Saturday, May 30, 2015

Vegan in Rome, Italy: Top 5 Vegan Restaurants in Rome

Being vegan in Italy is quite amazing, actually. With some of the freshest food I have tasted, the best wine and coffee, and a true love for cuisine, this is the best place to be. Milan and Rome are the best cities to go for a huge variety of vegetarian and vegan food. Supposedly there are 15% vegetarians in Italy, which is a massive number. True or not, they do an amazing job to incorporate vegan products everywhere, and you won't have any problem in the big cities. 

Now for Rome, this is one of my favorite cities of all time. It looks like Paris a lot of the time with a river running through the city and beautiful architecture scattered through tight alleyways and historic sites and ruins everywhere you turn. Except, the people are much nicer to strangers and travelers. Which is pretty fantastic. Even the ones who speak pretty terrible Italian (us). The main city has tons of English speaking people, but if you steps about 2 feet away from the main Roman streets, some people don't know a word of English, but will work with your hand signals and laughs :). For most of these restaurants Sunday, Monday and Tuesday many restaurants are closed. Call ahead to make sure they are open because everyone is on 'Italian time' which is not as strict as opening/closing days and hours in America. Make a reservation to be safe too! Finally, Italy doesn't really use Yelp, so check Foursquare and Trip Advisor's websites to find different restaurants and the hours are all WRONG on these sites and they all conflict to make it even more fun, so be careful with that!

I had some of the best food ever here, with tons of surprising finds. Here are my top 5 restaurant picks from Rome:


  • Romeow Cat Bistrot
Romeow is a vegan restaurant with 6 friendly kitties running around your feet as you eat. It's basically my dream come true. The food is a bit fancy and small, but good. I really enjoyed the quesadilla and the tiramisu (only served on the weekend) was phenomenal. The decor of the place is really cute with nice art and fun runways for the cats near the ceiling. They are well taken care of and run around gleefully as you enjoy a glass of wine and some fancy food. You must have a reservation, so don't make the mistake of just showing up. They speak English, so you can give them a call or email even the same day to get a seat. 




  • So What?
So What? was the big shock of the trip. Odd reviews on Trip Advisor said this place has a "dive bar feel" which I completely disagree with. They place punk music and have old movie posters on the wall, but the place is bright and has a nice staff that speaks perfect English. The food was way fancier than I thought it would be. I expected it to be a vegan fast-food joint, but instead they had fantastic seitan pasta dishes like a Shepards pie and a fettuccine seitan dish that were super tasty. The guy paired it with a red wine and they had a large selection of nice beers and wine. We finished off the night with the "Roller Ball" Cake which was a vanilla double layer cake with a creamy center. It was the most moist cake I've ever had and was super tasty. We truly enjoyed this place and highly recommend it. The prices were really good too, with just about 8 euro per plate! 


  • Ops!
We ran into a TON of pay-by-weight restaurants in Italy, and Ops was one of the best. It is a pretty high-priced place (about $15 for 1/2 a pound of food) but the quality was fantastic. This is an all vegan lunch spot with a variety of foods including frittata, gnocchi, gluten free pasta, quinoa dishes, cous cous, salads, and more. It's healthy, but really flavorful and interesting. 
  • Il Margutta Ristorarte
Il Margutta is a vegetarian and vegan buffet place that serves "brunch" aka lunch starting at noon and dinner. They are open 7 days a week (pretty rare!) and serve a different menu each day of the week. Everything is clearly labeled and it's about half and half vegan/vegetarian. On the weekend it's $25 per person all-you-can-eat, but on the weekdays they offer a $15 per person deal where you can put as much as you can on ONE plate, plus a soup, salad and dessert. I think the weekday is a better deal unless you're going to really go for another plate. I couldn't finish my one plate, so the weekdays were a better deal. The food is a mix of cuisines, but they have a lot of classic European dishes reminded Lucas of traditional French cooking, and it was very healthy and flavorful as always. 

This is an ALL vegan pastry shop a few metro stops out of the center of Rome. It's worth the trip and the sweets are fantastic! It's located in a small town and the chef doesn't speak a word of English. But just point to things that look good and you'll be fine! We had a fantastic cream filled donut, a bag of 5 croissants, sugar coated fried crepe thingy, a sweet twisted bread, and two cappuccino di soias for 10 euro! I know this guy makes even more amazing things all the time that weren't there at the time including cannoli, chocolate croissants, and more. Everything is extremely sugary and sweet, but definitely worth the trip out there! He's super nice and took our photo at his store. Check him out!!



Finally, there are tons of soy gelato places, cafes, and a ton more restaurants we couldn't try. Check out Trip Advisor, FourSqaure, or just Google to find different stores and options, I guarantee you are near something amazing at all times. The farmers markets, like the daily market at campo di fiori sell the most amazing produce including my favorite, the tomatoes (pomodoro) that are the best in the world!




