In the coming weeks, you will get your dose of individual vegan city guides for Italy and then some for Barcelona, Spain. As an introduction to these city guides, however, I want to share my top ten tips for being vegan in Italy.
TOP 10 TIPS FOR TRAVELING VEGAN IN ITALY
1. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! We live in a time where multitudes of information is literally at our fingertips so take advantage of it. Before we left, I made a cheatsheet of various vegan/vegetarian- friendly places in every city we were going, along with addresses and hours they were open (if possible). Happy Cow is an amazing resource for this but so is typing "Vegan in (whatever city you are going to)" into Google.
2. LEARN THE LINGO. If you travel to a larger city in Italy, such as Rome, Milan, or Florence, you will likely not have any problem communicating in English. When I lived in Florence, I tried so hard to learn Italian (I even had a tutor), but everyone I encountered wanted to practice their English with me. Before this trip, though I remembered a lot of the vocabulary, I still made a cheat-sheet of various Italian phrases to help me if I was in a pinch, but there was only one or two that I needed to use the whole time: "Senza Latte" (without milk), "Senza Formaggio/Mozzarella" (without cheese/mozzarella), and "Senza Uvo" (without egg). Most of the time, however, I could just say "No cheese," or "Do you have any gelato with no milk?" and they knew what I was talking about. Also, most restaurants you go to will have each item on the menu also written in English (or a separate English menu). If you're going to a smaller town, or a town less travelled, you may not have as much luck. Here are some terms you amy want to keep handy:
- "Vorrei un/la/le..."- I would like a/the...
- "Ha delle..."- Do you have any...
- "Senza" - Without
- "Latte"- Milk
- "Formaggio"- Cheese
- "Burro"- Butter (though butter is rarely used in Italian cooking. It's generally reserved for baking.)
- "Uovo"- Egg (not "Uva," which means grape)
- "Carne"- Meat
- "Pollo"- Chicken
- "Prosciutto"- Ham (You may also see "Speck")
- "Pesce"- Fish (not "Pesca," which means peach)
- "Delle Carni Bovine"- Veal
- "Agnello"- Lamb
- "Soia"- Soy
- "Verdure"- Vegetables
- "Frutta"- Fruit
3. DON'T EAT NEAR TOURIST ATTRACTIONS. This is something that applies whether you are vegan or not. Back when I was traveling through Europe on my own on a very, very tight budget, I learned to never look for restaurants near tourist attractions. Unless it is your lifelong dream to eat dinner overlooking the Trevi Fountain, just walk a few streets away and you'll likely uncover something much quieter, less expensive with higher quality and better service. Some of the best restaurants we ate at were just a few blocks off the beaten path. I also try to never eat at restaurants that have servers standing outside trying to get you to look at their menu. It's annoying and frankly, if the food is good, they shouldn't need anyone outside trying to lure customers in. Another thing I try to stay away from (and this is probably less important) is menus with pictures of every item. It's usually a good sign of a tourist trap (though, not always) and the food never looks the same when it's actually served to you.
4. WHEN LOOKING AT MENUS, always check the Appetizer and "Contorni" (or side dish) sections. Usually under appetizers you'll find lovely things like bruschetta, marinated olives, and antipasti. The side dish menu is usually mostly full of vegetables: marinated mushrooms, grilled vegetables, and if you're really lucky, fried squash blossoms!
5. PASTA! On every menu, you will find pasta under "Primi Piatti," or "first course." You can usually always find pasta with tomato sauce or pasta with vegetables or olives and capers. You just need to clarify that you want dried ("secca") pasta and not fresh ("frescha") because fresh pasta is made with eggs.
6. COPERTO. Coperto basically means "cover charge" and many restaurants will add a coperto for each person on to your bill. It's usually around 1 -1.50€ per person, but I've seen it as high as 3€. It's just something to keep in mind when studying menus and deciding where to eat. Also, keep in mind that once you have been served your food, your waiter will not bring you your bill until you ask for it. This is true through most of Europe as well, so don't think your server is ignoring you- they're just letting you enjoy your meal.
7. VEGAN GELATO EXISTS! You just have to know how to ask for it. There was only one town we went to where we had difficulty finding vegan gelato, but we still found one flavor. Stay away from chain or franchise gelato cases. You'll find these in restaurants or shops rather than independent gelato shops. They'll usually have a logo on the front and on each of the flavor cards. A lot of times, these flavors all contain lactose and/or they were made in the same machine (without being cleaned between the dairy and non-dairy flavors). Speaking from my pre-vegan experience, these gelati are usually not nearly as good anyway. Find an independent gelateria and ask if they have any gelato "with no milk/latte" or "senza latte." They will likely have a selection of sorbets (and sometimes, if you're really lucky, they have a chocolate sorbet!!!) or if you're in a larger town, like Rome or Florence, you may be able to find soy gelato. You can also ask if they have any "soia gelato," and they will know what you're talking about. Italy has a high rate of lactose intolerance so gelateria workers are very accustomed to these questions.
8. CHECK OUT FARMACIAS & MARKETS. If you are staying in a place with a kitchen or are just looking for snacks in between meals, pharmacies (farmacias) and markets are great places to look. Farmacias tend to carry at least one or two specialty vegan products (we even found stevia, seitan, tofu, and vegan croissants in one farmacia!) and always have several gluten-free products as well (though not all of the gluten-free products are vegan so be sure to check the labels). Markets are always full of fresh produce and if you are looking for organic, look for the term "biologique" or "biologica" or ask if they have any "frutta/verdure biologica" and they will be able to help you. Bread shops, usually with the word "Forno" in the title (forno is a brick oven, usually used to make pizza) will have various types of foccacia and schiacciata (firmer, saltier tuscan brother of focaccia) which are usually vegan (make sure they have not topped it/filled it with meat or cheese. The plain ones, or ones baked with olives, tomato, or herbs are fine). These breads are delicious and great for a snack or as an accompaniment to a meal (Hint: Try to go in the morning when the breads are freshly baked and still warm from the oven!).
9. BE PATIENT. When you are making special requests, keep in mind that you are speaking to someone who may not fully understand what you are saying or are not used to someone making these requests. It is best to not confuse them by explaining that you are vegan or vegetarian. Just be patient and be very clear that you want the "pizza vegetariana senza mozzarella." And smile- it goes a long way. Also, be patient with yourself. There may be times where a mistake occurs or that you accidentally eat something with dairy in it. It happened once to us and as disgusted as I was when I found out, all I could do was make note of it and try to be more careful in the future.
10. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, EAT PIZZA! This is actually one of my basic rules of life, but it applies to being vegan in Italy too. You can find pizza almost everywhere and asking for cheeseless pizza is not as uncommon as it is in the states. They will raise an eyebrow if you ask for no prosciutto but they will understand. You can usually find a vegetable pizza that you can get without cheese, but a couple of the best pizzas we had originally contained meat and cheese and we asked that they remove both, leaving a pizza with marinara, mushrooms, artichokes, and olives. At the very, very least, most places will have a pizza marinara which is exactly what it sounds like- pizza with marinara sauce. Trust me- where there is pizza, a vegan cannot/will not go hungry.
Great tips! I loved in Italy that they write down the ingredients on the menu in addition to the name of the dish. I wish they did that in the States. It's nice to be able to quickly look and see all of the components of a dish. When we were in Italy, I was vegetarian, and so this is helpful for my next trip!
Emily - It Comes Naturally Blog
We went to Italy for our honeymoon last year so this is a lovely reminder of the time we spent.
Hey bit out the blue but my wife wants to go to Italy, what area did you go to and how were the vegan options?
We went to Capri, Positano, Rome, and Florence. You can read about the trips if you click on the travel & dining button in the top menu. Each city is listed there. Thanks!
Italy is on my life list- awesome travel tips in general, love reading about your adventures!
Tami @Nutmeg Notebook
I was not vegan when we went to Italy but we did find that in all but one restaurant where we dined there was at least one person who spoke English. The best food was in the little towns where the locals dined. Everything was so fresh and delicious.
Sounds like you more than managed in Italy 🙂
I agree with all your tips- especially eating away from tourist areas and avoiding photo food!
I lived in Florence for a couple of months a few years (studying there) and recall eating a lot of pizza marinara. I love it!
I look forward to checking out your Spain posts! It's too bad that we didn't meet up in Spain after your message - I guess our schedule works differently plus we were in different cities!
I always avoid tourist attractions and rely on groceries & health food shops with a kitchen around when staying longer (more than 2 weeks). Italian is a pretty simple language and easy to understand & read when it comes to ingredients or ordering especially Spanish. I'm just fortunate to know that there are loads of vegan products and vegan-friendly eats in Europe compared to other countries!
Spanish in Argentina is so hard to understand - they say their words differently compared to Spain.
Glad to know you had fun in Italy! I love their pizzas without the use of cheese (pizza bianca)!
Kylie @ FotV
Wonderful tips! Italy was the first trip I took as a vegan and I was pretty scared! I was lucky to have my brother & sister-in-law who live in Italy and both speak Italian to help me navigate through the food! There were a couple vegan restaurants and gelato places in Bologna, so I was happy...plus, yeah, lots of pizza!!
Gabby @ the veggie nook
Omg you just made me incredibly hungry for all things Italian 🙂 Ohhhh the pizzaaaaaa
These were great tips! i really want to make a trip back there so I will be sure to revisit this when the time comes 🙂
I really appreciate this post. I am traveling to Italy next summer.
Very thoughtful tips. It's always best to learn from someone who's blazed the trail before you and succeeded. Thanks for sharing your experience.
We were lucky enough to travel to Italy and Spain in the last few years. I completely agree that researching before you go is essential, and we relied a great deal on Happy Cow.
I'll be curious to read about your time in Spain. We had a much harder time finding vegetarian and vegan food on that trip than we did in Italy. We'd order a plate of roasted peppers and it would come topped with chunks of tuna fish or we'd order a lettuce and vegetable salad and it would come topped with hard boiled eggs, even though none of the "extra" ingredients were listed on the menu description. I'll know better for next time!
This was such an informative and useful post! I think a lot of your ideas could really apply to vegan travel anywhere--not confusing the waitstaff by trying to explain "vegan," being polite, etc. And those fried squash blossoms look sooo delicious!
I really want to go over to Italy but the Language scares me. It puts me off allot of travel to be honest, not sure how to get around it.
I really wouldn't worry about it. Almost everyone there speaks English to some extent, except for much older people. In fact, when I lived there, I would try to speak Italian to people but they only wanted to practice their English with me. 🙂 Other countries are a little bit tougher, but as long as you pick up a few phrases you'll be fine!
Lauren | JustinPlusLauren
These are fantastic tips! We are planning to travel to Italy and I will keep all of these tips in mind 🙂
great tips for Italy! I"m visiting Amalfi Coast & Naples in May so will look for the restaurants you mentioned. I travelled to Spain as a vegan for the first time last year, and I did eat the potato omellete a couple of times because I was soooo hungry and tired. I found the locals to be so friendly & helpful, I knew a few words of SPanish (that goes a LONG way) & while they thought I was crazy for not eating meat, they did all they could to find me something to eat.
Just discovered your blog this week. Love your writing, and of course, your great photos...the fried squash blossoms in particular! Eating vegan is something I am interested in, a mite hesitant about, but your happy outlook is most encouraging. Doing it while abroad is, quite admirably, transcendental! I will be staying in Tuscany a short time in September and will explore it as an option. Thank you for all the insights, and fabulous suggestions, like the dried cherry tomatoes in Florence! That, and non-dairy gelato, will be on my must-do list!
Thank you so much for this post, you've included some fantastic tips! Point 7 made me extremely excited, as I had no idea that vegan gelato exists!
Me and my boyfriend are going camping in Italy in a couple of weeks, and we'll be staying in a variety of places including large cities and small caravan parks in the country, so this will be extremely helpful for us - the phrases especially.
Thankfully most of what we eat will be bought in markets and then cooked on our little gas cooker at the campsite but we want to indulge in a few meals out as well, plus it's looking to be extremely hot so yay for vegan gelato!!
Do you know of the names of any vegan coffee creamers in Italy? I like something thicker in my morning coffee than soy/almond/rice milk. We are leaving in a week and will be traveling for two weeks.
I'm sorry- I do not know the names of the creamers. I'm sure there are some, I just don't know what they are.
Found this post in a Google search, and I am so happy to see it! Thank you so much for your thoughtful, detailed recommendations. I'm traveling to Italy in May with my whole family, and I'm the only vegan, so I'm making a comprehensive cheat sheet in order to get along in a group of omnivores!
EXACTLY what I was looking for, thanks so much!!
Thanks for your great tips for eating vegan in Italy. Fortunately, more and more vegan options are appearing in Italy. If you come to Syracuse, Sicily, there is an incredible completely vegan restaurant that just opened last year in Ortigia called MOON: MOVE ORTIGIA OUT OF NORMALITY. I had the incredible opportunity to enjoy the wonderful food and atmosphere of MOON on a trip to share TriYoga in Ortigia and now I am enjoying a two month residency at MOON. As an ethical vegan, it is difficult for me to find restaurants where I feel comfortable eating and who cater to customer satisfaction. MOON is not only a fully, vegan restaurant, but offers whole-grain, organic, gluten-free and raw-vegan options, and the most incredible chocolate desserts I have ever eaten. The vegan chef, Enza is very accommodating if you have special requests. MOON is not only a unique, beautiful restaurant and bar, but a cultural center that hosts all varieties of artists, musicians and practitioners of holistic arts for people of all ages and for the welfare and benefit of All Sentient Beings. MOON also opportunities to travelers on a budget to work 5 hours a day 5 days a week in exchange for a room in a beautiful, shared apartment and meals at MOON.
I loved this post! My husband and I went to Rome for our honeymoon 3 and a half years ago and threw our vegan morals out the window because we didn't think we'd be able to do it there. We're planning a trip back this next summer and we're determined to do it right this time! Your blog was super helpful! 🙂
Thank you. I'll have little vegans in Italy with me and they will be more than happy if I tell them to eat Pizza :). Will take protein with us to ensure the children get enough. Thanks again.
I read that Italians use pig fat in their pizza bases so how did you eat so much pizza?!
I have never heard that before. I also have Italian family and I've never seen that used in traditional Italian recipes. If any fat is used in the making of the dough, it is likely olive oil.
Nope, no pig fat in pizza bases, you can always ask if you want to be sure but "il pizzaiolo" (the pizza maker) will probably look at you like this O_o
Some little things you may want to add in your super useful guide:
Where you could ACTUALLY find pig fat aka "STRUTTO" is in FOCACCIA or some bread bases so DO ASK if there's pig fat in it when buying!
"Scusi, c'è dello strutto in questo?" - "Sorry, is there pig fat in this?"
*another word for strutto may be LARDO but rarely see that as a base ingredient*
Another tip for you, as a fried squash blossoms lover.
In italian they're called "Fiori di zucca fritti", but KEEP IN MIND that if you see the word RIPIENI with it it means STUFFED and they will mostly contain some kind of cheese like mozzarella or ricotta in there, otherwise you could find yourself with something you will not likely eat but will need to pay anyway.
Last but not least, you could find gelaterie here in Italy that serve gelato "senza lattosio" so remember that the words you are looking for are SENZA LATTE and not SENZA LATTOSIO, as lattosio means lactose, so they are still made with milk.
If you want and maybe you're staying a bit longer in bigger cities like Milan, Rome and so on, you could go to supermarkets of the chain "Naturasi". They are completely organic (a bit pricy) and you can find a decent amount of vegan food in there! Always read labels anyway, but you could get vegan things like salame, prosciutto, hot dogs, nuggets, meatballs and many more!
I find the pizza rescue a bit uncertain. Even if they remove the meat and cheese, the bread will most likely be made on butter and maybe even milk, and that's hard to ask them to remove?
They don't use very much butter in Italy, and I've never heard of it being used in pizza dough. They're more likely to use olive oil. Milk is definitely not used in pizza dough. But if you're still skeptical, you can get something else. 🙂