Vegan Sicily travel guide

IMG_3267Sicily is a well-known foodie paradise but not a place many would label as particularly vegan-friendly. But not only are there vegan and vegetarian places in all the towns we visited, but most menus clearly listed vegan options or adapted what they had on request, with no fuss! It is without doubt one of the most accommodating places for a vegan in Europe, probably just pipped by Berlin, however what Sicily has in it’s favour is the emphasis on traditional food, not just relying on international cuisine that is more commonly vegan. Here’s a round-up of my eight fabulous days of eating and drinking.Siracusa

I was most excited about having arancini – Sicily’s traditional risotto balls – which are hard to find vegan versions of, apart from at Just F.A.B., the vegan Italian food bus in Hackney where I went on my birthday last year.  So without hesitation our first stop in Siracusa was ArancinaGlutenFree. Four of eleven options are vegan and are all freshly handmade by the wisened proprietor. I had the brocollini special: creamy and gooey rice packed around fresh tenderstem broccoli in the centre. Delicious! Another day we made a packed lunch for visiting Cava Grande del Cassible. This time I had the Italian-style which packed a punch of garlicky, spicy goodness around a potato dumpling centre, and the parmagiana – a tasty blend of aubergine, tomato and potato dumplings in creamy risotto.

Caseificio Borderi on the edge of the market is notorious for freshly made sandwiches and therefore constantly crowded. Despite every sandwich we saw being created was piled with layers of meat and cheese the enthusiastic cook was not phased by my veganism and made me the freshest, most epic sandwich I’ve ever had. Photos cannot do it justice but here’s the 4-1-1: sundried tomatoes then lettuce, squeezes of fresh orange and lemon, a shake of dried oregano from the sprig, mammoth smashed olives, big fat fresh tomatoes, a dollop of grapefruit jam, a drizzle of mouth-watering olive oil and lastly some thinly sliced fresh orange. The cook then looked up proudly and said “you like chillies for finish?”. Eh yes! Definitely worth seeking out. Note, it’s closed on Sundays so don’t be disappointed!

Dinner was at Putia on Via Roma which was constantly busy but can’t be booked in advance. I was so excited when I saw that the whole menu had all vegan dishes clearly labelled. After some deliberation I went for the pasta con i tenerumi – soup with Italian vegetables and pasta – and the caponata – a traditional Sicilian stew of aubergine, tomato, capers and olives. Both were delicious and gave me a fantastic introduction to how vegan-friendly Sicily is.

The next day we tried to go to vegetarian Le Comari Inn for late lunch but it was sadly closed. Instead we opted for Mokrito near the Aretusa fountain. This self-proclaimed ‘fast casual food’ joint serves pizza, salads, pastas and burritos. Some salads are vegan and the vegetariana pizza, which I went for, comes without cheese. It was piled high with grilled veg on a tasty base. Not an outstanding venue but decent options for all diets with great outdoor seating for people watching.

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After a couple of aperitifs (be aware of just how many snacks you get in some places with wine or cocktails at aperitif o’clock…) we headed to famed vegan restaurant MOON. We shared a couple of antipastis: black bean nachos with guacamole and salsa and raw pumpkin carpaccio topped with Avola almond cheese, then two mains: curry of soy steaks with coconut milk and tofu and pistachio gratin with Nero d’Avola cream. Everything was melt in your mouth delicious, apart from the carpaccio which was rather bland – and also too large a portion, even between two. I was gutted that I didn’t have space for dessert (damn those aperitifs…) as the coconut cheesecake sounded simply divine. If you want creative vegan food then definitely check out MOON.

Noto

The next day, following our trip to Cava Grande, we stopped in Noto. I was sad to discover that the alleged best gelato shop in town, Constanzo, has no vegan option but I was super happy to find panelleflat Sicilian chickpea fritters, a bit like potato scones. Being Scottish, when the option to have this carby snack inside a roll was presented the answer was instantly yes! And whilst it put me in a food coma for the rest of the drive I’d totally recommend tiny Rosticerria Palermitana di Andrea nestled nearby Chiesa San Domenico for snacks.