Friday, May 22, 2015

Milan Expo 2015 - Highlights

Milano Expo Highlights:

Food:
Sadly, the sustainable food theme didn’t really run deep at Milano Expo 2015. Italy’s meat and cheese frenzy still ran the show even when the exhibits claimed that not everyone can eat meat for us to all live in a sustainable harmony, and a more sustainable diet varies by season and has a bit more veggies than a giant pig leg or Mc Donald’s bacon burger. The hypocrisy was evident, but no one seemed to care. We still found a few hidden gems that we frequented every day or twice a day. The food quality in Italy is superb and Italians know cibo buono. The Expo, as usual, is more of a place to show national pride and bring out the traditional food for the world to taste.

On our last day at the expo, we made the ritual stop at Illy Café for the Maroccino Freddo di soia (2.5 euro only! Which only got better every day and is in the Coffee cluster) and farinata the cheesy-tasting chickpea pancake (5 euro each in the Eataly area). Finally, we ordered Prosecco from a place that had stinky severed pig legs in it, but it was worth it for the wine. We also found a hidden and healthy place behind the ever-so-sustainable McDonalds called Juice Bar. They had a soy yogurt parfait, chia pudding with fruit, salads and smoothies (centrifuge). The guy working there knew perfect English, is a vegetarian, and was fun to talk to about Italian food and the Expo.



Top 3 Pavilions at the Expo
We saw a lot of pavilions including our favorites: Germany, Azerbaijan, France, Japan, Estonia, and Austria. Germany, Azerbaijan, and Japan were our top three picks for the Expo and here is why:

Azerbaijan had a multi-level glass and wood structure with a three inside that went through three stories. There were many interactive areas in the exhibit that talked about their food and culture. They even had a place to put your hand in a box and you could look down at your hand while it turned into the Matrix/Tron. Not sure what the meaning is here, but they say it’s because Azerbaijan is the future.


Germany had an interactive exhibit where you could learn about –gasp- how Germany is actively trying to improve the future of food using different techniques and technologies. This was basically the only exhibit dedicated to showing off their food-revolution rather than sneaking in promotional sponsors and propaganda about traveling to said city.




Japan had the most interesting and interactive pavilion in the Expo. It took 50 minutes to get through the entire pavilion which included three areas with very artistic and creative ways of showing off Japanese art and technology. They also had an app that could be used in the exhibits but was not needed for most parts. The two highlights were the 2nd and 3rd areas. The 2nd area was a room that was completely black with screens on every side. The floor was covered in white lillypads sticking out of the floor that they would project onto. When we walked in the walls had dancing images that looked like they were floating and the floor and lillypads had stars and white spots flying by in the darkness.


The 3rd area was the “future restaurant” where everyone sat down at tables with screens embedded in the table’s glass with touchscreens that reacted to the chopsticks. They did a game to pick out a dish and season and show how Japan’s food is sustainable and varied by season. 




Honorable Mentions:

  • Slow Food
  • France
  • Austria
  • U.K.

Things NOT to see, IMHO:

  • Italian Pavilion - This usually has huge lines, so don't bother if it's huge. At the end of the night around 8pm (20:00) you can walk in. Enjoy the "chaos room" wth?
  • U.S. - Sponsored by Walgreens. Not super exciting. 
  • China - Semi-interesting, but kind of propaganday
  • The clusters (fruit & veg, chocolate, etc.) - this is where they put the smaller country pavilions where not much is going on. It's worth a little look, but most of them just have products that they sell in their country, and it doesn't have anything to do with a cluster of food types. Sri Lanka = fruit & veg?


Shanghai 2011 VS. Milan 2015 Expo
Why Milan is not as good as the Shanghai world expo
Shanghai had local cultural ambassadors for each pavilion so you could meet someone from every country. This fair doesn't have that, and 99% of all people are from Italy. There are a few exceptions like Japan and France, so that was a nice touch.

Why Milan is better than the Shanghai world expo


This expo was a lot better than Shanghai because there were a lot less people. Shanghai had 500,000 people a day, and this was a LOT less than that. It's still busy, but at least you can see most of the exhibits in a few days without 7 hour lines to see a big screen TV. Also, there is so much good food to try here, so it beats out the Chinese expo for tastiness too.


Bio Sound System Vegetarian and Vegan Cafe - Venice Vegan Food

Bio Sound System Vegetarian and Vegan Café is a small vegetarian and vegan restaurant on Lido island (which is a short boat ride from Venice). We took the 1 waterbus to Lido and walked for about a minute to see this hidden place. This is the ONLY vegan restaurant in the Venice area and the food was quite good. Don’t bother going to get sad pasta marinara in Venice or the cheese-less pizza with a few puny mushrooms on top. These aren’t vegan options, but bird food. Feed it to the pigeons and head over to Lido for a real meal.

