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Gluten-free Italy

63 Comments 09 May 2008

If you're like me, your Italian vocabulary is limited to a few indispensable basics , like "Gucci", "Fendi" or "Prada". And when I'm really showing off my multi-lingual skills I'll throw in a "Mama Mia, Pizzeria!" or  "Holy Cannoli!" with no doubt an American accent that Dean Martin would make fun of. (That's ok, Dean baby.)

So, as you can see, trying to eat gluten-free while traveling in Italy without a skilled translator might be difficult for someone like me. Well, thanks to Maria Roglieri, author of The Gluten-Free Guide To New York and The Gluten-Free Guide To Italy we can all relax and enjoy the gondola ride. Maria is going to share with us today some extremely helpful tips about how to fearlessly eat gluten-free in Italy.

Ciao!

LA BELLA ITALIA- IL PARADISO SENZA GLUTINE

Glutenfreevenice_2 You wouldn't think for a minute that Italy, the land of pasta, is a gluten-free paradise, would you? 

But it is . . .

As a professor of Italian, a musician, and an Italian-American, I have traveled all over Italy; I have even been lucky enough to occasionally spend long periods of time (six months to a year) in my favorite Italian city, Rome.  The country, the people, the art, the history, and the culture are fantastic.  The food in Italy is a delight, a feast for the senses.

Ah, L'Italia:  il paese della pasta (the land of pasta) . . . Most people imagine it to be a daunting destination for gluten-free tourists.  Some even travel through Italy "surviving" on snack bars that they brought with them and eating only salad and meat in restaurants.  And yet, since my daughter Sara and I have gone gluten-free (she has celiac and I have gluten neuropathy), I have learned that Italy is a gluten-free paradise!

Glutenfreeantipastaitaly_2 Anyone on a gluten-free diet can get gluten-free croissants (known as cornetti senza glutine) in the local hotels and bakeries for breakfast, gluten-free pizza for a mid-morning snack, gluten-free lasagna with fresh-made gluten-free bread for lunch, gelato with a gluten-free cone in the afternoon, and, if you still have room for dinner, three or four courses of anything you want gluten-free for dinner.  (Save room for the gluten-free tiramisu for dessert!)  My biggest problem in Italy is deciding what to eat first and trying not to gain 30 pounds from eating all the delizioso cibo italiano (delicious Italian food)!

Italy is gluten-free heaven (although some Italians beg to differ since you can't get a gluten-free hamburger bun at McDonald's) in large part because everyone in Italy knows about celiac disease.  When you ask restaurant staff about gluten-free food (il cibo senza glutine), they automatically respond with the question "Do you have celiac disease?"

Glutenfreegelatoitaly_2 All Italians are tested for celiac disease at an early age.  The many who test positive receive great services:  a monthly stipend from the government for gluten-free food plus extra vacation time to shop for and prepare gluten-free food!  Also, the companies that sell gluten-free products have all worked to promote awareness and understanding of celiac disease.  It is a law that gluten-free food must be made available in schools, hospitals, and public places and that all pharmacy products and food labels must indicate the presence of gluten if present.  In Italy, you can even study for a Master's degree in "Celiac Disease:  From Diagnosis to Management."

When I ask restaurant owners, managers, and chefs if they can provide a gluten-free meal, sometimes they say "no" but much more often they respond positively with comments such as,

– "Come no?" (effectively, "Why not?  Why do you even ask?"),

– "Lei vuole gli gnocchi o le tagliatelle senza glutine?  Tutti e due sono stati fatti in casa stamattina" ("Would you like gnocchi or tagliatelle?  They're both gluten-free and homemade this morning."),

– "Anch'io sono celiaca e allora preparo tutto qui senza glutine" ("I am also a celiac and so I prepare everything here gluten-free").

This is music to my ears!!

Glutenfreemarzipanitaly So, what can you do if you are a gluten-free traveler to Italy?  First, it is a good idea to call first to make reservations and request a gluten-free meal.  You can say something like:

Vorrei prenotare per stasera per ___ persone alle _______ (time) .  Sono celiaco. Potete preparare per me del cibo senza glutine?

I would like to make reservations for tonight for ____ people at _____ o'clock.  I am a celiac.  Can you prepare a gluten-free meal for me?

If you call a few days ahead, restaurants will often acquire or make gluten-free pasta and bread for you if they don't already have it on hand.  Secondly, when you are in the restaurant, remind the staff that you require a gluten-free meal.  You can also ask to talk to the chef (Posso parlare con il cuoco per favore?).  Thirdly. keep the cuisine of the region in mind.  In northern Italy, Italians eat risotto (a creamy rice) much more often than pasta.  (Just make sure to ask if the broth the rice is cooked in is gluten-free)  In Venice, they eat polenta (a creamy cornbread of sorts) much more often than pasta; this polenta is almost universally gluten-free. 

