It isn't a secret that most people travel to Italy to eat, and eat and eat some more. The Italian people exude passion and this is clear in the food they make whether you are getting food from a street vendor, a local 'trattoria', or food from a five-star Italian restaurant.
But amongst all the mozzarella, ricotta, prosciutto, and pancetta where can you go as a vegan traveller to have the same culinary experience?
Beign vegan in Italy
I will be honest, as a vegan going to Italy I made peace with the fact that I might just have to live off Focaccia and breadsticks - I did not think Italy would stray from their traditional cooking to accommodate the dairy-free and meat-free humans of this world.
I was indeed surprised by all the incredible (and tasty) options they have.
As a vegan traveling to Italy was a lot to navigate BUT not impossible.
So this poses the question... is Italy vegan friendly?
In this article, I will give some tips, tricks and places I went to that were both vegan and budget-friendly.
Top foods to try as a vegan in Italy
I found that almost any Italian dish can be made vegan just by making some adjustments here and there.
This one is fairly easy - order any vegetarian pizza and just ask them to hold the cheese (fair warning you might get some strange looks from the server).
The great thing about food in Italy is that the simplest recipes are so packed with flavor that you never feel like you are missing out on satisfaction.
My personal favorite was Pizza Marinara. A plain pizza base with garlic and olive oil-packed with pomodoro sauce. (chef's kiss).
So although a lot of the Italian pasta sauces are made with cream or milk, most of the tomato-based sauces are vegan. Again just ask them for no parmesan cheese on top.
My top pick: Pasta al pomodoro. Fresh pasta with garlic, oil, basil, and a pomodoro sauce (tomato-based anything is going to become your friend).
Like I said Foccacia is always a winner. This famous Italian flatbread is such a simple dish but packs so much flavor. There is honestly nothing better than a freshly baked 'Foccacia al rosmarino' (Foccacia with rosemary).
Most basic bruschetta recipes are vegan depending on what the toppings are. Freshly baked bread, with olive oil, garlic, topped with finely cut tomatoes and a garnish of basil? Count me in.
This type of sticky rice dish can be made vegan, but it would be wise to check if it has been pre-made with cheese and/or butter, which is often the case.
A mushroom risotto would be the best and most traditional option here, but once again asking if it is vegan first is your best bet.
6. Minestrone Soup
As traditional and as vegan as it comes. This vegetable soup is a perfect pair for your rosemary focaccia mentioned above.
7. Pasta e Ceci
A stew made with pasta, vegetables, and chickpeas. Depending on which region you are might have added meat to it, so once again just be mindful of this and ask the question rather than be surprised by the outcome (speaking from experience).
8. Carciofi alla giudia
Fried artichokes... need I say more? This is a dish especially found in the Rome region and man oh man it is a must try.
9. Aperitivo - liqueur, spirits, wine, and beer.
No meal is complete without a good Italian drink in hand. The good news is that most of them are vegan. Amaretto, Aperol Spritz, Campari, Prosecco, Limoncello are all traditional Italian drinks to try.
When it comes to beer there are also great local options, you can ask the bar or restaurant you find yourself in about.
However when it comes to vino... It is no secret that Italy is a wine country. There is an abundance of red, rose and white wines to try but not all might be vegan depending on the fermentation process it has gone through. Most of the time the menu will tell you this but if not then there is no shame in asking.
Coffee... ah yes. Wanting to enjoy it the Italian way? Hold the milk and just ask for an espresso.
If you are tempted to order a cappucino just know Italians see this as a breakfast drink; if you are ordering it after lunchtime you might get some judgemental looks.
12. Gelato and sorbetto
So although the famous Italian ice cream gelato might not be vegan, sorbet always is. On a hot summer's day in Italy this is a necessity.
There are however many gelaterias that ALSO offer vegan gelato options. If you are a fan of dark chocolate they have a traditional dark chocolate gelato (technically a sorbet as it is made with water instead of milk) but it is so creamy you would not even know the difference.
For any of the other flavors, if it doesn't state plant-based on the label, again, just ask.
More a fast-food franchise option that is friendlier on the budget.
A vegan-cheese product haven as well as restaurant.
One of my favorite spots - offers healthy options from coffee and baked goods to smoothie bowls and nutrient-dense salads.
Fast food all-vegan restaurant where you can curate your meal. Although not traditional Italian food it is still worth trying out.
For your vegan pizza fix. Vegan and non-vegan options.
Organic gelateria with vegan gelato options (including the famous chocolate and pistachio flavors).
Vegan in Venice
La Tecia Vegana
Vegan versions of most traditional dishes including the famous tiramisu dessert!
Mostly gluten-free and organic too. Vegan ravioli and lasagna to die for.
A traditional pizzeria that offers dairy-free options when requested. Here you won't find specific vegan pizzas but the staff is happy to help you adapt your pizza as you would like it i.e. with no cheese.
Gelateria Il Doge
Vegan hazelnut and chocolate flavors as well as various sorbet options.
If you need a little bit more guidance a great place to search for vegan or vegetarian restaurants based on your location is Happy Cow but in general, there are always plans to be made wherever you go.
Italy through a vegan and budget-friendly lens
Traveling on a plant-based diet doesn't have to feel stressful - in fact, it creates a great opportunity to discover hidden restaurants and out-of-the-ordinary experiences away from mainstream tourism.
Italy is also the perfect country to be plant-based while on a budget as most of the more expensive meals contain meat and other animal products anyway.
Here is my guide to being a vegan in Italy while traveling on a budget lifestyle:
1) Understand your menu(s): Before going to a place check their vegan options (and prices) online.
2) Ordering: When you get the menu tell them that you are vegan and ask for recommendations this allows you to experience the food most authentically! Sometimes there might have to be a bit of explaining to do as to what "vegan" actually is.
3) Be Inclusive: As I said earlier, Italians love sharing. Communicating your dietary preferences shows that you want to try their food even if you are limited to a few options. They will probably be happy to oblige and even offer suggestions on what to try.
In my experience what makes Italy stand out as a country is the people (and the food). They are friendly, sociable, and always willing to help.
4) No cheese, please: With whatever dish you get just ask for no cheese. Often even if a dish does not have cheese in it, it will be topped with parmesan as a garnish - so better to ask with every order.
5) Have fun & enjoy yourself: the Italian culture is all about having a good time so immerse yourself in this way of living and don't get too bogged down on what you might be missing out on because spoiler alert you won't be missing out.
6) Go grocery shopping: Although traveling to Italy is all about eating the local food you can do this by going to your local grocer or farmer's market and getting the freshest ingredients to make your own Italian dish! This will be easier on the wallet and if you are staying in hostels a great way to connect with people too!
7) Go local:When choosing a place to eat out opt for going to local family-owned restaurants known as "trattoria". You want to avoid going to franchises or "Americanised" places because these are specifically catered for tourists and this will reflect in the prices. Trattorias are your best option for cheaper and tastier food, the Italian way!
As with all travel, the biggest expense is accommodation. But, at Worldpackers, that's not an issue. There's a great selection of volunteering opportunities in Italy to help you save on accommodation costs.
Agripunk is an animal shelter with a strong emphasis on standing up against animal cruelty.
You will be working on a farm in Tuscany (need I say more?) helping out with looking after the animals (feeding, cleaning stables, etc.) and general farming duties like planting crops, in exchange of accommodation.
Worldpackers has similar listings all over the world to check out too!
In brief, many people might think being vegan limits you not only to certain foods but certain experiences too. This just isn't the case. Experiencing Italy while being plant-based is totally possible and takes you one step closer to living 'La Dolce Vita'. Ah, yes, the sweetness of life.
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