Thursday, November 10, 2016

Our Trip to Italy: Vegan in Turin

Back in September, Mr. VE&T and I had a totally wonderful Italian vaction together - it was one of the most fun and wonderful trips we've ever had together! We spent the first part of our trip in Turin (aka Torino) and absolutely fell in love. Turin is a city, but not an overwhelming one - and has history, museums, art, delicious food, modernity, and just so much to offer. Turin is near the French border, so it definitely has some French influence and also still feels like Italy. We liked to call it "Fritaly." We had such a wonderful time walking around, exploring, we took a day trip (and there are many more to take in the future), we went to a couple museums, and ate a lot of great food.

In general, I found Turin to be extremely vegan-friendly. You may have heard that just recently the mayor of Turin declared that she wanted the whole city to go vegan. Based on my travel experience, I'd say this outcome is extremely unlikely! There were plenty of restaurants where there wasn't a single vegan thing on the menu. That said, I was joyfully stunned by the number of times I saw "vegan" on a menu or in the window of restaurants - ice cream, restaurants, cafes... and I never encountered a single person who didn't know exactly what I meant when I said that I was vegan. Cool!!


Focacceria Lagrange
I have no idea what that wierd little white image is, or how it got on my picture!? 
Nonetheless, totally excellent focaccia

One of the first things to mention about Turin is the abundance of totally mind-blowing focaccia. A good piece of focaccia is one of my top foods in all the world, and so I was pretty much in focaccia heaven on this trip. I adopted an all-out, no-regrets policy and ate pretty much every compelling piece of focaccia I could manage. It was magical.

We both love to explore on foot, and as we walked our way all over the city, we were constantly passing more and more bakeries - I mean, literally, often it would be 2-3 per block. Ha ha. We stopped into as many as possible. We ate so much focaccia. We got a few slices that we didn't fall in love with, but the vast majority were absolutely superb. The biggest disappointment was a physical inability to eat more than we did.

All that said, we stumbled on one spot that we liked so much that we made a specific effort to go back again: Focacceria Lagrange. They had a great selection of options, including many with whole grains (kamut, spelt, etc), with delicious tomato sauce, as well as several non-vegan options - in spite of their mayor's vision. The focaccia was just perfect: crispy exterior with a soft, pillowy interior. A perfect chew, well seasoned, and a lovely flavor even on the most simple slice (which is always my favorite).

Focaccia Heaven
In Focaccia Heaven, you lie on a giant poofy piece of focaccia while little smaller pieces of focaccia float by all the time, with different vegan toppings. You can just grab the pieces you want and eat them up. It's rad.





Just a few blocks from our AirBnB was an all-vegan spot called Mezzaluna -- a cafe, a restaurant, and a vegan goods store all in one. Mezzaluna is located in a quiet and charming little square, very near the huge outdoor market at Porta Palazzo. They have tables set up for eating outside, and also tables inside. The food at Mezzaluna is not traditionally Italian or Torinese, but is more "traditionally vegan," if you know what I mean. Menu items included curries, stews, salads with seaweed, and so on. One day Mr. VE&T (who is not vegan) ate lunch at a cute restaurant serving traditional local food, where they didn't have a single vegan thing for me. So, after his lunch, I came and ate at Mezzaluna. I had a veggie frittata with a chickpea-flour base, and a side of sauteed veggies. The food was good, and hit the spot, but wasn't otherwise amazing.

Their store is in the back, and it's just a small room, but they have an especially good supply of various vegan milks and yogurts, and a cold case with tofu and seitan. We didn't have a kitchen at our AirBnB, but if you did, this would be a good resource to know about. In general, I also found that most neighborhood supermarkets also had a pretty great selection of vegan milks and yogurts.


What really made me fall in love with Mezzaluna, however, was the daily selection of croissants and pastries available every morning. As soon as I figured this out, there was no stopping me. I am a lover of croissants, and vegan croissants are simply not avaiable here in Santa Cruz. So, I got pretty excited. I got myself a lovely almond cappucino, a crossaint filled with apricot jam, and a rolled up pastry with raisins. I wish I could transport myself through space and time and eat another one right now. I went back several times to repeat this lovely ritual... and even planned our last morning in Turin to make sure that I would have time to go to Mezzaluna one last time and grab a pastry (or two) for our road trip.

dancing the night away with my BFF




Il Mercato Porto Palazzo

Right around the corner from Mezzaluna is Europe's largest outdoor market - Il Mercato Porto Palazzo. It is totally amazing! Can you see the look of overwhelming joy and amazement on my face?? This market has everything: produce, baked goods, groceries, clothes, household stuff, shoes, plants, and on and on and on. There are actually several indoor areas as well as the vast outdoor area, which is arranged in sections so that all the produce vendors are near one another, and all the shoe vendors are near one another, and so on. We had so much fun wandering through the market, which was pleasantly bustling with activity - seeing faces of vendors and shoppers, immigrants and non-immigrants, extremely few tourists, and gorgeous fruits and vegetables -- many that were so different from the fruits and veggies we have at home, and which were always displayed with great care. We bought all sorts of goodies: fruits, nuts, snacks, bread (duh!), but mostly just had a great time wandering, looking, and chatting with the vendors. We both loved this place so much. I can't imagine being able to go to such a huge market on a daily basis! What fun!



