In a country that is known for it’s rich gelato, decadent salamis, and exceptional cheeses, no vegan goes to Italy expecting to eat like royalty.
Well, I’m here to disprove that theory. I spent three months in Italy, I had gelato 1 to 3 times a day, more pizza than I’ve ever eaten in my entire lifetime, and tried pasta dishes I’d never heard of before. Italy is one of the greatest countries on Earth for food, everybody knows that, but it’s not just the cheese and wine that takes the cake. The reason why their pizza is so famous, for instance, is how stretchy yet crispy the dough is. How can pizza dough be stretchy and crispy, you ask? Go to Italy and you’ll see what I mean.
The gelateria I was frequenting quite often was called Zero Gradi. Zero Gradi is a chain of gelaterias in Italy with exceptional fruit flavors. Their banana, strawberry, dark chocolate, peach, raspberry, and melon flavors are all dairy-free. I went with the expectation of being shunned into having the choice of one, or no flavors but when I got there, an entire world of gelato was opened up to me. My favorite combination was banana+melon.
The gelato was either always followed or preceded by a pizza next door, my favorite place, Da Michele, has the best pizza for the best price. Also an awesome waiter who knew my order by heart after a couple weeks! Love you, Andrea! That order was the onion pizza with porcini mushrooms. Having a part-time vegan, part-time vegetarian diet, I often ordered that pizza with dollops of fresh ricotta cheese, which I will never regret, as it was and still continues to be the most heavenly tasting ricotta I have ever had. That being said, if you are ever going to eat cheese… don’t do it anywhere else in the world but Italy. My gluten-free friend also had plenty of options here, they offer a gluten-free pizza crust for 2 euros extra. Although a staple ingredient on most pizzas is cheese, almost all pizza-serving restaurants do offer a simple marinara pizza with is just as delicious. A thin, crispy (yet doughy) crust, with a layer of fragrant marinara sauce, finished with a drizzle of olive oil will overwhelm your senses. As simple as it sounds, it is fully and satisfyingly delicious. Only in Italy can a tomato sauce pizza make your day. Just make sure to ask if the sauce is made with any animal products, as many people do put anchovies in their marinara! If they do, than any pizza minus cheese and sauce will do. It may sound bland but I promise you shall not be disappointed! A drizzle of olive oil will be enough to go with the fresh toppings and delicious crust they are sure to deliver on.
If there was one stereotype I could, without guilt, attest to being completely correct, it would be that italians love pasta. There are hundred of different pasta recipes, and many of the most popular are totally vegan+vegetarian friendly. Sorry for the generalization, Italy! Here are some phrases you can use to talk to your waiter, the inflections are in bold:
Io non mangio carne o formaggio = I don’t eat meat or cheese
Sono vegetariana/vegetariano = I’m vegetarian (female/male)
Sono vegana/vegano = I’m vegan (female/male)
Posso tenere…? = Can I have…?
E molto delicioso = It’s very delicious
Tutta posto = Everything’s great!
Don’t overthink the inflections to much, it’s just a guide!
Another great thing about Italy is that, depending where you are, there is an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. As it typically goes in most places, same goes in Italy: Rural cities typically have more fresh vegetable markets and so on. However, a quick search on HappyCow.com will show you all the nearest vegan and vegetarian options in whatever city you’re in. Milan has an exceptional selection of raw vegan restaurants and so does Rome, one of them being Romeow Cat Bistrot, an entirely vegan restaurant and cafe with a selection of wines and beers. Their menu also offers many raw vegan options. Bonus: It’s also cat-friendly… whaaaat?
I had the great luck, while in Italy, of having access to a large garden filled with tomatoes, eggplants, and zucchini, aka: possibilities. We had five different varieties of tomatoes, hedges of rosemary and bay leaves, pear and plum trees, salad for days… It was amazing. I highly recommend staying somewhere out of the way if you visit this beautiful country, somewhere with lots of farmland. Because lots of farmland means lots of food, does it not? Maybe look into a WWOOF type gig?
Here are some photos from my travels: