Traveling as a vegan can be difficult sometimes.
Vegan options are everywhere today but, depending on the place where you are in Italy, the choice might be quite limited. If you are in a big city, I am sure you have plenty of options, while if you find yourself somewhere in the countryside – like where I live, for example – being vegan can sometimes mean having to eat a salad and little else.
Moreover, being vegan might also mean having to miss the traditional cuisine of a certain place, which is a bummer because local food is a very important part of the travel experience, in my opinion. The food you eat somewhere abroad is definitely a key moment of your experience in that place, a memory that will be with you for a long time, and a way to understand the culture of a location in a better and deeper way.
This is why I decided to take a look at the Italian food tradition and see if I could find typical Italian dishes that are vegan as well. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised because I came up with quite a few of them! This makes me really happy because it means that you can enjoy some good plant-based dishes without missing the traditional Italian cuisine.
Moreover, if you are vegetarian, you can find an old post of mine listing ten great vegetarian dishes that belong to the Italian food tradition, which includes some of the dishes you’ll find here plus other ones.
Let’s now see what these vegan Italian dishes are, shall we?
First of all, pasta. There are quite a few amazing pasta dishes that are totally vegan. You could have some super simple yet incredibly yummy spaghetti al pomodoro e basilico (spaghetti with tomato and basil). Simple and easy as they may seem, they are one of the staples of Italian food, something we have been raised with, and one of our most loved comfort food.
Other traditional pasta dishes are spaghetti aglio, olio, and peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, oil, and chili pepper), which is the dish my mother used to make every time she didn’t have much time to cook. Penne all’arrabbiata, penne with tomato and chili pepper, is another great traditional Italian dish with no animal products in it.
Then let’s move to another key food in the Italian cuisine: pizza. You can’t come to Italy without eating pizza, it would be an incredible pity. But you’re lucky, if you are vegan, because there’s a pizza version that is perfect for you: it’s pizza marinara, which is pizza with tomato sauce, garlic, oil, and basil. It is simple and amazing, especially if the ingredients are fresh and high-quality ones.
Sometimes, though, it could come with anchovies as well, so pay attention when ordering! However, you can also ask for a margherita senza formaggio (margherita without cheese) or any other pizza with vegetables you might fancy, asking to have it made senza formaggio.
Besides pasta and pizza, I am really proud to say that Liguria, my region, has a super tasty and unique dish, which is perfectly vegan as well. This dish is farinata, which is – quoting Wikipedia – “a type of thin, unleavened pancake or crêpe of chickpea flour originating in Genoa and later a typical food of the Ligurian Sea coast, from Nice to Elba island”.
Actually, what is called farinata in Liguria can be found as cecina or torta di ceci in Tuscany. No matter what it is called, it is always made with chickpea flour, water, and olive oil, with sometimes some added rosemary. Actually, Liguria has another vegan dish: panissa, some kind of polenta made with chickpea flour and then fried. Super yummy!
Speaking of polenta, this is another great option if you want to taste some traditional Italian dishes. Typical of the north of Italy, especially up in the mountains, polenta is the result of boiling cornmeal in water, resulting in a grits-like consistency, which can be baked, grilled, fried, or served as a sort of cream. In Italy, polenta is traditionally served with a meat sauce, but you can have some great plant-based options as well: you can have it with mushrooms or simply with some olive oil, which makes it great. Otherwise, go for the fried option and you’ll end up eating some slices of heaven.
If you are more of a soup type and find yourself in Tuscany, then you have two great vegan dishes that belong to the food tradition of that region: pappa al pomodoro and ribollita. Pappa al pomodoro is a tomato and stale bread soup with onions, garlic, basil, and olive oil, which can be eaten warm or cold. Ribollita, one of the most typical Tuscan dishes, is a hearty soup made with Tuscan kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, tomato soup, cannellini beans, and stale bread again.
The traditional version of both these recipes is absolutely meat-free, but since it is up to the restaurant to offer its own version, always make sure to ask: “C‘è carne nella zuppa?” (Is there meat in the soup?) or “È vegana?” (Is it vegan?).
Tuscany offers another vegan dish, this time a side dish. It’s fagioli all’uccelletto, which are cannellini beans cooked with tomato puree, olive oil, garlic, and sage, usually served with some bread. As for the soups that I just mentioned, the traditional recipe does not include any meat, but sometimes restaurants prepare it with some sausage, so make sure to ask: “C’è la salsiccia dentro?” (Is there sausage inside?), to make you that you are ordering a vegan dish.
Another great traditional side dish made with vegetables is caponata, also known as caponata di verdure or caponata alla siciliana, which is a Sicilian ratatouille-like delicacy made with aubergines, aubergines, tomatoes, raisins, capers, pine nuts and served with toasted bread. And if you find yourself in Rome, don’t miss carciofi alla giudia, deep-fried artichoke hearts that taste like heaven.
Then we come to two great Italian dishes: one is vegan, and the other one is not but can easily be found in a vegan version too. The first one is focaccia, the thin bread with salt on top which is typical of Liguria, whose traditional recipe is completely vegan, the other one is piadina, a round flatbread that is served folded or wrapped and filled with different types of ingredients, which is one of the greatest dishes of Emilia-Romagna.
The traditional recipe for piadina requires lard in its dough but it is more and more common to find lard-free versions, just look for a sign saying “senza strutto” or ask: “È senza strutto?” (Is it without lard?).
Last but not least, desserts. Things can be a bit more difficult when it comes to desserts because all of them have butter or eggs inside. However, don’t despair if you are vegan and desperately want something sweet in Italy: there’s always gelato! Obviously, all the creamy flavors contain milk but the fruity ones are absolutely milk-free – and in most cases even better than the traditional, creamy ones.
If you are in a restaurant, you can also have macedonia or fragole con il gelato (fruit salad or strawberries with gelato), just make sure they have fruit gelato flavors. Another option is granita, a frozen dessert made with sugar, water, and assorted flavors. Originally from Sicily, it is very similar in texture to sorbet.
You see, you can eat vegan in Italy and still enjoy a lot of the Italian food tradition! By the way, what is your favorite Italian vegan dish?
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