BY FRANCESCA DE SMET
Roman gladiators: healthy, muscular, and powerful men. One would think they were fuelled by piles of protein-rich meat, but the opposite is true. They owed their bodybuilding physique to a traditional plant-based diet consisting of ancient grains, beans and drinks made from plant ashes.
Dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara or all’amatriciana rst come to mind when thinking of Roman cuisine. Both these pasta dishes are served with pork and a generous amount of grated cheese. However, there’saplethoraof naturallyvegandishesthatareoftenoverlookedand make Rome a wonderful place for healthy and eco-conscious diners.
Good vegan dishes consist of fresh, tasty vegetables. Under the bright sun and in the rich Italian soil, an immense variety of food grows every single day of the year. In the winter, farmers proudly display their freshly harvested artichokes and in the summer, juicy tomatoes turn the market stalls into shades of green, yellow, and red.
Almost 3% of the Italian population class themselves as “vegan” and 10% as “vegetarian”, ranking the highest in Europe. According to Lucia from the restaurant Ops!, Rome o ers a great variety of plant-based foods: “from risotto to gelato: there’s always a vegan option.”
Ops! is one of Rome’s 40 vegetarian restaurants, which focus on di erent aspects of plant-based cuisine. The endless bu et of Ops! over ows with healthy dishes, in which meat and dairy are replaced with seitan, tempeh, and nutmilks. Their lasagne exceeds the traditional version, with delicious layers of homemade pasta sheets, tomato sauce with a mushroom ragout, and creamy soy cheese.
Out of all these restaurants, Romeow has the most unique concept. The cat bistrot’s menu lists seasonal gourmet dishes, such as cabbage rolls lled with pumpkin and almonds, drizzled with a sweet-and-sour sauce of raspberries. This colourful dish can be devoured while cats comfortably curl up to the diners’ legs.
Legumes are an important source of plant protein and Rome o ers some of the best options. Beans seem to come in every shape and colour, either dried or fresh in their moon-shaped pods. Zuppa di lenticchie, one of Rome’s most simple but extremely tasty soups epitomises Romans’ use of legumes. Dried lentils are cooked in a broth of tomatoes, garlic, and parsley until they are tender. Cannellini beans are at their best when served on a slightly toasted slice of ciabatta with some pepper, salt, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
There is also the ancient “gladiator chickpea”, an ugly shaped
meats, and for the gladiators it was a fat-free form of protein. With only four ingredients, pasta e ceci is still served in many traditional roman restaurants. “A simple dish of timeless avours,” con rms Franco Fioravanti, owner of the 60- year old restaurant San Calisto in the Trastevere district.
Italian food is basic, and therein lies its beauty. Recipes contain very few ingredients, yet their impressive quality turns the dishes into something extraordinary. In Roman restaurants, one will never have to sacri ce taste when choosing a vegan dish. Carciofo alla romana, steamed artichoke in garlic broth, is a dish completed by putting the vegetable in the spotlight. The same vegetable transforms with a di erent preparation: carciofo alla giudia, deep-fried artichoke with coarse sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Organic products are also gaining popularity: restaurant Gecobiondo uses only local and biological products – even for the wine list. La Città dell’Altra Economia, a supermarket in Testaccio; and near the Vatican, sells products free of pesticides and additives and focuses on plant-based cheeses, milks, and much more.
Most traditional supermarkets still choose corporations over small-scale farmers, leading to less fresh products on the shelves. The Food Assembly, an award-winning French organisation, has opened its rst assemblies in Rome, and successfully ghts for a better connection among nature, farmer, and consumer. Farmers deliver their fresh produce to hosts, where customers can pick up vegetables, fruit, and other local products. Paola Tamma, business developer at The Food Assembly, believes this rising farmer-to-table movement is “the catalyst for a fresh, nutritious and well-rounded vegan diet.”