There are currently 5 million vegetarians in Italy, and the number of people adopting a plant-based diet is ever increasing. Food restrictions are on the rise too. Still, don’t expect much understanding when trying to explain your avoidance of certain types of foods to Italian waiters. I’ve heard all sorts of stories of vegetarians being served fish and seafood because “they're not meat!”.
Here is how to express your dietary requirements. We will also help you figure out what you can eat on a menu and find suitable alternatives, in case your server still doesn’t get it.
Ready? Let’s begin.
Vegetarianism – Vegetarianismo
Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat, including red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal. In other words, vegetarians don’t eat products made from dead animals.
If you follow this type of diet, say:
Sono vegetariano/ Sono vegetariana – I’m vegetarian.
If you are vegetarian, be aware that most soups are made with chicken or beef broth, and that some Italian dishes have hidden meat or fish in it. Here is a list of meat and fish words that you may find on Italian menus:
Avoid dishes containing them.
Now, let’s have a look at the different types of vegetarianism.
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism – Dieta latto-ovo-vegetariana
Lacto-ovo vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat, poultry and fish, but do include eggs, milk and dairy products, such as cheese, butter and yogurt, in their diet. The majority of vegetarians in Italy are of this type.
Ovo vegetarianism – Dieta ovo-vegetariana
An ovo-vegetarian diet allows for the consumption of eggs and vegetables, but not milk, dairy products and ingredients made from milk, such as casein and whey. In other words, ovo-vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, but do eat eggs and products containing eggs.
In Italian, this type of diet is called dieta ovo - vegetariana.
Lacto vegetarianism – Dieta latto-vegetariana
A lacto-vegetarian diet includes veggies and dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, cream and kefir. Lacto-vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs and products containing eggs, such as many baked goods.
In Italian, this type of diet is called dieta latto-vegetariana.
Pescatarianism – Pescetarianismo
Pescatarians, also called pesco-vegetarian, avoid meat but may eat fish, and consume dairy and eggs. In other words, seafood is the only source of meat in an otherwise lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
It’s called pescetarianismo, pescatarianismo or pescovegetarianismo in Italian. If you follow this type of diet, say:
Sono pescetariano / Sono pescetariana – I’m a pescatarian.
Pollo-vegetarians avoid red meat and pork products, but may eat poultry, including chicken, turkey, goose, duck and quail. People who follow this type of diet are called pollotariani in Italian.
Veganism – Veganismo
Veganism is the practice of abstaining completely from the consumption and use of any products derived from animals. No matter if it is food-related, such as meat, cloth-related, such as wool, or anything else.
Vegans don’t eat food of animal origin and any by-products of animal slaughter, which means that they abstain from the consumption of meat, poultry, fish and any animal products, including eggs, milk, dairy products, honey, gelatin, lard, broths, suet, gravy and aspic.
If you want to say that you follow a vegan plant-based diet, simply say:
Sono vegano/ Sono vegana – I’m vegan.
Many traditional Italian dishes don’t contain meat and dairy, such as:
|pasta con pomodoro fresco e basilico(tomato basil pasta)||with fresh tomatoes and basil|
|penne all’arrabbiata||penne pasta with diced tomatoes, crushed red chili pepper flakes, minced garlic and fresh basil;|
|spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino||with garlic, oil and chili pepper|
|farinata genovese||made from chickpea flour, oil and salt|
|pasta e fagioli (bean and pasta soup)||a classic soup with pasta and borlotti beans|
|caponata||a Sicilian version of ratatouille, made with eggplants, olives, capers and raisins|
|carciofi alla romana||an iconic dish of Rome, in which marinated artichokes are cooked in white wine|
|pappa al pomodoro||a Tuscan soup made of bread, tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil|
|ribollita toscana||a thick soup made with stale bread, cabbage, beans, carrots, onions and potatoes|
|polenta ai funghi porcini||with porcini mushrooms|
|fagioli all’uccelletto||with cannellini beans, garlic and tomato sauce|
As you can see, Italian cuisine and veganism are not incompatible at all!
Useful for vegans is also the contorni section of the menu (side dish), with a whole lot of verdure/ortaggi (vegetables) e legumi (legumes). Furthermore, Italians hardly ever use butter, which is a good thing for vegans. Extra virgin olive oil, rich in antioxidants, is usually the fat of choice.
