Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuscany Welcomes Vegetarians

Rooted in its history of hunting and curing, traditional Tuscan cuisine is very meat-oriented. The most famous local dishes almost always include some form of animal by-products. For those who like meat and cheese, Tuscan food is heaven but for those who are vegetarians or vegans it must certainly seem like a major turn off. Yet, it is worth mentioning that Tuscany’s farm-based culinary tradition does include beans, many types of cereals, like spelt and barley, as well as a great variety of vegetables. So even in the past, finding a way to eat without meat was quite possible –  in fact peasants certainly didn’t have the “luxury” of eating meat very often.

One of the most well-known Tuscan dishes is called “ribollita” which literally means re-boiled. This is basically a vegetable soup which is re-cooked with leftover bread. The concept is reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon tradition of stuffing (also conceived to make use of stale bread). The result is a hearty and tasty winter dish that can satisfy both vegetarians and meat eaters. Other types of soups are plentiful in typical Tuscan cooking, although not all are really vegetarian. However, by making a few adjustments to traditional recipes this problem can be resolved. In fact, today there is a new trend on the rise to include official vegetarian offerings on restaurant menus and in local gourmet shops. Whether this shift is based on commercial interests, an increase in health awareness or a growing number of vegetarians remains debatable, but at least the result is that now vegetarians who live in or visit Tuscany can find a wider selection of foods to enjoy, putting them almost on a par with their meat-eating counterparts.

Cities like Florence are seeing a dramatic rise in vegetarian restaurants and food shops, you can even find vegan bakeries. Here are some of the most well known eateries for those looking to avoid meat:

Il Vegetariano  (Via delle Ruote 30r) – offers a great blend of traditional Tuscan offerings “revisited” and a contemporary cuisine with a personal flair.

Brac (Via Vaggellai 18r) – a bookshop dedicated to modern art that has expanded to become a trendy dining venue with a vegetarian and vegan menu that varies based on seasonal produce.

Il Sedano Allegro (Via Farini – on the corner of Piazza Sant’Ambrogio) – this stylish restaurant, located in an area bustling with restaurants, has been in business since 1990 offering excellent vegetarian cuisine.

A Casa Mia (Piazza Ghiberti 5r) and Cuculia (Via dei Serragli 3r) – both offer a quality vegetarian selection.

Dolce Vegan (Via San Gallo 92r) - is a bakery that also sells a variety of vegan foods and gourmet products.

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