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How to Be Vegetarian in Italy

Plus 13 of the Best Vegetarian Restaurants

“There’s an increasing number of establishments–especially in Italian cities–that make the choice to be vegetarian even easier.”

How to be vegetarian in Italy? A rather heated topic here. I am starting this article while my grandma, sitting next to me at the head of the table (the undisputed queen of the household as always), is glaring at me because I left a few slices of ham on the plate and am already waiting for my coffee.

I grumble back at her, but a sudden awareness makes me smile. She grew up in a time far from now, and not every “modern” choice comes as easy to understand.

No, I am not one of those delicate, picky people, and no, I am not leaving the ham because it is too fatty or because I don’t like it. Far from it. I made a conscious choice to be a vegetarian almost seven years ago, and in Italy, the “price” you have to pay is a few too many family members’ sorrows and a few more perplexities on your account.

“Nonna, you should know by now. I’m vegetarian.”

She does not seem to care less.

Classic Italian grandma.

Of course, this is nothing tragic. Nothing insurmountable or impossible to deal with. 

It’s just that to say one is vegetarian in the Bel Paese, where food is never lacking (indeed it abounds on every set table), always triggers a variety of feelings and reactions in others, and reveals the many misconceived ideas on the incompleteness of the vegetarian diet. 

IncomprehensionThis is what vegetarians encounter most of the time. Despite the fact that general awareness of vegetarianism is rising sharply, thanks in part to various renowned personalities on social media like Cucina Botanica and Silvia Goggi, they look at me jokingly, “Come on, be serious for once,” or “Bianca, you are too complicated darling.”

Puzzlement: “Really, with all our recipes, you choose not to eat meat?” These people don’t seem to be able to imagine their own life without the cured meats, bistecca, pasta al ragù and so on.

Worry: “Where can we go for dinner if you don’t eat meat?” Their faces turn pale. The vegetarian always tries to defend themself by explaining that they actually eat everything, and they’ll find something on the menu wherever they end up.

Firsthand, my choice has never involved any kind of renunciation–just simple accouterments, modifications or variations. However, I reckon this flexibility often has to do with geographic location. Sometimes, in regions where the majority of local recipes are meat-based (like Tuscany, for example), restaurants might struggle with last minute changes and may only be able to offer you contorni (side dishes). Or simply insalata mista–green leaves and maybe a speckling of rarely in-season tomato, cucumber or carrot slivers. 

The most difficult part of my vegetarianism is not finding delicious dishes to eat, but the emotional response of my grandparents: a perfect mixture of utter despair and disappointment. How can one blame them? They grew up in years long gone when food was scarce, especially meat (primarily eaten on special occasions or by wealthier families). Now this is far from reality, as 78kg of meat per person is consumed in a year in Italy, compared to the 27 kg in 1960–and nonni were born years, if not decades, before that. To them, giving up something on the table–cooked with dedication, time and love–often amounts to an offense. Indeed today, there was rabbit for lunch. Undeterred, they always try to foist something meat-based on you that they know you like.

Over the years, I have learned to be tolerant of their ploys (e.g. feigned ignorance or illogical denial: “But chicken is vegetarian!”) and to carefully choose the moments for saying no without offending anyone (“No grazie, io sono a posto così!” / “No thanks, I have had enough”) or for when to “slip up”. 

All that being said, there’s an increasing number of establishments–especially in Italian cities–that make the choice to be vegetarian even easier. Here are just 13 of my favorite vegetarian restaurants around the country. 

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN TURIN

Antonio Chiodi Latini – Antonio Chiodi Latini, so-called “chef of the earth”, offers a more elegant and sophisticated setting for his vegetarian and purely whole-grain recipes at his restaurant on Via Bertola. However, the chef has also chosen to make room for something more dynamic and casual with Trattoria Vegetale, which opened this June inside Turin’s central market. In both places, the chef’s rule is to always respect the Piedmontese gastronomic tradition but give it a modern twist.

Must order: Bon Bon di Rapa con i Funghi and Verza served on a Saraceno bed.

Soul Kitchen – Chef Luca Andrè’s cooking style honors the origins of each ingredient, most of which are locally sourced. The food pairings are artistic, and the softly-lit restaurant regularly hosts temporary exhibitions. 

