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)

Starters:

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

Mains:

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.

Examples:

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)
Sources:
& my own experience eating a lot of Italian food both in Italy and outside of it 🙂

Bar da Gino (Venice, Italy)

We first came across Gino when looking for a spot to have a coffee. Standing at the bar, preferably. Blending in with the locals and such. I assumed they wouldn’t have milk alternatives for the coffee, but I was wrong! So I had a delicious soy cappuccino.

We didn’t really look at the menu, but we happened past it a second time and we had a drink just to sit down after a long day of walking. Inconsequential side-story: we sat down at one of the dinner tables but since we only wanted to drink the waiter asked us to move to another table. Then I saw a lady ordering a delicious-looking bruschetta and we had dinner anyway. Sorry waiter..well I’m sure he got over it.

So we asked for the menu and we found actually several vegan options: several bruschetta, a vegan lasagne (!!) and a vegan pasta option.

Bruschetta with olive oil and cherry tomatoes at Bar da Gino
Bruschetta with olive oil and cherry tomatoes

 

For our starters we tried two bruschetta; the ‘toscana’ which is a basic olive oil and garlic one and the ‘umbra’, which also had garlic and olive oil but also cherry tomatoes and oregano. The bruschetta were crunchy and the portions generous.

Bruschetta with olive oil and garlic at Bar da Gino
Bruschetta with olive oil and garlic

Of course I wanted to try the vegan lasagne for my main course. Interestingly enough, I had seen several other places that had a vegan lasagne. I was still a bit cautious (translation errors do happen), so I asked with the waiter to be sure.  He confirmed that it was really vegan. It was very delicious!  We also tried the vegan pasta in red sauce. A classic, and very good as well.

Vegan lasagne at Bar da Gino
Vegan lasagne !
Pasta with tomato sauce at Bar da Gino
Classic: pasta with tomato sauce

There were no vegan desserts available, but we could close the meal with a nice coffee, a soy cappuccino in my case.

Overall this place seemed quite busy, it is a bit higher priced. Service started out fast but when we asked for the bill we had to wait a while (might have been due to a shift change). But overall, food was good and it was a nice surprise to have vegan lasagne!

Soy cappuccino at Bar da Gino. I know you are not supposed to drink cappuccino after breakfast ..
Soy cappuccino
Type of place: Italian cafe, bar
Completely vegan: no
Vegan desserts: no

Website : None

La Tecia Vegana (Venice, Italy)

La Tecia Vegana is a fully vegan restaurant in Venice, away from the centre. It was in fact not in a place you’ d naturally bump into. I  can very much recommend going there, it is worth the journey. When we arrived at la Tecia Vegana it seemed closed. It was however open and very busy! The restaurant opens for lunch and then reopens for dinner.

Interior at La Tecia Vegana in Venice
Interior at La Tecia Vegana

In Italy the approximate structure of a (fancy) meal is as follows** : aperitivo (with small snack),  antipasti (starters), primo (soup/pasta/carbs), secundo (‘protein’) with sides and salad, dolce (dessert), coffee, digestivo. Obviously not all courses are mandatory, but this is useful to know since often restaurants in Italy will have a separate section on their menu for their first and second courses. Additionally you get bread with everything, which is awesome.

Vegan bigoi at la Tecia Vegana
Bigoi: a vegan variation on a traditional Venetian dish

The atmosphere in the restaurant is casual and pleasant. I noticed that, probably due to its location, it was mostly filled with Italian guests. We arrived a little bit late for the lunch, as the restaurant would close again at 1500 until dinner. Spoiler, they didn’t kick us out at 14.55, so that’s good.

Mushroom filled crepes at la Tecia Vegana
Mushroom filled crepes!

The menu is translated in several languages, including English. Some of the translations were a bit off we found later but the general gist of it was clear. We wanted to try a bit of everything, and still have some space for the desserts. The starters looked great, but they were not very special (hummus, falafel, and such) so we skipped them and jumped straight into the primo.

