VeganMoFo 2017: La Passerella, Varenna

I’ve already mentioned how much I love Varenna, and that love was cemented by this vegan-friendly gelateria.  They had a “vegan gelato” sign at the door and their vegan flavours were clearly marked in the display case.  I finally got to see a couple of exciting varieties of gelato (more so than dark chocolate and raspberry) – alongside these staples they also had a bright blue bubblegum flavour and a cream and fig one. I chose the latter, plus chocolate.  It was a great combination, and the creamy and fig scoop was very creamy indeed.

The wafers were not vegan, but I can’t remember about the cones.

This gelateria is right on the main path along the water’s edge, and has a staircase on the side with a few cushions for sitting if you don’t want to wander by the lake while you tuck in.

When you’re full of ice cream, I’d recommend following in our footsteps and hopping on the ferry over to Bellagio, which is a charming little town.  Much like Varenna, it’s just a beautiful place to walk around.  This walk along the lake is particularly pretty, and gives you a real sense of how huge the lake is – we kept accidentally referring to it as the sea.

But do take the time to walk up one of the side streets uphill – it’s worth it, I promise!  Such a delightful view!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Caffe Varenna, Varenna

Last week I mentioned spending two months working in Milan and hating every second.  After that, I spent ten months working in nearby Lecco, a little town on Lake Como, and this time I loved it!  My non-Italian friends and I all kept a day trip to Varenna and Bellagio up our sleeves as a surefire way to impress our visitors from home.  I was really keen to take Dr HH there too on our day trip from Milan, and he was sufficiently impressed.

Here’s how it worked logistically: we got the train from Milan to Varenna (passing through Lecco but not stopping there), took the ferry to Bellagio, then another ferry down to Como to catch up with some old friends.  You only need an hour or two in each place.  It’s a very do-able day trip, and public transport in Italy is reliable and affordable enough to make it work.

Varenna is tiny, so there aren’t any veggie restaurants or cafes to try, and your best bet will be ordering something inherently vegan (spaghetti with tomato and basil/marinara pizza) or veganising some bruschetta, which is what I did.  Caffe Varenna had a mushroom and brie bruschetta, so I ordered it without the cheese, clarified that it should be vegan, and this is what I got.

It would have been nice to get a price cut, as I didn’t have any of that expensive cheese, but still – it was a more substantial lunch than I was expecting, and really we were paying for the view of the lake (pictured up top).

All you really need to do in Varenna is wander around and take in the view.  Between the lake and the mountains, it really is something.  Dr HH had never been to one of the Italian lakes before, and he said he’d never been anywhere quite like it.  Just the kind of praise I like to hear about a well-planned day trip!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Flower Burger, Milan

We had a slightly strange culinary experience in Milan, in the sense that we ate sushi and burgers, and the only Italian food we ate was gelato.  I don’t remember being particularly dazzled by the vegan options on Happy Cow, and certainly there were none of the vegan pizzerias I was hoping for. But these burgers were so good, I’m not really complaining.

Flower Burger is a small, colourful fast food place that is 100% vegan.  There are just a few tables, but it’s right opposite a park if you prefer to dine al fresco.  The Italian menu is displayed on the walls, while an English menu is available on a postcard at the bar and the staff speak excellent English.

Dr HH got the flower burger itself:  a black bun with a seitan patty, tomato confit, cheddar, red pepper sauce and soy beans.  Doesn’t it look incredible?!  He reported that the red pepper sauce was really flavoursome and the burger had good structural integrity, but he would have liked a slightly thicker patty.

I got the oliseitan burger, which had the same seitan patty in a yellow bun with red onion tartate, confit tomato and olive sauce.  I was surprised to find that there were beans in the patty as well.  The olive sauce was wonderful, and I really enjoyed the lovely soft red onions.  Chickpea and tofu-based patties are also available, and you may have noticed that we shared a side of chips which were sublimely crispy.  And there were some desserts there too, but oddly enough we didn’t indulge.

