Italian vegan food is da bomb. I recently upped and left old Albion to head for the mountains of Sicily, and I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of vegan delights they had on offer. Beyond the textbook pizza and pasta, Italian cuisine has far more to offer, and Sicilian has yet more. Italian cuisine is full of fresh vegetables, garlic and olive oil, which makes for some good eating. Here’s a quick stop guide to eating a plant-based diet in a Mediterranean climate.
Speaking the Lingo
Of course it helps if you know a phrase or two, not just to be clear on what you’re ordering, but also to earn brownie points with the waiter. Who knows, maybe they’ll throw in a free limoncello at the end of your meal to reward your linguistic endeavours. Plus, if you’re self-catering, then these words will be the keys that unlock the otherwise indecipherable code of ingredients lists in the supermarket.
I am vegan = Io sono vegana
Without butter = Senza burro
Without cheese = Senza formaggio
Without meat = Senza carne
Without fish = Senza pesce
Without eggs = Senza uova
Without milk = Senza latte
Dried pasta = Pasta secca
Soy milk = Latte di soia
What to Order in a Restaurant
Luckily, Italian cooking usually uses olive oil rather than butter, so that’s one obstacle already overcome if you’re eating in a non-vegan restaurant. There are a handful of classic Italian dishes that are already vegan-friendly, like bruschetta, pizza marinara, pasta all’arrabbiata and pasta pomodoro. In Sicily, spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chilli was a simple but effective Italian vegan dinner, on offer at many of the big restaurants. The main hurdle with pasta is making sure that it’s dried pasta and not fresh pasta, as fresh pasta is made using eggs. And of course, you can always order any pizza on the menu and ask for it without cheese for a fail-safe backup.
Gorging on Gelato
Ice cream parlours across Italy and Sicily are surprisingly accommodating for the dairy-free among us. It’s worth asking each Gelateria which flavours are made without milk or egg whites, as it will depend on each outlet, but sorbet will always be an option, and often in such a broad variety of flavours that it makes it hard to choose just one. After recklessly eating lemon sorbet before 10am one morning, I can officially report back that it is as eye-poppingly refreshing as four cups of coffee. Often the dark chocolate gelato was vegan too, which was lucky for me, as I don’t think I could handle more than one lemon sorbet in a week.
Palermitan Street Food
Sicily’s capital Palermo is known as being the one of the world’s top destinations for street food. Its most famous traditional snack is arancine, crispy balls of saffron rice that have been fried in breadcrumbs and filled with savoury treats. Drool-worthy indeed. I found vegan tofu arancine in a little cafe in the centre of the city, and it was so delicious that I lost all self-awareness and decorum and I scoffed the lot in seconds. It’s not the most delicate and graceful of foods to eat, but it was well worth the momentary lapse. I can also recommend the deep fried zucchini blossoms. Very, very naughty indeed, but of course, anything deep fried tastes good. And let’s not forget pane e panelle, a smooth chickpea fritter in a sesame bun doused in a fresh squeeze of lemon juice, which is totally plant-based.
Catanian Vegan Restaurants
The other big city of Sicily, Catania, is a couple of hours on a coach to the east of Palermo on the other side of the island. It has a number of dedicated vegan and vegetarian restaurants well worth a visit. The ace of the pack is Moon Ortigia, an artists collective that serves exclusively vegan dishes, including the creamy pastas and sumptuous chocolate desserts. The Catanian vegan and vegetarian restaurants aren’t afraid of a bit of Seitan too, which always makes for an exciting innovative dish.
Italian Vegan Cooking
On my holiday, we rented an apartment for a few days, as we were dead keen on cooking ourselves using local Sicilian ingredients ourselves. After collecting a backpack full of ripe tomatoes, garlic, basil and veggies fresh from the market, we rustled up a simple pasta dish that was bursting with flavour. It seems that even when you make a basic dish using local produce, it really boosts the taste to the max. If you’re feeling more adventurous, One Green Planet has the ultimate Italian vegan recipe for lentil escarole soup, panelle, ciambotta con carcioffi and pignoli cookies.
For More World Vegan Food…
As my trip to Sicily proved, travelling and eating vegan is easy squeezy if you’re armed with a few key phrases and a bit of cultural background on wherever you’re travelling to. Luckily, the internet is teeming with dedicated blogs all about vegan travel filled with little gems of wisdom. Our picks are slow vegan travel blog Angliotalian, the adventurous Mindful Wanderlust, healthy vegan blog Mostly Amélie and of course Kristin Lajeunesse’s book Will Travel for Vegan Food.