Warning, long one, but full of food!
Ah Italia! I’m so looking forward to writing this post because Italy means to much to me and I am excited to relive the wonderful trip I took with my Dad and Step-Mum there this Christmas. First I’ll talk you through the food I enjoyed and then you can see some other photos of the trip!
Backstory: I studied Italian at A level when I was at college and was lucky enough to go on an exchange trip where we stayed with Italians our age and their families. I must have done something good in this life because I had the privilege of being matched with the sweetest, kindest girl, Silvia, and her equally wonderful family. After the most fantastic week with them, I spent the rest of the bus journey back crying into my friend’s shoulder (even though Silvia was coming to visit England the next month!). We said we would keep in touch, and I distinctly remember one of my friends doubtfully asking “will you though?”. Well, I don’t believe anyone else from that trip has ever been back to visit, or is even still in touch with their exchange partner, but Silvia and I formed a friendship that has lasted 7 years and counting! I’ve been back to stay many times, and Silvia and her family have come to England as well (and I’m still waiting for you to come to Exeter Silv!). It had been a while since our last visit so this Christmas we went out for four glorious days and it was perfect. Thank you all for your kindness and hospitality, mi mancate, un bacio a tutti voi!
Now, onto the food!
When we arrived we went straight to their house where I was presented with chickpea cookies straight away! They’d also bought me some yummy vegan chocolate and then Mari (my Italian Mamma!) proceeded to show me the vegan pesto and mozzarella she’d bought for the meals she’d be cooking during our stay! That night we had homemade pizza, mine topped with grilled veggies and that mozzarella I just mentioned (I’ll have to look out for it over here because I thought it was pretty good!).
The next day we went into Treviglio where they live in the morning and after a walk around the town, stopped at a cafe for aperitivo, which I suppose is a bit like the Italian version of tapas, but apparently way better as I’ve never seen so much food arrive!
Amongst everything, I could have eaten the bread, olives, nuts and probably the crisps if I’d checked, but I just had some bread as we were actually going home for lunch after. Not that anyone else seemed to mind, happily filling up on everything! Lunch was pesto pasta, and once again Mari had kindly got me some pesto without parmesan in it, also making sure the pasta didn’t have egg in.
Another delicious meal! This had potatoes and runner beans in it too, I think it’s quite a common dish in Italy! I think my stepmum may have offended them by saying she would usually put some chicken in with it, as is common back in England, I get the feeling Italians don’t often add meat to pasta as they usually have a pasta course followed by a meat course!
After lunch, we were treated to an afternoon at the spa where we enjoyed use of the swimming pool, steam rooms, saunas etc. When we got back we went out for dinner at a new restaurant in Treviglio, where they’d already checked there’d be some vegan options. I could have had pasta again, or a veggie pizza without cheese, but instead I went for 3 side dishes. I got a salad, some potatoes and some polenta. They don’t look like much, but it was all pretty tasty mixed together, especially with added olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Ooh that’s another way in which English do Italian wrong, we dip bread in a mix of oil and vinegar – Silvia and her family seemed somewhat perplexed by this!
Look at that polenta! I just don’t understand it! Here it’s grilled, but I remember having it years ago served as a plate of slop, which as a teenager I was not impressed with however my tastes have changed quite a lot now so I’d be willing to give it another go! I’ve also seen polenta cake. I’m incredibly confused by what this magical ingredient is, if someone could enlighten me I’d be most grateful! Or I could just google it I guess….
The next day was the main event – Venice! My dad and stepmum had never been before, and I only once, so it was a great place to go see for us all. When Silvia and her family came to meet us at our hotel (after I’d already eaten breakfast which was always porridge with soy milk, fruit etc), she surprised me with a vegan croissant! I’ve not actually had one since going vegan; I ate it in the car and it was divine! I couldn’t tell the difference between that and a regular one to be honest, though it’s been some years since I last had one!
When we got to Venice, which was a few hours away, we took some time to walk around but mainly headed straight for lunch of course! This post is intended to be all about the food, but I promise we didn’t literally just eat 100% of the time. More like 90% eating, 10% everything else 😉
We discovered a little restaurant in a back street somewhere and once again I had…
Yup, pasta! Italian restaurants seem to serve pasta, pizza or meat dishes with potato and vegetable accompaniments. So pasta or pizza were my only choices, as opposed to British restaurants where really we have a wide variety choices influenced by many cultures and cuisines (Indian and Thai curries, jacket potato, chillis, other Mexican food etc all of which you can commonly find in high street chains). Not that I’m complaining, I fully enjoyed making the most of eating pasta all day erryday – when in Rome and all that! I also got some grilled veggies and mixed them in so I was getting a little more nutrients.
I’ll pop some pictures at the end of this post but we spent the rest of the day wandering around, going to the island of Murano where they make the Venetian glass, visiting the Piazza San Marco, drinking mulled wine and enjoying the remaining Christmas decorations! We stopped off at a huge services on the way home for tea, where, you guessed it, I ate more pasta!
There wasn’t much else on offer again and neither of the pasta sauces were vegan friendly, so the chef cooked me some plain pasta and then I topped it with more grilled veggies. I also pinched a couple of my Dad’s chippy things there in the top left, and top right is a big bowl of fruit – though slightly dry from being out on the side all day, but still tasty!
Our last day and we went to a cafe called Patty&Selma, a restaurant with a more modern, English/American vibe to it. They served lots of food and even some vegan cake! I got a soy chai latte (the biggest one I’ve ever seen) and got some chocolate cake to take away as were were actually going for lunch next before we left for the airport.
Lunch was yet again, more pasta!! Only now I’m writing this do I realise quite how much pasta I ate! I should have had more pizza! Ah well, it was all delicious. I forgot to take any pictures but Silvia and I got the two different options: one with a tomato sauce and the other with olive oil and garlic, and then split them half and half.
I was most surprised by the food on offer at Linate airport! After we got through security, it seemed like there was hardly anything available, vegan or not. We wanted to get something for the plane as there was no meal provided and we were going to miss tea. When we got through to the gate, to my amazement was a little stall called Bar & Snack Moka where they not only had a number of vegan salads, but a vegan baguette and vegan carrot cake!!! I didn’t get the cake because I really didn’t need it, but I got the salad and baguette for the journey home.
So here are a couple of tips for eating vegan in Italy:
- Be prepared for a pizza and pasta fest. Omnis have the option of getting meat/fish and veg if they’re feeling overloaded with carbs but for veggies and vegans, alternatives are pretty hard to come by so just embrace it! Remember to check if the actual pasta is vegan, as sometimes it can be made with eggs.
- Order a number of side dishes to have as a whole meal. There’s often salads, grilled veggies, potatoes, fries, polenta etc available so do some mixing and matching!
- Check that your sides are cooked with oil and not butter. I nearly ate polenta that had been brushed with butter at our last lunch but Silvia thought to ask in time!
- If you’re flying back to England from Linate, hold out til you get to the gate! 😉