Vegetarians in Italy: How to Order Vegetarian at an Italian Restaurant
Different countries have different views when it comes to vegetarians. While in India there is a very high percentage of vegetarians (about 30% of the population), Russia is one of those countries that, generally, seems to find it a difficult concept to understand. Italy, meanwhile, is somewhere in the middle. More and more Italians are deciding to abandon their old food habits, saying good-bye to meat in favor of a vegetarian diet.
In fact, according to the European Vegetarian Union, it is estimated that almost seven million people in Italy are vegetarians, making Italy one of the European nations with the highest rates of vegetarianism (over 10% of the population).
Click here for a list of vegetarian restaurants in Italy. While there is not a huge amount of strictly vegetarian options, remember that you can have a vegetarian dish in nearly any restaurant in Italy. Italy is not India where vegetarian menus have been perfected over the years, but you can definitely get by in Italy as a vegetarian. To ensure you get what you're looking for you can tell your waiter that you're a vegetarian by saying "sono vegetariano." If you're not sure of the pronunciation just write them down and show them to the waiter.
Here are a few common vegetarian menu entries you'll find at many Italian restaurants:
Appetizers: Bruschetta, Panzanella, Suppli, Grilled Vegetables, Artichokes (Carciofi). Avoid Olive Ascolane, which may be olives, but are also stuffed with meat.
Pasta / Pizza Courses: Pasta with tomato sauce is an easy to find vegetarian option. You can also look for gnocchi or pizza with radicchio and gorgonzola (a cheese like blue cheese), ravioli stuffed with cheese, pizzas (ie: the classic Margherita is just cheese and sauce), riso alla zucca o riso ai funghi.
Soups: Farro soups are becoming more popular, and you can also opt for bean soups (make sure it does not have any pork or maiale) or minestrone, which does not contain meat but could be made with meat stock, so check with your waiter.
Contorni / Side Dishes: One taste I'll never get used to is the old style English way of cooking vegetables. In my opinion, just about any other cuisine can give you better tasting vegetables. In Italy you have a wide variety of delicious vegetables to choose from. On your menu, near the fish or meat based main courses, you will likely find a section marked Contorni. Here you will likely find a good variety of vegetables to choose from including patate al forno, cicoria (cicory), spinaci (spinach), verdure grigliate (grilled vegetable), artichokes, and asparagus. If you go with green vegetables you usually will have two choices of cooking style. The first choice is getting the vegetables boiled (all' agro) and adding your own oil, vinegar and/or lemon. The second choice is ripassati in padella, which means the vegetables are cooked and then sautéed in garlic olive oil and hot pepper.
Desserts: The majority of Italian desserts are vegetarian friendly; although vegans will find it much more difficult.
An Event for Vegetarians in Italy
With the increasing popularity of vegetarianism in Italy it was decided that an event promoting such lifestyle choice should be born. This year the second edition of the Festival Vegetariano was held in Gorizia on September 4, 2011. The event is rather young, as is the idea of celebrating vegetarian culture in Italy, but will likely grow in the coming years.
What is the Festival Vegetariano
The Festival Vegetariano is an initiative organized by a firm specializing in the production of organic food for vegetarians in Gorizia, in cooperation with other shops that sell organic food. The festival, usually held in September, involves a whole day during which vegetarian lifestyle is promoted. The event is not just for vegetarians, but also those who are curious about vegetarianism.
The event not only provides information, but also allows visitors to try vegetarian recipes in order to better understand how tasty, healthy and fulfilling vegetarian dishes and organic food can be. This message is also transmitted in the course of the event, which is based on the concept that being vegetarian does not represent a renunciation but the choice for a new lifestyle.
The festival can also put you into contact with doctors, experts and supporters of vegetarian culture in order to better understand this approach to food. Moreover, some cultural associations and special guests take part in the initiative.
While many think that Italians will never give up their salsicce, prosciutto and carne (and still, many won't) there are a growing number who are turning to vegetarianism. The Festival Vegetariano is just another symbol of this shift in Italian society, an event for people who have already made the choice and for those who want more information about it.