Last updated on February 16th, 2024
Are you a vegan and worried that you won’t be able to find enough options on your vacation?
Well, Italy is historically a very poor country, so many of the regional dishes were originally made without animal products! Italy is great for eating vegan!
In this article I will break down exactly how to eat vegan in Italy, no matter which part of the country you’re in. I will give you specific advice for eating out, shopping and a short city guide to finding everything you want!
I have been studying food for quite some time in Italy and although I am not vegan, the vegan vein in Italy cooking just sticks out. It’s quite surprising (or at least it was to me when I first started noticing the trend) how much is naturally vegan in Italy considering how much meat and cheese there is in modern Italian cuisine.
Much of Italian regional cooking was born out of the cucina povera or the “poor man’s cooking” referring to the idea of preparing delicious, flavorful and caloric foods in a cheap way, using the local produce and products of that region.
Back when Italians didn’t have very much, they grew a lot of their own food, whatever would be supported by the local climate – a LOT of vegetables and beans!
And so, every region has their own vegan dishes that were born centuries ago and still live strong today, playing a vital role in the mainstream Italian diet.
Although I truly love mainstream Italian food, I personally love vegetables and feeling healthy so from time to time I frequent Italy’s vegan cafes and bistros myself.
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How To Tell Someone You’re Vegan in Italian
Vegan in Italian is vegano (pronounced veh-GAH-noh) or vegana (pronounced veh-GAH-nah).
Good To Know: Vegano is the masculine form, vegana is the feminine form.
Buongiorno, sono vegano/a e mi domando se avete dei piatti che non usano prodotti animali?
Hello, I am vegan and I am wondering if you have dishes that are made without using animal products?
Vegan Basics in Italy
The Italian basics such as pastas, soups, risotti and pizza can be easily shaped and changed to cater to a vegan diet without much trouble so don’t be afraid to ask. Here is a rundown of each major category.
Pizza dough by nature is vegan, made from yeast (sourdough or not), flour, water and oil. The toppings are what make it vegan or not vegan.
Pizza marinara is a red pizza made without cheese and happens to be one of Italy’s favorite snacks so you won’t have trouble ordering it at any pizzeria or finding it at bars, bakeries and grocery stores.
Pizzerias will happily add toppings to your pizza marinara such as grilled veggies or local mushrooms. To learn more about pizza, check out Ordering Pizza In Italy – A Traveler’s Guide To Ordering Pizza A Taglio, Take-Out Pizza And Pizza Pinsa!, Authentic Italian Pizza Toppings – My Italian Family’s Favorite + Printable Quick Guide and How Do Italians Eat Pizza? – Answers From A Large Italian Family.
So many traditional Italian pasta dishes are vegan (see list below under Italian Staples). Generally speaking, pasta secca or dried pasta is made with no eggs while pasta fresca or fresh, handmade pasta usually includes eggs. This, however, is not true in southern Italy. Southerners make handmade pasta such as orecchiette without eggs. Just be sure to confirm.
Note that all restaurants will be able to make you pasta with pasta secca if you see nothing else that you are craving.
Rice is the main staple in northern Italy instead of pasta and the best part about it is that any variation is easily made vegan because the butter and parmigiano are added at the end. Just ask when you order if they can hold back on the dairy and make it vegan – most will say yes unless you are in a place with pre-made primi that are heated up (but let’s hope you aren’t there!).
Be sure to double check the rice is made without a broth made from animals!
Polenta is another northern Italian vegan staple served as primi, secondi and contorni. If it’s served as a second course, it will be a side dish, so you will want to supplement with some grilled veggies. Ask how they are making it as a first course – you may be in luck and find that they have a version with mushrooms and local herbs.
It’s common to see it cut into squares and grilled or pan fried as well.
Italian Staples That Are Vegan
So many ancient Italian dishes are vegan in nature so take advance of this while on your travels and order the local vegan specialties. If I don’t indicate a region or city, you will find it throughout Italy.