Some great restaurants in Italy that offer delicious cibo senza glutine are:

ROMA (Rome)

Arancia Blu (restaurant); Via dei Latini 55-65; tel. 06/4454105.  Offers vegetarian cuisine and gluten-free pasta; reservations required.  Does not accept credit cards and is not open for lunch.

Boccondivino (restaurant); Piazza in Camp Marzio 6; tel. 0668308626.  Offers gluten-free pasta.  Reservations are required; English spoken.

La Terrazza (restaurant): Via Ludovisi 49 (at the Hotel Eden); Metro–Barberini.  Menu includes gluten-free pasta. Reservations required; English spoken.

VENEZIA (Venice)

Corte Sconta (restaurant): Calle del Pstrin, Castello 3886; tel. 041/5227024; Vaporetto stop–Arsenale. Menu includes gluten-free pasta.  Reservations required; English spoken; closed Sundays, Mondays during the months of January, February, July, and August.   

Il Molino (restaurant):  At the Hilton–Guidecca 810; tel. 041-2723311; fax 041-2723308.  Advance notice is required for gluten-free meals.  Open 7 AM – 11 PM.  Direct line to food/business office is 041 2723316; email fb.venice@hilton.com

Osteria da Fiore (osteria):  Calle del Scaleter, San Polo; tel. 041721308; Vaporetto stop–San Silvestro/San Stae; www.dafiore.net.  Very open to gluten-free.

*See our Venice Update with additional restaurants with gluten-free food.

FIRENZE (Florence)

Vecchia Firenze (Florentine/Tuscan restaurant):  Borgo degli Albizi 18; tel. 0552340361.  Menu includes gluten-free pasta; Dinner 5-15 euros; closed Mondays.

SICILY (TAORMINA)

Hotel Villa Paradiso (Hotel):  Via Roma 2; tel. 094223922; www.hotelvillaparadiso.com .  Offers gluten-free breakfast.  On the top floor is the restaurant Al Settimo Cielo del Paradiso, which can also cater to any dietary needs. 

Ristorante La Griglia (restaurant):  Corso Umberto 1, 54; tel. 094223980.  Menu includes gluten-free pasta; English spoken; reservations recommended.

BOLOGNA

Pizzeria Ristorante Pepperoni (pizzeria/restaurant):  Via Barbiano 3; tel. 3932465748; www.pepperoni.it . Offers a special gluten-free menu with gluten-free beer, pizza, and desserts.  Open every day.

Ristorante al Pappagallo (Bolognese restaurant):  Piazza Della Mercanzia 3C; tel. 051-232807; www.alpappagallo.it .  Restaurant serves many celiac clients but does not offer gluten-free pasta; English spoken; 10-20 euros price range.

E Pulera (restaurant):  Via Isabella Vainiches; tel. 09098111158; www.bernardigroup.it .  Menu includes gluten-free pasta; English spoken; reservations required in summer.

Filippino (restaurant):  Piazza Mazzinin; tel. 0909811002; www.bernardigroup.it .  Menu includes gluten-free pasta; English spoken.  Reservations required in summer.

Il Trittone (restaurant):  Via Mendolita; tel. 0909811595; www.bernardigroup.it .  Menu includes gluten-free pasta; English spoken; reservations required in summer.

Hoteldulacitaly BELLAGIO (AROUND LAGO DI COMO)

Here is one of my favorite picks, set in one of the most beautiful and romantic towns in Italy around Lake Como in Lombardia:

Hotel Du Lac (hotel):  Piazza Mazzini 32; tel. 031950320; www.bellagiohoteldulac.com .  Hotel includes 2 restaurants that offer gluten-free breakfast and dinner!

So go to Italy, leave your snack bars at home, and revel in your new-found gluten-free paradise!

Buon viaggio e buon appetito!  Ci vediamo a Roma!

Ciao, Maria

P.S.  While you're planning your trip, sit down and enjoy an espresso and some gluten-free biscotti or ricotta cheesecake!

******

Grazie, Maria!

And if you, our lovely readers, have any tips of your own about dining gluten-free in Italy, please let us know in the comments below!

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Your Comments

63 Comments so far

  1. 48
     
    Joanne says:

    I can’t eat dairy, and I’ve just been diagnosed with fructose malabsorption, which means that I must minimize gluten, beans, and fruit. A former vegetarian, I do best on meat/eggs/seafood, rice/potatoes, and greens. Yet I promised my daughter that I would go with her family to Italy in March. Can I survive while traveling in Italy? Do they serve eggs at breakfast? Do they sell nuts in the pharmacias? Canned fish?

  2. 49
     
    Marit Pel says:

    I’m not sure if anyone will read this, but we just came back from the best GF restaurant EVER! It’s in Florence, near the Duomo. It’s very popular with local people, and for good reason, but they speak english very well and are so very friendly.

    The Place is called Ciro&Sons, and they won an award for best GF pizza in italy, but also serve really amazing bruchetta and pasta, and a really good desert: banana&caramel cheesecake. For the Pizza you must make a reservation, ( just send a quick email), but everything else they have on stock. I can recommend to reserve though, because by 21:00 there will be a line to the end of the street of people waiting to get a table.

