A Guide To The Best Vegan Food in Italy
Wait, isn’t Italy the land of cheesy pizza? It definitely is but it’s also a rising star for vegan travelers. Many traditional dishes are vegan by nature or easily veganized. We traveled through quite a lot of regions in Italy and can easily say that we never felt like we were missing out. In some parts of the country we would find vegan supermarket ilses as big as in Berlin. So keep reading if you’d like to find the best vegan food in Italy simply by using this compact travel guide.
If Italy isn’t on your list, pay a visit to Berlin and book a vegan food & sustainability tour with me so I can take you to the best vegan eats and you can learn more about an eco-friendly lifestyle.
TABLE OF CONTENTS :
1. In What Region Will I Find the Best Vegan Food in Italy?
2. Eating Out As a Vegan in Italy
2.4. Special Insider Tip – Visiting a Vegan Masseria
3. Cooking Vegan Food For Yourself in Italy
3.1 Vegan Products in Italian Supermarkets
3.2 Vegan Travel Meal Ideas and Tips
In What Region Will I Find the Best Vegan Food in Italy?
I found that Italians generally tend to live off of two things: pizza & pasta. As regions can vary greatly in the amount of meat and fish served, this is something I felt they all had in common. If you’ve been eating a plant-based diet for a while I’m sure you would agree that pizza & pasta are two of the easiest dishes to veganize. However, I would’t recommend traveling the Northern country region of Italy for vegan food. The North is meat heavy with little traditional dishes being vegan. The further South you’ll go the more vegetables will land on your plate. You’ll also notice more fish is eaten especially along the coastline.
Apulia, which is the heel of Italy can be considered one of the most vegan-friendly areas. With the cucina povera (the “poor” kitchen) most dishes are traditionally meat free and rather based on fresh local vegetables, olive oil and pasta. It’s also worth mentioning that the coastline along the Adriatic Sea is less traveled than the coastline along the Tyrrhenian Sea. With a lot more tourists in this region there are also a lot more vegan food options.
Eating Out As a Vegan in Italy
We spent most of our time in Apulia, which is where most dishes I mention in this article are from. It’s a beautiful area with one picutresque town next to another and breathtakingly clear blue water along the coastline. So no matter what diet you’re on, it’s an area you won’t want to miss.
I’d be lying if I said there’s a lot variety in breakfast. Italians will typically have a coffee accompanied by a croissant or another pastry of some sort to start off their day. Eating a rather wholesome healthy plant-based diet at home, we weren’t big on eating breakfast outside of our accomodation. However, if you do choose to eat out for breakfast you’ll be positively surprised that a vegan croissant is a common thing in quite a lot of places in Italy. Ask for a “cornetto vegano”. For about 1€ – 1.50€ you’ll get some pretty amazing croissants!
Depending on the region and place they’ll have different options to choose from. The traditional cornetto vegano is often filled with apricot jam. Other options include a chocolate or vanilla filling. You can even get them prepackaged in the supermarket (scroll to “Cooking for yourself” to read more about vegan products in Italian supermarkets).
Lunch & Snacks
Be prepared to dive into a different culture when it comes to eating times. The more South you go the later meals will be served. In the beginning we were struggling a bit with this as the midday nap falls right into lunch hour. When you’re in rural areas make sure to check if restaurants are open before you go there and be ready to snack to ease yourself into your new temporary food timetable.
Most dishes in Italy include a dough of some sort. A Panzerotto is similar to a calzone. Both are savory in taste but a pazerotto will be fried. The filling varies by region as will the name. Look/Ask for the words fritelli and calzoni fritti as well. Panzerotto will usually be filled with tomatoes and cheese or other vegetables. So just make sure to ask for no cheese, please (“senza formaggio per favore”).
Foccacia is traditionally vegan. It is similar to a pizza dough though much fluffier in its texture. In the South it is usually topped with olive oil, fresh tomatoes, olives and some spices. The toppings can vary throughout the country but it will always be some type of vegetable. In the North they also serve a sweet foccacia.