Must Order: Tagliatelle with cacao, mushroom and lemon.

Soul Kitchen, Turin

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN FLORENCE 

Il Vegetariano – Opened in 1981, Il Vegetariano was one of the first Italian restaurants with an entirely vegetarian menu. Here, anyone who walks in feels at home with homemade vegetarian and vegan recipes with multiple gluten-free variations.

Must Order: Riso integrale con taccole, radicchio rosso e semi di girasole croccanti. Or, if you want to warm yourself up try the gratin di patata, patata dolce, cavolfiore e provola.

Base V – Florence’s top notch juice bar with a location on each side of the Arno river (Via dei Neri and Via de’ Guicciardini). Great for a refreshing sip (the Healthy Dude juice is particularly great), avocado toast or salad after a long walk or an artsy stroll at the Uffizi. 

Must Order: Also don’t miss any of the vegan baked goods–the banana bread, brownies and peanut butter chocolate cookies are all fantastic–and the seasonal soups.

Raw Vegan – A simple and colorful raw, gluten-free smoothie bar, perfect for breakfast, brunch and snacks to enjoy while strolling through downtown Florence.

PappaGioia – A vegan gastronomia just outside Florence city center with rotating options. On sunny days, don’t miss sitting in the lovely garden!

Must Order: Fresh salads and lasagna.

5 e Cinque – A more upscale, sit-down restaurant on the local favorite Piazza della Passera. The tight menu of farm-to-table vegetarian fare changes daily, but is always delicious and prepared with well-sourced produce.

Base V, Florence

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN ROME

Margutta – On the famous street of artists and art galleries from which it takes its name, Margutta, open since 1979, was the first vegetarian restaurant in Italy. Il Margutta might not be the most Instagrammable out there, but it can’t go wrong. 

Must Order: Cavatelli with herb pesto and the crispy poached egg, served on a bed of gin potatoes and asparagus salad.

Grezzo Raw Chocolate – A great vegan and cruelty-free pastry and ice cream shop. Online you can also buy their organic, raw ice cream mixes to make at home.

Raw, Rome

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN NAPLES

Dialetti – Set like a pearl in the alleys of Naples, an intimate restaurant with a family air and an open kitchen. They pay attention to the smallest details and even the bread served at the table is made only from ancient grain flours.

Must Order: Dialetti smashed potato with parmesan cheese and black pepper; verza grigliata, bagna cauda e pane croccante.

Cavoli Nostri – The cutely-named Cavoli Nostri is perfect for both lunch and dinner, for a quick stop or a proper meal. Fancy food pairings entirely vegan, yet otherworldly delicious, are framed by the sun setting over the Vesuvio.

Must Order: The crispy eggplant sticks with mint mayonnaise are a must, as is the basil and almond pesto carasau lasagnette with green beans and potatoes.

Dialetti Napoli

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN MILAN

Altatto – A unique bistrot concept and an example of vegetarian haute cuisine, Altatto was born from the idea of three cooks and friends Cinzia, Giulia and Sara. The trio initially began catering with the aim of making more and more customers fall in love with vegetarian cuisine and soon opened a proper restaurant. The ingredients used are simple and rigorously seasonal, while the venue is refined and modern. As of very recently, it is possible to reserve a table for guided tastings at the bistro, which you can also give as a gift. 

Must Order: From their ultimate menu–KARAAGE (eggplant, marinated egg yolk and iceberg salad

Soulgreen – Young and design-conscious, Soulgreen is located in the heart of Milan, and its manifesto defines itself as good for the body, the soul and the planet. Plastic-free, the restaurant serves micro-filtered and free water, echoing the Anglo-Saxon concept of tap water. There’s plenty of space to sit, and after you place your order through a provided tablet (you can top up the first order as many times as you wish) a waiter will serve you.

Must Order: Spinach hummus and wok-cooked vegetables.

Altatto, Milan

Trattoria Vegetale

Soul Kitchen

Il Vegetariano

Base V

Raw Vegan

Margutta

Grezzo Raw Chocolate

Dialetti

Cavoli Nostri

Altatto

Soulgreen

5 e Cinque

PappaGioia