Veganism in: Italian cuisine

In several of my posts I already talk a bit more about specific cuisines, for example in my post on Kutchi (Afghan cuisine).  I thought it would be useful to have some in-depth articles about vegan dishes from different countries/regions, either if you are planning to eat at a restaurant serving a specific cuisine, or if you are actually planning to visit that country! Of course every restaurant is different, but with an idea of what dishes could be (made) vegan, going out vegan might be less daunting !

Let’s start with an easy one. Italian food? Easy?? With its use of (Parmesan) cheese, fish and meat ? I hear you think. But yes! In my experience with Italian restaurants ( check my previous posts e.g.  Hotel Malibran in Venice) I have found that at real Italian places there is always delicious food to eat.

Focaccias in a display at Farini
Vegan & non-vegan focaccias at Farini (Italy)

In general the Mediterranean cuisines are supposed to be pretty healthy. Important components are olive oil, vegetables, legumes and nuts, fresh fruits  and grains, and a limitation of meat and dairy products. What sets apart the Italian way of food preparation is simplicity. Dishes usually have few ingredients, letting the quality of the ingredients shine.

Italian cuisine is itself quite diverse, with polenta and risotto from the North, pizza from the Naples region, meaty pasta sauces in Central Italy, more fish-based dishes, tomato sauces and capers from the Southern regions. The tomatoes themselves were actually introduced quite late, as they come from South America. Olives and artichokes, however, where already used in the ancient Roman Empire.

I touched upon the general structure of Italian meals in a previous post (La Tecia Vegana ), so I won’t get too much into that here.

Likely vegan dishes

All right, so now you are in a nice Italian restaurant, whether in Italy or not, and you study the menu. What do you actually choose? It depends of course on where you are, and many Italian restaurants will have nicely labelled vegan options. If not, it also depends a bit how comfortable you feel asking for a breakdown of a dish. Here is what I usually go for.

Bruschetta with olive oil and cherry tomatoes at Bar da Gino (Italy)
Bruschetta with olive oil and cherry tomatoes at Bar da Gino (Italy)


Olives: of course

Focaccia – these breads are likely vegan and tend to be made of the same dough as pizza (so: water, oil, salt, flour and yeast)

Bruschetta – grilled bread topped with olive oil, garlic and/or tomatoes


Steer away from the obvious meat and fish plates and get right into carb-y goodness:

Pasta with tomato sauce at Hotel Malibran
Pasta with tomato sauce at Hotel Malibran (Italy)

Pasta – spaghetti and penne is almost always vegan whereas tagliatelle is mostly made with egg. Stuffed pastas (such as ravioli and tortellini), risotto (often made with butter) and lasagna are very unlikely to be vegan.  Also stay clear of pesto dishes (usually has cheese) and white sauces. Your best bet are the most simple red sauces.


spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, oil and pepper flakes) is literally just that

spaghetti alla marinara (spaghetti with tomato sauce)

penne all’arrabbiata (penne with spicy tomato sauce)

Pizza – most pizza dough is vegan. Try to find a pizza marinara, which is just pizza with tomato sauce. I also see often pizza with grilled veggies, that is a good option too. In case they do have mozzarella, it is easy to ask if they can be left out since most pizza is made to order anyway.

Pizza marinara at Luigia
Pizza marinara with capers at Luigia (Switzerland)

Many Italian restaurants will have some vegetable side dishes, such as grilled aubergines or other vegetables, artichokes, or panzanella salad (bread salad, occasionally vegan).


Desserts: Unfortunately, this is the area with the least amount of choices for vegans. Most sorbet ice cream is vegan, however, make sure to confirm this. The alternative: end your meal with a nice espresso. Very Italian!

Soy cappuccino at Bar da Gino.
Or a soy cappuccino if available and you are a terrible heathen in the eyes of Italians 😉 (Italy)
& my own experience eating a lot of Italian food both in Italy and outside of it 🙂

Author: Sandra

Running, cats, sewing, vegan cooking and eating.

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