Let’s have a look at the most common subgroups of veganism.
Raw veganism – Crudismo
A raw vegan diet consists of uncooked, unprocessed, raw plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains and legumes. This type of dietary practice is called crudismo in Italian. If you follow a raw vegan diet, say:
Sono crudista – I’m a raw vegan.
Fruitarianism – Fruttarismo
Fruitarians are vegans who eat primarily or exclusively fruits, berries, nuts and seeds. They usually exclude grains and processed food. Many fruitarians eat only fruits that fall naturally from plants.
If you follow a fruitarian diet, say:
Sono fruttariano / Sono fruttariana – I’m a fruitarian.
Beegans are vegans who eat honey, royal jelly and products containing honey.
Freeganism – Freeganismo
Freegans, freegani in Italian, reclaim fruits and vegetables that have been discarded. They basically avoid buying anything as much as possible, in an attempt to be eco-friendly and boycott the economic system. This type of practice is becoming more and more widespread among squatters and university students, especially in big Italian cities.
There are also the so-called “meegans”, who eat meat products that would otherwise go to waste. I can’t think of an equivalent in Italian.
Locavorianism – Locavorismo
Locavorianism, locavorismo in Italian, is the practice of eating only food that was grown close to where you live, in order to support local farmers and make a positive impact on the environment.
People whose diet consists primarily or exclusively of locally grown or produced food are called locavores, locavori in Italian. As you might have noticed, the word locavore sounds similar to carnivore (carnivoro in Italian) or omnivore (onnivoro in Italian). Locavores actually eat food of both plant and animal origin.
Macrobiotic diet – Dieta macrobiotica
A macrobiotic diet, dieta macrobiotica in Italian, consists largely of vegetables, whole grains, cereals, beans, legumes and sea vegetables. It allows for the consumption of seeds, nuts and occasionally fish and seafood. The main principles of this type of dietary practice are to:
It aims to avoid the toxins that come from eating meats, eggs and dairy products. If you follow this type of diet, say:
Seguo una dieta macrobiotica – I follow a macrobiotic diet.
Lactose intolerance – Intolleranza al lattosio
Lactose intolerance, intolleranza al lattosio in Italian, is a digestive disorder caused by the inability to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in dairy products. It can cause various symptoms, including abdominal cramps, bloating and diarrhea.
Make sure you specify your dietary restrictions when eating out or at somebody else’s home:
Sono intollerante al lattosio – I’m lactose intolerant.
Be aware that dairy products and especially cheese tend to sneak into lots of Italian dishes. But, since Italians usually don’t mix cheese and fish, ordering seafood can be a safe choice if you are lactose intolerant. Alternatively, you can order a dish from the menu without cheese. For example, if you want to order a pasta dish, ask the waiter for it senza formaggio (without cheese).
Celiac disease – Celiachia
Celiac disease, celiachia in Italian, is a digestive disorder resulting from an immune reaction to a gluten protein found in barley, rye, oats and especially wheat. Again, make sure you specify your food restrictions when eating out or when invited to dinner at somebody’s home:
Sono celiaco / Sono celiaca – I am celiac.Seguo una dieta senza glutine – I’m gluten-free.
A person who is following a gluten-free diet should avoid:
Here is a list of gluten-free Italian dishes that should be fine for celiac sufferers:
Vegetarian restaurants usually offer gluten-free options, but in general don’t expect gluten-free pastas, pizzas or breads to be available in Italy.
Food allergies – Allergie alimentari
Food allergies, allergie alimentari in Italian, are immune system reactions that occur after eating certain foods. The most common food allergy symptoms include:
The majority of food allergies are triggered by certain proteins in:
When dining at a restaurant or when invited to dinner at somebody’s home, alert your server or the host of your food allergies by telling them:
Ho una grave allergia alimentare a… – I have a severe food allergy to…È molto importante che le pietanze non contengano… neanche in minima parte – It is crucial that the food does not contain even a very small amount of…
Always read the ingredient list carefully before ordering a dish from a menu. If you are allergic to peanuts, don’t order fried food at Italian restaurants because the kitchen staff almost certainly use a combination of oils which might contain peanut oil.
Here are some products you can pick-up at the nearest pharmacy to alleviate the effects of food allergies:
That’s all for today. Practice your Italian while letting people know of your dietary requirements, preferences, intolerances or allergies.