The Ultimate Vegan in Italy Travel Guide
A note from Chef Denise
Are you a vegan traveling to Italy? Want to know about the best vegan Italian dishes? While I am not a vegan, sometimes I wish I was, and I have great respect for those who are, like our guest author, Danny Newman. With this Vegan in Italy Travel Guide, we hope to make it easier for vegans traveling to Italy to find plant-based meals worthy of any foodie. Buon appetito!
Eating Vegan in Italy
At first glance, Italy doesn’t sound like the best place to travel as a food-loving vegan. I mean, don’t Italians just eat cheese-laden pizzas, deep-dish beef lasagnes, and spaghetti Bolognese? Wouldn’t a vegan in Italy be miserable?
Thankfully, no, and no! Contrary to popular belief about vegan Italian food, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Having recently come back from a two-month vegan Italian adventure, I can safely say that this amazing destination, steeped in history and famed for its incredible food, is most definitely on the cards for anyone who (like me) eats a plant-based diet.
In fact, vegan food in Italy is plentiful and delicious!
Fun fact about vegan Italian food:
Most traditional Italian cuisine is based on what’s called “cucina povera”, which translates to something like “cooking of the poor” (or, if you’re feeling less politically correct, “peasant cooking”). Basically, because animal products were expensive and people didn’t have much money, Italians of old relied on ingredients that were cheap and readily available. In other words: Plants.
The result? Italian vegan food, just nobody called it that. So, no matter where you are in the country these days, there’s always something vegan and delicious to sink your teeth into. Would you like to learn more about being vegan in Italy and discover some of the best vegan Italian dishes to try on your trip? Keep reading!
The Best Vegan Italian Dishes and Snacks
Trust me, although food in Italy has a reputation for being laden with meat and dairy, you’ll never go hungry there as a vegan! Vegan restaurants in Italy are becoming more and more popular, and vegan options are available at most mainstream Italian restaurants. Here’s a selection of my favorite vegan Italian dishes that are a) served almost everywhere and b) mouthwateringly tasty:
Pasta al Pomodoro e Basilico: Vegan Pasta
If there’s one vegan Italian dish that you can rely upon finding anywhere and everywhere around the country, it’s this: pasta al pomodoro e basilica! Or, in other words: tomato pasta with basil.
Simple, rich, filling, tasty, and budget-friendly, you really can’t go wrong.
Penne alla Arrabbiata: Spicy Vegan Pasta
Penne all-Arrabbiata’s another of my all-time favorite vegan Italian meals! It makes for a delicious ‘primo’ dish (the Italian equivalent of a first-course), but it can easily pass as a main for vegans and omnivores alike! A rich, tomato-based sauce packed with garlic, parsley, and a good dose of chiles, it goes down a treat every time.
Fun fact: Arrabbiata means “angry”. Don’t worry, though! The name has more to do with the chiles in the sauce than how you feel when you eat it.
Pizza Marinara: Vegan Pizza
Being fairly new to veganism and thinking it always came covered in cheese and pepperoni, I was devastated at the thought of having to forgo pizza before I left to explore Italy. Little did I know, though, that the traditional Italian pizzas have been vegan-friendly since their conception in 18th century Naples!
Not only is the classic pizza marinara available anywhere that sells pizzas (not all restaurants do), but it’s also the cheapest thing on the menu and (almost always) has no animal products in sight. There’s just salt, water, yeast and flour in the base and marinara sauce, dried oregano, basil and garlic (and maybe a drizzle of olive oil) on the top!
Pasta e Fagioli: Italian Vegan Soup
Delightfully thick, rich, filling, and nutritious, pasta e fagioli’s basically a tomato-based bean stew/soupy concoction with celery, oregano, and crushed red peppers (among other yummy ingredients). Traditional and all-popular around Italy, you’ll struggle to find a heartier plant-based dish.
Be careful though! You can’t guarantee that the pasta e fagioli on the menu will be vegan. Sometimes (usually depending on where you are in the country) the cooks add animal products, so it’s always worth double-checking beforehand.
Polenta: Beware-Not Always a Vegan. Dish!
Creamy yet grainy (and altogether satisfying), Polenta’s another classic Italian meal that you really shouldn’t miss as you embark on your plant-based adventures around the country. It also makes a refreshing (but no less tasty) change from all the vegan pasta and vegan pizza you’re sure to be chowing down!