Italian Snacks & Street Food
- cecina/farinata – a thin chickpea flatbread (Tuscany/Liguria)
- focaccia genovese – a puffy focaccia (Liguria)
- focaccia barese – a flatbread topped with local cherry tomatoes (Puglia)
- focaccia tarantina – a flat bread filled with onion and olives (Puglia)
- schiacciata all’uva – a sweet focaccia made with grapes in the fall (Tuscany)
- taralli – a baked cracker shaped like a small donut (Puglia)
- fresselle – a very dry bagel shaped bread that is rehydrated and served topped with garlic, olive oil and fresh tomatoes (southern Italy)
- pizza con patate – fluffy focaccia baked with a layer of thinly-sliced potatoes
- zeppole/pettole – balls of deep-fried pizza dough (southern Italy)
- bruschetta – grilled bread topped with tomatoes, olive oil and garlic
- crostini con fagioli – grilled bread topped with garlicky white beans (Tuscany)
Primi – First Courses in Italy
- ribollita – a hearty bread and mixed vegetable soup (Tuscany)
- pappa al pomodoro – a bread and tomato soup (Tuscany)
- macco di fave/fave e cicoria – fave bean puree served with sauteed local greens (Sicily, Puglia)
- panzanella – bread salad with summer vegetables (Tuscany)
- farinata con cavolo nero – polenta and bean stew with kale (Tuscany)
- vellutata – a pureed vegetable soup (vegetables depend on the season)
- pasta e lenticchie – pasta and lentils
- pasta alla norma – pasta with tomato and eggplant but sometimes served with ricotta salata on top so be sure to ask for it without cheese to be sure (Sicily)
- pasta e fagioli – pasta and beans
- spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino – spaghetti with garlic, oil and red pepper flakes (Lazio)
- penne all’arrabbiata – pasta with a spicy tomato sauce (southern Italy)
- orecchiette con cima di rape – pasta with greens (southern Italy)
- polenta fritta/alla griglia/con funghi – fried/grilled polenta with mushrooms (northern Italy)
- minestra di ceci/fagioli – chickpea or bean soup
- minestra di orzo – barley soup
- minestrone – hearty vegetable soup
- acquacotta – a vegetable broth soup with bread (Tuscany)
- insalata di lenticche – lentil salad
Secondi – Second Courses in Italy
To be honest, there are not very many vegan protein options so check out the side dishes and appetizers to bulk up your meal.
- pomodori con riso – cooked stuffed tomatoes served with potatoes
Contorni – Side Dishes in Italy
- fagioli all’uccelletto – white beans stewed with tomatoes (Tuscany)
- carciofi alla romana – stewed whole artichokes (Rome)
- carciofi alla giudia – fried whole artichokes (Rome)
- caponata – sweet and salty relish made with olives, capers, eggplant, tomatoes and pine nuts (Sicily)
- vignarola – cooked broad beans, artichokes and peas (Rome)
Dolci – Desserts in Italy
- cavallucci – cookies filled with a sweet mix of nuts and fruit (Marche)
- ciambelline al vino – simple cookies made with wine (Lazio, Marche, Umbria)
- celli ripieni – a grape filled cookie (Abruzzo)
- mostaccioli – a chocolate nut cookie covered in chocolate made during the holidays (southern Italy)
- gelato – stay away from cream flavors that may have eggs in them.
Italian Foods That May Seem Vegan But Aren’t
- salsa verde – a green sauce made with anchovies
- bigoli in salsa – a handmade pasta with a creamy sauce made from anchovies
- pasta fresca – fresh pasta typically made with eggs
- pesto trapanese – made with pecorino or parmesan
- sformato – a vegetable flan but it most likely has eggs and/or milk
Eating Vegan for Breakfast in Italy
Luckily, Italians don’t eat eggs and bacon for breakfast. Instead, they have something small and sweet like a brioche or cornetto at a bar with coffee. There will most likely always be a vegan version of their pastries although the selection might not be very wide. You will probably only see plain or filled with some kind of jam or honey.
Plan Your Morning: If you hope to get a vegan pastry late in the morning, after 10:30 or so, they may be sold out!
Order coffee with latte di soia (soy milk) or latte di avena (oat milk).
Where to Find Vegan Food in Italy
- Markets: check out open air markets or small mom and pop stores for vegan products, fresh produce and locally produced baked goods.
- Grocery Stores: both large chains and specialty health food stores such as ‘Naturasì’ will have plenty of vegan items.
- Restaurants and cafes: although you might not always be able to go to a vegan specific restaurant, most Italian restaurants will have things you can order on their menu which are vegan such as pasta, rice and plenty of sides and salads.
More On Markets: Check out 5 Food Markets In Florence, Italy, My Favorite Markets In Florence, 10 Rules For Shopping At Markets In Italy – Getting The Best Prices As A Tourist In Italy, Top Markets In Tuscany, and How To Shop At Markets In Italy + A Local’s Favorite Markets To Visit On Your Next Trip.
Italian Grocery Shopping for Vegans
The amount of vegan items in grocery stores has improved immensely in the past five years. Every year they stock more and more, and in some places they even have a designated vegano section.
Keep an eye out for vegan certifications such as vegano, 100% vegetale or ricetta vegetale/vegana. Just because a product isn’t labeled this way, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t vegan.
If you are checking labels, look for words like latte (milk), uova (eggs), miele (honey), gelatina (gelatin), formaggio (cheese) and avoid those products.
If you are looking for peanut butters (or other nut butters) go to the aisle with the Nutella and jams, it should be there if they stock it.
Eating Vegan in Florence
Because Florence is so densely packed with tourists, the city has invested in offering various options for travelers with dietary restrictions such as vegans and celiac disease. Since this is my home city, I am more confident in recommending vegan places that I have either tried myself or who have friends who go there often.
- Nirvana: although not 100% vegan, they have a great menu with a ton of variety.
- Raw Vegan Firenze: a great location and 100% vegan (my personal favorite!).
- Trattoria del Carmine: not vegan specific but serving up Tuscan classics which are by nature vegan.
