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.
LA BELLA ITALIA- IL PARADISO SENZA GLUTINE
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!
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?"
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!!
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:
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.
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 email@example.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.
Vecchia Firenze (Florentine/Tuscan restaurant): Borgo degli Albizi 18; tel. 0552340361. Menu includes gluten-free pasta; Dinner 5-15 euros; closed Mondays.
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.
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.
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!
P.S. While you're planning your trip, sit down and enjoy an espresso and some gluten-free biscotti or ricotta cheesecake!
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!