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May 09, 2008

Gluten-free Italy

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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I did not find Rome to be so gluten free friendly when I visited a few months ago. There are restaurants there that serve gluten free pasta, but they are few and far between. They DO however sell a gluten free pasta call La Veneziane (http://www.molinodiferro.com/) which is PHENOMENAL. Seriously. It needs to be sold in the US.

You can find excellent gluten-free pasta and bread products in virtually every pharmacy in Italy. When travelling in Italy, I bring my own pasta (that I purchase in the pharmacies!) to restaurants and ask the chef to cook my pasta. I've always found the Italians to be very accomodating when it comes to preparing gluten-free meals for me. There is a high level of awareness about celiac disease in Italy.

OK that's it I'm moving to Italy!
If anything I'm going to teach my 5 year old Silly how to speak Italian, so when he's an adult he can move there. Thanks for the great article, I'll have to buy one of her books.

I had such an incredible gluten-free trip to italy last year, I can still hardly believe how gracious everyone was making adjustments for me! http://aglutenfreeguide.com/ms-gf-guides-top-10-tips-for-traveling-in-tuscany.html

--Catherine
www.aglutenfreeguide.com

Thank you for this encouraging, valuable, information filled article.

Thank you for the great information. I was diagnosed with Celiac in January and I'm planning my honeymoon to Italy in September. We're trying to find the gluten free friendly restaurants so we can have a relaxing and enjoyable trip. Any additional suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Thanks for this helpful information!!! I"ll be going to Italy next year so will be well prepared!

LIZ- Thanks for the pasta tip! Your experience in Italy makes me even more excited about this book. I went to Venice about 5 years ago and was SOOOOO glad I threw in some Pamela's peanut butter cookies, rice crackers and nuts into my suitcase!!! The friend I went with speaks fluent Italian and dinner was easy - fish, risotto, sorbet, etc., but lunch and breakfast were nearly impossible!!! I would have some blood orange juice with tea or coffee and enjoy my peanut butter cookies!! At lunch there were just these little deli type things in all the open areas that served finger sandwiches. I took my chances out of desperation and carefully scraped the insides out to eat with my crackers. Hopefully it has changed since then, but I think Venice is like its own little planet.

C.CONTIGULIA & CAT- Thanks for sharing your personal experiences!

MONA, MARGO, HEATHER & KATHY- I'm sooo glad you enjoyed the article and hope you thoroughly enjoy your visits to Italy! :)


I'm off to Milan next week. Anyone have any recommendations for places to eat in Milano?

This post might be too late for Dan but a fantastic restaurant in Milan is BE BOP at Col di Lana, 4 (tel: 02.8376972).
The menu is all gluten free including bruschetta, pasta, pizza and all desserts.
Absolute heaven!

Meagan I could kiss you - THANKS! Through some luck I happened to see your post on my Blackberry while in Milan. I went to Be Bop and it was so good I wanted to cry! Not everything is GF but they have a huge GF menu. My wife and I had lunch of a very good pizza and an amazing seafood pasta with homemade corn taglatelli. It far exceeded any GF pasta I've had before plus the sauce was amazing. GF desserts of tiramisua, chocolate/pear torte, chocolate salami. Went back again for a dinner of another great pasta and an OK gnocchi. Oh, did I mention FOUR kinds of GF beer!
This place is practically worth the trip to Italy!

Liz, I found the La Veneziane pasta for sale here in the US at OliveNation.com. I just ordered it. Found a 15% off coupon that seems to still work. Coupon code:23C42008

Who'd think Italy would be so gluten-free friendly?! A general travel dining tip is taking translated gf dining cards. You can just hand them to your waiter to let him and the chef know about your gf needs. Language doesn't have to be a barrier between you and some tasty Italian cuisine. :)

Wow, that's a great list of gluten-free/friendly places! Thanks so much, I'm planning to travel to italy soon and hope to find some good venice tours that focus on restaurants. Thanks!

Hi All. I recently visited Florence and went to l'Toscano as per your recommendation. After looking for a long time it was actually closer to my hotel then I thought. FYI- Google Maps is wrong. The man was very nice. He seemed like the owner or manager or something. I am gluten and dairy free so the only sauce I could have was the plain tomato. But was very good. Had some kick to it. They gave me GF bread. And they even had gluten free desserts. Apple Cake and Chocolate Torte. We got both. They were very good. It was a nice restaurant. Many Americans there. My family could eat regular food and I could get GF food. I recommend!

WOW! The Gluten Free guide to Italy rocked! I just got back friday night and we had a wonderful trip. Here is what I learned. Everyone in Italy is aware of Celiacs. Although many of the places were a little off the beaten path our tour with Perillo did take us by chance to one AIC restaurant. They had to roll us out of the restaurant! My father and I ( he too is a celiac) ate so much pizza we were ruined! We had appetizers too! they made the whole meal for us. it was so good! Again, by chance, we stopped with the bus at an autogrill that sold gluten free lunches. we were so excited but it was 8am and they weren't open for lunch yet. BUT! they sold gluten free snacks. I wanted to buy everything but past history of what the cakes and cookies taste like ( kinda yucky!) i only bought a few. They were awesome! The name of the company was Pandea, Liberi Di Mangiare. We had pound cake, short bread cookies and bread sticks. The bread sticks were so flakey and buttery It was hard not to eat the whole box!
Our tour director would call ahead to each restaurant and let them know our needs. Each place took our restrictions seriously, which added to our comfort level. Being allergic to seafood, i was concerned that all i would be offered was fish, instead i had risotto and veal coming out my eyeballs by the end of the trip.
I am planning on calling perillo and suggesting to them to put together a tour just for celiacs. Italy is a great place for food and with this book and how serious the Italians take it, EVERYONE can have a full belly and a safe trip!
Thanks again for the book and thanks to Kat brooks for sending me the celiacs chicks web site.
Susan

Susan, I am so happy you enjoyed your trip and the book! That's why I wrote the book-- to let everyone know what a great place Italy is for celiacs and to help them enjoy their trip without stressing about food. Italy is such an extraordinary country in so many ways (I tell my students of Italian this everyday). I guess it is only fitting that one of the culinary meccas of the world would have fabulous (gf) food for us too.

The breads are especially good. If anyone has a good recipe for gf Italian bread (hard crust), please send it in to www.gfguideitaly.com. I will publish them all on the website for fellow Italo-philes and selected ones in a (forthcoming) GF Italian cookbook.

Mille grazie (as they say in Italia, "a thousand thank-you's"!),
Maria

PS Important update: I have just confirmed that Ristorante Vecchia Roma in Rome no longer has food for celiacs. Please be advised. The others listed in Rome still offer great gf fare. Buon appetito!
Maria

I just needed to throw in (as old as this post is) that my absolute favorite gluten free restaurant was not included in the list of Rome restaurants. It's called Il Tulipano Nero in Trestevere (Via Roma Libera). I studied in Rome last spring for 6 months and they knew me by name by the end of it. The best ravioli, tortellini, and rice balls you will have in your life!

Maria,

Have you found many places that have gluten-free options in the Lombardy region, specifically Stresa? Or Milan?

I had good luck in Rome, but don't see many postings about northern Italy.

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