Vivia Italia! The glorious land of flowing wine, endless carbs, and bountiful cheese. There’s really no arguing the fact that Italy is one of THE food capitals of the world. With their focus on simple preparation and sky high quality ingredients, you just can’t find it’s equal anywhere else. Another thing that the Italians are known for? Meat. Alllllll the meats. While their level of ethics and methods of raising animals are arguably better than the U.S., some may still be hesitant to call Bessy food, not friend. So what’s a plant loving foodie to do in this meat mecca? We’ve put together some of the best ways to eat vegetarian and vegan food in Italy, while still being able to look Wilbur in the eye when you get home.
Finding Vegan and Vegetarian Food in Italy
Understand What They Consider Vegetarian
While many larger cities in Italy have embraced plant based options, smaller towns still balk at the idea of foregoing meat. As a result, it may be a bit more difficult to express what you’d like, especially if language is a factor. In one small Tuscan town, we asked if there was meat in one of the Panzanella salads we got, and enthusiastically assured there was not. Turns out that ‘no meat’ meant no LAND meat, but there was fish in the salad. Whoops! So be sure to express that no meat means animals or fish when you’re ordering food in Italy.
One of the great things in Italy is that what you see is what you get on a menu. No sneaky animal products are omitted from their descriptions. This makes it a lot easier to survey a menu and see what veg options they have available. In addition, many pastas, pizzas, and soups are veg friendly, and they don’t smother it all in butter since olive oil is their drug of choice.
Do Your Research Beforehand
One of the greatest things about travel these days is how accessible it is. The internet and social media have been game changers for us plant loving foodies and opened up culinary doors like never before. But don’t be a veggie fool, you still need to put the leg work in if you’re going to successfully discover killer plant based food in Italy.
Before you reach a city, do a little research about what vegetarian and vegan choices there are. Note options that are close to where you’re staying, or where you’ll be exploring. If you venture out without a plan, you’re less likely to find something that you can eat and you’ll enjoy, especially in smaller regions. Not to mention you’ll stress out trying to decipher the variety of ingredients on the meny.
In addition, awesome sites like Vegan Quo Vadis? will give you an entire layout of the plant based options in your city. You can also check out Happy Cow to get great recommendations of veg friendly restaurants wherever you are in the world.
Bigger Cities = More Choices
In Italy, a larger population will naturally mean more vegan and vegetarian choices. Bustling cities like Rome and Milan will generally have a soy option for drinks, while smaller towns may look at you like you’ve totally lost your mind if you request ‘un cappucho con latte de soya’. With this in mind, be prepared and plan wisely. If you’re down to have limited choices for an awesome small town experience, then go ahead and explore the nooks and crannies of Tuscany. But if you want variety, soy lattes, and vegan gellato, you’re going to have better luck in large cities like Rome.
Don’t be afraid to ask about the ingredients in a dish! Most people will be more than happy to answer whatever questions you have, and since most of the food in Italy is prepared FRESH, it’s easier to make modifications to an order. If you’re planning to travel to smaller regions, brush up on a few key words that you’ll need to know in order to convey what you need. Don’t expect everyone to speak English well enough to know that you’d like something sans meat, eggs, or dairy. We found it super helpful to have a small running vocabulary list in our phone with simple phrases and words that we were using frequently. Even if your waiter does speak English, they’ll appreciate the effort, and you might get your point across better.
Understand the Menu
Pretty much all authentic Italian menus are presented in the same manner, and understanding what each course is will be hugely helpful in ordering a meal. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll probably see:
Antipasto: Starters – many of these will be vegan or vegetarian, and you can often find a buschetta without cheese, or a variety of spreads, olives, etc.
Primo: this is the first course, which is often a pasta or risotto. We frequently ordered just a primo for our meal (along with an antipasto) and were more than satisfied!
Insalate: salads! Just be sure to read the menu and see what ingredients are included
Pizza/Pani: pizzas and paninis. We found tons of vegan and vegetarian panini and pizza options while in Italy. And like we mentioned earlier, since food is made to order in this country, many restaurants can nix the cheese for you.
Secondi: main dish. This is where your options will begin the dwindle a little bit. Italian love their meat, and generally the secondi is a meat based dish. Some restaurants will give a veg option, but usually you’ll be limited to one.
Contorni: Side dishes. SO many plant based options here! Italy has a big emphasis on veggies as side dishes, and you can usually find a whole bunch of absolutely delicious vegetable and bean dishes on this part of the menu.
Don’t stress about being a plant loving, tree hugging, non meat eating foodie in Italy. There are SO many incredible options and you won’t feel like you’re missing out one bit. If you come prepared, you’ll have no problems finding food that makes your taste buds AND beliefs happy. And honestly, if you decide you want to indulge in a little gelato complements of Bessy herself, don’t sweat it. Experiencing a country via their cuisine is one of the most authentic and enjoyable ways to immerse yourself. Life is SHORT our foodie friends. Eat. Drink. And be merry.