A couple of weeks ago my family and I spent a week traveling in Northern Italy. Italy, particularly Venice, has been on my bucket list for as long as I’ve had a bucket list, so I was beyond thrilled to be actually taking this trip! We visited Milan, Venice, the Italian Alps, the Dolomites, Verona, Padova, Bassano del Grappa, and village after village of adorableness. Expectations we met and exceeded. I foresee a long and romantic relationship between Italy and myself.
Now, after recent spontaneous weekend trips to Paris and Barcelona, where I found it challenging to find healthy, fresh, vegan food, I came into this trip better prepared and had a much better food experience. In defense of Paris and Barcelona, there are several vegan restaurants in both cities and probably in most big cities the world around. You can go to the website HappyCow.net, type in your destination and eat like a vegan queen. However, my family is not vegan, and when not eating in my vegan kitchen, my husband in particular, wants animal foods. Often we will compromise by finding an Indian, Asian, or North African restaurant where we can both order as we choose. But other times, I am left staring at a menu where the only vegan option is bread, and maybe not even the bread. This was especially true of Paris, where I was unable to even get soy milk for my coffee in any cafe in the tourist areas. I’m sure it exists but not where I was.
Another great resource I have used for vegan travel in Europe is the blog Keepin It Kind. Blogger Kristi has traveled as vegan throughout Europe and has written an extremely comprehensive guide of not just restaurants, but also of words you will need to learn and where you are likely to find vegan items on menus and in stores. You can view her travel section here.
To start off, I knew from previous trips that in European hotels where breakfast is included, it is generally a bunch of buttery non-vegan pastries, bread, butter and jam, coffee and tea with cow’s milk, juices, meats and cheeses, and occasionally some fruit. So the night before we left for Italy, I packed baggies for each morning of our stay with 1/2 cup dry oats, 2 Tbsp vegan protein powder (anticipating a protein-light week), raisins and cinnamon:
I also brought with me small boxes of soy milk for my coffee. Our first night in Italy, we went to a supermarket to buy some fruit, and I also found some soy yogurt there. When we came down to breakfast each morning, I simply dumped my oats into a bowl, covered them with hot water and then a with a plate, and let them steam and soak while I prepared my coffee. I generally topped my then cooked oats with a dollop of jam from the breakfast buffet, with fruit, and sometimes a soy yogurt. My breakfasts looked like this and kept me full and satisfied for HOURS of touring around.
Next, restaurants: One of the suggestions I learned on Keepin It Kind, was to order a “pizza vegetariano senza mozzarella”. It was possible to do this in almost any restaurant and it was a completely normal thing to order – no waiter ever batted an eye and my pizza always came correctly, topped with a variety of roasted veggies, tomato sauce, and no cheese:
As for street food, there was always the option to get a focaccia topped with veggies and no cheese:
Most of the salads came with cheese or meat on top, but it was easy to ask for them without:
The minestrone soup was made with a vegetable broth base and had no added animal ingredients. I asked!
It was also possible to order plain pasta and gnocchi with tomato sauce, but again, you need to ask if the sauce is made with cheese or meat and if the gnocchi has eggs. This one did not:
It was easy to re-stock on fruits often, as Italians seem to love shuk shopping as much as Israelis do:
By the way, see those chestnuts top right corner? Although I suspect it’s a seasonal treat, we frequently bought little bags of roasted chestnuts for a hearty, warm, protein-rich snack.
The place where I could really see the advancement of veganism into Italy though, was at the gelato shops. Almost all places we went have clearly marked “gelato vegano” signs! I enjoyed two gelatos during the week, chocolate and hazelnut. I’m not a big fan of ice creamy things, but these were really delicious! The chocolate said it was made with rice milk. The hazelnut was soy milk based.
And of course, in Venice, we found the trademark marzipan fruits. I am not 100% sure that marzipan is completely vegan, the colorings and glaze may have animal ingredients, so do your own research – but for me, they were vegan-enough:
The only thing I had trouble with was when we packed sandwiches for our family lunches al fresco. We bought bread, cheese and pesto for the three of them, but I could not for the life of me find any hummus or tahina! I even followed an Arab couple in the supermarket one day and finally asked them. They laughed and said there was a Middle Eastern market, but it was not near where we were. My other usual vegan sandwich option -avocado – didn’t work because the avocados were all hard as stones. Clearly Italy needs to get on it and import our creamy, delicious Israeli avocados! In one shop I finally found a carton of roasted veggie antipasti, so we just layered eggplant, peppers and zucchini into bread and I made do. Incidentally, pesto in Italy is made with cheese so that was a no-go. (In Israel, pesto is quite often parve, or dairy-free).
Only in Vicenza, Italy, with it’s larger North African and Turkish population, did we find a falafel shop. Actually it was a shawarma shop that sold some pretty crappy frozen falafel but I didn’t care. I was in chickpea withdrawal. Just be careful with Turkish falafel though, because the sauce they are about to pour on your sandwich that looks like tahina, is really yogurt. Luckily I had been tipped off by one of our travel companions and I enjoyed my dry, but passable falafel:
We only had one afternoon in Milan before we flew back, and I caught a glimpse of these vegan chia puddings and soy yogurt parfaits. I am sure there are vegan restaurants and treats aplenty in the larger cities such as Milan.
For where I was for most of the week, in the countryside, away from tourist areas, in a group full of non-vegans, I feel like I ate really well. A little heavy on the white flour carbs and not as much protein (beans and tofu) or green veggies as I eat at home, but I was satisfied, able to order and eat in all restaurants with my family, and never felt hungry or deprived.
One guess as to the first thing I ate when I got home…