Hello, hello. Here I am, home at last. Actually, I've been home for three weeks now, but I have not yet found a chance to post. I should be studying now, but after taking about an hour to read about six pages from the Procedures section in my technical writing textbook (Zzzzzz...), my eyes started to close on me, and I figured I'd be better off doing something more productive (Ha!). Did I mention I'm at work? Yeah, I'm at work; otherwise, if I were at home, I probably would have just taken a nap (and I would not have woken myself up this morning at 07:15 to work out... and therefore would not require a nap).
My last post in Italy was on the 18th of August, a good 10 days before coming home. I was having issues with finding adequate sources of protein. Well, happy and healthy (maybe more healthy than happy since the weather here sucks and I'm already too busy with school), I have survived a month as a vegan in Italy. Hurrah! Yes, it is indeed possible to be vegan in Italy, even if you're not staying in one of the big cities, like Rome, Florence, or Milan. Yes, even in Cassino, my adoptive comune of just 32 643 people, vegan options abound (did I mention tasty options, no less?), whether you're dining at an osteria, a trattoria, a bar, or shopping at the local grocery store.
Of course, however, the vegan travelling in Italy must be particularly attentive. For example-- though it happened only two or three times--although I had requested an egg-free dish, I was handed a plate of egg pasta. It's easy to be fooled, but, as a general rule, egg pasta will have a more yellow tint than non–egg pasta; it sounds obvious, but it's easy to doubt yourself. Also, pasta fresca (fresh pasta) is typically made with eggs (or at least that's what I was told) so opt for pastasciutta (dry pasta) with tomato sauce and veggies. Also, you can't ever go wrong in Italy when you order a cheeseless pizza or focaccia. I was told at the restaurant I frequented in Cassino, whose staff grew well-acquainted with my dining habits, that focaccia is typically made without a topping of cheese. As far as I can tell, and what my research tells me, is that there is not much difference between the dough of focaccia and pizza; rather, it is the toppings that differentiate them: focaccia can indeed have mozzarella on it, but it is more minimalist than a pizza when it comes to toppings (a typical Italian focaccia may have nothing on it but olive oil and oregano). Anyway! So go the route of focaccia, but make sure you ask for no cheese.
What was great about Italian cooking is that in Italy they are blessed enough (and perhaps talented enough) to achieve great and rich tastes with simple ingredients, not to mention that their ingredients are so much more fresh than anything you would find in North America. It's true: after every meal, we would have a macedonia (fruit salad) or a simple piece of cocomero (watermelon) or cantaloupe, and all the fruit was sweet, never bitter, and the watermelon actually had seeds! The laws regarding pesticides, herbicides, and genetic modification are much more stringent in the European Union, and Europeans are ever-so-fortunate to have such laws. In Canada, one would seldom be privileged enough to bite into a watermelon as sweet as those we consumed in Italy (unless, of course, the Canadian watermelon were organic and GMO-free). What I was initially getting at when I hinted at the freshness and wondrous simplicity of Italian cooking is that I never had to ask if pizza dough contained eggs because pizza dough is not typically made with eggs. Adding eggs to pizza dough seems to be something unique to North America. Italians should be proud to have a culture of food that is relatively devoid of unnecessary additives; in that regard, it is easy to know what is in the food you're about to consume.
Then, however, there is one of the most beautiful traits of Italian people: They are magnificently accommodating, sometimes to the point of excess. I was overwhelmed by how accommodating they were the first time I went to Italy in 2006, but this time I really was blown away. Nevertheless, I did find certain instances where restaurateurs were too accommodating. Here's an example: after I would communicate my dietary restrictions (shudder; I don't like saying that I have dietary restrictions, because I feel that my diet is freeing, and by no means restricting), the kind waiter or waitress would bring me a plate that would contain items that I simply could not eat; instead of making me a simple dish of rice, it would be rice and mozzarella; instead of a dish of just regular, cheap, eggless pasta, it would be, well, egg pasta--with vegetables, at least! It seemed as though it was assumed that, because I was "restricting" my options, the cook should do something extravagant to make up for it. It was sweet and the effort was appreciated, but it just made me feel bad to have to send the plate back or pass the dish off to an omnivore. All I have to say, then, is that simplicity (different from blandness) is key.
And here are some photos that will serve as evidence and reasons to make me reminisce and long for the simpler, fresher life.
Gelato di soia al cioccolato, Roma
Gelato di soia al cioccolato e alla banana, Cassino
Beautiful fusilli with fresh vegetables and a tomato-and-oil sauce--Cassino
Focaccia con pomodori, carciofi, arugula, olio d'oliva e basilico--Cassino (Ristorante Pepper's)
Vegan Chinese food: fried tofu with soy sauce (top left), veggie spring roll (top right), seaweed and soy sauce (very bland--bottom right), Rome
I am very happy with my focaccia.
Fresh bread with raisins (left), frittelle (fried pieces of dough, to be dipped in sugar; centre), and vegetable focaccia--MADE WITH LOVE by Zia Angela, Gorgonzola (MI)
This is what I mean when I say that simplicity is key: this is an elaborate vegetable dish (not simple, but using simple ingredients). It contains artichokes, eggplant, red peppers, and zucchini.
And now, here is a quick list of the products I found were too tasty to leave behind (i.e. I bought a whole bunch and brought them home).
- VALSOIA soy products: They make vegan Nutella. Yes, I swear, it tastes like the real thing. I've bought vegan chocolate spreads here, and they just don't match up to Nutella; here, too, we suffer from trying to make up for "lost" ingredients, it seems, because the only chocolate spreads I have tried were mixed with peanut butter or something, or made with dark chocolate instead. I love dark chocolate as much as the next guy, but K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)! I bought three jars while I was there, brought two home, and gave one to my vegan boyfriend (who finished his jar in a matter of days). Also, this company makes healthy cookie sticks that are filled with vegan almond cream or chocolate cream. They are inexpensive, full of protein and fibre, and absolutely delicious. Finally, Valsoia makes soy yogourt. Mmmm... What's interesting about this company and about soy products in general is that they seem to be aimed at an audience that has allergies and who wants to eat more healthy; the fact that vegetarians and vegans can consume these products seems not to enter the equation at all which, I think, works in Valsoia's favour, since blatantly stating that Valsoia is vegan-friendly might turn some people off. For some reason, people get freaked out when they hear that a food is vegan (heaven forbid!).
- Misura: They seem to be another health-oriented company, many of whose products happen to be vegan. You can find their products in specialty stores even in Montreal; as a matter of fact, I have their egg- and dairy-free cookies every day in my espresso. Watch out, though, those of you who avoid honey, as they do use honey in the recipe. In Italy, I bought their soy crackers and vegan, apricot-filled croissants.
I guess that's about it. I'm happy to be home, and I am still re-adapting to having a few small meals a day, since, in Italy, I got pretty used to having breakfast, a big lunch, and a big dinner with, of course, some snacks in between. I also have lost my sweet tooth--scandalous, I know! There were very few vegan dessert options in Italy, other than fruit and fruit salads, so I got accustomed to eating lots of fruit, and I had ice cream only twice. It's probably for the better, though. Maybe that's part of the reason why I lost six pounds while in Italy; yep, people usually go to Italy and gain weight, though I lost some, living on a diet composed mainly of grilled vegetables, fresh pastas, and lots of love. Salute!
Vegan in Suburbia