- Mister Pizza: offers vegan cheese if you would like.
- Pappa Gioia: vegan bistro serving also vegan breakfast.
- Il Vegano: 100% vegan cafe and bistro with art gallery.
- Flour Burger: serving up vegan burgers in no time (this is a small chain and you will also find it in Rome, Milan and Venice).
Eating Vegan in Rome
Rome has a ton of vegan restaurants but unfortunately, many are outside the city center. I have listed the best ones with a tourist-friendly location.
- Rifugio Romano: close to the train station with an extensive vegan menu.
- Insalata Ricca: 100% vegan friendly local chain. Lots of options and popular with locals and tourists, alike.
- Buddy: I suggest this place for dinner (don’t go for lunch because it’s a buffet). It has pinsa pizza.
- Origano: not 100% vegan but the menu is clear and easy to read. Great desserts and central location.
- iVegano: a little on the outskirts (close to Vatican City) but I wanted to include it because it is firstly a vegan grocery store but also has a restaurant inside.
- Ecru: raw and organic, this is an amazing location with amazing food (my favorite).
Eating Vegan in Venice
Not the best city for hunting out vegan specific restaurants because the best are located outside the city center.
- La Tecia Vegana: worth the hike outside the city center for a great 100% vegan menu.
- Sullaluna: doubling as a bookstore and bistro, this cute place has many vegan options clearly marked on their menu.
- Frary’s: serving Mediterranean cuisine with plenty of vegan options including hummus and falafel.
- Torrefazione Cannaregio: a timeless bakery and specialty coffee shop with many vegan coffee and pastry options! Not a lot of seating so be prepared to take it outside or to wait for a table.
Read my full guide to Eating Vegan in Venice.
Eating Vegan in Milan
One of the better places to be if you are vegan because there are a lot of really trendy places, even a Michelin! I am listing only a handful of the many options.
- Joia: a Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options. The tasting menu price is affordable and the dishes are innovative!
- Capra e Cavoli: fun atmosphere, cool neighborhood, innovative food. Not 100% vegan but it’s really trendy with mostly vegetarian and vegan food.
- Ghea Laboratorio Vegetariano: this is a super popular joint for non-vegan locals as the food is so good even if it is vegan.
- Radicetondo: a very popular choice using biodynamic ingredients and with attention to supporting local farmers.
Eating Vegan in The Cinque Terre
Although there are no vegan specific restaurants, it’s easy to fill up on the local’s favorite of focaccia and farinata, chickpea pancake. Salads and crostini are great ways to make a meal from seemingly very little while visiting.
- Gelateria il Porticciolo (Vernazza): great vegan granita to cool off with in the hot summer months.
- Il Fornaio di Monterosso: excellent focaccia.
- Il Cambusa: some of the best farinata is served here. Cheap, easy and perfect for vegans.
- Nessun Dorma (Manarola): not a vegan place but they serve lots of cold vegan options such as focaccia, salads and bruschetta. This place also has a fantastic view!
Eating Vegan in Naples
Surprisingly, Naples has quite a lot of vegan food. Even if you don’t hit up a specific place, don’t be scared, lots of southern Italian pastas are vegan and the local greens and fresh produce is some of the best in Italy. There are a ton of vegan restaurants but here are just some of my favorites!
- Cambiovita: this is a nice change of scene from all the pizza you will probably be gobbling down. Wholesome and hearty, you won’t be sorry.
- Cicol’e Ricott’: this downtown deli has some great vegan treats such as the regional pizza di scarole (a pie filled with local greens)
- O’Grin: a casual vegan take-away joint popular with students.
- Cavoli Nostri: the first vegan restaurant opened in Naples and still going strong. They use organic ingredients and the menu changes seasonally, making it fun and new every time!
Helpful Vocabulary for Eating Vegan in Italy
- Sono vegano/vegana – I am vegan (male/female)
- Siamo vegani – we are vegans
- Non mangio prodotti di origine animale – I don’t eat animal products
- Posso avere la pasta ma senza il formaggio? – May I have the pasta but without the cheese?
- È possibile fare un piatto vegano? – Is it possible to order something vegan?
- latticini – dairy products
- latte di soia – soy milk
- latte di avena – oat milk
- latte di mandorla – almond milk
- carne – meat
- pesce – fish
- frutti di mare – seafood
- uova – eggs
- formaggio – cheese
- burro – butter
- panna – cream
- brodo – broth
- pollo – chicken
- maiale – pork
- manzo – beef
- fagioli – beans
- lenticchie – lentils
- ceci – chickpeas
- verdure – vegetables
- insalata – salad
How to Eat Vegan in Italy FAQs
Vegan food is trendy in places like Milan and Florence because of its health benefits but not a lot of Italians have converted to veganism primarily because traditional, regional cooking is a huge part of the culture, even for younger generations, including plenty of meat and seafood dishes.
As a general statement, not in mainstream supermarkets. Naturasì carries it as well as small health food stores. Some mainstream markets might carry it in a dense tourist area but no guarantees.