Despite concerns about the defiantly traditional nature of Roman cuisine, being vegan in Rome is actually relatively easy. Here’s our guide on how to do it!
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Vegan options in traditional restaurantsMost Roman trattorie, osterie, or ristoranti have a number of vegan options on the menu. Traditional Roman cuisine is not all pizza and pasta: while vegan antipasti (appetizers) are rare the traditional primo – pasta or pizza – and secondo (a protein course) is usually served with a number of contorni – vegetable side dishes – that are entirely plant based. No matter what you order, saying “sono vegano” (soh-noh veh-GAN-oh) will suffice, as the movement has had sufficient penetration into Roman society for most people to understand the plant-based nature of the diet; and since dishes in Rome are almost always made fresh to your order, your waitstaff will be able to instruct the chef accordingly.
Primi for vegans visiting RomeIf you want to order pasta, then traditional dishes such as the simple tomato sauce of pasta rossa, pasta e lenticchie (pasta with lentils) and aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) are all naturally vegan. When ordering, do ensure from your waiter that it is made with pasta all’acqua – containing nothing but flour and water – and not pasta all’uovo which is made with egg. Where it comes to traditional pizzas you cannot go wrong with pizza rossa, a standard pizza with no cheese – though again do check with the waitstaff if the dough has been made without animal fats.
Secondi for vegans in RomeVegan secondi in traditional dishes are rare, but there are some that may be based on porcini mushrooms when they’re in season. There are also insalatoni (big salads designed to be eaten as a meal in itself), both usually served with bread that is made with no animal product.s.
Contorni for vegans in RomeHowever contorni (side dishes) are plentiful. Highlights include radicchio, the delightful ciccoria (not chicory, this is a slightly bitter leaf that resembles spinach), and the deliciously filling carciofo alla romana (Roman artichoke – cooked in olive oil with herbs) or the traditional Jewish carciofo alla giudea, which is an artichoke flower deep-fried in olive oil. Not to mention a large numbers of salads.
Eating dessert when you’re a vegan in RomeDesserts are a taller order, but despite the ubiquity of tiramisù and pannacotta, every restaurant will serve macedonia (fruit salad) and most ice cream shops do fruit-based sorbets – if not even vegan versions of Rome’s famous gelato – which has started making an appearance in select gelaterie around the city such as the fabulous Fatamorgana chain.
Vegan restaurants in Rome
Rome boasts a growing number of specifically vegan or vegetarian/vegan-friendly eateries, with highlights listed at the bottom of this article. And they’re spectacular.
No self-flagellation here: in a culinary tradition that trades on a near-Zen approach to creating the perfect version of each recipe, vegan Romans simply cannot be fobbed off with unappetizing fare. Vegan food in Rome is interesting, feisty, and delicious.
Coffee for vegans in Rome
The most typical way to drink coffee in Rome is as a super-short espresso, usually macchiato (stained) with a dash of milk and sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar. Almost all bars (the Italian word for café) now serve soy or even nut milk, so you can do as the Romans do with a caffè macchiato con latte di soia or a cappuccino of the same type. Be warned that asking for a “soy milk latte” will just get you a cup of soy milk: to order a milky coffee you need to specify you want coffee too: “caffè latte di soia”. Of course if you take your coffee black (amaro) or with sugar, you will not need to be concerned.
Vegan breakfasts in RomeBreakfast is always a tricky subject when on one’s travels. The good news is that the traditional simple Roman breakfast of cappuccino e cornetto (sweet croissant) taken standing up at the bar is increasingly available in vegan form: an increasingly large number have vegan options as well as the aforementioned dairy-free coffees. Just look for the “vegano” label on the many pastries available behind the counter and if you don’t see what you’re looking for, there’ll be another bar just around the corner that will.
Vegan snacks in Rome
Rome is full of supermarkets and alimentari (independent grocery stores) selling nuts and potato chips. If you’re looking for something more exotic, head to Vittorio Emanuele and you’ll find plenty of south-Asian vegan snacks.
Our favorite vegan restaurants in Rome
And now our personal recommendations. Formerly confined to the city’s “countercultural” suburbs such as Pigneto and Prenestina, veganism has now made inroads right into the heart of the city’s centro storico. Here are our top five highlights:
This place (pictured above) near the river at the end of Via Giulia is a real find. It specializes in freshly-made raw vegan food absolutely bursting with flavor. Their salads and soups are legendary, and they even have non-baked cookies with raw chocolate, which are truly delicious.
This amusingly named vegan eatery (it means “You’re kidding?”) is near the Vatican. It’s as traditional Roman grub as you can get without animal products, albeit it is a little small so booking is essential.
Just off Viale Cristoforo Colombo in south Rome, on the edge of the Garbatella district, this cosy and friendly place is run by two sisters, and serves both traditional and more innovative fare – with an emphasis on presenting the ingredients as they were grown, not overly processed.
A trail-blazer in vegan-only cooking right in the city center, this restaurant is aimed at the higher end of the market. It’s just steps from Piazza delle Repubblica and is ideal for an upmarket vegan dinner.
If you really want to go ‘ingegralista’ (fundamentalist), then Solo Crudo provides you with not just vegan but raw food too – or at least nothing cooked at more than 42C. This funky place is the future of vegan food and if we had to pick just one vegan place in Rome to eat at, this would be it.