Sgagliozze is a typical dish of Apulia. It consists of pressed polenta bars and is usually fried and salted. In other regions they will serve the same dish but won’t fry it. It’s great as a little snack between sights, but beware of how much salt is put on!
Paninis are pretty much sandwiches. You can find them with all kinds of things on them. Look for vegan options or veganize them by letting them know you don’t eat animal products. The phrase you’ll want to use is “Sono vegano/a”.
Ah, gelato. I know you’ve been waiting to see that magical 6 letter word. Or maybe you even scrolled. Did I catch you? 😛 When visiting Italy no one wants to miss out on some traditional gelato. Thanks to the popularity of this dessert many vegan options have arisen. In bigger cities like Rome, you’ll have no problem finding at least a couple of vegan options in almost any gelateria, some are also fully vegan. But even in the countryside there’s usually a sorbet option which will be dairy free. We personally really liked this place in Rome, mostly because we had so many waffle choices! I was happy to see that they also only use organic ingredients.
If you’ve had enough gelato but you’re still on the hunt for something sweet or you want to bring home a little gift, I can recommend getting chocolates from Grezzo. They offer all raw vegan chocolate. On top of this it’s gluten free, sugar free, free of flour and free of soy. I think we can agree that there isn’t much left to be allergic to, so it’s a safe choice to bring home to anyone. They have several stores across Italy, too!
As I mentioned above, when it comes to dinner be ready for some waiting time – that is of course, if you don’t come from a country that traditionally eats late, too 🙂 In our experience restaurants serve a proper dinner at around 8:30 pm. A good way to bridge the waiting time is to have an aperitivo – pretty much a liquid starter if you may.
Aperitivo – Aperol Spritz
Most of us know what an Aperol Spritz is but I felt like they tasted even better in Italy. You can aks the waiter to check if the sparkling wine is vegan. And while you’re at it kindly let them know that you don’t wish to have a straw in your drink. You can use a spoon instead. We don’t need to be using single use plastic where it is not absolutely necessary, right? I also always bring along a bamboo cutlery set and some containers to avoid plastic waste. If you’re curious of how you can shop with less waste and plastic in a normal supermarket, read my guide and tips in this blog article here and follow me on Instagram – I share loads of tips in my stories daily.
Vegan startes aren’t hard to find in Italy. Here are some ideas:
-Salad (the dressing is traditionally put on by you and will consist of oil and vinegar)
-Antipasti (an assortment of grilled vegetables with olive oil)
-Bruschetta (toasted baguette pieces with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil)
-Cheese Platter (we went several places (mostly in Rome) that served vegan cheese platters)
No argument that Italians truly make the best pizza! It will become your best vegan friend, because no matter where you are there will always be pizza you can easily veganize. It will be much healthier and a lot less heavy without the cheese. A lot of areas serve vegan pizza on the menu. If not, choose the vegeterian pizza and ask for it without cheese (“senza formaggio per favore”). The vegetables in Italy are fresh and delicious so you won’t miss out on toppings. A lot of places, especially in the bigger cities will also serve vegan cheese and other vegan topping options.
There are several vegan pasta dishes. Just always check for eggs in the pasta. But don’t worry too much, most of it will be without. Some of the classics you might know include: Spaghetti Pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), Penne all’Arrabbiata (pasta with a spicy tomato sauce) and Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino (pasta with olive oil and garlic). Depending on the region, however, you’ll find new pasta dishes you’ve probably never heard of. Orichiette con cime di rapa for example is a traditional vegan pasta dish of Apulia. When you’re down there make sure to check out the ladies making the fresh orichiette pasta in the street!
