It’s Surprisingly Easy to Be Gluten-Free in Italy

Categories Food, Gluten Free, Italy

I didn’t expect to be suffering for lack of food in Italy. I visited in the past, before I decided to listen to my doctors and my body and cut out wheat and gluten entirely. I was diagnosed with celiac over a decade ago, but stubbornly ignored it for years, hoping that the diagnosis was a mistake, or perhaps an intolerance instead of an allergy. I avoided gluten when it suited, casually indulging in pizza or sandwiches while I was working in NY. Though I was often sick after eating as a child, I didn’t want to believe it had to do with wheat. That would require a full overhaul of my eating world, and while I discovered the joy and variety of spices around the time of my diagnosis I still loved dumplings too much.

Eventually I got sick enough that I smartened up, getting to a point where almost everything – gluten or otherwise – made me ill. But first I went to Italy and I willfully, stupidly, ignored the pain in my stomach. I ate pasta, but I also ate prosciutto and melon, pillowy soft burrata cheese, illicitly delicious in its raw milk wonder. There were paninis but also piles of roasted pork and salumi, packed with flavour and texture. And thus when planning my return to Italy this year,  I expected to be drooling with envy over the pizzas and wheat-laden dishes – but I also knew that there would be plenty to choose from in Umbria, even for a celiac.

Some of the foods from Umbria during my food trip

Some of the foods from Umbria during my food trip.

However, while I anticipated some memorable meals, I did not realize how thoroughly Italy accommodated those with celiac disease. Not only was there a wide variety of pizzas, pastas and breads on offer that were entirely gluten-free, but everyone knew what it meant to have celiac. From the tiniest of Umbrian towns to the family-owned farms, the minute I would smile nervously and say “sono celiaca” people would nod and say “ah! Senza glutine!” and find me something else to eat.

I was flabbergasted.

More foods from my time in Umbria

More foods from my time in Umbria, including tomato & stinging nettle pesto (top left).

In England and in North America, people are generally attuned to food allergies and in most bigger towns, gluten-free options exist. It is undeniably much more popular to be gluten-free these days. Not all of those who advocate the diet are diagnosed celiac; some follow stricter paleo diets, others simply feel healthier without gluten. I’m not knocking it either way – the trendiness of cutting out gluten has meant that I have much more to choose from when I grocery shop. However the public knowledge of ceiliac disease – what it is and what it does for those whose bodies reject wheat – is a lot lower than I realized. This is obviously the case in many less-developed countries where food diets and allergies take the back seat to deeply entrenched culinary traditions. But even in returning to visit my parents in Quebec, I’ve found many are not aware of the disease, or they think it’s only bread not also barley and rye. When I do eat out, I find myself apologizing profusely to my waiter or waitress for asking after ingredients; I’m one of those people, the ones I used to make fun of when I was waiting tables years ago.

Imagine my astonishment: at every single turn in Italy, everyone knew what celiac was. Moreover, they were cheerful about it. “Ah yes! One of those! No problem, here’s what we’ll give you instead.” I was anxious leading up to my time in Umbria, worried that I’d be annoying to travel with on the post-conference press trips or forced to send back a meal once it arrived. Not so. For example, the talented chef (aka the family’s nonna) at I Mandorli had prepared a series of simple but exquisite dishes – mountain lentil soup, fresh ricotta and egg plates, salumi, grilled vegetables and more, piled high. Many were gluten-free, in part because it was a meal of staples and disparate pieces, but in part because they were advised I was in the group. They took me by the hand and showed me exactly what was safe on the table.

Food buffet from I Mandorli

Food buffet from I Mandorli, fresh ricotta, salumi, grilled vegetables and plenty of gluten free options.

For dessert, she made her own impromptu gluten-free dish – a thin egg crepe filled with spiced rice (cinnamon, ground nuts, a little bit of sweet wine), folded in half and topped with strawberries. Delicious and incredibly accommodating. She noted that she wanted to make something easy from scratch instead of substituting flours, and it turned out great. It was also the size of my head, and I ferried it around the room, feeding tastes to the rest of the group.

Nonna at I Mandorli farm, explaining her dessert

The family’s Nonna at I Mandorli farm, explaining her dessert

This wasn’t the first or last of the specially-prepared meals from my short Umbrian visit. The conference venue had a staggering variety of gluten-free options regardless of meal. The waitstaff would spot me, pop a gluten-free loaf of bread into the oven and in 10 minutes, I’d have a huge plate of food. Of course, a little more starch than I was used to:

Believe it or not, this is all gluten free

Believe it or not, this is all gluten free.

And my hosts for the Feast of St. George made sure that I wasn’t given a porchetta sandwich, but instead allocated a big plate of freshly cut pork and a thick handful of complimentary fava beans to gnaw on. When the rest of the table had their sandwiches in hand, Teresa from Lungarotti pushed me to the front of the queue, telling the carvers that I had celiac. In the middle of teeny Torgiano, wise nods – ah, no problem. “More pork for you, if you don’t have bread!”

Porchetta at the Feast of Saint George in Torgiano

Porchetta at the Feast of Saint George in Torgiano

The gluten-free options extended even to the airport on my flight out of Florence. They too had frozen pastas available in lieu of the more traditional wheat-filled fare. (Never mind that it tasted terrible – it was a coup that the meal was an option; we can’t have everything.)

