Is Turin really a ‘vegetarian city’?

Turin is that odd city that I’ve been to several times over the years and never really got my head around. Usually because I’m making a quick stop there on my way somewhere else and not spending all that much time sightseeing or experiencing the city. But in February this year I finally made a proper visit and decided to dig a bit deeper and see what the city has to offer.

As an environmentalist and vegetarian (mostly vegan), I was of course pretty intrigued to read numerous articles which call Turin the ‘vegetarian city’. Coming from Warsaw, which really is the vegan city from my experience, I was definitely ready to investigate this claim. Apparently the city has a vegetarian mayor and over 30 meat free restaurants. This isn’t exactly the first thing that you expect from Italy, a country famous for salami, Parma ham and parmesan, right? However if you know a little more about Italy’s cuisine, you won’t be quite so surprised to find an abundance of vegetarian (albeit non-vegan) dishes such as aubergine parmigiana, many vegetarian pizzas (including the famous margherita of course), numerous meat-free pasta and gnocchi choices and all sorts of salads and sandwiches. As a bonus, gnocchi is usually vegan and non-egg pasta is also vegan – just stick with tomato and vegetable sauces. So whilst being vegan in the land of cheese, gelato and pizza might not be super easy, there’s no reason at all for vegetarians to worry.

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But does Turin have something extra to offer? Full of excitement about the ’30 meat-free restaurants’ I hit TripAdvisor to hunt some down for our visit. Unfortunately, though, it was harder than expected. Well, thirty restaurants there may be, but on closer inspection the vast majority of places offering veggie or vegan options appear to be sandwich shops. Now, I have nothing against a sandwich, and the fact that there is an abundance of vegetarian sandwiches around the city is great. But that’s only really helpful when you want to grab a quick bite when sightseeing. And to be quite honest with you, if I want a quick sandwich I’ll make one myself. How hard is it to bash together a quick cheese or salad and hummus sandwich with a nice bread roll? Some of the other very well rated restaurants don’t really look like my thing. Fancy raw vegan eateries with tiny decorative portions are all very well and good, but I’m not a health vegan or a trend vegan. I just want to be able to grab an affordable tasty meal with no animal products in it. I’m not criticising this type of restaurant, as everyone has different desires when it comes to eating out, but my preference is for tasty and casual restaurants which cater not just for me but also my hungry non-veggie partner or friends.

Anyway, in the end we did find a really good vegan restaurant for the evening – Veg&Veg in central Turin. Here we had a some amazing pastries for a starter, followed by a vegan carbonara and lasagne. The carbonara was the best one I’ve tried, and the lasagne was really nice – albeit ever so slightly on the small side. You need to get 2 courses here to fill you up, but the food is very nice. Our bill came to somewhere around 45 euro including some nice (vegan) house wine. So not cheap but pretty affordable for dinner. I can recommend this spot for vegan travellers to Turin.

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As for lunches out, we came across a little pasta place called Savure, located very centrally and offering a nice casual dining experience with a range of different pasta and gnocchi options, a couple of which are completely vegan. I had a nice dish of gnocchi with vegetables, which served as a good reminder that ‘vegan food’ doesn’t need to be anything special, expensive or complicated. A simple dish of pasta or gnocchi with fresh vegetables and tomato sauce is vegan by nature and about as Italian as you can get.

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Anyone wondering about how vegans can enjoy the authentic gelato experience should check out Il Gelato Amico which sells only vegan and gluten-free gelato. I happen to be one of those token freaks who isn’t interested in ice cream, though, so I didn’t actually try it. One good thing I did discover, though, is that some (not all) cafes do at least offer soy milk in their coffees, and I even got a soy-milk macchiato at the station when I was catching a train out of the city. This is definitely not something that was available a few years ago.

But would I go as far as to call it a ‘vegetarian city’, or even a particularly vegetarian-friendly city? To be honest, I’m not convinced. Perhaps that’s because I’ve recently been to more vegan-friendly cities like Athens and Warsaw, or because the options on offer are not exactly my cup of tea. So it’s not to say that it’s a total no-go for non-meat eaters. Certainly you’ll find enough options to keep you full. But I’d hazard to say that you’d manage in most cities in Italy, especially if you don’t have the added requirement of avoiding dairy.

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PS, as a bonus tip – if you’re staying in an apartment and buying your own food, take a look in the supermarket for ‘latte di farro’ – spelt milk. It’s the only place I’ve seen this available in a non-specialist shop and it was one of the tastiest milks I’ve tried.

Have you visited Turin? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments!

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