Walking through the cobblestone roads of Italy, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the smell of baked bread, the ammonia of fresh fish, the peppery scent of salami, and the truckles of aromatic cheese. Most of these smells might make a vegan weary about the possibility of finding anything they can eat. Italy is famous for its traditional cuisine, which is generally believed not to be vegan-friendly.
If you focus deeper on the smells wafting through the piazze, you will also discover the scent of fresh basil, arugula, olive oil, and the enticing smell of coffee beans. In these lighter, subtler smells, a vegan finds hope!
Italian cuisine is built on fresh wholesome ingredients, which makes Italy one of the most traditionally vegan-friendly countries to visit!
While you may not find a plethora of vegan restaurants cropping up in Italy, you will find an abundance of vegan-friendly dishes on nearly every menu in Italy. So, if you are going to visit Italy, and you are looking for information about Italian vegan cuisine, let’s have a look on this guide and find out more about how to plan vegan food tours in Italy.
The beginning of all Italian vegan food tours: the colazione
If you are a coffee lover, breakfast in Italy is the place for you to thrive! Coffee, or “caffè,” is a large component of the Italian breakfast, and there are plenty of options. Choose from a Caffè Latte, a Cappuccino, or a shot of Espresso (an Italian favorite). Coffee made with soy milk (latte di soia) has become increasingly popular in Italy, and in some regions, albeit not many- almond milk (latte di mandorla) can be found as well.
Breakfast in Italy is a light affair, and the morning cup of joe is usually paired with a biscuit or a pastry. Many bars (cafes) have started serving Cornetti Vegani, which is a vegan croissant.
Navigating a traditional Italian menu as a vegan
The traditional Italian menu is generally divided into courses. First, you will find the antipasti (starters), then the primi piatti (first dishes), followed by the secondi piatti (second dishes), and lastly the Dolci, or desserts. On some Italian menus, you may also find sections for contorni (side dishes), insalate (salads), and piatti unici (where you can find Pizza).
This toasted garlic bread is familiar to many tourists. Traditionally eaten as is, or with toppings such as olive tapenade (crema di olive), diced tomatoes (pomodoro), Eggplant spread (crema di melanzane), or artichoke spread (crema di carciofi).
Though some of these may seem misleading because of the word cream, they usually do not contain any cream with dairy. Always be sure to ask, though, just to be sure, and keep a lookout for anchovies with the crema di olive!
This is a deep-fried ball of pizza dough. In Naples, it is called zeppole and in Puglia it is called pettole.
Grilled vegetables are almost always available on Italian menus, and the variety changes seasonally. These vegetables usually include, but not limited to: eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, cicory, spinach, swisschard and other greens. These veggies are usually tossed with olive oil and are almost always vegan- just ask when ordering if they serve it with cheese.
Vegan Primi Piatti
Pasta e Fagioli
Pasta e Fagioli is a thick stew made with beans, celery, tomatoes, oregano, crushed red pepper, and garlic. Some chefs may put animal products in this stew, so be sure to ask!
If you are looking for a fiery dish, penne all’arrabiata is a good choice for you! This “angry” pasta gets its spice from the chili pepper flakes in the sauce, which is also made of tomatoes, garlic for flavoring, and parsley.
It is important to note that this dish is often served with grated cheese. Order without cheese by saying “senza formaggio” for extra precaution.
Pasta alla Norma
This Sicilian pasta dish is served with a sauce made of tomato, basil, and eggplant chunks. However, this dish is famous for the grated ricotta cheese sprinkled on top so be sure to mention senza formaggio when ordering!
In Italy, “Secondi Piatti” are always going to be meat and fish dishes, so avoid this section on the menu at a restaurant unless you are at a vegan restaurant.
If you are at a vegan restaurant in Italy, or if you are having a food tour by your own, this section is worth taking a look at, but otherwise, I suggest ordering your meal from other sections of the menu- there are many options from starters, sides and first courses! It is perfectly acceptable to pick and choose which sections of the menu you order from, so don’t feel like this choice is out of the norm!
This Sicilian dish is made from fried eggplant, onions, zucchini, celery, and capers flavored with vinegar and sugar.
Either made into french fries (patatine fritte) or baked and served with rosemary (patate al forno).
Italian salads are a great option for vegans! Usually served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, you don’t need to worry about creamy salad dressings. Italian salads are abundant with greens and fresh seasonal veggies, but make sure to pay attention to whether there is cheese, hard boiled egg or tuna on the salad and order without!
The original pizza, which is the pizza marinara, is topped with tomato sauce, dried oregano, garlic, and fresh basil leaves. This pizza, a Neapolitan favorite, has no cheese and a go-to for vegans!
The traditional pizza crust is also vegan, made only of flour, water, salt, and yeast. While some chefs add other ingredients, if a restaurant is certified by L’associazione Verace Pizza, their crusts are only made with those four ingredients.
You can also order any other pizza “senza formaggio” (without cheese)!
It is a rarity for a vegan to go into a non-vegan restaurant and be able to order some dessert, but in Italy, there should always be at least one option: gelato!
Not all gelato is vegan, but a lot of the fruit flavors (sorbetti) have no animal products in them. The dark chocolate gelato is often vegan as well, but some gelateries use egg white as an ingredient. Make sure to ask if there is any “latte” (milk) in the flavor before ordering!
As a wise man once said, in vino veritas! But unfortunately, the truth is most wine is not vegan due to certain animal products being used in the process of making the wine. Since this is the case, we have compiled a list of popular vegan/ vegetarian wines to keep a look out for while you are having vegan food tours in Italy!
- Orion Wines
- Venturino Giancarlo, in Piedmont
- La Cantina Offida
- Frantoio La Pieve, in Tuscany
- Agrobiologica San Giovanni, in Marche
- L’azienda vinicola Costadoro in San Benedetto del Tronto
- società agricola Pievalta in Ancona (Maiolati Spontini)
- Olearia Vinicola Orsogna in Abruzzo
- Casabianca a Murlo in Siena
- Fattoria Casabianca
- Perlage S.r.l. in Treviso
How to plan vegan food tours in Italy
With this information in mind, you should be set and feeling confident to take on traditional Italian cuisine as a vegan!
What better way to start your vegan taste bud excursion than to take a WalkingPalates gastronomic tour! Available in Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples.
WalkingPalates Food Ambassadors (certified tour guides) can help you navigate the Italian cuisine and make sure you are getting the best traditional Italian dishes around the country!
While the WalkingPalates tours are not specifically tailored to vegans per se, we accomodate all dietary restrictions- just let us know beforehand: we will plan tailored vegan food tours and we will make sure you have a delicious yet worry-free Italian experience!