La Dolce Vita: From Beautiful Cities To Great Vegan Food, Italy Has It All

By Glauce Ferrari — December 07, 2012

Il Margutta Ristorarte

Small towns, lots of green, history everywhere, good food, good wine, happy people, fashion. That’s what many people think of Italy. All of this is true, but Italy has more to offer and the country is so different from its north to its south that you might feel that you are not in the same country while traveling around it. From the way people talk and act to the way they eat, many things change from one region to another. Some people say their people are rude, others love their ways. But there are two things that make the general opinion almost unanimous: Italian food is amazing and some of the most beautiful places of the world are in Italy.

The historical autonomy of the regions, governed by so many different powers before its unification plus the fact that Italians emigrated to many other places makes Italy rich in culture and history. If you want to come to Europe and are curious about Italy, my suggestion is to plan one special trip just around here.

Eating is part of what Italy is and coming here means trying a lot of food. Some Italians could tell you that there is no Italian food, but food from different regions of Italy and this makes sense. You will find specific dishes depending on the region you are in. One characteristic that is in all those dishes: Italians cook simple and use local and fresh ingredients. Most of the Italian dishes are well known around the world: pasta, pizza, polenta and risotto are the most popular ones.

You might think about cheese too when you think about Italy (who wouldn’t?), however besides the good amount of dairy that is consumed in Italy, in some regions Mediterranean cuisine is very common and vegetables are the base of numerous dishes. Olive oil is one of the most important ingredients of this cuisine, used in the preparation of dishes and so are herbs. All this is very vegan-friendly and that’s how vegans can eat well in Italy.

I wrote an article about how easy it is to find natural “cheeseless” pizza in Italy and this is just one of the many dishes you will find around the country. Another good option if you’re opting for regular restaurants is pasta with “pomodoro” (tomatoes). Just ask if there are eggs in the pasta. One important word for vegans to know while traveling in Italy is “strutto” (lard). It is not used everywhere anymore but it might be used in bread or even pizza dough.

The best time to visit Italy is probably during the spring. It’s not cold anymore in the north and it’s not that hot in the middle and south, so you’ll be able to enjoy every place you’re visiting.

From South to North, starting at Palermo

Pizza, music, the loud voices, soccer, the image of the Italian “mamma”. Many people don’t realize that but the stereotype of Italians that most of the world knows is based on the people from the south of Italy. Probably because they had immigrated more, taking their culture to many other countries.

It’s worth it to travel around the south of Italy, to visit their gorgeous beaches and try their amazing food. Palermo would be a good option when you arrive. The capital of Sicily is located in the north coast of the Island and you will be able to see most of its attractions while walking.

As most of the Italian cities, you will visit many churches and piazzas and they are all beautiful. Another great thing to do in Palermo is visit the street markets, where you’ll see a huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Although the south of Italy isn’t very vegan-friendly, it’s where you’ll find most of the Mediterranean cuisine dishes, based on vegetables. But if you’re looking for restaurants that serve vegan options, the city is probably your best option in the south too. Watership Down cafe will be the best option for vegans. Their menu is 100% plant-based and they serve sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and a few Italian sides. The place is big, with very friendly staff that usually speak English (which isn’t that easy to find in Italy!). Prices are good too, even more considering that when you go to Rome and Milan everything will get more expensive, so enjoy it. They also have a bookstore inside the place. They are open for dinner from Tuesday to Sunday and for lunch on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

If you don’t mind going to a restaurant that sells meat too, Moon Indian (Via la masa, 2/2a) has vegetarian and vegan options, as do most Indian restaurants. Ristorante Burro (Viale del Fante, 48) is another good option, serving pizza and Italian dishes. If you want to try the typical dishes from Sicily (at least the vegetarian or vegan ones), go to U Zu Caliddu (Contrada Piano Dell’occhio). Besides the food, you’ll be in contact with locals in a very friendly environment, typical from the south of Italy.

If you want to cook or have some snacks with you, besides the street markets, you can go to NaturaSì, an organic chain of shops, located all around Italy.