Agriturismo, near Modica

Late afternoon we arrived at our idyllic agriturismo (farmhouse stay), Il Granaio. I’d told them I’m vegan beforehand but was still surprised by the four courses of 100% vegan, rustic home cooking that the owner’s mamma made me that evening. Firstly, an antipasti plate with cheese-free pizza, grilled aubergines drizzled with balsamic vinegar and homemade olive oil, cous cous and mixed vegetables. Followed by egg-free pasta perfectly cooked al dente, the way it should be, with capers and fresh, tasty tomatoes. The secondo was breadcrumbed mushroom served with grilled courgettes and side salad. I’m not usually a mushroom fan but this dish was succulent and flavoursome. Dessert was a big bowl of juicy strawberries – a refreshing end to a delightful meal.


The next morning I was overwhelmed by breakfast which included soya yoghurt, soya milk and even homemade vegan cake alongside the usual spread! It’s amazing to get such accommodating service and it shows how important hospitality and food are in Sicily.

Scicli

After letting breakfast settle we drove to another baroque town, Scicli. We didn’t have any plans however upon parking we were greeted by an enthusiastic shop owner who insisted we go inside for food. I was apprehensive as didn’t know if they would try and feed me non-vegan options but they managed to understand my “io sono vegano” and his wife brought me scaccia –  a traditional aubergine in flat bread snack which was totally delicious. Tristan was fed arancini followed by cannoli (a traditional creamy pastry dessert) and I was presented with fruity homemade berry sorbet. Such an unexpected but pleasant stop! Tummies full (again) we bid the friendly couple goodbye and wandered around this beautiful town of ancient architecture and hip bars, shops and eateries.
After a brief trip to beach town Sampieri we returned to Sicili for a light bite. Several places were still not open so we stopped at Cosmopolitan Food and Drink on Via Francesco Mormino Penna, a simple unassuming shop selling piadinas – traditional flatbread sandwiches. We weren’t expecting anything special but we’d forgotten that Italians really know how to do sandwiches! My rusticana was packed full of freshly sliced and grilled vegetables and oozed with flavour. Another day, another great meal.

Chiaramonte Gulfi

Wine tasting was high on our agenda so we took a gorgeous drive across the region to one of the best known local vineyards, Locanda Gulfi which specialises in the Nero d’Avola grape. We enjoyed our five glasses of wine (samples!) over a sublime two course lunch where the chef was imaginative with the vegan options he created on the spot. To start a thick, creamy fava bean soup served with the best selections of bread of the trip. This was only slightly pipped by the main of a blend of grains topped with basil infused vegetables. Light but filling, this was high-class cuisine with brilliant vegan options – often rare back home.

That evening we decided to stay local and despite the agriturismo being in the rural countryside we we were lucky that a five minute walk away is Torre Palezzelle, a grand castle-like building that houses a restaurant and pizzeria. Despite the a la carte menu being a little pricey the pizza menu was exceptionally cheap and soon the place was full of local families and couples have gone out of their way to dine here, on a Wednesday night that shows how good it is. None of the starters were vegan but they made us a grilled vegetable plate to share on request (for only €4) and then I had the vegetarian pizza that came without cheese. Thin with fluffy crust and full of veg – I could’ve eaten it ten times over!


Modica

The following day our hosts made us vegan heart-shaped brownies for our anniversary breakfast. Such a sweet touch!


We headed to Modica and did a very thorough reccy of almost every chocolate shop in town – and there are a lot of chocolate shops in this town famed for Aztec-style, usually vegan,  grainy chocolate. My favourite was Il Modicano, a 100% organic and vegan chocolate producer, where we sampled at least ten different varieties of their unique chocolate and saw the production line in action. Other highlights include Sicily’s oldest chocolate factory Antica Dolceria Bonajuto where we sampled a heavenly hot chocolate and Motycafé where we bought chocolate covered coffee beans.

