When planning our trip to Italy, I had thought it would be fun to seek out vegan or vegetarian restaurants. However, due to lack of cell phone access while we were there and the fact that we were mostly walking almost everywhere, it quickly became obvious that this would prove to be a more difficult task than I had originally thought. Luckily for me, I was able to find many options that were vegan, some which were specifically labeled “vegano” or “vegana.” It did not take me long to learn my way around Italian menus – or pass them up all together! Here are the few things that helped me eat well as a vegan in Italy.
4 Tips For Eating Vegan in Italy
1. Know before you go
Doing a little bit of research before heading to a restaurant can help to ensure that you will have something to eat once you get there! Most of the restaurants we dined at while in Italy we found simply by walking by and deciding the place looked good. Almost every place has a menu out front so that you can see what is available. This was so helpful for me because we were able to avoid a few places that were not vegan-friendly at all.
For some of the special dinners, like the welcome dinner we hosted for our family and the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, we did a little bit of research online and by contacting the restaurants ahead of time to make sure they would be willing to accommodate vegans. We used TripAdvisor to find most of our hotels and I found a bunch of reviews for restaurants on there as well and was able to organize by “vegetarian.” I also love Happy Cow, which has a lot of information about vegan and vegetarian-friendly shops and restaurants.
Out of the many restaurants we dined in during our stay in Positano, I would have to say that Fattoria La Tagliata was by far my favorite. This restaurant doesn’t even have menus. They grow all of their vegetables on the property and create amazing gourmet food that they keep bringing out, course after course, of delectable family style dishes. The chef prepared some amazing dishes specifically for me:
In Tuscany, we stayed at Villa Bordoni in Chianti. We decided to eat at their restaurant the night we arrived since we had been driving quite a bit that day and did not feel like driving the ten minutes it took to get to Greve, the small town nearby. When we made the reservation I confirmed that they could accommodate a vegan and was pleasantly surprised not only that they could(despite a menu that did not boast a single vegan item) but that they already knew what vegan meant! After we were seated later that night, the chef even visited our table and discussed the different options he had in mind. After a week in Italy and having to carefully navigate menus, eating a gourmet vegan meal was such an amazing treat!
2. Learn how to ask
Learn how to ask for what you want, or better yet, what you don’t want. A few key phrases helped me ensure that what I was ordering was in fact vegan. At first, I tried starting with what I considered the most obvious question, “is it vegan?” But after a few failed attempts, I realized perhaps the term “vegan” was not as prevalent in Italy as it was in my area of Los Angeles. So I switched my game plan and learned to spot non-vegan items:
meat – carne
fish – pesce
Avoiding items with meat and fish was easy but sometimes I had to specify with the waiter to make sure there were no hidden non-vegan ingredients. Almost every restaurant had pizza on the menu and more often than not Pizza Marinara was available. This is pizza with marinara sauce but no cheese. I typically ordered this with a side of vegetables and then put the vegetables on top. Another easy (maybe cheaper) way to get a similar dish would be to find a vegetable pizza and ask for no cheese. However, sometimes the waiter would not understand why I would possibly ask for no cheese!
No cheese, milk, eggs or butter – No formaggi, latte, uova e burro
Example: pizza with no cheese, please – pizza senza formaggio, per favore
Coffee is an entirely different experience in Italy than it is in the states. When I think of grabbing a coffee, I picture going through a Starbucks drive-thru and ordering a “grande” iced coffee with soy. In Italy, the way to drink coffee is to stop in a cafe or even AutoGrill(large convenience markets on freeway exits) and stand at the counter while you drink your espresso or cappuccino. These beverages only come in one size and are always served in ceramic cups, never to-go cups! Most of the time I was content with an espresso but occasionally I had a craving for a cappuccino. Learning how to ask for soy milk came in handy:
Do you have soy milk? – Avete latte di soia?
3. When in doubt, get back to basics
As I mentioned above, I developed a habit of ordering the cheeseless pizza, which is usually called Pizza Marinara. Sometimes that’s exactly what I was craving and sometimes I enjoyed ordered roasted vegetables on the side(almost every menu has this!) and putting some of them on top of the pizza. Another favorite of mine was the most basic pasta on the menu, usually spaghetti with cherry tomato sauce. In Positano, the cherry tomatoes were amazingly sweet and delicious and the sauce was too. I would usually double-check to make sure the sauce was not made with cheese.
When ordering pasta, always make sure to order dry pasta instead of fresh or housemade since those are sometimes made with chickens eggs. Unfortunately, even though gnocchi is vegan, every restaurant I visited made theirs with a cheese or meat sauce. I suppose I could have asked for gnocchi with a vegetarian marinara sauce but I never was feeling that adventurous! Some other items that appeared on most menus and were always vegan include green salad(still ask for no cheese just in case!) and bruschetta. And if you visit the Tuscany region, I highly recommend the Pappa al Pomodoro, breaded tomato soup – delicious!
4. Have a back up plan
If you don’t have time to plan out where you will be eating or are traveling with a group who may not be sensitive to your diet then it may come in handy to bring some vegan snacks along. I packed a handful of Pure Bars, some of my favorite NatureBox snacks, trail mix and always stocked up on fresh fruit from the hotel’s breakfast offerings. These also come in handy if you are traveling long distances without planning to stop or if you have to take a long train or plane ride without a vegan meal option.