Worried you won’t be able to make the most of your Italian vacation because you’re vegan, vegetarian or allergic to gluten? Fear not! Here are 16 tips to help you enjoy your time in Tuscany and Umbria without stressing about food.
- If you’re heading to a bigger city (e.g. Florence), chances are that there are at least a couple of vegan or vegetarian restaurants. Research online (e.g. Tripadvisor) in advance and save on your smartphone or notepad their addresses. The advantage of booking with a tour operator (like us!) is that you can ask your assigned travel agent for up-to-date recommendations.
- Same goes for shops selling specialty products, they’re increasing in popularity and it gets easier to find them but of course, small villages won’t have any.
- Write down common phrases you may need to order or save them on your phone. If you aren’t that confident speaking, you can then show the waiter the written phrases.
- Renting a villa or apartment for the duration of your stay may give you the freedom to shop as you like and cook the right dishes. You can still enjoy the occasional night out but you won’t have to depend on always eating out.
- Pack some of the things you think are harder to find, if you’re worried. However, you should always be able to stop at a greengrocer and buy fresh fruit and vegetables even in the smaller places, as well as bread from bakeries.
Ordering at a restaurant
- Specialized restaurants aren’t that common in Italy, nor you’ll see vegan or vegetarian dishes listed on a menu. You have to ask the waiter for recommendations or variations on a dish and most chefs will accommodate your requests.
- Say ‘No carne, no latte, no burro, no uova, no pesce, no formaggio’ to indicate what you can’t eat if you’re vegan or vegetarian (click to hear the pronunciation).
- Nowadays, people are more familiar with gluten allergies, so say to the waiter before ordering ‘No glutine’ (click to hear pronunciation) for recommendations.
What to order as a vegan
- For antipasto, bruschetta al pomodoro is a great option and almost all restaurants will have it on the menu or will be ok preparing it.
- Dry pasta and gnocchi are the best choices – just make sure the pasta isn’t made with eggs. Fresh, handmade pasta (pasta fresca) is often made with egg and common types include fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappardelle, lasagne, tagliolini. If you choose penne, farfalle, fusilli, spaghetti you’re ok.
- In Tuscany, panzanella (day-old bread soaked in olive oil and vinegar with vegetables) and pappa al pomodoro (soup of day-old bread with tomato) are perfect for vegans.
- Soups are a staple of Tuscan and Umbrian menus. Ribollita, zuppa toscana, minestrone are all dishes to look out for. Polenta is great as well. However, they’re sometimes prepared with bone or meat broth. Ask the waiter if that’s the case before ordering: ‘È fatto con brodo di carne?'(click to hear pronunciation).
- Pasta al pomodoro (with tomato sauce) or pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino (olive olive, chili and garlic) are Italian classics and vegan! Every restaurant will prepare them for you. Beware instead of pesto, as it is made with cheese.
- When it comes to risotto, ask first if it’s vegan-friendly, as it is often made with meat or bone broth.
- Pizza is another good option, just specify ‘Pizza con verdure senza formaggio’(click to hear pronunciation).
- Antipasti and side dishes (contorni) have the most options for vegetable dishes, almost every menu will have roasted vegetables which you can then pair with something else. It may be a case of altering the traditional courses of an Italian meal but you still have plenty of choices.
- It may be hard to find vegan gelato (either made with soy or almond milk) but fruit sorbet (sorbetto) is a great alternative, as is fruit granita (ice shavings).
What to order as a vegetarian
- When looking at a menu, focus on primi piatti (pasta and soups) and side dishes. Avoid sauces like ragù, carbonara, arrabbiata and go for al pomodoro instead.
- Beware of soups, as they’re often prepared with bone or meat broth even if they only contain vegetables. Ask the waiter if that’s the case before ordering: ‘È fatto con brodo di carne?’(click to hear pronunciation).
- Pizza Margerita and pizza con verdure are all great choices for vegetarians and available at all pizzerias.
What to order if you’re allergic to gluten
- Look at the secondi for the best options. Tuscan and Umbrian cuisine is hearty and meat features prominently, so you’ll have plenty of choices to accompany a side dish of roast potatoes, making for a balanced meal.
One more tip: if you’re looking for specialty vegan products such as soy and almond milk, seitan, tofu and stevia, you have better chances of finding them in pharmacies (farmacia) than at the supermarket. Same goes for gluten-free, even though nowadays most supermarkets have gluten-free ranges.