When in Rome…

I’ve been living in Rome for the last six months and I have to say that I still haven’t been able to see everything this city has. Rome is an open air museum. The Romans will tell you it’s the most beautiful city in the world. And I don’t blame them. It’s not easy to not fall in love with Rome. But it needs time to be visited and appreciated, it is a huge city, so don’t think you’ll be able to see everything in one travel. And during your first stay here you’ll probably ending up going just to the obvious and famous sightseeing spots and you are right to do it, they are all worth seeing.

I won’t write about the Colosseum or the Vatican or the Spanish Steps or Trevi fountain. I will tell you that you should see as much as you can and that you have to be prepared to deal with the Romans. The saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans” is not for nothing. They are unique and have this single way of acting that you might love or hate. Traffic is crazy and you will think you can die while inside a cab, but you won’t. All of the craziness works here. People talk loudly, drive fast and most of the places are closed after lunch until the beginning of the evening. Welcome to Rome, my dear friend. Am I trying to discourage you? No way! I want you to be ready to enjoy the capital of Italy the way it is, with the good and with the chaos. And when you are walking in the streets, looking at monuments and buildings that date from many centuries ago, you will decide for yourself if it’s all worth it.

Now, for the food. As with any other place in Italy, you can go to regular restaurants and pizzerias if you want just pizza or pasta, even being vegan. Rome isn’t a very vegan-friendly city, Milan and even Firenze are more suitable for vegans. But there are some good places to go to! There are two vegan restaurants, both not close to the city center. Rewild Cruelty-Free Club is a simple place with great food. It’s close to the metro, so it’s not that hard to go to. They have an extensive menu, offering Italian dishes and burgers. They also offer many options of desserts, including tiramisu and crepe. Sometimes they host benefit events there, so it’s better to call first and check if there’s anything going on and if you need to make a reservation or choose a different night to go there (they just open for dinner, from 8pm). I Sapori di Liila (http://isaporidiliila.it/) is the only other vegan place and it’s not in Rome, but in Mentana, a small town outside the city, so you’ll need a car to go there. They offer a fixed menu for around 25 euros which includes two first courses, two second courses, a side dish, dessert, and water. Everything is organic. Make a reservation. The restaurant is open from Wednesday to Monday, 12:30pm to 2:30pm and 7pm to 11pm.

There are around ten vegetarian restaurants in the city and, so far, I’ve been to three of them, all very good. The Taverna Vegetariana is located in a great area (close to the Vatican) and offers many vegan options (clearly marked). Cozy and with friendly staff, they serve Italian dishes, using lots of fresh vegetables and also tofu and seitan. Try the “tofu alla pizzaiola” and the “verdure al forno gratinate con mandorle”. It opens from Monday to Saturday, 12pm to 3:30pm and 7pm to midnight. Il Margutta RistorArte (http://www.ilmargutta.it/) is a stylish restaurant, located a few steps from the Spanish Steps. It has a Sunday brunch but it is expensive and probably not worth it for vegans. A cheaper menu option is offered during the week. Vegans can ask for their four-course vegan menu. If the weather is good, you can sit outside and enjoy it. My most recent discovery was Ops! Cucina Mediterranea and it was a really nice surprise. I’ve been there twice in 15 days. The place is very stylish and modern, with very friendly staff. They have a self-service buffet where you pay by weight and almost everything is vegan. They also offer dinner with a fixed price menu. Food is really nice, with many Italian dishes and a highlight is their homemade seitan.

If you want to shop for some vegan goods, your best option will also be NaturaSì.

Bella Firenze

The capital of the Tuscany region is probably the most famous city in the country with regards to culture. Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and its artistic and architectural heritage attracts millions of tourists every year. Many people will consider it one of the most beautiful cities in the world and there’s plenty to see while there. Florence is a must go to for fans of art and history and the city isn’t that big, so you will be able to walk a lot around it. Better go there in the spring, so you can enjoy the good weather – not so warm yet – and be able to visit its open air attractions. The city is also a fashion destination.

