Friday, September 30, 2011

Arrivederci Italia

On my last day in Venezia I visited the Rialto Market. It's been running in the same spot for about 800 years. So you know, just a little bit of history. This 1kg bucket of figs was only 2 euro. 2 euro! I found a quiet spot to sit & devoured most of them straight away.
From Venezia I caught the train back to Milano, where I'm staying with a friend for my last 2 nights in Italy. Yesterday I wandered around the city, looking at shops mainly. About 2pm I was getting very tired & I spied a gelato bar. I haven't managed to find any soy gelato since Roma, but there was something about this place. I totally scored - not only did it have soy gelato, but a range of fruit sorbets as well. I chose Cinnamon Soy Gelato & Fig Sorbet. I had no idea something could taste so good. The fig sorbet was possibly the yummiest thing I have ever eaten. So fresh & creamy & just plain delicious!
The shop looks quite plain from the outside - I couldn't even find a name for it anywhere on the window.
My final food experience was dinner last night with my friend. Of course I had to have one last pizza, and I decided on the Porcini without mozzarella. So good - simple & perfect.
So, that's the end of my Italian food adventures for now, but I'm already planning my next trip back here, so watch this space.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

So nice I went there twice

Check it out. Second visit to Gam Gam in 3 days.

Israeli appetisers again - this time a slightly different selection. From bottom left up we have: Carrot & raisin salad again, falafel (drool...), new choice - marinated eggplant, another new choice - marinated zucchini & onion salad, tomato salad again, chilli sauce again, hummus again (double drool...), chickpea & celery salad, and finally something else new that for the life of me I couldn't place. It was something really familiar, so familiar I can't even name it. Something silly like onion or apple, something I eat almost every day. I blame my holiday brain - I spent nearly the whole meal trying to puzzle it out & forgot to ask the waiter (I was also a little scared just in case they looked at me stupidly and said 'ummm, it's potato.'
Love you Gam Gam, until next time, arrivederci.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Italian desserts

Apart from Il Margutta, the other main reason I was looking forward to Roma was for the gelato.

As you can imagine, the stuff is EVERYWHERE in Italy. And almost none of it is vegan friendly. But, I had done my research & had found out about Il Gelatone weeks before. It was our last day in Roma and I was worried we wouldn't make it. Thank god we did.
Look at it - heaven in a cup. They have a clearly labelled section of soy gelato, with about 12 flavours. I exercised extreme self-control & chose just 2 - coconut & pistachio. Oh. My. God. You must go there. 'Nuff said.
After dinner in Trastevere my friend S was feeling like some more gelato & we happened across this place near the ancient quarter. I could not believe my luck when I realised that Il Dolce Sorriso had 4 or 5 soy gelato flavours! What are the odds!
This dripping mess is apple & chocolate. What a combination. Wow.
Finally, to finish is more of stuff I enjoyed throughout Sicilia - granite. Almost every gelato bar (and many cafes) serve granite throughout Italy, but I have found it to be quite different away from Sicily. On the mainland it's more what we call a slushie - basically superfine crushed ice with a heap of syrup. I'm not as much of a fan as the syrups are usually quite sickly sweet.

Just check out the colour on this strawberry granite I had in Florence - that's pure sugar right there :-)
Not long to go in Italia now, so can't say for sure whether there will be any more food adventures. Next stop - Australia - followed closely by New Zealand. So stay tuned.

Self catering in Italy part 2

A very short post, following from my earlier one about self catering. We didn't have kitchen facilities in Roma, which was a shame, but in Firenze we had a cute 1 bedroom apartment with a stovetop in the kitchen. Being in Tuscany, all we needed to do to ensure a delicious dinner was pop into the supermarket next door & pick up a few essentials.

This is mixed vegetable pasta with cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, green olives & fresh rocket. Served with a dash of balsamic & some salt/pepper. I think it's one of the best meals I have ever eaten - and that includes the leftovers I ate cold as a salad the next day for lunch. Ahh, Tuscany, I have fallen in love...
Slightly less fresh and a little less tasty were these soy desserts I picked up in Roma. Seeing the '100% vegetable' label on anything pretty much guaranteed I would give it a try. These were supposed to be some kind of creme caramel with toffee sauce. The reality was a slightly greyish looking blob of stuff which looked extremely unappetising.
They also had a strong soy flavour, barely disguised by the huge amount of sugar. All I can say is, when in Rome, don't go there.