Vegan polenta can be served plain, or with a topping of mushrooms or other vegetables.
Once again, though, you can’t rest on your laurels with polenta. Although the basic recipe (cornmeal, olive oil, water, and salt) tends to be 100% vegan, some chefs do use things like milk, butter, or meat stock/broth to alter the flavors/texture. That’s why it’s still worth clarifying what’s in the recipe before ordering it.
Bruschetta con Pomodoro: Vegan Appetizer
I love bruschetta and know I’m not the only one! Now, it was clear on my own Italian travels that the quality of this naturally vegan dish varies. Like anything, some establishments do it better than others- but I think the simple nature of the dish means you notice it more with bruschetta than you might elsewhere! Yet, overall, you really can’t beat it as a vegan starter or small snack.
Think toasted bread, rubbed with garlic, laced with olive oil and topped with Italy’s unparalleled pomodoros (tomatoes)! Delicious.
Focaccia: Vegan Snack
I think I ate my weight in focaccia as I moved around Italy! And I strongly suggest you do the same. Why?
Well, first, it’s available from bakeries everywhere, making it a convenient snack or light lunch on your travels. Second, it’s cheap. And third, it’s always lip-smacking good. You can buy it “as-is” with just a drizzle of olive oil, or covered in sliced tomatoes and rosemary, or, to be honest, topped with any number of other delightful ingredients (just expect to pay more for the toppings!).
Take note once again, though: not all focaccia’s vegan. A lot of it comes with animal products on top and, sometimes, even the plain “no-topping” options are made using eggs and butter.
Sorbetto al Limone and Gelato: Vegan Dessert
It’s practically sacrilegious to visit Italy without sampling the world-famous gelato there! So, you’ll be pleased to hear increasing numbers of the “gelatarias” (AKA Italian ice-cream parlors) offer vegan gelato nowadays.
Made from ice/water instead of dairy products and coming in an array of flavors, it’s simply unmissable—especially when you come across a good-quality establishment.
Heads up, though, some gelatarias are better than others. You can’t rely on every single parlor you come cross (there are swathes of them) providing vegan options; the vast majority of parlors that do, tend to provide a limited selection of flavors compared to their dairy ones. Nevertheless, beggars can’t be choosers and, trust me, something’s definitely preferable to nothing in the world of Italian gelato!
Bonus: Vegan Alternatives to Classic Italian Dishes
If you (like me) are new enough to veganism that you don’t yet turn your nose up at non-plant-based food, then you might hate the thought of going to Italy and missing out on the classic dishes you’ve heard about throughout your life! Things like mozzarella pizza, fresh pasta, and creamy risotto.
Never fear. In most towns and cities you’ll find vegan restaurants that have put a plant-based spin on traditionally meaty or cheesy Italian meals. Many of the classic Roman dishes that have been prepared the same way for centuries, and the famous foods of Emilia-Romagna now have plant-based recipes at Italian vegan restaurants. From rich ravioli and creamy carbonara to those cheesy pizzas and indulgent lasagnes, you can try them all! The meat’s been swapped with things like lentils or faux-meat, the pasta’s all made using semolina, and the cheeses are made from nuts, and so on.
5 Awesome Vegan Restaurants in Italy
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to where to eat as a vegan in Italy. However, there were a few places I was lucky enough to go to that definitely stood out from the crowd. Here are my 5 best vegan restaurants in (with a special bonus at the end!):
1. Nirvana Veg, vegan restaurant in Florence
Expect family-friendly vibes and a lively atmosphere at this popular vegan restaurant in the heart of Florence. Serving a variety of delicious vegan alternatives to classic Italian dishes (vegan carbonara, anyone?), it’s well-worth a visit.
2. Libreria Brac, vegan restaurant in Florence
A hidden gem in the middle of Florence, Libreria Brac serves hearty quantities of sumptuous vegan cuisine. Be sure to book ahead though! This one gets busy and tables are limited.
3. Savure, vegan restaurant in Turin
If you’re looking for fresh pasta dishes served fast, then Savure’s the place to go. Vegan options are somewhat limited, but you can still enjoy a hearty meal (and at budget-friendly prices to boot).
