How to Eat Vegetarian and Vegan in Italy
If you think eating well in Italy as a vegetarian can’t be done, then think again: the country boasts one of the highest rates of vegetarianism in Europe, with an estimated 10% of the population shunning meat. The first vegetarian restaurant in all of Europe to be awarded a prestigious Michelin star was Joia in Milan in 1996, while the mayor of Turin has recently embarked on a five-year plan to turn the capital of Piedmont into Italy’s first “vegetarian city.” And with all the naturally vegan dishes in Italian cuisine, even those who don’t eat dairy products or eggs can find something on the menu to fill their tummy.
Vegetarian and Vegan in Italy: Recipes
Still not convinced? Traditional Italian recipes that are also vegan include bread-based pappa al pomodoro, ribollita and panzanella from Tuscany; farinata di ceci, a flat pancake made from chickpea flour, water, salt and extra virgin olive oil that, alongside focaccia, is one of Liguria’s most celebrated snacks; caponata, a classic Sicilian dish in which sautéed eggplants are cooked with tomatoes, celery, onions, olives and capers in a sour-sweet sauce—caponata is now served as an appetizer or side dish, however in the past it was a meal in itself, accompanied by bread—and the simplest pantry-staples-only pasta sauce in the entire Italian canon: spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino (garlic, olive oil and red chili). It’s originally from Naples and another Neapolitan export that has spread to every corner of Italy is pizza marinara topped with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, extra virgin olive oil and nothing more than that.
Most Italian menus are split into the five categories of:
- antipasti (appetizers);
- primi piatti (first courses);
- secondi piatti (main courses);
- contorni (side dishes/vegetables);
- dolci (dessert).
As a general rule, primi piatti and contorni will be vegetarian and/or vegan while the secondi piatti will focus on meat. Vegans should keep in mind that while many fresh pastas are made with egg, dried pastas are not so they are allowed as part of a vegan diet. A handy resource is the Happy Cow website that lists an amazing 2,382 vegetarian and vegan restaurants, health food stores and cafes in Italy, making it the go-to resource for veggie travelers to the Bel Paese.
Lactose intolerant? No problem!
Not just vegans but those who are lactose intolerant will be thrilled to know about these three great gelato shops in Rome, Florence and Venice. Olive Dolci is a vegan ice cream parlor in Rome’s San Giovanni neighborhood. Their gelato is made from plant-based milks and olive oil instead of cow’s milk, but the manufacturing process is the same as that used by all true artisans of gelato. The result is sweet, creamy and smooth as velvet—according to one satisfied customer, you would never be able to tell it’s not made from milk! Historic Gelateria Perchè No in Florence first opened its doors in 1939; in addition to an array of seasonal fruit sorbets, there are a few gelato varieties made with soy milk, including chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut. And the only authentic Sicilian granita in Venice can be found at Gelateria Il Doge—some vegan-friendly gelati made without milk or sugar show up on the menu, too.
Have you traveled to Italy on a restricted diet? Do you have any other tips on how to eat vegetarian and vegan in Italy? Please leave a comment below!