Italy – all about the food!

The most important part of travelling as a vegan, as all fellow vegans know, is finding yummy food to sustain your journey and also bring much joy and happiness. With a growing number of specialist outlets as well as vegan options appearing on standard menus, it can still be a little tricky navigating new countries and towns that are still to catch up with the ‘revolution’ 😉

In Italy it proved difficult at times, not just because of what was on offer, but also for what I fancied eating. It would be easy to survive on the classic spaghetti al pomodoro, which is served pretty much everywhere, providing you go without the usual addition of parmesan sprinkled on top, but stuffing up on breads and pasta isn’t for everyone. Especially the health-conscious amongst us. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative or walk a little bit further to find somewhere that serves good food or are open to making some alterations to their menu for you. And in Italy I did find that most were at least aware of veganisim and happy to accommodate. However, I didn’t venture far off the HappyCow beaten track… sometimes when you’ve been walking for miles around a city all day the last thing you want to do is meander your way around back lanes for even more miles when you’re hungry for something tasty!

Good news is (very good news in fact) Italy has become even more vegan-friendly since my visit last September. New vegan places are popping up everywhere and there are more vegan options on the standard menus as well. Good work Italy!

So here are my top picks from my travels through Italy:

FLORENCE

Trattoria Enzo & Peiro (see their website
A cute little tavern on the road I was staying on, which was very convenient. A friendly place where the waitresses was very au fait with veganism and very happy to go through the menu to help choose something that suits the vegan diet. Thankfully she also had great English skills! The food was very fresh, well made comforting home-cooked style food and was the perfect end to a day of walking around the city. A yummy soup followed by a delicious tart washed down with a fantastic glass of red wine. Superb!

 

Veg & Veg (see details on HappyCow)
Based on the first floor within the bustling food market, Mercato Centrale, this corner counter serves a wonderful selection of burgers and salads (select your own), juices etc. I opted for the delicious arzillo burger and wasn’t disappointed, although the patty was a bit squishy and the spices came from the mayo rather than the burger itself. Bun was toasted, very nice, and portions are very good. Salad options seemed a bit pricey to me as I didn’t want to just choose 3 items 😀

 

Brac – Liberia di contemporanea
Situated down a narrow quiet street, near the river and Ponte Vecchio, is this little haven for foodies, artists and readers. The cute backyard between the bar area and the restaurant is nice to sit in for a beer but I dined in the bar area and got chatting to a handful of others from America and South India who had very interesting stories to share and made the dining experience relaxed and open. Owner is very knowledgable about vegan food and I felt a bit spoilt for choice! Went with a potato and bean salad in the end – huge portions, hearty and wholesome food.

 

SIENA

Bio & Chocolate (see details and reviews on Happy Cow)
Unfortunately I didn’t come across this place until my last day. There is so much yummy stuff going on here, definitely must go if you’re in town! I only had a few little snacks but it was tasty and had I known about it earlier (was on Happy Cow but didn’t seem like it offered proper meals, just drinks and chocolates – which isn’t the case) I would have worked my way through much more of their offerings. Staff and owner very friendly and knowledgable, open to new suggestions.

 

Grom
Whilst there are gelaterias everywhere, this is a chain throughout Italy offering fruity flavoured dairy-free gelato and sorbets. I sampled their fig and peach which was delicious and enjoyed sat in the sunshine-filled Piazza del Campo.

Siena_Grom_gelato_20170914_140800

 

And, if you have access to a kitchen during your stay, you’d do well to pop up to Conad supermarket where they have lots of healthy alternatives at reasonable prices, as well as a large selection of dairy-free goodies in the chiller! I bought some nice bread (check the labels) ‘mozzarella’, black olives, fresh basil and some gnocchi (again, check the labels) which turned into a couple of tasty gnocchi dishes as well as sandwiches for my onward journey to Rome. Perfect!

 

ROME

Again, I was fortunate to have access to another kitchen so I made up a few things at the hostel, but there were a few options out and about. Unfortunately they are spread out across this large city and some had strange opening hours or were closed for some reason or another, but the ones I found and experienced were pretty good.

Écru – vegan and raw. Pure deliciousness! 

Rifugio Romano – a laid back restaurant, almost gastro-style, but with an extensive vegan menu. And I mean EXTENSIVE! Was spoilt for choice. I had arancini for starters followed by a risotto dish…that didn’t look or photograph too good I will admit, but tasted very nice indeed.

 

NAPLES

Life in Naples would not be complete without a tasty pizza, it is the birthplace of pizza after all! And if there is only one place you must have on your Must Go To list it has to be the original, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele.