4. Mezzaluna, vegan restaurant in Turin
With its friendly service, delightful dishes, and affordable prices, Mezzalana was one of my favourite vegan restaurants in Turin. Choose from a selection of pre-made dishes (and sweet treats!) for a scrumptious and filling meal in the middle of the city.
5. Origami House, vegan restaurant in La Spezia
If you can only go to one vegan restaurant in La Spezia, then I highly recommend Origami House. Fully vegan, these guys know how to make amazing plant-based food! Its friendly, chilled-out atmosphere is the cherry on top.
Bonus: Grezzo Raw Chocolate, vegan sweets in Rome
Vegan or not, you should 100% take the time to visit Grezzo Raw Chocolate in Rome. Specializing in raw vegan chocolates and truffles, luxury ice cream, and other indulgent sweet treats, this place is insanely good!
5 Top Tips for Eating Vegan in Italy
As you can tell, being vegan in Italy is 100% possible! However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Here are a few handy tips to help you eat well along the way:
1. Learn the Lingo: Italian for vegan is vegano
My best tip for remaining a well-fed vegan in Italy is to learn a few relevant food-related words so you can:
a) Explain your dietary requirements to restaurant/café/bar owners,
b) Ask what ingredients are in a particular dish,
c) Read the back of food packets to see what’s in there.
Just knowing how to ask “is it vegan?” (“è vegano/vegana?”), and nothing else, should get you out of most gastronomical pickles as you explore the country! Throw in particular words, such as carne (meat), eggs (uova), milk (latte) and cheese (formaggio), and you’ll be golden.
2. Leverage Mobile Apps for Vegan Italy
Regardless of where you are in the world, certain mobile apps are your best friend when it comes to vegan travel. I use one in particular, called HappyCow, wherever I go nowadays. Free and easy to use, it was a total godsend in Italy!
I can’t recommend HappyCow highly enough. It allows you to search and filter for vegan and/or vegetarian eateries in your area. Not only that, but you can also read reviews from past customers, find contact information, and get directions to their door. In other words, it takes all the hard work (not to mention the guesswork) out of finding a good vegan place to grab a bite to eat.
3. Know Thy Pasta
Can vegans eat pasta in Italy?
Sometimes! Not all pasta’s vegan-friendly in Italy!
As a rule of thumb, the fresh stuff’s not (it’s made from egg) and the dried stuff is (it’s made from semolina). So, if you’re planning on ordering a pasta dish from a place that isn’t exclusively vegan, be sure to ask which type they use.
4. Stay in Self-Catered Accommodations
There are so many great places to eat in Italy that I found it hard to resist eating out all of the time. I suspect fellow foodies may have had the same struggle!
However, the cost of eating at cafes and restaurants in Italy each day soon stacks up, so a good way to save some money is to stay in places that have a good, well-stocked kitchen. Be it a hostel or Airbnb, self-catered accommodation makes being vegan in Italy much simpler. Suddenly, you can stock up on the glorious fruit and veg from the local markets, supplement it all with staples from the supermarket, and prepare your own plant-based meals without having to worry about what’s on your plate!
Last but not least, I found Italian restaurant/café owners to be incredibly receptive to my requests for vegan-friendly “dish alterations”.
I think this has something to do with how fresh everything often is there. Because the food isn’t prepared in advance and simply reheated when someone orders it, the chefs are able to make changes to accommodate your dietary needs (assuming you’re not asking for anything too significant). So, if you don’t want mozzarella on that pizza, for instance, all you have to do is ask! Senza formaggio—without cheese!
There you have it then: a beginner’s guide to being Vegan in Italy.
As you can see, Italian food isn’t as carnivorous as many people imagine! Although meat and dairy meals are always available, there’s a good (and ever-increasing) selection of delectable vegan dining opportunities across the country too.
With any luck, the insights and ideas on vegan Italian dishes in this article will help you fill your bellies with finger-licking food on any upcoming Italy trip you have planned! You may even find the perfect vegan Italian recipe on your travels.
Have any questions, thoughts or concerns on the topic?
Drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to help!
About the Author
Danny Newman is currently writing and travelling his way around the world in a bid to figure out exactly what he’s doing with his life. He’d love you to follow along with his journey over at What's Danny Doing.
You can follow him on social media here: Facebook