To my delight, Turin has several vegan restaurants! In fact there was a little all-vegan fast food place located one block away from our AirBnB -- but we never even got a chance to eat there because we never ended up near our home base at meal time. One spot we did make it to was Coox. Coox is located at the head of a long, bustling piazza near the River Po. We ate outside, which was lovely and fun, with all the evening activity in the piazza.

One thing that I've noticed about eating at vegan restaurants in Europe is that it can be hard to find places that serve veganized versions of local food. Usually there are several local dishes which are intrinsically vegan, and even those will never be on the menu. Instead I often find curries and bulgur and the kind of vegetarian food that I associate with the 80's. I have some ideas about this phenomena, but as a visitor, I often find myself wishing I could get a vegan taste of local flavors more readily.

At Coox, I was delighted to find Lasagne on the menu, and I didn't really need to keep looking. Has anyone ever made me vegan lasagne before? In fact, Mr. VE&T ordered it too! We also ordered two veggie side dishes* which turned out to be quite ample indeed!

For dessert, we got an order of tiramisu and a parfait type treat. They were both good, especially the tiramisu, but we also thought they tasted a little "processy." I'm not totally opposed to that, and we enjoyed them, but we also didn't finish the parfait. There is so much amazing food everywhere you go in Italy, it seems like a shame to eat something that you aren't in love with!

*Side dishes (aka "contorni") are often a good route to go as a vegan in Italy.
They are almost always veggies or veggie-based.


Someone I struck up a conversation with highly recommended Soul Kitchen, an all-vegan restaurant offering both raw and cooked vegan foods. This person said "I'm not even vegan and I love the food there so much!" I'm glad they recommended it, because I'm not a big fan of most raw food -- so I hadn't really considered eating here. And the food just blew us away! We both loved our dinners so much! Plus, the whole atmosphere is delightfully hip and casual-but-swanky, the service was great, and our experience here was wonderful.  Soul Kitchen is just a tiny bit further afield from the city center, but not in a daunting way (we easily walked there on foot).

Here's what we ordered:
Antipasto (top left): zucchini and zucchini blossoms in a crispy rice-sesame batter; served with a tofu, fresh oregano and sun-dried tomato cream
Mr VE&T's dinner (top right): whole wheat tagliolino with fresh truffle, seasonal mushrooms, asparagus, and blackberry
My dinner (middle left): cream of peas, mint and ginger with a nest of bi-colored tagliolini; served with bittersweet sesame-cacao nib croutons
Our dessert (middle right): raw gianduja torte with apricot puree

fancy romantic dinner at Soul Kitchen!


If you find yourself in Turin, I think Soul Kitchen should be your top priority as far as vegan dining goes! (at least, as far as we know!)



One day we decided to go for a big walk all across town, and it was pretty great... but by the end of it we were weary, and I was dragging my feet. I really wanted a gelato, and even though you usually see gelaterie every ten feet in the city center, we hadn't seen one for a while. Finally, we saw a gelateria! I went in and asked "Is your dark chocolate vegan?" And the guy looked at me kinda weird and was like "all our flavors are vegan!" I thought maybe I hadn't understood, so I had to double check - just to clarify! Holy moly, we had completely stumbled upon a 100% vegan gelateria with amazing ice cream!!

All the flavors at Il Gelato Amico are rice-based, and they have a great selection of more traditional flavors and creative flavors. I got hazelnut and gianduia (chocolate and hazelnut) on a (vegan!) cone -- it was just so delicious. As you can see on the right - they also have a whole case of special ice cream treats and cakes -- every thing is vegan!!! It's not hard to find vegan flavors here and there (see below), but an all-vegan place like this is special and exciting and highly recommended!


It was a vegan gelato miracle! 



other important Turin sweeties: Gelato & Gianduja chocolates!

One thing that Turin is super famous for is their Gianduja chocolates - creamy chocolate candies made with chocolate and hazelnuts. I didn't have much luck find any vegan gianduja, until we went to Guido Gobino (bottom left picture) -- which just happened to be the place that our AirBnB host recommended to us! Their dark chocolate gianduja candies are vegan and are made with just chocolate and hazelnuts -- they are super creamy and luscious and taste almost like milk chocolate from the creaminess of the nuts. I bought a whole bunch to give as presents (and also a bunch to eat for ourselves!). We only have a few left and I am treasuring them!

I also just want to give a shout out to Mondello Gelato (top two pictures), which has a few locations and proudly advertises "vegan flavors" on their shop window. The vegan flavors are clearly marked with a little green "v" symbol, so you don't even need to speak Italian to figure out which ones you can order. I got walnut and gianduja. If you are noticing that I always order gianduja flavor when given the opportunity, you are right. I love all things hazelnutty!