Chick pea omelette at la Tecia Vegana
Chick pea omelette

We started with a vegan variation on a typical venetian dish (bigoi in salsa) and the crepes with mushrooms filling. The bigoi is a dish with special long noodles and red onion in sauce (I believe the traditional version is made with anchovy or sardines), which was quite special and delicious. The crepes were very good as well.

Tofu-stuffed peppers below, pumpkin with herbs and potato soufflé at la Tecia Vegana
Tofu-stuffed peppers below, upper left pumpkin with herbs and upper right potato soufflé

For our secundo we had the chickpeas omelette and stuffed peppers with tofu. For side dishes we chose the spicy pumpkin and potato soufflé with leek. This was an example of a mistranslation; the pumpkin was not spicy in the sense that it was hot, it just had spices. The potato soufflé was nice, but not very special and also quite stuffing.

Vegan tiramisu at La Tecia Vegana
Vegan tiramisu ❤

Even though we had only a little bit of space left in our stomachs we still wanted to have some dessert. Of course we had to try the tiramisu. Wow, it was amazing! It had been a while since I had “real” tiramisu, but it tasted just like the real thing to me. I suspected it was made with silken tofu (an ingredient also often used for vegan chocolate mousse) but it was made with almond cream. We also tried the pear almond/walnuts tart. After we managed to squeeze in a little coffee.

Pear, Almond and walnuts tart at La Tecia Vegana
Pear, Almond and walnuts tart

In general the service was good, because it was busy we had to wait a bit. It was not really an issue but we felt the pressure of time since they were supposed to close at 15 again. It is a bit on the pricier side, but I think it was worth the money. The food felt a bit more fancy than a standard eatery and also the plating is done with a lot of attention. Special shout-out to the small breads that were served with the food: delicious!

Almond cappuccino at la Tecia Vegana
Almond cappuccino
Type of place: Restaurant
Completely vegan: yes
Vegan desserts: yes!
Website (Italian) : http://lateciavegana.it/ 

** Sources:

https://www.disgracesonthemenu.com/2011/07/italian-courses.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_meal_structure

Farini (Venice, Italy)

In Venice and just want to grab a coffee or a quick lunch? Go to Farini!  Farini is a chain of ‘fast-food’ bakeries with locations both in Venice and Milan. They offer pizza, salads, focaccias, other types of breads and sweet pastries. Additionally they serve drinks, and they have soy milk as well if you want to get a soy cappuccino. It was possible to sit in the bakery itself, but it was very crowded so we decided on take-away when we visited.

Menu at Farini Venice
Menu at Farini

We went there specifically for the focaccia, and there was a nice selection of vegan and non-vegan ones. While traditionally focaccias have vegan dough, I did ask the server to be sure, because experience has taught me that sometimes the most basic and innocent food items might hide dairy or eggs in them. The bakers were nearby, in fact you can see them make your food, and they assured me that the focaccia dough contains no animal products. There were several vegan options and we choose one with onions and one with olives. They were quickly heated and cut (with scissors!) into smaller pieces.

Focaccias in a display at Farini
Focaccias!

Both focaccias we tried were very nice, a bit salty though, but that might just be due to the olives. For me personally it was not off-putting. If I lived nearby I would probably be a frequent visitor of Farini 🙂

Type of place: Bakery/Take-out
Completely vegan: no
Website (Italian): http://farini.com/

Hotel Malibran (Venice, Italy)

Venice is full of cute little spots and terraces where you can sit and soak up the sun (when available) with a nice drink or some food. While looking for a nice place to grab lunch we found a small square with three restaurants. We decided on the Hotel Malibran, as a glance on the menu card revealed several vegan options: a starter, 2 pasta variations and a pizza Marinara (tomato sauce with oregano and garlic).

The view from the terrace at Hotel Malibran
The view from the terrace

While Italian cuisine might not look like it in the form we mostly see it outside of Italy (cheese!), it is generally quite vegan friendly. Almost every Italian restaurant will offer at least one dish which is vegan or can be made vegan by leaving out the Parmesan. That dish is either pasta with tomato sauce, or pasta with garlic-oil sauce. As I had mentioned in my post on the Pizza Leggera , if the pizza is made from scratch it can often easily be made vegan. Unless the pizza is heavily cheese-based this is generally a good option.

