Visiting Naples is a unique experience for many reasons, even if you’ve already travelled to Italy. First of all, Naples is unlike anything that you’ve ever seen – a far cry from tourist destinations like Venice or Florence, Naples has a personality and character all its own. It’s dirty, gritty, chaotic, and run-down in many places. Crossing the street is a near-death experience every time and people will try to sell you something on every street corner, with a thinly veiled air of desperation. But that, along with Naples’ majestic architecture, breath-taking seafront views, vibrant culture, and kind, helpful people, is what makes it magical.
Another unexpected perk of travelling to this wild and wonderful destination? It’s surprisingly vegan-friendly. Yes, you read that right. I first stepped off the plane with a worry that the local cuisine connoisseurs would hurl mozzarella at me if I as much as dared utter the words “no cheese”. Quite the contrary, Naples is among the easiest places I’ve eaten in the last few years. The abundance of locally grown fruit and vegetables makes all the difference – a tomato sauce is nothing like a tomato sauce in the UK, where I live. The simplicity of some Italian dishes is everything a vegan needs: the Marinara is the original pizza, born approximately fifty years before the mozzarella-topped Margherita. All it has is some tomato sauce, garlic and oregano, and if done well (which, in Naples, you can trust that it will be) it is divine.
A few words of warning when eating vegan in Naples: I hope you love espresso (also because otherwise we definitely can’t be friends), because you can forget about cappuccinos. Soya milk is nowhere to be found, so get used to having your coffee black. And by the way, coffee lovers: prepare to meet your nirvana as this is officially the coffee paradise of the world. Never and in no place on Earth have I tasted an espresso this perfect.
Also, step away from the croissants at your hotel breakfast buffet. Those are most certainly not vegan – but hey, nothing that some bread and jam can’t fix. Also, console yourself with some of the fresh fruit. Watermelon here is not like watermelon at home.
(and no, you won’t be getting soya milk here either, but please do ask – maybe if enough of us do, it will be a catalyst for change).
Pizza and pasta are your friends! Absolutely anywhere that serves these dishes can and will be vegan-friendly with a few minor adjustments. In mainstream restaurants, any vegetarian dish can be easily veganised by asking to remove the cheese (which is usually the offending ingredient), but if you want to explore the local vegan scene, you’ve got ample choice of niche restaurants.
Places to put on your vegan itinerary:
Via Duomo 238
Tucked away on the rise of the via del Duomo, this cute and quirky eatery is 100% vegan, offering delicacies such as lentil burgers, kebab wraps, burritos, and one of the tastiest salami and cheese boards I’ve ever had. The dessert menu is also a dream: I tried the orange and chocolate cake with ice cream, and it was pure delight.
Via Mezzocannone 83
This health-focused café is located near the historic centre of the city. Its philosophy goes beyond veganism to include organic food that’s locally produced – and the restaurant is also as close to zero waste as they can get, by completely eliminating all plastic (no plastic bottles or plastic cutlery) in favour of reusable materials. They also do not sell any bottled water at all – but only offer tap water free of charge. The menu changes on a daily basis, and potential visitors are encouraged to follow the restaurant’s Facebook page to stay updated.
Vico San Pietro a Majella 6
Under the motto “green thinking – better living”, this organic restaurant also has a London branch. Offering vegetarian meals that are mostly vegan, this “slow food” restaurant focuses on good-quality ingredients and artful presentation. They know the origins of everything on their menu and not only present it beautifully, but make sure every flavour is superb.
Via Partenope 1
“Go there early, the place fills up fast!” said the receptionist at our hotel – so we wasted no time. At 7.15pm we sat down at the seafront Sorbillo in via Partenope, fifteen minutes before it officially opened. And was it worth it. The delightful option named Vegana, topped with tofu mozzarella and the best tomatoes I’ve ever had, is among the best plant-based meals in all of Naples. Once again, the ingredients are what makes the difference – yet another time the words “local” and “organic” are key, as Sorbillo focuses on local foods from the region of Campania, including organically grown flour and vegetables.
Via Sedile di Porto 71
Enjoy what must certainly be the cheapest vegan meal you’ve ever had outside of your own kitchen – but also one of the most delicious. From whole-wheat pasta starters and veggie-rich sides to mouth-watering burgers and cakes, Officina Vegana is the perfect place to pop into when you’re tired from seeing the sights, and so hungry you could eat your weight in tofu – with these prices, you could! The colourful array of dishes on offer will convince any meat-eating travel companion to at least give vegan a try (you know they won’t regret it!).
…and, as a bonus…
(not a vegan restaurant but I personally guarantee that you will love it)
Via Cesare Sersale 1
Known as the “Eat Pray Love pizzeria” (yes, it was here that Liz Gilbert, and later Julia Roberts in the film version, stuffed her face in the “eat” portion of the marvellous book), this traditional pizzeria enjoys the love of both tourists and locals – and the endless queue is there to prove it. Upon arrival (no reservations available), you take a number and then wait outside with the rest of the crowd until your number is called and you’re taken into the relatively modest-looking pizzeria. There is no menu, everyone who visits knows that Da Michele only offers the margherita and the marinara – which makes it by default a vegetarian restaurant! Needless to say, the marinara is pure vegan heaven. Truly worth the hour’s queuing – if you end up going, stick it out. You won’t be sorry!
For more vegan travel, follow Vilda on Facebook
Header photo by David Camilli, all other photos by author