“Cucina povera,” or poor kitchen-style cooking, based on organic, seasonal, sun-ripened, ecologico e biologico principles, and which has its origins in the necessity of the extreme poverty of the rural south, has finally become popular all over Italy in part due to the recognition of the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the southern Italian way of “waste not, want not.”
Despite ubiquitous meatballs, prosciutto and Italian cheeses, much of Italian food is vegan, particularly in the south, where you will find a diet with vegetables center stage. Not suitable for cattle grazing, one can find vast expanses of land covered with grains, vegetables, fruit, and miles of olive groves. The south has been thought of as being poor and rural and the cooking-styles undervalued, while in the north, its food with added cream and butter has been given preference. This is changing.
Most vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Italy have the commitment to sustainable, local and organic cuisine with the awareness that the food choices each person makes affect the body and mind, the environment, the planet, and all living species. Many are also sensitive to the needs of those with celiac and other food intolerances and some offer raw foods. They all highlight their creativitá e passione for the vegan principle of no harm to animals and a commitment to help prevent the environment from destruction, based on respect for the Earth and all its inhabitants.
Let’s begin in northern Italy and travel south to discover where one can find vegetarian and vegan restaurants. This is only a short list of those I found that stood out among the rest. Some restaurants, predominantly the less expensive ones, have closed permanently, I assume due to the pandemic, a great loss to vegan tourists on a budget. Many are expensive but saving your money for the gastronomic and philosophical experience in store for you at any of these restaurants will be well worth it.
Joia: “Food need not just be good, it needs to make us feel good after eating it.” Chef and philosopher Pietro Leemann is its creator and soul. Joia follows healthy food and lifestyle guidelines, is vegan and gluten free, and biodynamic in origin. joia.it
Ghea: “Where nature meets the table.” Ghea is organic, natural, sustainable, and features seasonal food with a menu that is constantly changing depending on what foods are available locally. gheavegetariano.it
Solo Crudo: Uses only “Raw Food and Gentle Cooking,” to enhance all the precious nutrients. This restaurant is closed in Rome but still open in Milan. solocrudo.com
Soul Kitchen: “Creativitá Vegetale,” creative vegetable cuisine, tasty and earthy foods, and organic. thesoulkitchen.it
Papilla: “Benvenuto nel colorato e gustoso MONDO VEGAN!” In Cittadella, a medieval town, Papilla uses local, organic and seasonal products, even vegan sushi. ristorantebarpapilla.workpress.com
La Raccolta: Vegetarian restaurant and biomarket in Florence. In addition to their restaurant, they also own an agricultural cooperative called La Collezione, producing organic ancient grain cereals and seasonal vegetables. laraccolta.it
Il Vegetariano: “We were the first. In 1981, few would have bet on the success of a vegetarian restaurant in the stronghold of Florentine steak.” A local favorite, this was their dearest review, “…it’s like eating in your best friend’s kitchen…” il-vegetariano.com
Konnubio Restaurant and Wine Bar: “A harmonious embrace of flavors, architecture and beauty.” Konnubio offers fresh and seasonal products. konnubio.com/it
Ops!: “Gustoso. Ricercato. Gentile. Il cibo sane, che piace a tutti.” Tasty. Wanted. Dear. Healthy food that everyone likes. They support some of the most important associations that take care of animals and the environment. opsveg.com
Il Margutta: Opened in 1979, it is a modern alternative restaurant and gallery serving creative vegetarian twists on Roman menu classics. Il Margutta promotes a culture of healthy, fair and sustainable food as well as art and entertainment, such as exhibitions, theatrical events, book presentations and more. ilmargutto.bio
Grezzo Raw Chocolate Pastry Shop: The desserts of Grezzo Raw Chocolate are 100% vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, without white sugar, without soy, without animal derivatives, without yeast; handcrafted, without cooking, with ingredients from certified organic farming. They are designed to be nutritious and healthy, and to give you a unique taste experience. grezzorawchocolate.com
Rifugio Romano: “…because food is sharing in the first place, and only when you share it with somebody else, you can really taste and appreciate your food. That’s what we are, first of all. A Family.” This family-owned vegan Italian restaurant in Rome was recommended to me by my son. In 2018, my friend and I ventured out to find it and it was well worth the visit. Cozy and friendly and a few steps from Termini Station, we were greeted by the daughter of the owner. She was very friendly and helpful in choosing what to order. I remember the salad and the pizza were amazing, but I will never forget the vegan Panna Cotta, a creamy white crema con frutti di bosco e caramello. rifugioromano.com
Next month, on our Vegan Food Tour of Italy, we journey from Naples, through Puglia, Calabria and on to Sicily to experience their vegan delights.
Diana Lucarino-Diekmann, has been working in the field of Health and Fitness since 1980 helping others achieve optimal health and happiness. She has a BA in Exercise Physiology as well as Pilates and Yoga certifications and an extensive knowledge of nutrition and disease. Having taught almost every type of exercise class, she now specializes in Yoga, Pilates, meditation, and mindfulness, not only in exercise but also in life.
The contents of “The Healthy Italian” are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or your personal health.