Some more vegan treats in Italy

Another couple of weeks have past and they have been filled with food, as you would expect in Italy.

First up we have my first proper vegan experience of Italy. I was eagerly awaiting Roma as I knew there were a few vegetarian restaurants and cafes scattered about. We went to Il Margutta on the first night. Most of the produce is organic and it's all seasonal. By page one I had decided on my meal - the vegan degustation - a mini-meal of 4 courses.

First course was a trio of gazpacho - left to right - melon, green pepper & basil, and red pepper. It was accompanied by vegetable crudites & basil sorbet. So light, fresh & tasty - and such a relief after eating heavy pasta & pizza for weeks!
Second course was a small pasta dish - but it was so light I hardly noticed - this was green onion, pea & cherry tomoatoes. Simply seasoned with olive oil, salt & pepper. Perfetto.
Third course was seitan steak with a baked rosemary potato. This was a bit of a surprise, as the rest of the menu was quite light & summery. It was still delicious though - I really love seitan and I'm too lazy to cook it at home, so I was very happy.
The final course was dessert - a trio of sorbet with fresh fruit. Left to right - passionfruit (I think with mint?), melon, and strawberry. These were delicious - strawberry was definitely my favourite. All up, a fantastic meal, and at 30 euro, not bad value, especially considering the location of the restaurant in the ritzier end of town.
Most of my meals out in Italy have consisted of making do with the pizza & pasta on the menu. On night 2 in Roma, we were too tired to walk far, so chose a small, fairly touristy, restaurant near the hotel. It was a good choice - the waiter spoke excellent English, so I was able to ask whether the pasta was made with egg easily (the penne wasn't). This is Penne Arriabiata. It had a good kick to it, but nothing that took away the awesome flavour of the fresh tomatoes. Accompanied by a free glass of sparkling wine, at 8 euro very good value.
On our last night in Roma we headed to the restaurant district - Trastevere. I actually felt like a salad, after so much pasta & bread over the previous few days. We found a very cute little restaurant with this massive mixed salad on the menu. It was exactly what I needed!
Next we have skipped a few days to Venice. There are a couple of vegetarian-friendly places in Venice, but this is the only one I have visited so far. Gam Gam is an unassuming kosher restaurant in the former Jewish ghetto.
I went with the recommendation of previous vegan diners & asked for the Israeli appetisers without egg. This feast is what was delivered to my table - left to right: Spiced carrots & raisins, felafel (one of the best I've ever tasted), chickpea & celery salad, tomato salad, marinated mushrooms, chickpea & pepper salad, hummus (so smooth & so good), hot chilli sauce, and baba ghanoush.
This meal was divine. After nearly 4 weeks of Italian food I was so happy to eat more like I do at home. And the best bit was the produce is super fresh - we're in Italy after all. I really hope I can go back to Gam Gam, but more importantly, if you're ever in Venice, make sure you find it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Eating out in Italy

I knew before I arrived in Italy that my dining-out choices were going to be limited. I wasn't too worried, as my budget doesn't really stretch to lots of expensive meals anyway. But there have been a few memorable meals in the last couple of weeks.

Starting with the drinks - espresso! At home, I drink soy lattes, but soy milk isn't very big over here, so I've happily been taking advantage of the cheaper espresso option everywhere. As one friend joked - I like my coffee like my heart - bitter & black :-)
Vino - this is the house white & red from a small place we visited on our first night in Palermo. It was local & very nice. I think the small carafe cost about 5 euro.
Here we have the more refined glass of local vino bianco, watching the sun go down over the Amalfi Coast from Vivaro wine bar in Praiano. The owner, Gennaro, is very lovely, happy to chat & wouldn't let me pay for the wine. Although I think I accidentally promised to go dancing with him on Friday night...
Granita is every in Sicily, and there is no better way to cool down. I obsessively sought it out everywhere we went. Here is our first - fragola (strawberry) & limone.
Limone & menta (mint). The mint syrup in this one was too sickly sweet by the end.
This is caffe - tasted like it was made with real espresso, rather than syrup. Very strong, but it hit the spot.
Because I can't eat the pasta here (it's all fresh & made with egg), I have been eating a lot of pizza. It's usually the cheapest thing on the menu too - usually 3-5 euro for a whole pizza.

