Despite understandable preconceptions about the heavily traditional nature of Roman cuisine, eating vegan in Rome is actually relatively easy, and getting easier every day.
Here we show you the many options for cruelty-free dining in Rome.
Vegan options in traditional restaurants in Rome
Most Roman trattorie, osterie, or ristoranti have a number of vegan options on the menu. Traditional Roman cuisine is not all pizza and pasta: the traditional “secondo” (a protein course that may be based on porcini mushrooms when they’re in season) is usually served with a number of contorni – vegetable side dishes – that are entirely plant based. Highlights include radicchio, the delightful ciccoria (not chicory, this is a slightly bitter leaf that resembles spinach), and the deliciously filling carcioffo alla romana (Roman artichoke – cooked in olive oil with herbs). Not to mention a large numbers of salads and insalatoni (a big salad designed to be eaten as a meal in itself).
If you do 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. Also notable are rossa cheese-free options such as carcioffi (artichokes) and mushrooms.
For all these orders, saying “sono vegano” (soh-noh veh-GAN-oh) to your waitstaff will suffice, as the movement now has sufficient penetration into Roman society for most everyone 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.
Desserts are a taller order, but despite the ubiquity of tiramisu and pannacotta, every restaurant will serve macedonia (fruit salad) and most ice cream shops do fruit-based sorbets – if not vegan versions of Rome’s famous gelato, which have started making an appearance in select gelaterie around the city such as Fatamorgana.
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 hair-shirt 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. The good news is that 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 di 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 with no sugar (amaro) or just with sugar, you will not need to be concerned.
Vegan breakfasts in Rome
Breakfast 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 “cornetto vegano” options as well as the aforementioned dairy-free coffees. Just look for the 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.
Snacks for Vegans in Rome
Rome is full of supermarkets and alimentari (independent grocery stores) selling fruit, vegetables, nuts and potato chips.
Our favorite vegan restaurants in Rome
Formerly confined to the city’s “countercultural” suburbs such as Pigneto and Prenestina, veganism has made inroads right into the city’s centro storico. Here are our top five highlights:
A little towards the northern suburbs at the base of Monte Mario is this amusingly named vegan eatery (it means “You’re kidding?”). It’s as traditional Roman cooking as you can get, albeit a little small.
Just off Viale Cristoforo Colombo on the edge of the Garbatella district, this place is cosy and friendly and run by two sisters, serving both traditional and innovative vegan and vegetarian fare – with an emphasis on presenting the ingredients as they were grown, not overly processed.
A trail-blazer in vegan-only cooking in the city center, this restaurant is aimed at the higher end of the market. It’s steps from Piazza delle Repubblica and is ideal for an upmarket vegan dinner.
Named for the achingly post Via Margutta on which it is situated, this is a fancy vegetarian restaurant just a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps, in the street where Audrey Hepburn met Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. With a great menu brimming with vegan options, this is where you go to see and be seen among the more thoughtful of the lunching set.
If you really want to be ‘integralista’ about your eating, 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 near the Vatican is the future of vegan food in Italy, and if we had to pick just one vegan place in Rome to eat at, this would be it.
Regardless of how and where you do it, vegan dining in Rome is no longer a worrying prospect, you need not limit yourself to a particular class of eatery, and you can find scintillating vegetable-only choices at the top and bottom of the market. Buon appetito vegano!