As October marked International Vegetarian Day, it is a timely occasion to give a shout out to those meat-free or meat-limiting among you, in the form of a veggie travel guide to Puglia – the ‘heel’ of the Italian boot for those of you who had doubts!
Italy is globally renowned for its cuisine and culture of good food and social eating. But is this exclusive of vegetarian dining? Despite not making the Guardian’s suggested vegetarian-friendly destinations, I am convinced that you can visit Puglia and leave with satisfied taste buds without compromising on your dietary principles. Although less cosmopolitan than, say, Florence and Milan (where you’ll be spoilt for choice with vegetarian, vegan, and even ‘raw’ eateries) with a little determination (and persistent reminding that no, I still do not want a steak) I was able to discover some local delicacies, hidden restaurants and prepare my own amazing and meat-free meals in Puglia. So, for the veggie lovers among you, here are my top tips:
In general, pizzerias can be a great choice, offering variety and interest in the vegetarian topping selections. Try the classic Margheritas, Ottolanas, Normas… You can often select a certain pizza and ask for the meat to be left off, or request a combination of veggie-friendly toppings. I’m sure it’s acceptable to eat pizza every night if you mix up the toppings a little each time, right?
Local markets! Most Pugliese towns have a local fresh produce market. This is a must for getting the best quality fruit, vegetables and cheeses at very attractive prices. Just be sure to stay aware, as bustling market scenes do bring with them the chance of pickpocketing/minor thefts. Keep your money out of sight until you’ve settled a price with your chosen vendor, and don’t be afraid to barter if you’re lucky enough to be confident in the language!
Verdure grigliate – whilst this is essentially, yes, a plate of grilled vegetables, it’s definitely not one to rule out immediately. Stay with me here. If you’re in the right place, the vegetables will be gorgeously glazed in the simplest of garnishes: a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some fresh basil or mint. This simplicity is testament to the quality of fresh produce. If you fear this may leave you with a stomach that rumbles minutes later, ask for their bread bowls (that is, if they haven’t already offered!). Sometimes there is nothing better than some warm, crusty bread, drowned in the juice of Puglia’s famous olives.
La Puccia – this is a renowned delicacy in Puglia and though traditionally filled with cured meat of some sort, most places allow you to opt for the veggie fillings instead. Think sun-dried tomatoes, mushroom, pesto, grilled vegetables… all in a warm crispy exterior. Never has a meat-free sandwich been such a challenge to finish – this one earns definite points for its substantiality.
Plan ahead and take some supplies. When hunger strikes and you don’t have the time to be scouring shelves for a quick bite to grab-and-go, take your own travel-friendly snacks. It can even be worth taking some vitamins and supplements if you’re going for a long time – a couple of small precautions could save you big time – don’t underestimate the importance of looking after your health abroad. Most foods will be perfectly fine to take in your cabin bag so you can save money and time by just thinking ahead a little.
Brush up on your food vocabulary – this can save you when wanting to sample the most locally sourced and authentic eateries, which often don’t provide English menus. By knowing what you’re looking out for, you can order with confidence and banish the fear of unknowingly ordering a sprinkling of pancetta on your dish!
So, provided you take a little extra thought and are prepared to experience the odd mishap, Puglia can be just as delicious a trip without the meat!