Italy’s Clean Food Scene (Yes, it Exists)

While a traditional Mediterranean diet is made up of fresh veggies and fish, the Tuscan diet is comprised of cured meats, cheeses, pastas and wine. While the ingredients are fresh and local, anything resembling a vegetable is used more as an accent and less as a feature– unless it is stuffed with meat.

Spend a week and you will be in foodie heaven. Spend a month, and you’ll find yourself responding to the “Where shall we eat?” question with “Anything but Tuscan food!”  

We all know that too much of a good thing can spoil it– and yes, that even applies to pasta, wine and cheese! I know this first hand, as I currently call Tuscany my home. And while I don’t often deprive myself of any type of food or drink, my health and body will always yell the loudest when it’s time to clean (or dirty) it up.

After three months of yoga, veganism and meditation in Bali, I was desperate to manifest both a manicure and a martini. Now, after three months in Florence, I’ll basically cut a person to get my hands on a cold-pressed green juice, a turmeric shot and a clean piece of fish with some vegetables.

Not wanting to rely on friends whose idea of a cleaner lunch is pasta with oil over Wild Boar Ragu, I set out to find some cleaner options for myself. In a more metropolitan city like Milan you can easily find places to eat, drink and juice, but not in Florence. The capital of Tuscany has a relatively ‘small town’ vibe with an old school mentality. And while the townspeople do eat seasonal and local foods that grow within the region, they may be a bit behind on some of the western health trends. Luckily for me, as more tourists venture over and lay down roots, there are a growing number of places popping up that are vegetarian, vegan and even gluten-free.

Below is a selection of places that I’ve found that will keep you on the health train even though you’re in a sea of pasta. Buon appetito!

#RAW When Swedish architect, Caroline Lundgren and her Italian husband decided to move back to Florence last year, she and her family had already been mostly raw vegan for years. Her vision was to open a place that would serve as the first raw vegan unprocessed food chain in Italy. In under two months she built her beautiful flagship location in the Brooklyn-esque hood of Santo Spirito. You can find her there six days a week overseeing every detail from the prep of her magical tahini dressing that accompanies her Kale and Nori salad, to hand-making the vegan gelato from coconuts and raw ingredients that she sources both locally and internationally. She confessed slyly to me that her mother in Sweden often has to send her specialty items like Chaga and other superfoods that are either unheard of, or unavailable, in Florence. She tests and tastes every recipe herself, from overnight oats to raw chocolate desserts, and in the winter months adds a few warm items like soup and a veggie burger. She makes her own nut milk and boasts an impressive selection of caffeine-free hot drinks and lattes. #Raw is also the only place in town to offer cold-pressed juice cleanses for 1, 3 or 5 days in recyclable glass bottles. It’s open 11am-7pm, Tuesday through Sunday, with longer hours in the summer. *Bonus tip: They have an outdoor patio that actually gets sunlight!

Carduccio Just a few blocks from tourist hotspot, The Pitti Palace is this “organic living room” that offers an entirely organic bio-dynamic menu that changes everyday. They have warm dishes, cold-pressed juices, and even pate. It’s small and cozy and somewhere you’ll want to stay all day. *Bonus tip: In a town where things rarely open before 11, Carduccio is open 7 days a week starting at 8am Monday through Saturday and 10am on Sunday.

5eCinqueIn the hip Oltrarno area, tucked away in Piazza Della Passera you’ll find this quaint, high end vegetarian restaurant that requires reservations. The menu is printed daily based on season and produce, though they are known for their mainstays like Cecina (a pizza-like dough made from chickpea flour, that can be served alone or pancake-style with toppings). It’s an old school Tuscan dish that’s entirely gluten-free, also serving as a yummy alternative to the white flour-filled, saltless bread they favor in Florence. They do use dairy and cheese, so ask if you are strict vegan. *Bonus tip: It’s a charming place to get lunch and relax in the piazza, and also a romantic dinner spot away from the crazy tourist crowds.

Liberia Brac Tucked away on a side street across the river is this concept restaurant, made to look like a library. (The books lining the walls are actually for sale!) The menu is strictly vegetarian and offers an extensive list of raw salads, interesting cooked veggie dishes and pastas that regularly use unseen flavors, like curry. They have tofu and tempeh, and also eggs and cheese so your options are plenty. The wine list is accommodating, as well as the gluten-free dessert menu. Separating the front and back glass-walled dining room is a vast courtyard with benches to sit and wait on. *Bonus tip: Their Sunday Brunch is a must– but be sure to get a reservation!

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