Traveling to and eating in Italy is a foodie’s dream. But that might seem like a nightmare to someone with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. How could you find anything you can eat in the land of pizza, bread and pasta?
A vacation in Italy doesn’t have to mean days of eating only salad dressed with oil and vinegar. Italians are actually very clued into dietary restrictions when it comes to gluten.
In fact, Italy recognized celiac disease as a serious condition before the rest of Europe and the U.S. Italy’s celiac association, the Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AiC), was founded in 1979. Today, Italians are tested for gluten sensitivity at a very young age. If they test positive, the government provides them with a monthly stipend to purchase gluten-free food.
Because of that, you will be able to easily find gluten-free food in markets, pharmacies and restaurants. Here are some tips to ensure you have a delicious Italian escape without any health issues.
If you like to stockpile gluten-free foods in case of emergencies, visit a pharmacy. Many pharmacies in Italy sell a variety of gluten-free foods, including gluten-free bread, pasta, breadcrumbs, biscotti and croissants. The common ingredient in gluten-free foods in Italy is corn flour. However, it may be difficult to find these in pharmacies once you get out of the major cities.
You could also look for a local fruiteria, a little fruit and vegetable market. You’ll be able to buy fresh produce for the day to carry around with you while you see the sights.
Since celiac disease is well publicized and understood in Italy, many restaurants will accommodate your dietary restrictions. When you do head into a restaurant, make sure you know how to communicate your restrictions:
- Senza glutine: pronounced “senn-za glu-tee-nay” and translates to “gluten free”
- Lo sono celiaca: pronounced “ee-o soo-no che-le-ah-cho” and meaning “I am celiac”
You could even write these phrases down on a piece of paper to present to your server at a restaurant if you feel uncomfortable with the pronunciation. Many restaurants can make substitutions to accommodate you.
Beware of Breakfast
When it comes to breakfast, most hotels and B&Bs provide a traditional breakfast to their guests consisting of sweet pastries and coffee. This means you’ll have to figure out something else for breakfast – except for the coffee…you should definitely sip on the delicious and strong Italian coffee.
If you did stop into a pharmacy for gluten-free snacks, try pairing them with fresh fruit, veggies, prosciutto or cheese.
Try New Foods
Plenty of Italian dishes and foods are traditionally gluten-free, including polenta, risotto and soups. As an extra precaution, be sure to ask if the broth used is gluten free. And when it comes to soups, don’t eat the ribollita – it has bread in it.
Seek out cheese, especially true Parmigiano-Reggiano and Gorgonzola. You’ll very easily find shops and markets selling delicious cheeses. Those same shops will probably be selling prosciutto — thinly-sliced, dry-cured ham. They will slice it fresh for you, making it the perfect addition to breakfast or lunch.
Maybe you have olive oil at home all the time, but Italy is home to some of the freshest olive oils. Some Italian restaurants even press their own oils.
Even though it’s not technically food, you can’t travel to Italy without sampling Limoncello. This lemon liqueur can serve as a sweet-ending to your Italian meals.
Have you gone gluten-free in Italy? If so, we’d love to hear what worked for you.
Photo from ouritaliantable.com.