Italy is renowned for its award-winning cuisine, but being a vegetarian in Italy isn’t always easy. This is strange, because according to one European survey, Italy actually has the highest proportion of vegetarians than any other country in Europe, with a reported 10% of Italians identifying as non-meat eaters.
It doesn’t always feel like it at times, but avoiding eating meat in Italy isn’t always as hard as you might think. Follow our simple tricks, and you’ll be dining like a local in no time, senza carne.
Learn the lingo
Repeat after me: “Sono vegetariana” [I’m vegetarian] and “È senza carne?” [Is it without meat?]. These two phrases are going to be your best friends for the duration of your time in Italy. Even seemingly innocuous dinners can contain hidden meat – guanciale (cured pork jowl) is a common ingredient in a number of sauces, for example – so it’s always best to clarify.
Plan your courses
Handily enough, Italian menus are nearly always divided into the same categories: antipasti (appetizers), primi piatti (first course), secondi piatti (second course), contorni (side dishes) and dolci (dessert). Generally speaking, the secondi piatti are the most likely to contain meat, while m the primi piatti and contorni tend to be pretty meat-free.
Establish some staples
Keep an eye out for
- ‘al pomodoro’ – with tomato
- ‘marinara’ – in tomato sauce
- ‘all’arrabbita’ – in spicy tomato sauce
- ‘quattro formaggi’ – four cheese
- ‘fagioli’ – beans
- ‘funghi’ – mushrooms
- ‘Carciofi alla romana’ – Roman-style artichokes
- ‘caprese’ –with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil
- ‘Pizza pugliese’ — pizza with tomato, mozzarella and onions
- ‘Pizza capricciosa’ – pizza with tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, artichokes and olives
- ‘Fettuccine Alfredo’ – pasta with parmesan and butter
- ‘Spaghetti alla puttanesca’ – spaghetti with tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers and garlic
- ‘Caponata’ – a Sicilian salad made from chopped fried eggplant and celery with sweetened vinegar and capers in a sweet and sour sauce
- ‘minestrone’ – soup with vegetables and beans
- ‘Panzanella’ or ‘panmolle’ – a Tuscan bread and tomato salad
- ‘Ribolitta’ – a Tuscan bread and bean soup
It used to be that aperitivo was an early evening, pre-dinner drink accompanied by a bowl of olives or nuts. Now, however, in cities across Italy, it has morphed into what is essentially a complimentary all-you-can-eat buffet that is laid out on the bar and is all yours for the price of a glass of wine. Not only are these fantastic value – in Florence, aperitivo averages €5-7 – but they’re also usually full of meat-free options, because it’s cheaper for the management to supply. Everybody wins!
Veganism is less common than vegetarianism, so it pays to specify what you can’t eat when ordering – “È senza formaggio?” [Is it without cheese?], “È senza latte?” [Is it without milk?] and “È senza uova?” [Is it without eggs?] will all do nicely. The good news is that many aspects of the Italian diet are actually more vegan-friendly than in many other countries – many dishes use olive oil rather than butter, cheese is usually not added to pasta unless you ask for it, and the pizza marinara is your new dairy-free best friend – so a Vegan diet is not necessarily much harder to follow than a vegetarian one.
Have you tried to eat vegetarian in Italy? Do you have any tips or recommendations? If so, share them below.