Starter at Hotel Malibran consisting of several grilled vegetables
Grilled vegetables: eggplant, bell pepper, tomatoes, carrots, courgette and potato.

After we sat down at Malibran, we got some breads and a drink. Since it was lunch time and we needed to keep some stomach space for all the other delicious food available, we shared the vegan starter, which was grilled vegetables. Interestingly there was a potato among the vegetables. Haven’t seen that before!

Pasta with tomato sauce at Hotel Malibran
Pasta with tomato sauce

For our main course we wanted to try a pasta and a pizza. You know, to get a well-rounded review. For the pasta we choose the spaghetti with tomato sauce. For the pizza we decided to get adventurous. Sure, there is a vegan pizza, but let’s up the ante a bit. The vegetarian pizza Vegetariana has grilled veggies and mozzarella, so we asked for that one without mozzarella. Interestingly, the grilled veggies were the same as those of the starter (yes, also the carrot and the potato). Well, you cannot blame them for being efficient. It was very tasty. Now I do not know if they put some additional veggies to make up for the lack of mozzarella, but overall it was just good stuff.

Vegan pizza with grilled vegetables at hotel Malibran
Vegan pizza with grilled vegetables

Dessert-wise we were less lucky. There was lemon ice on the menu, but after verifying our waiter told us it did have milk. Fortunately they did have soy milk so I got a nice soy cappuccino to finish off.

Soy cappuccino at hotel Malibran
The older couple sitting next to us was very confused by me trying to make the perfect image of the cappuccino 🙂

Type of place: Restaurant, Hotel
Completely vegan: no
Vegan desserts: no
Website (Italian, French, English, German) : http://www.hotelmalibran.com/restaurant.html

Gelato Fantasy (Venice, Italy)

Image of the outside of Gelato Fantasy
Sign outside of Gelato Fantasy
Another day in Venice, another gelato !  Gelato Fantasy was quite busy when we visited and I can see why. They have a lot of interesting flavours like peanut butter and cheese cake, but most are unfortunately not vegan. They do have several vegan options, like raspberry, lemon and dark chocolate. (There’s also crêpes available but I didn’t inquire about those)
Ice cream flavours on display at Gelato Fantasy
A sample of the flavours available, including several vegan ones!
I asked about whether the cones were vegan and was informed the standard cones are not, however they do have vegan cones. I really like cones so I am always happy when vegan cones are available!
The staff knows about veganism (nice, saves time explaining) and they are also knowledgeable about allergies; I was asked if I was vegan or allergic, and was explained that in the latter case they’d explain potential cross-contamination.
Vegan cone with two scoops of icecream
Ice cream! Dark chocolate and lemon ^^
Type of place: Gelato
Completely vegan: no
Website (Italian): http://www.gelatofantasy.com/

Pasticceria Ponte delle Paste (Venice, Italy)

Entrance of Ponte delle Paste
Entrance of Ponte delle Paste
We found this tiny bakery when walking around the maze that is Venice looking for some focaccias. A shop window promoted vegan pastries, but it was a bit unclear where the bakery itself was!  The entrance was in fact in a different street, but it was easily findable from the other direction. While the advertisement mentioned both sweet and salty pastries (in both vegan and non-vegan variety) it was mostly sweets in the shop. Well, the focaccia would have to wait !
Display showing the vegan packaged muffins at Ponte delle Paste.
Vegan packaged muffins at Ponte delle Paste
The actual vegan offering was limited: some cookies and packaged muffins. But the cookies looked very good, and I am all for supporting businesses that offer vegan foods. The bakery has a small seating area and also offers coffee. Soy milk is available. (Later I found that this place is mentioned on HappyCow and that they also have other milk alternatives as well)
pontedellepaste2
Soy cappuccino, espresso and two jam cookies

The cookies were very tasty, they had some kind of jam inside. The coffee was not stellar. That might also be due to my standards shifting after drinking many great Italian coffees the last few days 🙂

Type of place: bakery
Completely vegan: no
Website: none

Link to HappyCow for the address : https://www.happycow.net/reviews/pasticceria-ponte-delle-paste-venice-79528