If you’re a vegan or vegetarian cyclist—or have any other special dietary restrictions—you might be wondering if it’s possible to navigate Italy’s restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores while still enjoying Italy's celebrated food. No worries! The great news is that it's more than possible. The standard "alternative" choices are incredibly fresh, healthy, and beyond tasty. And if you're not vegetarian/vegan? These delicious, regional veggie plates might make you think twice.
"Spinaci" sauteed in garlic and served family style.
While it's true that excluding meat or dairy as a lifestyle choice is, literally, foreign to Italians, they are getting used to it. Many Italians are familiar with the idea of being lactose-intolerant, celiac, or anything else as the number of dietary intolerances is rising in Italy as well. So they’ll probably understand that better than choosing to eat a different way. As a result, it's getting easier and easier to find restaurants that will happily cater to you. Almost every restaurant, trattoria, or osteria menu has a long list of contorni (vegetable side dishes, local and in season), or an antipasto buffet. It's easy enough to combine a few appetizers, a vegetarian pasta and several contorni to create a fabulous, fresh vegetarian (or vegan) multi-course meal to write home about.
Tuscan Vegetable Risotto
On Ciclismo Classico tours, vegetarians or vegans typically receive their dinner first. It's not uncommon to have the rest of the table respond with a "I'll have what he/she is having." This is because Italian cooks naturally create wonderful, fresh plates—regardless of the ingredients at hand. Even if it's an all-veggie plate, you can be sure it will be flavorful, natural, and perfectly balanced with fresh herbs.
"While it's true that excluding meat or dairy as a lifestyle choice is, literally, foreign to Italians, they are getting used to it."
"Antipasto" (appetizer) buffets are easy enough to find in restaurants and loaded with bountiful plates of creative, vegetable-based dishes. Above photo taken in Puglia.
To play it safe, vegans and other plant-based dieters will want to stock up on nutritional yeast and/or other important ingredients from home. But you will find typical supermarkets like la Coop stock seed mixes and dried fruit, along with almond or rice milk, organic steel-cut oats, and a variety of wonderful vinegars (for no-oil vegans). There are gluten-free sections in many supermarkets now, too. In addition, most train station sandwich bars serve up fresh-squeezed vegetable and fruit juices, plus a vegan panino (sandwich), which typically includes steamed eggplant, sundried tomatoes, and lettuce. Just the basics. No sauces or dressings.
Pescatarians will enjoy the vast array of Mediterranean fish and shellfish served up in Pugila, Sicily, and any of the other islands or coastal areas. With 4,700 miles of coastline, Italy offers endless opportunities for great seafood.
Fresh "insalata mista" (mixed vegetable salad) or "insalata verde" (green salad) are staples on every menu. "Insalatone" means a 'big salad' —a meal in itself —and typically includes a variety of proteins such as egg, tuna, cheeses or nuts.
Check out our TOP 4 favorite regions for vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians
and the corresponding Ciclismo Classico tours below:
Tuscany (Assaggio Toscana)
Le Marche & Umbria (Bike Across Italy)
Sicily (La Bella Sicilia)
Puglia (La Bella Puglia)
Traveling to Italy soon?
Here's an extensive list of vegan and vegetarian
restaurants throughout Italy.