Australian pizza can never live up to the Italian stuff. I think the secret is in the tomatoes - all the sauce is made fresh each day.

This is from a small restaurant in Palermo & was listed as Boscaiola - mushrooms & tomato.
This is from a small takeaway in Agrigento - I can't remember the name but it was packed with spinach, rocket, tomatoes, olives & mushrooms. I had to get this one 'senza formaggio', but it made no difference to the flavour.
This is probably my favourite so far - a potato pizza (senza formaggio) from a tiny place in Catania. The potato pizza in Sicily (and maybe all over Italy?) is made with chips, rather than slices of potato. At first I thought it was strange, but now I'm totally sold on the idea - fried food on top of pizza is sooo good!
One thing I found out about before I arrived in Sicily was a local snack called 'Panelle' - chickpea fritters. 'Pane e panelle' (literally, bread with fritters) is a street snack - though we didn't see it served everywhere we visited. These little pockets of deliciousness are simply chickpea flour, salt, pepper, oil & water, all deep fried to perfection & served with a squeeze of lemon. I can't wait to get home & try the recipe myself.
The best meal I have had so far was at a great bar called Re di Bastoni in Taormina. This is the vegetable platter from the antipasto menu. So much food! On the side was a fresh garden salad of lettuce, tomatoes & corn. Then there was artichokes, sundried tomatoes, eggplant & olives. The only downside were the little tomatoes, which I thought were stuffed with breadcrumbs. Unfortunately they were stuffed with some kind of fish. When I bit into one, I thought I was going to throw up. I haven't eaten meat, even by accident, for 13 years, so I was a little upset. I don't blame the bar though - I should have asked what everything was. To top off that huge platter they also gave me a basket of bread! It was a wonderful meal, washed down by a few cold beers & accompanied by a chat with the lovely bar staff Massimo & Paolo. Great evening all round.
Finally, of course there are many things I can't eat. Mostly, it doesn't bother me. But some things look so yummy, like these pretty marzipan fruits which you see all over Sicily.
And this entire cupboard of sweet pastries in Erice. Drool...
I know there are a few vegan-friendly places in Rome, including at least one proper restaurant, so stay tuned for more news from this vegan in Italy!

Self-catering in Italy

I knew once I started researching vegan eating opportunities in Italy that my choices were going to be limited. Compared to other countries, there are few vegetarian listings on sites like Happy Cow, and my search of blogs didn't uncover much.

Despite all that, I've actually been eating quite well for the last 2 weeks. I've adopted the 'keep it simple' attitude and have been using a mix of self-catering, buffet breakfasts and the occasional meal out.

In Milano, with the luxury of a full kitchen in C's apartment, we were able to prepare meals like this - penne with fresh pesto. So easy to make - we ground up some almonds & walnuts, added finely chopped garlic, a slurp of olive oil & tore up a bunch of fresh basil & some spinach leaves. Delizioso!
For breakfast (when it's not provided by the hostel) and lunch/snacks throughout the day, it's a whole heap of fruit & some almonds for protein.
Check out the price on these bananas - 60c for 5! I've been eating tons of them because they're so cheap - I'll probably have withdrawals when I get back to Australia.
In hostels with a kitchen it's easy to prepare fresh salads. The produce here is so fresh & tasty - especially the tomatoes. I have never tasted tomatoes like these in Australia. This salad is simply mixed leaves, tomatoes & chickpeas, dressed with olive oil & salt/pepper.
Not being able to afford eating out every day has actually been a great chance for me to get healthy & do a mini-detox. I don't feel deprived of anything, plus the heat over here means that eating heavier, cooked meals just isn't appetising.