I was lucky enough to take a trip to Pisa, Italy recently. The hotel had been booked in a hurry so we had no time to check how vegan friendly Pisa was. We needn’t have worried. You’ll probably know that Italian food is generally pretty flexible and there’s always penne all’arrabbiata to fall back on, but in this beautiful university town, we had plenty more to choose from than just that.
We not only found mainstream restaurants to be incredibly accommodating but there were dedicated vegetarian and even vegan restaurants to choose from – all within easy walking distance from the famous leaning tower!
One of the first places we tried for dinner was Ristorante Ben d’Iddio which is a vegetarian restaurant just round the corner from the tower. At least half the menu is vegan and our waiter was very thorough in explaining the dishes to us. We were absolutely spoiled for choice. While we pored over the menu we were served olives and some of the tastiest morsels of bread I’ve ever eaten.
Finally we decided on a mixed starter consisting of beautifully prepared aubergine, mushrooms, pepper, courgette, bruschetta and a local chilli pepper which, although incredibly mild, was tasty and the waiter was impressed I’d finished it! There were some gorgeous homemade sauces that came along which was the icing on the cake. My companion had a salad of cucumber, tomato, onion, croutons and basil which was dressed to perfection.
To follow, he chose the mushroom stuffed gnocchi which looked amazing. I went for their award winning seitan in a gorgeous bolognaise sauce on top of linguini. We were both wanting to try dessert at this place, but were simply too full to contemplate it!
Instead we were served some limoncello and then some of the local hazelnut liqueur to aid digestion. What a wonderful evening.
It was very warm every day during our visit, so we normally felt like a sandwich or something similar for lunch. Luckily for us there was a fully vegan sandwich takeaway nearby. Vegan Come Koala is run by just one guy, but he’s there every day from about noon till teatime and the extensive menu belies the tiny size of his shop.
There was a choice of wraps every day from corn to spelt to wholegrain and you could fill them with whatever you pleased from falafel to seitan to tofu and the selection of sauces were equally impressive.
You could have a hot Panini, pizza, burger, hot dog or even a gluten free beer (which I did, very nice) or any other veggie sandwich shop delicacy you could think of. We came here most days at lunchtime (our visit to Pisa lasted a week as there were loads of things to see and it was just a pleasant place to hang out.)
We sought out Pizzeria Il Montino as we’d been told they had good Cecina, which is a traditional Tuscan dish made from chickpea flour and olive oil and looks a bit like a pancake. We had some and it was gorgeous, but quite small, so we had a pizza there too and it was wonderful. Just a simple combination of roasted peppers and aubergine was made special by the sheer quality of the tomato sauce and base. The Italians do simple yet delicious very, very well.
Across the river near the university was another totally vegan restaurant called Il Vegusto. It had lovely decor including a piano and nice soft lighting. Although the staff’s English was limited, the menu was in English as well as Italian, so was very easy for us to negotiate.
Over a couple of nights we sampled the fried vegan omelette, zucchini carpaccio and cocktail of carrots in a pink sauce. For our main course, the pesto gnocchi was a favourite, along with their Tuscan pasta and Seitan with vegetables.
On the first occasion we even had room for dessert, and sampled both the delectable apple cake and the chocolate mousse. All of this was accompanied by fabulous vegan Italian wine and bread and a generally lovely atmosphere.
Another lovely place across the river was a family run place called Rusticanella, where they happily made vegan pizza for us and were very patient with my faltering Italian. They even had vegan friendly local beer Moretti on tap. It was a lovely casual place to sit outside and have the odd Vespa drone past you every now and again. The pizza was delicious. It’s amazing how they can make mushrooms, peppers and aubergine into pizza heaven.
Back near the tower, there were plenty of places who were happy to accommodate us even though they weren’t dedicated veggie eateries. One of these proudly advertised vegan friendly and gluten free dishes, Terrazza Laterale Con Tavoli. They served us pizza without cheese as well as amazing spaghetti in the most heavenly tomato sauce.
Impressively they also had an amazing vegan platter that included the yummy Cecina, as well as mushroom, pepper and tomato bruschetta, aubergine, olives, cabbage and artichoke. Quite a plateful!
Of course, a visit to Italy is never complete without sampling the local ice cream and for vegans in Pisa there’s no need to miss out. A few places had some options, but the best one that we found, Oro, looked onto a bustling square.
Their vegan flavours were dark chocolate, almond, lemon, strawberry, coconut, liquorice, figs & almond and passion fruit & pepper, so, a pretty comprehensive choice! You could enjoy a combination of flavours in a cone or cup and sit on one of the many public benches in the square to enjoy them.
I found in Pisa that there was plenty of choice (spaghetti aglio e olio should be vegan anywhere) it was useful to have a few Italian phrases to hand while ordering.
Sono vegana (I’m vegan, female)
Sono vegano (I’m vegan, male)
Senza formaggio/mozzarella (Without cheese/mozzarella)
Con verdure (with vegetables)
Senza latte (without milk)
Per favore (please)
Grazie (Thank you)
Pisa is definitely somewhere to spend more than a day if you can, if only to try a selection of their fabulous restaurants!