- Being Vegetarian in Italy
- Vegan and Vegetarian Dishes in Italy
- Tips for Vegans and Vegetarians in Italy
I became a vegetarian three months after moving to Milan in 2022—partly due to social influence and environmental concerns, and mostly due to how easy it was to eat well as a vegetarian in Italy.
Full disclosure: I am not a planner. I don't plan my day, let alone my weekends, my wardrobe, or my dinner reservations. This means that every single dinner party, restaurant, bar, pub, and cafe that I've been invited to here in Milan has been chosen by meat-eating friends or coworkers—and I've found something to eat at every single place.
Being Vegetarian in Italy
Nearly 7% of Italy's population is vegan or vegetarian, and vegetarian food is abundant in Italy thanks to the land's fertile soil and excellent variety of fruits and vegetables.
Eating vegetarian in Italy is practically baked into the social fabric of society. After all, this is a country where people serve olives and chopped tomatoes on bread (bruschetta) to guests.
Unlike in neighboring France, Italian cafes are also stocked with dairy-free milk alternatives. An Italian barista won't bat an eye if you order a soy cappuccino or an almond latte macchiato. I've been ordering soy cappuccinos all over Italy since January 2022 and I've never had a problem!
Farmers' markets and local shops are always brimming with fresh produce, and the regions of Tuscany, Sicily, and Emilia-Romagna are renowned for the high-quality olives, tomatoes, and citrus fruits that garnish so many Italian meals.
Vegetarians in Italy are spoiled!
Vegan and Vegetarian Dishes in Italy
Italy is a veggie-friendly country, and I promise that you'll eat just as well here as your meat-eating friends and relatives. Vegetarians can eat much of the same foods as non-vegetarians, with the exception of the secondo piatto (second course), which is usually meat or fish. However, it's not required to order a second course in Italy; most people are full after the first course.
Here are some vegetarian dishes that you can look forward to eating in Italy:
Many classic pasta dishes are vegan or vegetarian, such as Pasta alla Norma (with eggplant and tomatoes), Pasta e Fagioli (with beans), Pasta al Pomodoro e Ricotta (with tomatoes and ricotta), and Pasta con Crema di Tartufo (pasta with mushroom truffles).
As a pesto lover, my favorite pasta is Trofie al Pesto.
In addition to the classic Margherita, I recommend trying a Brontese pizza made with Sicilian lemon and pistachio pesto. You also can't go wrong when ordering a Pizza alla Parmigiana, which features slices of grilled eggplant served on a bed of Italian cheese.
Gnocchi is my favorite Italian dish, and I have yet to try even half of the flavors. One of my favorites is Gnocchi di Patate Viola, which is made with purple potato gnocchi and served with squash. Not only are the purple potatoes beautiful, but they also have a different flavor profile and more antioxidants than regular potatoes.
You can also try Gnocchi alla Panna, which is served in a cream sauce with grated cheese and pepper, or order the classic Gnocchi al Pesto.
Tip: If you're invited to an Italian restaurant, you can almost always find vegetarian gnocchi on the menu.
Italy has many types of creamy risottos, often made with vegetables like asparagus, mushrooms, or pumpkin.
Note: Risotto alla Milanese, the traditional saffron dish from Milan, is made with beef broth and is NOT vegetarian.
Vegetarian risottos include Risotto al Pomodoro (with fresh tomatoes), Risotto al Erbe (with fresh herbs like basil, parsley, and thyme), and Risotto all'Ortolana (with fresh vegetables).
Tips for Vegans and Vegetarians in Italy
If you're visiting or moving to this beautiful country, keep these tips in mind:
- Italians often think that vegetarians eat fish. The concept of a Pescetarian doesn't exist in Italy, so many Italians believe that vegetarians eat fish. You can confirm that a dish is truly vegetarian by pointing to it and asking "Senza pesce e carne?", which means "Without fish and meat?".
- To order a vegan pizza, you can often ask the kitchen to use a red sauce as the base and to leave out the cheese.
- Italian restaurant menus are broken down into three main sections: Antipasti (appetizers), primo piatto (first course), and secondo piatto (second course). Appetizers and first courses almost always feature vegan or vegetarian options. The secondo piatto is a protein-rich dish and is rarely vegetarian.
- To say that you are vegetarian in Italian, say "Sono vegetariano/vegetariana". Select the ending that fits you.
- To say that you are vegan in Italian, say "Sono vegano/vegana". Select the ending that best fits you.
Living or traveling in Italy as a vegetarian or vegan is not hard—it's actually very easy. Italians eat a mix of vegetarian and vegan food and have plenty of veggie-friendly recipes. Regardless of where you land in Italy, you'll be able to find fresh, authentic meals that match your dietary preferences.
Compared to my previous country of Norway or my home state of California, being vegetarian in Italy requires almost zero effort and is met with very little judgement from the local population.