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Can You Eat Vegetarian In Italy During Your Vacation?

Finding ways to eat vegetarian in Italy might seem difficult, but this guide will help you to find delicious vegetarian Italian dishes in Rome and beyond.

Vegetarian In Italy - Fruits and Vegetables

A Huge Selection of Fruits and Vegetables

A lot of people have asked if it is easy to be a vegetarian in Italy and my response is: “Yes!”, but with a couple caveats that you should know.

First, how strict of a vegetarian diet do you follow and second, are there other dietary limits that also need to be accounted for? With such a large range of food options you can probably guess some of the many classics available to a vegetarian, like pasta with a marinara sauce, breads and pizzas (depending on the toppings).

Are There Vegetarian Restaurants In Italy?

To be clear, this discussion is focusing on eating in a restaurant, because I’ve written about the fresh fruit and vegetable markets that are available all over the cities. Eating vegetarian at home in Rome is as simple as anywhere, so let’s focus on eating out.

We’ll talk more about cheese below, which can be a little complicated, but another challenge is when you have other dietary restrictions that limit your choices even further. Recently we had some family visit us and a couple of our guests also didn’t eat bread or sugar. This is, as you would imagine, very limiting in Italy. 

Vegetarian Food In Italy

Regarding how strict of a vegetarian diet you follow, do you consider yourself a Pescatarian (Pesco-vegetarian)? If you eat fish, in addition to being a vegetarian, there is an amazing list of menu items to choose from. If you also keep Kosher, in addition to being a pesco-vegetarian, that will take a large part of the list of seafood off your plate as well.

To recap, when someone asks: “Is Italy Good for Vegetarians?”, I think it’s clear that a better answer would be: “It Depends!”

Vegan Options In Italy

I don’t want to delve too far into the vegan lifestyle here in Rome for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’m not, nor do I want to be, familiar with all the limitations that veganism requires.

  2. I’ve read online discussions with vegans and I’m just not interested in that level of militantism.

Are Many Italians Vegetarian

Vegetarian In Italy -  Scary Vegetables

Even Scary Vegetables Are Easy To Find

These details are according to an international statistics firm Statista and should be used only for directional purposes because I’m not claiming that these are 100% factual, but it will get you close to your intellectual destination.

From 2014 to 2020, the share of vegetarian people in Italy slightly decreased. According to the survey, 6.5 percent of respondents declared to be vegetarian in 2014. Whereas, this value went down to 5.4 percent in 2019. On the other hand, the share of Italian vegan individuals more than doubled during this period. For instance, 2.2 percent of the interviewees claimed to be vegan in Italy in 2020.

The Reasons Behind Vegetarianism And Veganism In Italy

In 2020, most Italian vegetarians or vegans chose to change their dietary lifestyle mainly for health reasons. Secondly, many respondents claimed to have made this choice due to their personal philosophy of life, or out of respect for animals.

The Profile Of Vegetarian People In Italy

Although the share of vegetarians in Italy decreased from 2014 to 2019, vegetarianism was more common than veganism in Italy as of 2019. Furthermore, most Italian vegetarians were aged between 35 and 44 years old. There were roughly as many vegetarian men as women. Finally, they came especially from the macro-regions of the Islands, and the North-East of Italy.

Is Cheese In Italy A Vegetarian Option?

I mentioned that this question can get a little combative depending on how strict of a vegetarian diet you choose or need to follow. The key to this entire discussion is Rennet. This is used to separate the cheese curds from the whey and is instrumental in making cheese. Traditionally and most commonly the rennet used was animal rennet, which is extracted from animal stomachs. If you aren’t concerned about rennet in your cheese making, enjoy the formaggio!

The other two rennets are vegetable and microbial, and would generally be considered vegetarian. Currently there are no laws in Europe forcing any distinction when labeling cheese regarding the origin of the rennet, but there are proposals being made to adopt a legal definition for the labeling of vegan or vegetarian foods, including cheeses.

Vegetarian In Italy - Wine In Complicated

Wine Can Get Complicated

Is Wine In Italy A Vegetarian Option?

This might seem like a dumb question because of course it is, it’s just grapes! However, part of the wine making process involves clarifying the wine so it doesn’t come out cloudy. To do this, traditionally the most commonly used products were  egg whites, isinglass (a gelatin made from sturgeon bladder), chitin (made from crustacean shells), casein (milk protein), or cow’s or pig’s hoof gelatin.

Are There Restaurants With Vegetarian Options?

When eating at typical restaurants in Italy, generally the Primi Piatti (First Courses) and the Antipasti (Appetizers) are the vegetarian’s friend. They are simple dishes that are relatively clear whether or not they have animal products. The Secondi Piatti (Second Course) however is a little more challenging.

Vegetarian In Italy - Pizza Is Your Savior

Pizza Can Be Your Savior

There are a few options if you consider Pizza a main course as the selection can be as simple as Pizza Marinara (bread and sauce) or Pizza Margherita (bread, sauce, cheese) depending on if you eat cheese. Beyond that, Parmigiana di Melanzane is a delicious dish made with slices of eggplant arranged in layers with sheep’s cheese and basil and baked in the oven.

Your options from the Secondi Piatti section are definitely limited. You might consider Contorni (side-dishes) to round out your meal. Like the antipasti, these are simple, mostly single item dishes that are easy to evaluate to see if they fit into your diet plan. Grilled vegetables, potatoes roasted or fried, sauteed greens and other traditional Roman dishes are delicious and shouldn’t be skipped.

Ask The Waiter About The Vegetarian Menu

My final suggestion is that you should definitely ask the waiter (Camerieri) for his vegetarian suggestions. Especially in well traveled cities, there is an understanding that they should offer vegetarian options to keep the diners happy (and get good reviews) and it is easy to do this in Italy. Don’t hesitate to ask, but also don’t get mad if he doesn’t have a suggestion. Remember, only about 8% of Italians are vegan or vegetarian and they probably eat at home.

More Information About Being Vegetarian In Italy

Here are some posts that will help you make plans for your visit to Rome if being vegetarian in Italy is important to you:

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