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A vegetarian's guide to surviving in Italy

Updated on August 2, 2014

As a vegetarian travelling abroad, the first thing that crosses my mind is "Will I be able to survive on a vegetarian diet?" and in foreign speaking countries "How will I communicate that I am a vegetarian?"

On a recent trip to Italy I made it my mission to overcome these obstacles, and to enjoy the country for its culture and its wonderful food. We were self-catering, so could pick up ingredients in the local shops and markets, but as we were on holiday we also planned to eat out in restaurants.

The first thing to do was to learn enough Italian to be able to make it clear that I didn't eat meat or fish, but I didn't want to spend the week eating nothing but lettuce either! The key phrases I needed were:

"Sono vegetariana" (that is the feminine version - it's "vegetariano" for men), meaning simply "I am a vegetarian!" "Vegetariani" is the plural;


"Non mangio la carne o i pesci" - I don't eat meat or fish.

That's a start - ruling out what you don't eat. But then you need to find out what you can eat.

Italy is fairly easy in this respect, and I had no trouble finding suitable veggie food anywhere. The dishes in restaurants are often quite simple, various types of pasta with a choice of sauces, many of which are vegetable based, cheeses, eggs, polenta, gnocchi and of course the pizza.

Pasta Neopolitana, or pasta al pomodora is simply pasta with a tomato and basil sauce, and you can get this nearly everywhere.

Pizza will come with toppings of your choice, the Margarita is the basic cheese and tomato pizza, and you can order it topped with funghi (mushrooms), mais (sweetcorn) or peperoni (peppers). Many places even offer a Pizza Vegetariani.

The Italians love their food, and pride themselves on their quality regional ingredients. Local fresh fruit and vegetables are usually found in the street markets, and are always top quality and so much more flavoursome than those sold in supermarkets. A list of common vegetables and vegetarian ingredients that you might find on a menu or in the market is given below.

  • arugula - rocket
  • caponata - a cold dish of aubergine, pepper, tomato and courgette
  • carote - carrots
  • ceci - chick peas
  • fagiolini - green beans
  • formaggio - cheese
  • frittata - omelette
  • funghi - mushrooms
  • Gnocchi - balls of potato, flour and eggs
  • insalata verdi - green salad
  • lenticchie - lentils
  • pane - bread
  • polenta - a kind of corn starch that is used in various dishes
  • pomodoro - tomatoes
  • risi - rice
  • salsa - sauce
  • spinaci - spinach
  • uova - eggs

These are just a few to start off with - and many more types of food will be encountered in Italy. A good phrase book or Italian dictionary will also come in very handy!

It is a good idea to find out what the regional and seasonal specialities are before you go. Italians often celebrate the seasons and their local produce. When I went it was chestnut season - and many of the local villages were having chestnut festivals to celebrate - this involves a kind of street party with fresh roasted chestnuts and as much free local wine as you can drink. They certainly know how to enjoy life and food there!

With a little pre-planning eating abroad on a specialised diet is easier than you think - and I certainly did not go hungry in Italy!

Fruit and veg market
Fruit and veg market | Source


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    • CassyLu1981 profile image

      CassyLu1981 5 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      I could completely see how being a vegetarian in Italy would work! It would be a lot easier there then here in America, that's for sure! Thanks for Sharing!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      thank you SanneL. I agree, I remember having a great choice of delicious vegetarian food when on holiday in Greece.

    • SanneL profile image

      SanneL 6 years ago from Sweden

      Great hub!

      I find it to be so much easier to follow a vegetarian life style in the Mediterranean countries, with all the fresh fruits and vegetables to pick from, and it's quite inexpensive.:)

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I love this hub because it touches on something I struggle with from time to time. Thank you for making such a wonderful list of foods I can try even at home!

    • REALfoodie profile image

      C De Melo 6 years ago from Florence, Italy and WORLDWIDE

      Vegetarians LOVE Italy because there are so many options. Aside from pizza and pasta, there are many vegetarian dishes that are delicious and satisfying.

      Nothing beats seasonal fresh produce :)

    • Gloshei profile image

      Gloria 6 years ago from France

      Lovely hub as usual, the veggies look lovely and fresh.

    • profile image

      JJ Windrose 6 years ago

      Just love this article! JJ

    • profile image

      Loquacious laura 6 years ago

      Yummmmmm! It sounds great and that picture with all the vegies and fruits shows that you have a great variety. Thanks for the little Italian language lesson as well.