    Ask the waiters for recommendations, they are really friendly, and dont forget the home made Limoncelli at the end of your dinner or lunch!

    CIRO AND SONS – Via Del Giglio 28r – FIRENZE
    Tel. +39 055 289694 – P.iva 05069780483
    Email info@ciroandsons.com

    Opening hours: 12:00 – 15:00 | 18:00 – 22:30
    Closed on sunday and monday for lunch.
    http://www.circoandsons.com

  3. 50
     

    Ciao!

    I lived in Italy for a year, and recently visited at least ten Italian cities since having to give up gluten. And in my experience, it hasn’t been that easy to eat gluten free. To be fair, I’m also a vegetarian, with a shrimp allergy. Of course that limits my options.

    But I have stayed in dozens of Italian hotels, eaten in a hundred restaurants, and I’ve never seen a hotel breakfast with gf cornetti, never found a trattoria with gf bread, and in the million cups of gelato I’ve enjoyed, I never saw a gf cone.

    Before my first trip to Italy since I went gluten free, I visited one of the “GF in Italy is a breeze” websites. And was lulled into a false sense of security. I thought it would be a breeze – and was deeply disappointed that it’s not that easy.

    I adore Italy – and Italian food – and I can find ways around my gluten issue. I found gluten free pizza in Cinque Terre, gf pasta in Verona, polenta in Bergamo, I had the most tantalizing mushroom dish in Lucca. I love your idea of calling a restaurant ahead of time – that is very helpful, and that will work well for dinner, not so much for a casual spontaneous lunch on the piazza. And I’ve learned through hard experience that finding gf options can be frustrating – I’ve have waiters tell me their risotto, which should be gf, contains wheat. So does soup. And even some gelato has gluten.

    So gf community, go to Italy. and savor every moment. There are a million reasons to go to Italy, including and especially the food, and there are gf options, even for a shrimp-free vegetarian! But don’t go with a false sense that eating “senza glutine” is effortless, or you’ll be as surprised and disappointed as I was.

    To get the most out of your trip, be prepared with gf snacks – on the plane, and in your purse while you’re traveling. And when it’s fabulous senza pasta, you’ll love Italy for who she is, not a false expectation of what we expect her to be.

    Many thanks for an excellent article,

    4initalia (I write funny stories about living in Italy).

    •  
      Pat Ryan says:

      just returned from Italy.

      In Florence, just across from the Santa Maria Novella train station is Deanna’s Bar. The second floor of the bar is dedicated to g/f food & products — eat in or carry out. it served a traditional, seasonal tuscan grape cake that was delicious. My husband liked it better than the one with gluten.

      In Venice, the woman who owned the guest house where we stayed had celiac disease. She recommended the place where she dined –Pane Vino e San Daniele (info@panevinoesandaniele.net or http://www.panevinosandaniele.net). The co-owner/wife took a course on baking for different food intolerances. There were four g/f desserts from which to choose. One was a lemon tart. I had it two nights in a row.

      In Parma, the Cafe Ducchesa in the main square (Piazza Garibaldi) had gluten free pizza.

      I was there for five weeks and almost all places had g/f pasta to offer. That was not the case in Parma where the pasta specialty there seems to be pocket pastas. But restaurant personnel were very helpful in finding something safe to eat.

  4. 51
     
    Annie Lorenzo says:

    Sorry but this is complete and utter rubbish. I’m Italian and have been living with celiac disease in Milan for 13 years. I never got “tested at an early age”, none of my friends are informed as to what celiac disease is and it’s only in the last two years or so that restaurants have been offering gluten free pizza and pasta. I have never walked into any bar in Milan and found a gluten-free brioche and when going out to restaurants for events am still limited to salads. If you actually lived here on a daily basis and weren’t eating in the hotels you mentioned but where the locals ate you wouldn’t find Italy to be a “gluten free paradise”. Maybe you shouldn’t write such nonsense as you will give false hope to tourists who won’t come prepared with their own gluten-free dietary back up.

    •  

      We, more of less unprepared toerist, ate quit nicely glutenfree pizza and couscous at da Hakim in Milano. We had à look at glutenfree roads wich was quit helpfull……in Torino it was really good. Pizza and two fridges filled with desserts at la Smorfia.

      •  
        Laura Penny says:

        Couscous isn’t gluten free, it’s wheat based. Unless they made you some kind of special gluten free couscous your probably not that gluten intolerance.

  5. 52
     
    Lynn says:

    How do you ask for gluten free and wheat free bred? I can’t tolerate wheat starch even with the gluten taken out.


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Kelly Courson

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Thanks for stopping by! I'm Kelly Courson and this is where I've shared my gluten-free finds since 2003. The world has been my gluten-free oyster for 14 years now and I love sharing what I've learned in order to help others adapt to a gluten-free diet. Have a look around and feel free to leave a comment. Connecting with people like you is what has kept me going this long! Seriously.
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