Guest post: Vegan exploration in the Eternal City of Rome!  »

Organic plate at Cavour 313.

Cheese-laden pizzas and an emphasis on meat-based pasta sauces, with plenty of veal and offal thrown in too? On initial impressions, Rome is any vegan’s nightmare.

When I trundled off on a solo trip to the Eternal City in spring this year, it was my first time as vegan. And lo and behold, it wasn’t nearly as difficult to eat well here as I anticipated.

Let’s start with the bad, and go on to the good.

The bad bit was breakfast. I love my breakfast, I really do. But wherever I stayed, usually the most I was able to eat was some packeted dry toasts, and jam, with maybe a banana or an apple. There were, however, always plenty of cheese, eggs, croissants and other non-vegan things to choose from at breakfast. 

There were two mornings that I relished, though. This was when I was staying at vegetarian eco-hotel The Beehive for a couple of nights. What a gem this place is. One morning I enjoyed apple cinnamon oatmeal made with soy milk, and another morning I was delighted to be cooked a tofu scramble.

Yes—tofu scramble! In Rome! The Beehive was also the only place that was able to provide me with soy milk to take in my tea (I am English, after all), and the owner said they were due to hire two vegan chefs this year. So they may be able to offer even more to vegans from their cute café now.

Eating at other meal times was mostly fine, as long as I studied menus well and hunted around. It is good to be prepared and have an idea of some places to go to and what to eat or not – but I don’t have to tell you that, do I?

As a rule, you’re fairly safe with the vegetable contorni dishes: eggplants, artichokes, bell peppers, and so forth. They will be cooked in olive oil and you can order several and make a meal from them, with some delicious fresh bread and olives.

You will often see potato croquettes, chickpea salads, hummus, and other vegan-friendly items on menus, too. Gnocchi in tomato sauce is another possibility, as well as the ubiquitous pizza marinara, which is simply pizza base with tomato sauce. Order some vegetables and top it yourself.

Rome does have a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and if you’re here for a week, theoretically you could go to one each night (I think).

The best experience for me was Il Margutta. Gourmet vegan cuisine at its finest, where my meat-eating companion also claimed it was the best food she’d eaten during her trip to Italy. It’s not a budget option, by any means, but if you’ve come all the way here on holiday, then treat yourself.

Fresh imaginative flavors abound; my vegan antipasti was a delicate combination of tofu-stuffed zuchini flowers deep-fried in a tempura batter, an Asian wok salad topped with pickled ginger, a wild berry salad drizzled with balsamic dressing, and a home-made ketchup, tasting of tomato, and not sugar. Oh vegan heaven.

My other great vegan discovery was Bibliothè, not far from Piazza Venezia. Here, they do a different set lunch menu each day that you can have, and they will take out any vegetarian elements that may be involved. They also have several vegan stand-alone choices, as well as vegan cakes.

And then there was also the originally named Taverna Vegetariana, close to Vatican City. It wasn’t the most inspiring food that I have ever had, but it is cheap, cheerful, and you know what you’re getting. They have color-codes on the dishes to denote whether they are vegan or vegetarian; very handy when you don’t speak Italian.

Though not exclusively veggie, another place I ate at a couple of times was a bar in the cobbled streets of Trastevere. At Art Two, you can buy a drink, and for only 2, help yourself to the aperitivo buffet, which has several vegan options (eggplant, potato croquettes, salad, etc).

I also had a scrummy vegan meal at an Ethiopian restaurant called Africa (Via Gaeta 26), just north of the main railway station. There were not many vegan options, but this one meal of a selection of foods was filling and delicious, and made all the better by the fact I had to eat with my hands.

There were a number of other eateries that I sadly didn’t manage to experience on this visit, including a vegan restaurant called ReWild Cruelty-Free Club—funny little name, but it does what it says on the tin, which is offer cruelty-free dining as well focus on animal rights events in Rome.

If you’re going to Rome anytime soon, I hope this article has given you some vegan food for thought. One other tip: Watch out for risotto. It may appear vegan, but it almost always contains parmesan, which isn’t even vegetarian.

Andrea Wren is a U.K.-based freelance journalist and has a passion for vegan baking and food blogging. She ditched dieting years ago and loves to create interesting and imaginative dishes that tempt non-vegans as well as vegans. On her blog, you will also find her free ebook, Wot, No Eggs?! The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming an Expert Vegan Baker, packed with tips and advice. You can also reach Andrea on Twitter.

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