Sunday 3 September 2017

How to Be Vegan in Italy

vegan italy

Being a vegan in Italy - wait, can't you go to jail for that? Italy is famous worldwide 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? Here's my guide on how to be vegan in Italy:

vegan accommodation italy

1. Vegan Accomodation Italy: Vegan House Sitting

First things first, choose your accommodation wisely. Whilst I think it's important that you spend at least some of your time in Italy with real locals, I also know what it's like to be hosted by someone who doesn't think your food choices are important - thus I don't really recommend Couchsurfing, work away, wwoofing or similar (unless of course your host is okay with you being vegan). So where you should stay as a vegan in Italy? When it comes to being vegan in Italy I recommend airbnbs, vegan house sitting or perhaps a hotel or hostel with a vegan-friendly breakfast like the Beehive in Rome.

Housesitting involves looking after someone's pets and home whilst they go on holiday in-exchange for staying in said house for free. It's the perfect way to travel for people who are on a budget but enjoy luxury living. Why is that great for vegans? You get a kitchen (more often than not a very nice kitchen) to cook all your yummy vegan favourites in peace.

I've house sat all across the world, including in Italy - I stayed in a vineyard on the east coast and a mansion in Sicily in return for looking after dogs (and the odd bottle of wine and olive oil). Lots of British and American expats live in Italy, so if you're worried about the language barrier, don't be :) Read more in my latest post: Why vegan house sitting is the ultimate for vegans to travel or just go ahead and check out THS which is where I found all of my sits.

Airbnb has similar advantages for vegans in Italy - namely that you can have your own kitchen. Airbnb is all about renting out someone's house whilst you're on holiday (kind of like Uber, but for houses). An advantage of Airbnb over house sitting is that you can choose exactly where and when in Italy you're going, a disadvantage of airbnb is that you probably won't be able to afford the kind of luxury housesitting can offer you (for free)!

But if you've got the budget, we also 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, again, you don't have to worry - you'll have full access to a fully functional kitchen - these are a lifesaver and something hotels and most hostels simply can't offer.

2. 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 vegan food in Italy

(aka good quality and cheap):
  • Local, seasonal fruit and veg - e.g. oranges, lemons, aubergines, peppers, courgettes.
  • Pasta (duh), rice, 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 soy milk)
  • Soy sauce

Hard to find vegan food in Italy

(aka you either won't find it or you might and it will be hella expensive):
  • Peanut butter
  • Porridge - 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. Side note, find out more about the breads you can eat as a vegan here.
  • 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)
  • Vegans will be in fresh, local fruit heaven in Italy, but not so much when it comes to exotic fruits (with Italian tomatoes you won't miss them)

3. So What Can You Even Cook as a Vegan in Italy?

... and to get you in the mood before you go there and/or for more ideas check out this book:

Vegano Italiano has over 150 vegan recipes from the Italian table... long story short, when travelling as a vegan in Italy, I recommend you find accommodation where you can cook for yourself. But of course I also recommend you eat out too:

4. What Can Vegans Eat When They are Out in Italy?

Antipasti (appetizers) for vegans in Italy

  • Bruschetta: Bruschetta is cute toast with garlic, salt and oil on top. But they also often come topped with tomato, olive or artichoke, yum.
  • Verdure: vegetables are almost always cooked in olive oil
  • Olives: 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 after all.)
  • Patatine Fritte: Italians often share a few platefuls of chips before they have pizza. It might sound kind of strange/carb-y 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!

Vegan-friendly pasta in Italy:

*Warning, lots of fresh pasta is 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.

Can vegans eat pizza?

I probably should have led with this, but whatever - yes vegans can eat pizza in Italy, but be careful because lots of pizzas have strutto (lard) in the base. So either go to a vegan restaurant if you're in a main city, or ask if there is strutto/lard in the base.

vegan pizza italy

Pizzas vegans can eat in Italy:
  • 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'

italy vegan

Dolche = desserts for vegans in Italy:

  • Sorbetto = sorbet
  • Frutta = fruit

A note on aubergines (melanazane)

vegan travel italy
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.

5. 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 the countries you go to 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 for vegans to avoid in Italy:

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:

  • Mozzarella
  • Ricotta
  • Stracchino
  • Pecorino 


  • Latte = Milk
  • Uovo = Egg

6. Italian Vegan City Guides:

7. Wrap Up: How to Be Vegan in Italy

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!!! Also, if you are interested in our vegan adventures, here's a video we made:

P.S.: If you're new to house sitting (and this blog), Dear Reader, I can offer you a 10% discount off - click on the link and follow our instructions when registering on THS! :) With love from: Laura

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