Featured in the film Eat Pray Love, it has always been a local’s favourite but is now also a bit of a tourist attraction. Expect to wait a good hour standing outside before seats become available and your number is called. The time waiting can be pretty funny though with all the cars trying to squeeze through the crowds and incessant beeping from scooters. But the wait is totally worth it and the ‘Marinara’ is the choice for vegans as it comes without cheese.

 

Tandem Ragù
Set back a narrow side street with outdoor seating these guys will help you choose some tasty vegan versions of local cuisine. I also tried my first non-alcoholic beer here and was pretty impressed! A very satisfying meal with loads of bread, a brisk walk home helped digest the hearty food.

Naples_Food_Tandem_20170919_191834

Shanti Art Musik Bar
I ventured here on my last day to chill out for a few hours before heading back to Rome to catch my flight to India. Had passed by the night before, when I ended up in Tandem instead as this place was just SO happening and very busy. What I loved about it was the Indian theme – how very apt for my last cafe before my flight to Delhi! The vibe was chilled (in the daytime), with cosy cushions, brightly painted wooden furniture and a great menu I wished I’d had more time (and money) to try more delicious dishes, juices and smoothies.

 

Coming soon…. FOOD IN INDIA!

 

Udaipur – the “City of Lakes”

 

After leaving Pushkar and my lovely travel buddies to go our separate ways, I headed to Udaipur and checked into a cute little guesthouse on a little winding, hilly side street in the main town. Udaipur has hills! Kinda reminded me of my hometown which was also full of hills and so nice to be walking up and down the gentle slopes; felt good for the legs and lungs.

The owner of the guesthouse was a delight, so funny and witty. I checked into my own room for some space and to catch up on my photo-editing and blog writing, but within minutes of dumping my bags in the room (that had three beds!) I found myself wanting to be around people again! Not necessarily to chat, but to just be around other souls. So I took my laptop to the common area table and within a short hour or so struck up a conversation with another guest, after hearing him tell the owner he was a yoga teacher from London. Yay! Another yoga teacher to chat to! This keeps happening! But then this is India….home of yoga, so guess it will happen a lot ha.

We had a good long chat and I abandoned my photo editing as he had a lovely vibe about him; calm, strong, insightful and slightly full of mystery that was enticing. Made me wonder, what is his story?! Well we started to hang out quite a bit during my stay which was lovely and indeed he did have a very interesting life story, but I won’t be sharing that here! Let’s just say that I enjoyed hearing about it, as bit by bit, more was revealed as we gained trust in each other over coffees and dinner.

After a few nights I checked out of the guesthouse and into the nearby Moustache Hostel (yes, another Moustache Hostel!). Upon my arrival the notice board was advising there would be no yoga class the next day as the teacher had to see to some personal commitments. I knew this was a sign…. But I held back from offering my services and thought about it for a while, to consider if I was really ready to teach my first class or not. I’d learned loads from Harendra in Pushkar and even more valuable tidbits from my new friend at the guesthouse. Still, I wasn’t totally convinced.

However when I ventured up to the hostel’s rooftop to check out where the yoga class would be held I knew I wanted my first class to be there! It was a wonderful, classy, ornate, typically Rajasthani-style rooftop overlooking the lakes and with a good viewpoint for both sunrise and sunset. The class would be in the morning so we would enjoy the sunrise… so off I went back to reception to offer my services. And who should I find there behind the counter? The lovely manager from the Jaipur hostel! And even more lovelier, he remembered me! So all the signs were there and he gratefully took me up on my offer to teach the next morning, knowing it was my first class and how wonderful that would be. My name got put on the board as offering a ‘special yoga class’ and payment for it would be donation only, to the local street animal charity, Animal Aid. It couldn’t have been any better!

So that evening I prepared the class routine and in the morning arrived to find I had four ‘students’ over varying experience to take through the 1.5hr class. Think it should have been just an hour, but I like to take it steady and give a proper sequence that benefits the chakras, mind and body as well as a good relaxation at the end, so sticking to one hour is a bit tricky.

Relief flooded in as they poured in positive feedback at the end of the class, smiling broadly at me through the morning sunshine. I was so happy my first ever class had been received so well! I had said to give the feedback to the reception if they would prefer, especially if there was anything they felt they couldn’t say directly to me (!) but they were so positive and delighted by the class. Later on I was asked by reception to teach again the next morning which was brilliant and although I wasn’t sure if I was pushing my luck by trying again, I decided I should go with it. So making a few alterations to the sequence, especially if there were some ‘returners’, which turns out there were, we had another class and again, this was received really well. Unfortunately I was leaving early the next day for a flight to Mumbai so I only got the opportunity to teach twice, but that was an unexpected and totally brilliant experience for me and provided a lot of confidence to embark on my new teaching career.

