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How To Be Vegan In Italy

Being vegan in Italy - can't you go to jail for that?

Italy is famous world-wide for its delicious foods, and for good reason, but is it all really just Mozzarella, fresh-fish, Gelato and bolognese? 

No matter if you're vegetarian, vegan or lactose intolerant there are still many delicious options for you in Italy.

So how can you survive Italy?

Choose your accommodation wisely

First things first, choose your accommodation wisely. Whilst it's imperative that you spend some of your time in Italy with real locals and try at least one of Mama's pastas, Italians love to feed you and it would be a shame to turn down your hosts food - thus we don't really recommend couchsurfing, workaway, wwoofing or similar (unless of course your host is okay with you being vegan) - trust me, there's nothing worst than staying with a host who doesn't get it!

So where you should stay. When it comes to Italy we recommend airbnbs, housesitting or perhaps a hotel or hostel with a vegan-friendly breakfast. 

But above all we recommend rentals - there's nothing more authentic than staying in one of these Italian countryside villas and when it comes to cooking the odd meal or two, you don't have to worry - you'll have full access to a fully functional kitchen - these are a life saver and something hotels, hostels and most airbnbs simply can't offer. 

Vegan supermarket shopping in Italy
It's also imperative that you eat most of your meals out in Italy, but more on that in a minute. If you're looking for the vegan-friendly produce in Italian supermarkets, here are some helpful hints:

Easy to find (aka good quality and cheap):
  • Local, seasonal fruit and veg - e.g. oranges, lemons, aubergines, peppers, courgettes. But not so good for exotic fruits 
  • Pasta (duh), rices, potatoes
  • Lentils, chickpeas, pulses
  • Soy milk - not so much in the tiniest of towns but even in medium towns in the middle of nowhere we found this
  • Soy sauce
Hard to find (aka you either won't find it or it will be hella expensive)
  • Peanut butter
  • Porridge :O - Italy is one of the very few countries were porridge oats weren't dirt cheap
  • Tofu 
  • Fake meats and cheeses - haha good luck with that
  • Bread - this was weird, but good bread is hard to find in Italy. In fact the only good bread I ever found (pre-vegan) was ciabatta which usually has milk in it. 
  • Spices/herbs that aren't basil - in fact extend that to any cuisines that aren't Italian. Looking to cook Mexican or Asian type foods in Italy? Go to a different country (or at least bring curry paste and spices with you)
So what can you even cook in Italy?

Here are a few ideas:

But Italy possibly more than any country in the world is all about eating out: 

So what can you eat in Italy? 

Antipasti (appetizers)

  • Bruschetta - Bruschetta are cute toasts with garlic, salt and oil, but they also often come topped with tomato, olive or artichoke, yum. 
  • Verdure - vegetables are almost always cooked in olive oil
  • Olive - olives do tend to be stuffed with cheese, fish or meat but plain options are also available (and 100% delicious, they do after all grow them there.)
  • Patatine Fritte - Italians often share a few platefuls of chips before they have pizza. It might sound kind of strange/carby but they are really, really yummy. Plus there's the added bonus that you'll fill up on chips and be able to take half of your pizza home for breakfast!

*Warning, lots of fresh pastas are made with egg*

  • Arabiatta - angry pasta. This pasta has a red, spicy sauce and is extremely tasty
  • Pasta al pomodore e basilico - pasta with tomato and basil
  • Pasta aglio e olio - pasta with garlic and oil, also spicy sometimes
  • Pasta e fagioli - pasta and bean soup
  • Paste e ceci - pasta and chickpea soup
  • Pasta alla Norma - This is our favourite Italian pasta, it's pasta with aubergine and has to be tried to be believed. It does come served with pecorino on top, so simply ask for it 'senza formaggio' (without cheese) and let your taste buds thank you.


*Warning, pizzas can have strutto (lard) in the base *

  • Pizza Marinara - tomato sauce, oregano, garlic
  • Pizza Capricciosa senza mozzarella - Tomato, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives, just make sure you ask for it with no cheese 'senza formaggio'.
  • Pizza Vegetariano - a pizza topped with vegetables, usually seasonal, make sure to ask for it 'senza formaggio' 

Sorbetto - sorbet
Frutta - fruit

A note on aubergines (Melanazane)

Eggplant, hummus, red pepper, rocket sandwich in Le March

Many people will argue that pasta, tomato and cheese are the pillars of Italy. They're probably right. But the secondary pillars of Italy are definitely roast aubergines (melanzane) and peppers. You will find the odd Vegano (vegan) sandwich or pizza, and it will almost definitely have roast melanzana and pepper in it. Yum.

Vegan Italian life hack: 
The BEST thing about Italian food is that it's made from scratch, on-site. This is the place to go to alter your food. Simply pick something that looks nice (like a four seasons pizza) and ask for it 'senza formaggio' i.e. without cheese. There will be no 'oh I'm so sorry we can't do that for you', they haven't cooked it yet, of course they can take an ingredient or two out for you. (senza carne = without meat)

The trick is to know vaguely what you're ordering so you don't order a 'quattro formaggio, senza formaggio' (four cheese pizza, without cheese) and end up with a weird look and a blank pizza.

Unless you (in some cases severely) limit yourself, and/or have a super-brain, you're never going to be able to speak the language of every country you go to, and I don't recommend you try. But if you speak English, Italian is easy, and learning these 20 words will take you far - just remember to add a senza (without) and you are good to go:

Here are some words to avoid:

Carne - Meats:
Pollo - Chicken
Manzo - Beef
Maiale - Pork
Prosciutto - Ham
Salsiccia - Sausage
Pancetta - Bacon
Coniglio - Rabbit
Vitello - Veal

Pesce - Fish:
Alici - Anchovies 
Baccala - Cod
Tonno - Tuna
Calamari - Squid
Gamberi - Prawns
Polipo - Octopus
Frutti di Mare - Seafood, don't be confused by Frutti (fruits) this literally translates as 'fruits of the sea' (so poetic). 

Formaggio - Cheeses:

Latte - Milk

Uovo - Egg

Further Information:

So there you have it: with some essential lingo, an idea of what's good to eat and the simple vegan life hack, it is definitely possible to be vegan, vegetarian or lactose intolerant in Italy. Never forget 'senza formaggio' and you are good to go!!!

Have you been to Italy? What was your favourite food there?

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