Truthfully, there were only two things I really loved about Milan:  one was Flower Burger, and the other was the Duomo.  I would never get tired of looking at this building!  If you are organised enough to book in advance, I would recommend getting a ticket for the roof, which is really spectacular.

Even if you just walk around the building though, you’re sure to find some fascinating details.  Look at these guys working it!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Amorino, Milan

More gelato!  Amorino is actually an international chain and we even have it in Prague – but everything’s more exciting when you’re on holiday!  This branch is in Brera, which is a nice but very touristy area of Milan.  (Later in the day we were desperate for a sit-down and took a table at a bar, only to see it would set us back €4 for a regular can of Coke!)  Fortunately this place didn’t seem extortionate.  There was no outdoor seating, but some tables in the beautifully air-conditioned indoors which made life worth living.

The vegan gelato flavours were labelled, though unfortunately they were mostly fruit (yawn) and dark chocolate.  It took quite a long time in the trip to get to some more exciting flavours.  Nevertheless, the chocolate and raspberry was a winning combination – the raspberry was really refreshing and the chocolate super creamy.  No complaints from me!

They also get bonus points from us because Dr HH left his camera on the floor under our table, and when we went sprinting down the cobbled street two minutes later they had it safely behind the counter for us.  Huzzah!  (Considering that my personal history in Milan involves being pickpocketed, I was delighted by this display of goodwill.)

As a bonus, it’s not too far away from castello sforzesco, where you can wander the grounds for free, then head off for an ice cream to help you cool off – look at that cloudless sky!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Zushi, Milan

After our 24 hour stay in the Cinque Terre, we made our way back up to Milan for a couple of days.  Milan is not my favourite city, largely due to a terrible job I had there back in 2010.  It was only a two month contract, thankfully, replacing a teacher who had done a runner overnight.  “We can’t imagine why he left,” the boss told me, while moving me into the same accommodation this teacher had had:  a room in a convent.  Yes, a convent.

The room had no kettle or fridge, nor was there access to a kitchen in the convent. My room just had two single beds and a desk, and that was pretty much it. No wifi either.  It was a horrible, horrible time, made worse when I got pick-pocketed on my way to the airport to fly back home and didn’t even have money for the airport bus (thankfully, the Italian police took pity on me and got me on board).

So I don’t have fond memories of Milan.  As I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about this destination, I encouraged Dr HH to choose what he wanted to see, and he found the Monumental Cemetery.

It’s a gigantic cemetery full of mausoleums and statues, and even a life-size stone replica of The Last Supper.  It’s certainly an interesting place to have a wander.  And, more importantly, it’s only about a ten minute walk from a vegan-friendly sushi place.

I seize any opportunity to try sushi, even if it’s in Italy! We were the first diners for the lunch session at Zushi, which has both takeaway and eat-in options.  It was a bit fancier than we were expecting – it’s fanciness can best be demonstrated by the fact that the seat of your chair actually lifts up so you can put your bag inside a little compartment out of the way.  La di da!

There were only a few vegan options, which are nicely consolidated into the vegan brunch set for €14.90 – quite steep for what it was. We got a bowl of edamame for a starter, which was quite exciting.

The brunch set itself came next.  There were two pieces topped with tomato, which were unsurprisingly a bit boring.  The two with avocado were better, and there was another delicious one topped with some tofu and fig jam.  There was one topped with an actual mountain of wakame, and six little rolls striped with chives, filled with tofu, asparagus and fig jam, and topped with flaked almonds.  They were the most exciting, and the most delicious.

We were still a little hungry, so we decided to split the only vegan dessert: a €6 chocolate cheesecake.  It had a thin, spongy base (my kingdom for a biscuity base!) and some kind of marmalade layer, and the chocolate mousse itself was rich and indulgent.