 

And the rest of my time in Udaipur, went something like this:

Walked around the lakes in the early morning, enjoying the views, the peacefulness, the funny dog photo opportunities. Got lost and walked 15 minutes the wrong way into another part of town where I passed only two other western tourists, a couple. Was nice seeing ‘normal’ local life here and witnessing such kind acts as the locals feeding the cows their leftover chapatis and in one case, a gentleman walking his pug dog, offering dog biscuits to a group of local strays. So kind.

Visiting a number of cafes offering soya milk tea and coffees, vegan pancakes (savoury or sweet) and other vegan delights:

Cafe Grasswood – favourite for morning soy cappuccino, porridge (banana and cinnamon or fruit). Also offered muesli and other cold vegan treats but I was following the Ayurvedic principles and avoiding cold things as it was still winter, but am sure they were tasty – certainly looked good.

Millets of Mewar – offering vegan options. All wholesome food and pretty tasty. Only let down was the masala chai as they used coconut water, not coconut milk so was strong and dark tasted really odd. Am sorry to say it was the worst I’d ever tasted, which is such a letdown for a restaurant that is doing such good work with it’s offerings and involvement in environment and cultural protection. I did feed this back to them, suggesting creamier coconut milk would be nicer but when I returned several days later and ordered it again, forgetting the previous experience, it still came with coconut water. Yuk. Such a shame.

Neelam’s –  A local cafe with homemade traditional food, and my favourite. Neelam is such a wonderful cook and happy to make vegan thali – and it’s so cheap! Local prices rather than tourist prices and always ready to top up your empty dishes until you’ve had enough – at no extra cost! A humble, local cafe with plastic chairs and tables, very basic but the view is good and the food is just fabulous.

City Palace. Some wonderful intricate decor and history of Indian culture. Hard to photograph as very busy and one tourist in particular kept popping up in front of my camera to take her own photo of the same thing! What was funny is that she was going around the place at lightening speed taking photos of anything and everything on her phone, without really stopping to observe, feel, think… why?! Oh well.. guess she was short of time or just more interested in getting photos than actually being present. That’s the funny thing about taking photos. Sometimes we forget to just ‘be’ in a place, be an observer, of what’s around us, of how we are feeling. It’s great having photos but in time they start to replace our actual memories if we don’t take a snapshot in our own heads to preserve what feelings, emotions, sounds, sights we experienced at that moment.

I didn’t do too many touristy things as I wanted to just relax and enjoy the local environment. The lakes are beautiful at any given moment of the day and at night all the lights of the cafes shine onto the water, the City Palace stands tall and elegant in it’s golden glow above the waters and it all just offers wonderful photo opportunities, as does a lot of Rajasthan!

I found the locals to be friendly and always offering to help. I went into one of the art shops to buy some handmade Christmas cards to send home and got chatting to the owner for some time, hearing his stories and gratefully receiving recommendations of things to do and see here. He was the one who suggested the early morning walk around the lakes. He even offered we go together, but this is the kind of thing I like to do alone, unless I know the other person well of course. I like to have time to observe, think, photograph, get to know the environment and feel those wonderful moments of peace don’t need to be filled with chit chat. But the best thing about our chat was, after pointing out a photo of him with Dame Judi Dench, someone I admire so much, was that she came into his shop to buy some artwork whilst in the area filming the Marigold Hotel. What a lucky man! What I wouldn’t give to meet her… so elegant, poised, graceful. But at least I could say I met someone who had met her and I’d sent Christmas cards to my family back home that he had made 😀

My relaxing stay in Udaipur came to an end after a week and I next faced the big city lights and traffic-filled delights of Mumbai. A place I had intended to by-pass if it wasn’t for one of my besties from London who was heading there for a week for work, and seeing as it did coincide with my journey to Goa, knew it would be crazy to miss out on the opportunity to meet him there. So I got an early morning flight from Udaipur airport (note: there is NOTHING to do there, so avoid getting there with too much time to spare! And also: very limited choice of food if you’re vegan, at least in the early morning) and arrived in a much hotter Mumbai. Ooh the heat of the sun was so welcome….!

But I will tell more about that in my next update, all about my stay in Mumbai.. stay posted!