Although one may not think it at first, Italy is amazingly easy to travel while eating gluten free. This is mainly because of the high instance of Celiac disease in the country, routine checkups and general knowledge the population has about the disease. This means there aren’t just gluten free options, but amazing gluten free options.
In Italy Celiac disease is recognized as a medical condition, so look for gluten free food and products in drug stores (called “farmacias”), they often have a selection of gluten-free foods tucked away in a refrigerated section. I found the variety and quality of gluten free foods to be well above anything I’ve ever had before. Insanely good baked products, that weren’t frozen!
Bread, rolls and pasta were widely available in grocery stores, which made self-catering much easier. Bread made by the brand Dr. Schaer was particularly good, and corn pasta quickly became my one of my favorites.
Other foods for self-catering include; prosciutto, cheese, fruit and don’t forget to treat yourself to gelato! The glorious heaps of gelato will tempt any sweet tooth and keep you wanting more! Just make sure to watch for shops using things like cookies and nuts to ‘decorate’ the tops of the gelato and that could pose a cross-contamination issue. Ask for it in a cup with a spoon and you are set.
Breakfast will be the hardest meal of the day, as Italians typically enjoy pastries and bread for breakfast. Fruit and yogurt are good breakfast options and if you bring your own bread then you can also enjoy individual packets of marmalade or jam that often come with breakfast. Just be careful of cross-contamination with shared jam jars. Cheese, meats (double-check) and eggs are also sometimes available.
In restaurants, the best options are grilled meat, like fish or poultry, and some risotto dishes. Internet research may help in tracking down restaurants with gluten free pasta but be mindful of dates as restaurants and menus change. It’s also worth contacting the Italian Celiac Association for a list of approved restaurants.
Learning the phrase “Io sono celiaco” certainly helped get the message across, but also carrying language cards and learning to read a few of the keywords in Italian helped me survive a full two weeks without a problem. Communicating ‘Celiac’, rather than ‘gluten free’ was much more effective in Italy than most other countries, as it conveys the seriousness more and isn’t associated with a trendy diet as much.
It is helpful for someone who doesn’t speak Italian is to get a language card which explains your food needs. Here is a link to some free printable language cards:
Useful Words to Know:
- Gluten Free Food Tours (Rome)