Bio Sound System’s name was a bit confusing at first, but the owner explained it was a meaning about a bio (biological) sound (balanced) system (body). The food options were pretty varied but included many traditional Italian pasta dishes, seitan piccata, and Indian. We started with a mix of all the appetizers that included hummus, pate, and bruschetta. Next, we had the seitan piccata half with capers and half with asparagus, and dal with wine, and for dessert we had the chocolate and carrot/ginger cakes. Yes, we are the fat Americans eating everything…but it’s okay because it was great food at the only option on the tiny island.



90% of the items are vegan, the rest have some cheese. The staff speak English and are very helpful and nice. There is no service fee and tipping required like many Venice locations, and the crowds are far away so you won't die in a sea of insanity. If that's what you're actually looking for, definitely try out San Marco's square.

Venice, Italy

On our 4th day in Italy, we took a train to Venice. It was on-and-off rain, but it was still a great day. We started with a water taxi ride down the Grand Canal that runs through the middle of the island. The city is old and beautiful, and a ride through the canal is only 7 Euro each. It lasts an hour and passes many of the top sites. We traveled to Lido for food (see review of Bio Sound System Vegetarian and Vegan Café). 

The city is beautiful, but one day is enough to see the town. The place is overrun by American and Chinese tour groups, so a quick trip was plenty. Walking through the tight alleys where our small umbrella couldn’t even fit and tight corners and alleys that ended in a drop off into the water were the highlights. The town is confusing to navigate through so GPS was extremely handy because we took many circular routes. Rather than taking a gondola ride or getting smothered to death at San Marco by loud, old, slow tour groups or young kids with selfie sticks, try taking a simple walk to see that Italy kitty or wine glasses to-go for .50 euro! 





Alhambra Cafe Review - Milan, Italy

On our second day in Milan, we ran around the city getting sim cards and amazing food before the expo. This time we tried Alhambra Café, a vegan restaurant near Chinatown in Milano. Each vegan place is mostly a weighed-food place that also gives free bread and tea. Alhambra had many homemade looking dishes ranging from Italian food like lasagna to seitan sausage and kale to dal. We piled on the food and they heated it up in their little oven. We sat down for a bread basket and hummus already set out. We noticed they didn’t change out the bread when someone would leave the table (this was for the extra probiotics needed for digestion). The food was amazing and we had a huge variety of healthy and savory dishes all for about $30 for two.
Best dishes:
  • ·         Seitan sausage and kale dish
  • ·         Cheesy lasagna
  • ·         Eggplant lasagna
  • ·         Samosas
  • ·         Thinly sliced potatoes
The girl at the counter spoke great English and was able to help us pick the items out. This was our favorite restaurant in Milan and it is highly recommended! 








Milan Highlights

I was told to skip Milan by other travelers, but the Expo was there, so we decided to go. Much to our surprise, the city was fantastic, the people were nice and helpful, the food was varied and really tasty, and getting soy pistachio gelato for 2 euro at 11:30 at night and taking a stroll along with the hundreds of locals also out is just fun. The coffee is so cheap and so much better it will make you cry. 

We stayed near Duomo, so Primus was down the street and offered vegan croissants and cappuccino di soya. For two cappuccinos and two croissants it was about $6 and about 100x better than Starbucks. Gelato from Frozen was on the same street and open late. A three scoop (as big as my fist) gelato with three flavors was only about $4 and the best ice cream ever made. We could also walk into many other restaurants that are all pretty veg-friendly and offer nice options. I thought it would only be Italian food, but we barely ate any pasta or other traditional Italian foods. The city and food are diverse.

There are tons of restaurants to walk by and people to see. People talk loud and look happy, they stay up late and make-out in the street, they drink wine or coffee at every meal, and they are quick about it. The city constantly reminds me of France, but the culture and food is so different. I loved the city and Milano.

Best restaurant: Alhambra Café
Best gelato: Frozen

Best coffee/croissant: Primus


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Milan World Expo 2015 - Day 1












We arrived at the Milan World Expo 2015 yesterday. Compared to the Shanghai World Expo in 2011, the park is less crazy and the fair is a bit less over-the-top - but that's not a bad thing. There are no crazy lines on the weekdays at least, and at night the air is cool and the crowds go away so there are no lines and you can basically walk into any exhibit. 

On Monday, we went to the Coffee cluster and toured the Illy sponsored area. Next, the UK pavilion which had a globe structure with lights that showed live activity of a bee hive in England. The Austria pavilion was a forest with cool air, but not much to see. Germany was the best of the day with special cards that you could walk around with and put under different projectors to get language-appropriate videos and information. The American pavilion was much better than in Shanghai because it was *less* sponsored, but the food truck area that had country music was just a bit embarrassing and the garden wall is not built yet..

For food, there was a massive variety. Every country has their own food, along with sponsored areas like Eataly and Illy, then there are "clusters" which show off different important food groups from fruit to chocolate. Eataly had amazing Farinata (a chickpea and oil pancake), Illy had amazing Marocchino, there was gyoza, and quinoa bowls too.