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Eating Vegetarian in Italy

As you know a couple of weeks ago I traveled to the beautiful province of Tuscany, Italy with my partner J and his family. We had an absolutely wonderful time strolling the old streets of Siena, Florence and several quaint towns of Tuscany. The landscape, the wine, the weather – everything was simply perfect. The sheer beauty of Italy takes my breath away and gets me every time I go back. If you are Italian and reading this – I am in love with your beautiful country! 

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I have always loooooooved Italian food (who doesn’t!). I remember my first time in Italy a few years ago with J and I literally ogled over all the fresh pastas, pizza, gelato and lovely vegetable dishes. This trip was my third time in Italy (I’ve traveled to Rome and Milan in the past) but my first time in Italy as a vegan. Like my first time in Italy, I still ogled over all the delicious Italian food and have been itching to share some of the delicious eats we had on our trip with you guys. This post outlines some of my FAVORITE delicious eats we enjoyed in Italy as well as a few of my tips about travelling as a vegan (or vegetarian – I think the same points do apply) in Italy! Andiamo! Let’s go!

(Note: I am kicking myself for not bringing my Canon 60D camera on the trip with us – “what was I thinking?!” – I hope my iphone photos capture how incredibly yummy everything was!)

1. Eating “Vegan” in Italy is Pretty Simple

I had a wonderful experience in Italy and never found myself looking far for vegan-based dishes at all. Guys, SO much of the food we eat is naturally vegan anyways (hello, pasta!!) and this stood true for my time in Italy as well. I stuck to the pasta, bruschetta, pizza and salads on the menu plus so much more and was one happy camper for the duration of our trip.

We didn’t eat at any strictly vegetarian or vegan places but almost everywhere we went was vegan-friendly and very happy to answer a couple of questions pertaining to the ingredients in food. Everything we ate was made fresh to order in restaurants and the restaurant staff was always pleasant and happy to point out the vegan options on the menu as well. Almost every single experience we had was positive – eating vegan or vegetarian in Italy is simple and delicious! I explain more of what I mean in the following points.

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Chocolate and hazelnut gelato in Siena, Italy.

2. What you see is what you GET

When you eat out in Italy, what is written on the menu is WHAT YOU WILL GET. My experience in North America and other countries in Europe is that even though a dish may appear vegan or vegetarian on the menu it might come to your table with some sneaky cheese or bacon sprinkled on top. In Italy, this was never the case. The meals are so beautifully simple and what is written on the menu is what will come on your plate. I sometimes did double-check with a quick (“are there eggs/meat/cheese in this?“) but in every case the menu was pretty clear with what I was getting.

ceara s kitchen

Pasta itself is naturally vegetarian/vegan y’all (and you guys know how much I love my pasta!). For the homemade pasta, sometimes it is made with egg and sometimes it is not – happily check with your waiter and if there are eggs in the pasta, a lot are happy to make the dish for you with store-bought vegan pasta most restaurants have on hand. If they can’t, just order a pizza, side or salad – simple as that!

our tuscan home

Pasta Fresca Aglione (fresh pasta with tomato, garlic, chili and olive oil) – one of my favorite meals I enjoyed during the trip! Nothing beats fresh, homemade pasta!

3. The Italian Meal

Here is a  breakdown of the Italian meal and how the food is presented on the menu. Over half of the courses (and we never ordered all of them – usually just chose one or two) are naturally vegetarian-based. A couple come with cheese (but you can just ask the restaurant to remove the cheese if you are vegan like on pizza).

Here are a few things to remember:

Antipasto – A starter eaten before the meal. I loved trying the different spreads and ALL the different brusschetas. My favorite was the simple tomato-basil bruschetta but I LOVED a white bean bruschetta we tried once too.

Primo – The first course – usually pasta or risotto. Most of the dishes are veggie friendly or just naturally plain vegan (like my beloved Pasta Fresce Aglione).

Insalata – Salad. Enough said.

Pizza – All I can say is – EAT ALL THE PIZZA!! But seriously, there is something so perfect about the crust in Italy – it’s chewy but soft in the middle and somehow crispy at the same time. Some places have vegan pizzas and every pizza place we went to could make their vegetarian pizza without cheese because everything is made fresh to order.

Contorno – The sides – almost everything is vegetarian/vegan. You probably already know if you are vegan or vegetarian and a place does not have anything on the main menu order ALL THE SIDES. I did this at a couple of places and was perfectly content to eat roasted potatoes, sautΓ©ed spinach, roasted vegetables and salad for a complete meal, YUM.

