessert for Vegans in Italy
A vegan dinner in Italy is not complete without a dessert, and in most cases, that means vegan gelato. Gone are the days where you had to settle for a sorbet. Not knocking sorbets, but nothing tastes as good as vegan chocolate and hazelnut gelato, or even pistachio.
Furthermore, vegan gelato in Italy is very easy to come by today. You will never be too far from a gelato shop at any given time. Best of all is that most gelato shops have at least a cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) that is vegan, and it's not uncommon to find nocciola (hazelnut) either.
Vegan Italy: Gelato Flavors
Nocciola - Hazelnut
Caffee - Coffee
Mandorla - Almond
Pistacchio - Pistachios
Cioccolato - Chocolate
Vaniglia - Vanilla
Cannella - Cinnamon
Panna - Cream (to put on top of the gelato)
Vegan Italy: Sorbet Flavors
Limone - Lemon
Fragola - Strawberry
Pesca - Peach
Albicocca - Apricot
Melone - Melon
Pera - Pear
Mango - Mango
Lampone - Raspberry
Vegan Breakfast in Italy
Almost all pasticcerie (cafes) will have soymilk and vegan croissants and other pastries on offer, meaning you won’t miss out on eating a real Italian breakfast as a vegan in Italy.
The Italian breakfast culture is completely unique and one of our favorite parts about traveling in Italy, which is why we put together a list covering all the ins and outs of eating a vegan breakfast in Italy.
Cooking Vegan Food in Italy - The Quality of Produce
Quality is something Italians do not compromise on especially when it comes to food and produce.
In Italy, you'll find deep red tomatoes oozing with juice and a fragrance strong enough to take over a kitchen before you even start heating them. Garlic that is potent enough to spread its aroma across an outdoor market. And crispy broccoli crowns that are so tasty that you’d rather eat them raw than cook them.
Not to mention the wide range of seasonal vegetables offered in corner stores on every street.
In other words, If you love to cook, you're in luck! The produce you find in Italy is some of the freshest in the world, and you should cherish this opportunity.
Rent an Airbnb with a kitchen during your trip to Italy to find out for yourself and get the chance to cook with some of the highest-quality ingredients in the world. It will literally take your cooking to the next level without much effort.
Eating Seasonally – A Chance To Discover Regional Delights
In Italy, everyone eats based on the seasons. That means artichokes are only available between November and April, asparagus is eaten exclusively in the spring, and pumpkin is enjoyed during the fall and winter. Generally speaking, you only eat vegetables and fruits when they’re in season.
Naturally, this means that restaurants change their menus based on what is available. You can visit the same restaurant a few months apart and have two completely different eating experiences.
Not only is this a sustainable approach to eating but a chance to try new dishes. Eating seasonal vegan food in Italy also ensures that you enjoy ingredients at their freshest state when they are bursting with flavor.
Pro Tip: Visit Rome in April to feast on a ton of artichoke dishes like pasta con i carciofi, carciofi alla romana, and carciofi alla giudia.
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