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Other Traditional Dishes
Even though pizza and pasta is the majority of food served, there are of course other things to try. In Apulia there are several traditional vegan dishes. Due to their history of being rather poor in resources, they won’t be too fancy. We personally tried some but ended up sticking to the basics simply because we didn’t find them too exciting. But nonetheless I want to tell you about two of them that we would recommend. One is tria e ciciari which is a special pasta dish with olive oil and chickpeas. The other is fave e cicorie which is a mashed bean dish with fried bread and a local chicory – especially great on colder days.
Special Insider Tip – Visiting a Vegan Masseria
I wanted to share one really amazing experience with you guys. We visited a vegan masseria in Apulia which I highly recommend doing if you’re in the area. An Italian friend from the area told me about masserias. They are part of something called agriturismo which defines a certain style of tourism in rural areas. Usually it will be farms that offer accomodation and food.
Thanks to a deep dive into the internet I found a vegan masseria. There wasn’t much information at first so we didn’t end up staying there. But we did drive out to visit for dinner. And let me just say, I wish we had booked a stay after all.
The farm is run with so much heart. Everything they offer is not only vegan but organic and grown on the property which you can explore during the day. The prices are more than fair and the food is absolutely delicious. We had a cheese platter (all homemade) and the Tris di Antipasti (a mixed antipasti platter) as a starter and shared a Pizza Diavola as our main meal. For dessert we chose to have a cashew chessecake and fresh fig gelato. We also brought home some products so support the farm. I personally also really liked their interior design. If you get the chance make sure to stay on their farm! You can click here to book your stay with them on Airbnb.
Cooking Vegan Food For Yourself in Italy
If like us, you’re on a budget in Italy, eating out all the time will get quite expensive. We also reached our natural dough limit after the first week. There’s only so much pizza a non-Italian can eat 😄. The bigger supermarkets in the South of Italy were great. We were so surpised to find vegan products even in the countryside. The only thing you’ll have to make sure of is that you go to a big supermarket, not a small one around the corner if you’re looking for more than just fruit & veg.
Vegan Products in Italian Supermarkets
The best supermarkets to go to will be Famila & Coop. Sometimes it will also say it is a hypermarket which is exactly what you want. No matter the size you’ll always find fresh fruit & vegetables as well as tinned food such as beans and sauces. Similar to Germany the supermarkets will have a vegan & veggie isle. I found several different vegan cheeses, plenty of burger patties, cold cuts and spreads. You can also find prepackaged vegan croissants in the pastry section. The plant milk will be located where all other long-life milk can be found. I also saw quite a lot of vegan ice cream in the freezer section.
Vegan Travel Meal Ideas and Tips
We all know it can be quite challenging to cook while traveling. No matter if you’re new to eating plants or don’t have a lot of travel experience you might still feel a bit overwhelmed with this task. Since I have spent months on the road at a time I thought it might be helpful to give you some meal ideas as well as some tips to make your experience a bit smoother.
1.Wraps – fill with any vegetables and legumes you like. Hummus is usually available, use it as a sauce
2. Pasta – with soy cream, mushrooms and vegan parmesan; with tomato sauce; with pesto – easy & delicious
3. Salads & Bowls – throw in what you can find
4. Bars/Fresh fruit for healthy snacks throughout the day
5. Melon wrapped in vegan prosciutto
6. Tomato Soup
7. Sandwiches & Burgers
8. Cheese Platter with fresh bread
1. Bring Salt&Pepper
2. Buy spices you’ll only need once in bulk stores to avoid plastic packaging and having to drag them along the trip
3. Book accomodations with a kitchen
4. Bring a cutlery set like this one or just some silverware from home if you have the space
5. Bring containers for leftovers
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This is the cheese platter we made in one of our Airbnbs.
I know Corona is taking quite the toll on all of us. But it doesn’t hurt to plan and daydream into your next visit to Italy 🙂 And you can be sure of one thing – with this little travel guide by hand you will be indulging in the best vegan food Italy has to offer! Until then try my recipe for these vegan cheesecake cups to help bridge the time before you embark on your next adventure.
If you have questions on something I didin’t cover, leave them in the comment section for me to answer 🙂
Happy Days 🌻