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Roasted eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and mint. (Antipasto)

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Bruschetta platter in Florence.

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Fresh salad. (Contorno)

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Roasted potatoes. (Contorno)

4. GELATO, BABY!

If you remember any of these tips. Remember, there is plenty of vegan gelato to go around in Italy! πŸ™‚ If you are vegan (or simply can’t eat dairy) SO many of the gelato places we went to had at least one flavor of soy-based gelato. And, of course, sorbet is always a great option for vegans anywhere in the word. If you are in Tuscany, you have to eat the lemon sorbet gelato at least once (below is lemon and strawberry gelato sorbet, yum!).

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Another tip, if you are in Siena, we found this gem of a gelato spot called “Nannini” and they had four delicious gelato flavors (chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio and vanilla). In the 40C (104F) weather – we enjoyed the gelato there more than once!

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Hazelnut and Chocolate Gelato again. It was sooo good.

5. Know a few key “vegan/vegetarian” words

The two words “gelato vegano” probably became my favorite two words in Italian on the trip. Joke aside, know a couple of words in Italian before you go if you want to inquire about ingredients when out. I knew the words for: 

milk = latte

eggs = uovo

vegan = vegano

and things went very smoothly on the entire trip.

6. Do your research… but don’t be limited to it

Guys, like I said, finding vegetarian and vegan food in Italy is pretty simple and nothing to stress over. I usually like to scout out a few vegan or vegetarian restaurants to try on HappyCow.com when I’m travelling in general before travelling to support local veggie restaurants/shops. This trip I didn’t and I ate my fair share of vegan eats! 

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Pizza with potatoes, olive oil and fresh rosemary.

7. Keep it Local

I found the local restaurants on the trip had the most vegetarian options – this is probably because so much of Italian food is traditionally vegetarian already. PLUS, the food is always just that much better at local spots.

I have a couple of rules when I travel to scout out and avoid the tourist spots – don’t eat anywhere where there are pictures of the food plastered outside or where people are hassling you outside the main door to come inside and eat.

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Still dreaming of that tomato sauce. Grilled vegetables and fresh tomato sauce pizza from Montalbuccio.

One local restaurant with SO many delicious vegetarian options just outside of Siena was this busy and bustling Pizza place in Montalbuccio City. There is only one pizza place there so if you are in Siena – you have to check it out! 

8. Cook at Home

I like to do this when I travel anywhere when we are staying somewhere for longer than a couple of days. I love staying at apartments because there is usually a little kitchen where you can cook. This is also a great money saver, of course.

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We bought a BBQ for 30 euros and one of the best parts of the trip was sipping on wine at our Tuscan home for the week, sitting around the grill, enjoying home-cooked grilled vegetables and simple salads (we ate this salad in particular A LOT – hello fresh tomatoes!!) altogether.

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Homemade pasta with basil and fresh tomatoes.

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Breakfast at our Tuscan home – the watermelon was sooo good!

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Aperatif time in our Tuscan home!

9. ENJOY and do not stress…

A few people messaged me that they feel stressed when travelling as a vegan or vegetarian. I get it. I have most definitively experienced it too at one time or another when a server is snappy or there is nothing to eat but iceberg lettuce on the menu. I know and it is not always as easy to plan ahead when you are travelling in a group or for a longer period of time. BUT with ALL the delicious food there is in Italy there will always be something for you to enjoy. Y’all when you are travelling, it is not worth it to stress!  If you are traveling in a group, do a quick look at the menu and see that there is something for everybody to eat and enjoy. At every restaurant we went to (none on which were strictly “vegan” or “vegetarian), I can ASSURE you I never went hungry, felt like I was “missing out” or any of that.

Breathe, enjoy the fresh drinks, dip a thick slice of the Italian bread in the rich and freshly pressed olive oil that comes with every meal and enjoyyyyyy. Guys, if I can tell you one thing about traveling in Italy as a vegan (or just as a human being, lol!), it’s about the food, yes, but it’s SO much more than that. It’s about the memories you make, the sites, the laughter and the people you are with. Enjoy, plan a little bit, seek out some vegan gelato, but don’t stress – you are on vacation after all! πŸ™‚

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A delicious barley and vegetable salad I found at the Florence airport.