The picture on the bottom left was a random gelato that happened to be one of the best of our whole trip: a totally amazing dark chocolate sorbet rich with chocolatey flavor and also with little choco-bits in it, and a stunning Bergamot sorbet that I just loved. Almost every gelateria will have vegan flavors because the sorbets will be vegan. Often this means you are limited to fruit flavors, but many shops also offer a dark chocolate sorbet. Don't be afraid to ask!



The Spritz! (pronounced "spreetz")
When we were in one of the big piazzas at dusk, we noticed that every single person at every single patio table was drinking a bright orange cocktail. We sat down at a table and I asked the waiter "what is that drink?!" Well, it's called a spritz - and we fell in love. We had a spritz nearly every evening - such a refreshing little date to end our day. Here is a recipe - go make yourself a spritz! 



A few other Turin things to mention!

Top Left: Lurisia Chinotto! Chinotto is a wonderful, slightly bitter Italian soda, and on this trip I discovered this brand -- definitely the best chinotto I've ever had. I bought a bottle for Mr. VE&T, but I wasn't sure if he would like it - guess what? He loved it! Yay! This was the first of many Chinottos that we enjoyed together!

shared Chinotto affection!


Top Right: Le Golosita' dal Brabantino -- Right downstairs from our AirBnB was this really cute dog bakery! The couple that runs this spot are just such sweet and kind people. Most of their treats aren't vegan, but they did have some flavors that were - and they also had three super cute little mutt dogs (you can see me snuggling them in the picture) and very big hearts. We bought some treats to bring home for our doggies!

Bottom Left: Brule' Piadinoteca - we stumbled across this little place and found a lovely vegan option! A piadine is a nice flat bread stuffed full with good stuff - kinda like a quesadilla, but with a lot more versatility for the filling. As you can see, we got one filled with awesome cooked veggies - it was light and delicious and really hit the spot. They had mostly non-vegan options, but I really enjoyed the vegan option we had!

Bottom Right: Il Bicerin is a famous and very old cafe in Turin, and it's a place that all the guidebooks mention. Their famous creation is also called a "bicerin," and it's a drink made with coffee, thick chocolate, and cream. It sounds pretty great, but it's deffers not vegan*. Mr VE&T isn't vegan either though, and he wanted to try one! I was pretty stoked that they very happily made me a soy cappucino! It seems worth mentioning in case you wanted to check out the ambience at this famous spot, or if you happen to be traveling with a non-vegan like me.
* I did find a recipe online for the bicerin drink - maybe we could veganize it!


Sacra di San Michele

On our last day in Turin, we rented a car and took a day trip out to Sacra di San Michele - what a special and beautiful place. We could see that we were going to arrive at the church just in time for their 2-hour lunchtime closure period... As we were driving along, we stopped in a cute little town where we saw a bakery and a bar (a "bar" in Italy is more like a "cafe" here) to get a picnic for our lunch. I thought I'd probably just have a piece of focaccia for lunch, but we ended up with such a wonderful lunch. At the bakery, we each picked out a piece of focaccia for ourselves. Across the street at the bar, we found the world's most delightful employees, who personally took on the mission of making our picnic wonderful -- they prepared a sandwich for Mr. VE&T, a lovely and huge serving of steamed fresh spinach with olive oil and fresh lemon wedges, and a container of perfect green grapes. Of course we each got some water, some potato chips, and another bottle of chinotto to share. Up near the church, we found a secret ledge where we could look out over the valley below and eat our lunch... a pretty special way to spend the afternoon together.


In case you're planning a trip, Vegan Miam also has some great guides to eating vegan in Turin: 

7 comments:

  1. What a wonderful trip!! It looks like you had a fabulous time, and you have definitely put me in the mood for focaccia.

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  2. Wow, Amey, this looks like such a wonderful trip! I am a total homebody and not a fan of traveling, but all of that focaccia and gelato looks mighty tempting, ha! It sounds like you and Mr. VE&T had a great time and I love that you had an all-in, no-regrets policy for the food- definitely the right choice. As always, thank you for sharing such a fun post!

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  3. Sounds like you had such a fantastic trip, the food looks great!
    My favourite story is the magical vegan gelato shop that you found after your long walk, what a gift!

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  4. Wow! At the beginning of the post, I thought I'd have wanted to spend all my time in focaccia heaven too, but then I saw that you'd also found croissants, market, and gelateria heavens… Turin must be quite the heavenly place! Clearly, I need to plan a visit there.

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  5. Hi Amey! I'm from the UK and have also found this phenomenon - that the vast majority of vegan places in Europe sell generic vegan-y food from all over the world, often not recreated authentically. When I go to a new country I want to try local food! Just without all the traditional meats and cheeses. It's a shame that this is so difficult and I wonder why that is?!
    We went to Berlin this summer and found this amazing restaurant Vaust (https://www.happycow.net/reviews/vaust-braugaststatte-berlin-32229) that did traditional German food but all vegan. I wish it were more common!

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  6. Anonymous3:13 PM

    Congratulations to your mom's victory on her City Council Race! Good election news in light of the national political disaster is always great.

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  7. Wow, what an incredible trip you had! Everything looks amazing :)

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