I enjoyed our dishes, but we basically exhausted all the vegan options right here, and it was quite an expensive meal.  Zushi is a chain that we saw in most of the other big cities we visited later, so it’s a good backup to have up your sleeve for emergencies, but not really a must-visit unless you’re a die hard sushi fiend!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Lunch Box, Vernazza

Usually I choose my holiday destinations based on vegan options, so it seems strange that I even went to the Cinque Terre, nevermind that I enjoyed it so much!  But it’s true: I’m already dreaming of going back one day when the hiking trails are all open.  You can either hike or get the train between the five little villages, but over this summer three of the paths were closed.  As such, we decided to only pack our summer sandals for the whole trip and give the other two paths a miss.  We also only spent a whirlwind 24 hours there, so short hops on the train definitely made sense.  But we will be back one day to do it properly!  Hopefully by the time we do so, the vegan situation will have improved.

Lunch Box in Vernazza is another of the few places with advertised and labelled vegan options.  You can probably get some classic marinara pizza (just with tomato sauce) or spaghetti with tomato and basil pretty much anywhere, but if you want certified vegan food you seem to be limited to a few sandwiches and a reasonable amount of gelato.  Not too shabby if you’re only there for a few days and not exerting yourself on the trails.

I was looking out for this place because I’d seen online that they had a vegan sandwich.  And here it was!

It was a little more expensive than the previous vegan sandwich in Corniglia, and not quite as good – the bread was warm but everything else was cold, and it was a bit heavier on the salad than the roasted veg.  Still, the pesto was really nice, as was the bread.

Top tip if you visit this place: don’t order the local lemonade!  It was €6 for a glass and it was very tart.  Still, it’s a good place for a quick stop.

Vernazza itself is really charming too.  The main road runs straight from the train station to the sea (past Lunch Box on the left), making it very compact. When you arrive at the sea, you won’t know if it’s better to gaze out to the sea or back at the colourful houses of the village – everything is just so pretty!

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VeganMoFo 2017: Vegan Gelato in the Cinque Terre

I feel like it’s the law that you have to have an ice cream when you’re by the sea. And maybe generally when you’re on a summer holiday?  While in Italy, Dr HH and I decided to treat ourselves to a gelato every day.  We hadn’t planned this beforehand, but somehow it just happened, and once we noticed the trend we decided to plough on.  We couldn’t have done this without some solid vegan-friendly options in the Cinque Terre, where there isn’t too much online info about vegan options.

In Corniglia on our first night, we found two vegan options almost directly opposite each other.  We went to this one, Gelateria Corniglia.  It was on Via Fieschi, the main street through the village (just a few doors down from Pan e Vin).

They had about six vegan options listed on the blackboard, so I treated myself to the dark chocolate.  Although I got the cup, the cones were also vegan.  It was €2 for this, which I later realised was quite a good deal for the tourist trail in Italy.

Just across the street at Via Fieschi 74 was Alberto Gelateria, which I didn’t visit, but which also advertised vegan flavours and has more of a social media presence.

The next day in Manarola we spotted the Gelateria Cinque Terre – alas, closed on Wednesdays, which is precisely when we were there.  Again, it was on the main street and should be easy to spot.

That meant we had to find another option for our daily gelato.  We finally found it in Monterosso, the last of the villages (and truthfully, the worst – the centre isn’t so pretty and it’s mostly a beach resort, but the beaches are all stones rather than sand).  I had given up hope of spotting any vegan-friendly signs, so told Dr HH to just grab a dairy ice cream for himself. As he was ordering at Gelateria La Scogliera, he pointed out a sign on the counter advertising vegan cones.

I enquired, and found that they had four fruity vegan flavours, plus a vegan dark chocolate. Hurrah!  We were both so hot and thirsty that we each got two fruity vegan scoops.  On the left is my mango and raspberry cone, and on the right Dr HH’s mango and lemon.  I have never been so refreshed as when I devoured this by the sea!

So if you decide to follow my lead and have an ice cream every day when you’re in Italy, the good news is that it’s easy to do even in the Cinque Terre!

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