Eating Vegan in Italy

If you’ve found this post helpful or have traveled in Italy as a vegetarian or vegan, I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! If you guys like this post, I am thinking about sharing my experience and making this a series where I share my experience with y’all about eating vegan in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and wherever I travel to next. Let me know if this interests you in the comments below, through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Ciao!

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566 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for the blog post. Very helpful. Looking forward to my Italy trip this summer even more!!!!

  2. Hello Ceara,
    I just found your blog. I’ll be in Italy in May for 3 weeks and am a healthy vegan. I don’t think I’ll have a problem, but I don’t eat wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar (except healthy sugar like coconut sugar, raw honey, dates and maple syrup) or soy and naturally no artificial ingredients. I’ll report back for others’ on my return. I too usually stick with sides and hopefully I can find healthy veggie soups. I’d be happy with those roast potatoes every day!! Thank you .

  3. I lived in Rome for a year while studying abroad in college. I did cook a lot at my apartment because I loved the markets in the piazzas each day, but you are exactly right about the sides being great dishes to order while you are out. Or a great penne arrabiata. I still make the potato pizza at home here in the states. Sometimes with sliced zucchini, Italian yellow squash, or sometimes with eggplant. Lots of times with all three covered in olive oil and salt. With caramelized shallots and fresh thyme or Rosemary between the dough and veggie slices as the pizza bakes. So good. Now I want it for dinner. I loved your photos. Italy is magical. πŸ™‚

    1. I meant to also say I was vegan while in Italy. Though I often had to say ‘sanza’ this or that or ‘Molto vegetariano’ because back then the world vegan wasn’t so common. Many times in small towns that my school would visit, especially in Sicily, the waiters would surprisingly ask, “Then what do you eat?” But they do have a very plant based diet over there, even if they might not always realize it.

  4. I am feeling really foolish right now. I just came home from 5 months in the UK and Spain, and found it very difficult to go vegan in restaurants. It just seemed like too much work (and a pain for my partner to be restricted because of my preferences). I was able to follow pescatarian with no problem, but struggled to avoid dairy.

    Not once did it occur to me to order a number of sides! *head slap*

    I don’t follow a 100% vegan diet at home (likely 90%), but I do my best. I will put more effort in to this on future trips. Thanks for the tips. Your iphone pictures are just fine, by the way! You’ve got me looking forward to a trip to Italy.

  5. Tip 5 is essential in any foreign land I suppose, as it helped me out a lot during my stay in Thailand.I could order on my own and I loved it as I do not like depending on others.

  6. Will be in Italy soon… doing a Tuscany Painting Workshop…. we will also be in all of the cities you mentioned… only problem is: we don’t eat any dairy , no eggs, no oils or sugar. So, it’s quite a bit tougher. Loved your “Italian” story! Pictures are gorgeous!

    1. A Tuscany Painting Workshop sounds like a dream come true! I really had no problems not eating eggs or dairy on the trip! The savory meals (I think) are mostly sugar free as well. I am sure you can ask for meals without oil as well. Everywhere we went people were very helpful and accommodating! πŸ™‚

      Have a wonderful time on your trip!! Safe travels and happy painting πŸ™‚

  7. Wow, just wow Ceara! What an incredibly generous and kind post of you to share all this amazing food pics with all of us and more importantly, all these tips!! OMG. I’m seriously dying and want so bad to go to Italy. I’ve told you before that my #1 place to go is Italy and well, you just confirmed that it will always be the #1 place. I’m so amazed at all that yummy food. Even more amazed that you all rented a house for a week. I’m so envious…what a beautiful country! Thanks soo much for sharing girl. I really enjoyed reading it all!

    1. <3 Thank you so much, Brandi!! You HAVE to make your way to Italy one day, girl! I know that you would simple LOVE it!! The food is honestly... to die for delicious!! :)

  8. Your post just made me so so hungry, Ceara! I love Italian food and this reminded me just of how much I miss real Italian pizza. It just doesn’t taste the same anywhere else. I wouldn’t have thought that it’s that easy to find dairy-free ice cream though (except from sorbet), but I guess the times are changing πŸ™‚

  9. I spent three weeks in Italy last year and absolutely loved it! Had no problem finding veggie options. In fact, their produce was so good that I ate really well and, um, was unable to fit in my pants properly by the end of the trip. Oh how I miss it!

    1. Three weeks sounds like a wonderful amount of time to spend in Italy. Where did you go? I simply can’t wait to go back! It’s my dream to do a road trip across Italy one day!

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