We worked off some chocolate by climbing to a vantage point in Modica Alta, the warren of streets and houses that clings to one of the hills the city is built on. After descending we headed to Osteria dei Sapori Perduti – a bustling trattoria. The menu, translated in several languages, listed ingredients for every dish making it easy for me to find suitable options – of which there were several, including many pulse-based dishes. I opted for lolli: egg-free cavatieddi pasta in a broth of broad beans, onion, celery and tomato, and we shared a mammoth tomato salad. There was even one vegan dessert: lemon frost, a sorbet-style pudding. There is actually one vegan place in Modica called Singola but it’s on the outskirts so wasn’t as easy for us to get to.

Ragusa

With bellies full of food and bags full of chocolate we headed to Ragusa, made famous by Inspector Montalbano. We started in Superiore – the more modern and populated part of town – passing vegan restaurant Vegania but having already eaten and it being closed for the afternoon we didn’t stop in. Approaching historic Ibla from Superiore is stunning as you see how Ibla is built on to the hill, snaking it’s way round in a fairytale fashion. Once in Ibla, we took in more breathtaking architecture before rewarding ourselves with some aperitifs nearby Duomo of San Giorgio.

After wandering around the pretty Giardino Ibleo, we decided to try Quattro Gatti for dinner. They were so busy that they couldn’t seat us until 9.30pm so we slunk off for one more cocktail. Another very traditional trattoria, with small cavernous rooms and happy Italians enjoying dinner, we soon knew why this place was so packed. I started with fava bean soup followed by pasta alla Norma, without the cheese (there were several other dishes that could easily be veganised). Both dishes were fresh and filling – a perfect end to our anniversary.

Catania

The next morning we bid farewell to our lovely agriturismo (laiden with homemade olive oil and marmalade) and set off for Sicily’s second city. We started with lunch at vegetarian cafe Millefoglie. Ten dishes are written daily on a blackboard with at least two vegan and more adaptable. We were lucky to get a seat as this place is very popular with locals. I had the vegan pumpkin curry which was rich and creamy. There were vegan desserts available but as per usual I was far too full to even consider them!

In the afternoon after walking round the main sites we took a pit stop at busy wine bar Razmataz, where the menu was largely vegetarian. Before dinner we went to some cool bars including craft beer bar Buatta and trendy Internetteria on buzzy lane Via Penninello – most definitely a hotspot for young, hip Catanians.

T had tried to throw me off the vegan scent by telling me that dinner wasn’t anywhere I’d heard of so I was super excited when we arrived at La Cucino dei Coloroi – one of Catania’s top veggie haunts. Most of the menu in this stylish restaurant was vegan and I subsequently wanted to eat it ALL! We each went for a mixed plate of four dishes so we could sample lots between us: cabbage arancini, millet balls, panelle, brown pasta with fava beans, pea and mint, tofu with tomato sauce, fennel and  greens, breaded seitan, spiced greens and baked potatoes. It was all magnificent! We followed it up with the almond cake with chocolate sauce and an almond pudding – I finally had space for dessert! 

The next day, slightly worse for ware after sampling Catania’s buzzing nightlife scene (and their one euro shots…) we explored the tropical Giardino Bellini – a tribute to composer Vincenzo Bellini (more than just a fruity cocktail) – as well as the food markets where we got treats to take home – almonds, capers, pistachio pesto and dried chillies for just a few pounds. Bargain! Lunch was another random but delightful sandwich stop.

In the evening we headed up Via Santa Filomena – a quaint little street peppered with trendy eateries. We stopped for refreshments at FUD – a packed out joint that was popular for their mammoth burgers and pizzas (later the queue was all the way down the street) – then headed for dinner at Polpetteria, a meatball restaurant which had a vegan option of two balls of chickpea and two of seitan. The latter were much more succulent and flavoursome but it was still a lovely meal, with potatoes and green veg for sides.

Having eyed up the pizzas again when we passed FUD, we decided that would be an ideal location for our last meal the following day. At only €5.50 my simple marinara pizza was not only a bargain but fed me for two meals. It was the perfect ending to a fantastic foodie adventure.

And we made sure we didn’t come back empty-handied, stocking. Up at local stores and the airport before coming. Back so we can keep reliving the Sicilian dreams. Well, until the pasta and wine runs out anyway!

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