I won’t be able to write about everything you should see there, but I’ll share what I’ve seen so far. In Florence’s museums you will find important art pieces, such as works by Botticelli and Michelangelo. Don’t miss a walk through the Loggia dei Lanzi, a building on a corner of the Piazza della Signoria which is an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art. Pay a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the Western world. Don’t miss Santa Maria del Fiore, known as Duomo, the city’s cathedral and the Basilica di San Lorenzo. If you don’t have time to see the whole complex of the Basilica, try to visit the Medici Chapels (a celebration of the Medici family, patrons of the church and Grand Dukes of Tuscany). Its Sagrestia Nuova, (“New Sacristy”), was designed by Michelangelo and the interior of the Cappella dei Principi is very opulent.

If you think it’s worth it to save some time to visit vegan-friendly places in Florence, Dolce Vegan is your place. I went there every day in my last visit to the city and would do it again. The place is a restaurant, bakery and shop, 100% vegan. They serve Italian dishes and also burgers. A highlight goes to the “lasagne al ragu di seitan” and “gnocchi di patate al pesto di basilico, mandorle e parmigiano vegan”. As an Italian place should be, they serve a vegan version of the most famous national dessert, tiramisu, and it’s as delicious as it could be! The place isn’t big but people usually don’t take too much time to eat, so rotation is fast and it’s worth it to wait. You can make reservations too. They are open from 12 to 3pm and from 7pm to mid-night.

Another great place to go, especially for dinner, is Il Vegetariano, a vegetarian restaurant with many vegan options clearly marked. They have a balcony where all dishes are displayed and you’re served by the chef. Their opening hours are a bit confusing: Saturday and Sunday just for dinner (7:30pm to 10:30pm); Monday closed; From Tuesday to Friday for lunch (12:30pm to 3:30pm) and dinner (7:30pm to 10:30pm).

Last stop: Milan

By Samira Menezes

It’s more than fashion. Considered one of the world’s haute couture capitals, Milan is not just luxury tourism. After all, vegans and supporters of ethical food will always find options there – from restaurants to clothes, and grocery stores.

One of the oldest vegan restaurants in town is the Mensa Sana. Opened in 2003 under the command of chef Rodolfo Condoluci and Anna Lamacchia, today Mensa Sana has nine locations in Milan and also offers catering services. So does the I Lovegetarian, one of the most centralized options, located a few meters from the Duomo (one of the most famous sightseeing spots of the city) – which not only offers vegan and vegetarian catering, but also does deliveries of the dish of the day (between 5 and 6.90 Euros without drinks) in the region. If you are really hungry, better avoid I Lovegetarian and walk to the Vecchia Latteria (Via dell´Unione, 6), where the food is made by a true Italian “mamma”. In the small and cozy restaurant not everything is vegan though and the prices tend to be higher: about 20 Euros per person.

For less, you can check what the Radicentonda, near the bustling Via Buenos Aires, has to offer. The restaurant has a wide buffet of soups and some vegan dishes, plus wine, ice cream and vegan and organic desserts. Two other positive aspects of the place are that they provide delivery and they are open until later for dinner, 10:30pm.

But if you are one of those who has a chef’s soul and likes to cook even while traveling, the important thing is to have a supermarket nearby. In that case, head to one of the chain stores of NaturaSì, for example. With several addresses in Milan, there you will find not only vegan and organic food, but also toiletries certified vegan. Another option is to buy your ingredients at the Centro Botanico, which also has a small restaurant where breakfast and vegan snacks are served.

When the time for shopping arrives, Milan has the right address for vegan fans of haute couture: Via Santo Spirito, 3 – a platter of fashionable Via Montenapoleone. On site there is the outlet of vegetarian designer Stella McCartney, who unfortunately still uses silk in some of her designs, but you will be able to find good pieces there. If you’re short of money, Canvas is definitely a cheaper option. In the boutique you will find clothes, bags and accessories made of cotton, hemp or bamboo, and synthetic leather shoes.

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