"Vegans will have a tough time in Rome and would be best self-catering" stated my travelling companion's guide book, depressingly. I lived in Rome many years ago and I wasn't sure what to expect on this, my first trip back since going vegan. Well, either the guide book was very out of date or the author had his head in the clouds because I spent a full weekend indulging in all my favourite Italian foods, without any trouble at all.
On arrival, we went straight to the first caffè bar we stumbled across, in much need of a pick me up after an early flight. I tentatively inquired about plant-based milk, expecting to make do with a black caffè, but to my surprise and joy, I was prepared a delicious cappuccino, made with soya milk. I don’t drink much coffee these days but a proper Italian cappuccino is something special and for me, every delightful sip was like a trip down memory lane. It turned out this bar was no exception and I was spoiled with cappuccini di soya on every pit stop all weekend.
Before long our tummies were rumbling and it was time for pizza a taglio: pizza by the slice, available on every Italian street corner and the perfect snack for hungry tourists and locals. I had no issues here: unlike in the UK and USA, Italian pizza isn’t automatically loaded with cheese and it would be rare not to find at least one cheese free option available at a typical pizza slice shop, meaning it is only necessary to double check milk isn't used in the base.
Ice cream, of course, follows pizza and I wanted to treat my friend to a visit to one of my favourite old haunts: La Palma Gelataria, by the Pantheon, which famously boasts 150 flavours of ice cream. I thought I could make due with a sorbet while my friend indulged in a creamy gelato, but my expectations were exceeded again and I found several flavours of soya ice cream on offer, clearly labeled vegan. After much deliberation, I chose pistachio and hazelnut and it was just as delicious as I remembered the non-vegan equivalent to be (just be sure to ask for a cup as the cones do contain milk).
And so it continued and all weekend I was able to stuff myself full of pizza, bruschette and panini to my heart's content. Pasta lovers would have no issues either as long as you check the pasta isn't made with eggs. Where vegan options weren't immediately obvious, staff were generally helpful and aware of the meaning of "vegano", not something I can necessarily say the same for at home in the UK.
We spotted a number of places specifically advertising vegetarian and vegan options too and once we'd had our fill of the standard fayre we decided to check out the Italian vegan fast food chain, Universo Vegano, which I had seen advertised on Facebook. Admittedly it was fast food, but as fast food goes it was pretty good. We both had a quinoa falafel wrap with vegan mayo and I had the so called "vegimisù" for dessert. Not bad at all.
For breakfast, Romans love their cornetti di cioccolato (chocolate croissants) with their morning coffee. Personally, I opted for delicious fresh fruit from the daily market at Campo de' Fiori instead, but I did spot vegan cornetti on a couple of occasions and on our last morning I had a delicious fruit pastry, labeled as vegan, from the caffè bar near our Trastevere Air BnB.
So were there any hurdles at all? Well in one restaurant, I made the mistake of assuming that fried courgette flowers would be vegan and unfortunately ate half of the dish before I realised it was stuffed with cheese! My fault for not checking. Adequate protein sources could be an issue: vegan options are typically grilled vegetables on pizza, bread or pasta. I topped my protein up by using ground seeds brought from home in place of Parmesan and having nuts with my fruit for breakfast and for snacking on between meals. Other protein options such as quinoa, falafel, and tofu can be found relatively easily for those who are willing to stray away from the traditional Italian cuisine, and of course, self-catering is an option.
Otherwise, my only slight disappointment was in shopping: I used to love visiting the Roman markets for cheap shoes and handbags and wanted to treat my friend to the experience, forgetting about the Italian love for leather. My rusty Italian rather failed me when I attempted to ask the stallholder if he had any shoes that were not made from dead animal skin: he proudly told me everything on the stall was indeed genuine leather. Disappointing, but then again, my wallet will thank me!