So why is Italy so celiac-friendly?

Upon my return from Italy, I waxed poetic about how much I could eat. The first reaction from every single person was precisely the same: that Italy was accommodating the tourists.

I disagreed; it was obvious that the dietary changes were not rooted in tourism. Too many tinier towns had deep knowledge of the disease, and had been exposed to it sufficiently that they made adjustments in what they offered.

I decided to reach out to Rebecca from Umbria on the Blog to ask her if my suspicions were correct. She directed me to Letizia Mattiacci, who – among other posts – blogs about her own struggles to avoid wheat. Letizia responded quickly :

I recall seeing a Dutch study time ago stating that modern wheat varieties have higher toxic gluten content than traditional varieties. Then there’s the problem of overexposure. Wheat and modified starch are everywhere, so Italians are certainly more exposure than others as we are big pasta and bread eaters. According to the Italian celiac association, about 1% of Italians are celiac. As a consequence, is not surprising that you find lots of gluten free options in Italy. In Perugia we even have a gluten free restaurant and we’ll have a Gluten-Free Festival at the beginning of June.

And as Rebecca noted in a blog post of her own, the exposure goes much deeper than that. Children are routinely screened for celiac disease, and celiacs even get a state subsidy to compensate them for the higher cost of gluten-free foods. Furthermore, Maria Ann Roglier, the author of The Gluten-Free Guide to Italy, notes that Italian law requires that gluten-free food be available in schools, hospitals, and public places. (And that you can study for a masters in celiac disease, from diagnosis to management thereof.)

Well, that explains the Florence airport.

Incredible roast pork at Al Camino Vecchio in Assisi.

Incredible roast pork at Al Camino Vecchio, in Assisi. Stumbled on the restaurant randomly on the last night of the conference and it was one of the best meals I had.

But one thing still nagged: the country didn’t just know about celiac disease, they accepted it. They embraced that this was an issue and moved around it to accommodate their meals, and did so with gusto. I asked Letizia and she gave a thoughtful response:  that Italians are very conscious of the connection between health and food. In her opinion, that is why food cooked at home is lighter and more balanced than the restaurant fare. And that is also why they don’t think it unreasonable to eliminate a certain food if it makes them ill. In fact, she noted, “they probably do this easier than renouncing a cigarette (sigh).”

Add to this that alternative flours are trendy as well, products like spelt and kamut (which contain gluten), but also rice, buckwheat and soy. In addition, chickpea and chestnut flours have been part of Italian cuisine for centuries. In the nineteenth century, an Italian agronomist noted about Tuscany that “the fruit of the chestnut tree is practically the sole subsistence of our highlanders” (Targioni-Tozzetti, pub. 1802, Volume 3: 154). And in the twentieth century, Adam Maurizio, who wrote a seminal book on the history of edible vegetables in 1932 (called L’histoire de l’alimentation végétale depuis la préhistoire jusqu’à nos jours, for those inclined) discussed chestnut trees as being available not just for the fruit of the tree,  but also for making into bread when grinding that fruit into flour.

Unlike in North America, where these new flours are trendy but not firmly braided into our history, Italians have been using ground corn, chestnuts and chickpeas as substitutes for hundreds of years.

Gluten free pasta with parmesan, fresh rosemary and olive oil.

Gluten free pasta with parmesan, fresh rosemary and olive oil.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac, I went to my best friend’s place in Montreal for dinner. Her family is Italian and were used to me eating their pasta without issue. I mentioned to them that I’d be unable to eat any wheat, or rye or barely and her father, completely serious with a slow shake of his head, said “Jodi, this is a fate worse than death.”

It’s no surprise, then, that I expected Italy to react the same way. But instead, it was the easiest place I’ve travelled with this disease. And instead of a food roundup, I wanted to touch upon this curious, seemingly paradoxical fact because I don’t believe many of us who avoid gluten are aware of how great a place it is to visit.

-Jodi

 Resources

1) The Gluten-Free Guide to Italy by Maria Ann Roglieri (paperback guidebook)

2) The Italian Celiac Association and the Umbrian version (Google Translate will get you through these!)

3) Mangiare Senza Glutine: iPhone app for GF Italian dining.

4) For those craving Italian at home: my favourite of the GF Italian cookbooks, by Jacqueline Mallorca. Another option is the 100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes book by Carol Fenster, but I was trying to stay to theme ;)

5) Free printable Italian restaurant cards from Celiac Travel and Amarcord.

6) Brigolante’s gluten-free resources page for Umbria.

7) Sara Rosso’s gluten-free suggestions for Italy.

8) Gluten-free Rome (recent, from Feb 2012) from Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino.

93 comments to It’s Surprisingly Easy to Be Gluten-Free in Italy

  1. What a wonderful recap of your gluten-free travels in Italy. I went in 2009 and was pleasantly surprised about how easy it was to eat gluten-free. I haven’t been to Umbria and this post makes me want to go!

  2. On May 24, 2012 at 10:51 am gene in montreal said:

    The options for retirement(gluten-free) appears to have got bigger. The photos are sumptuously Italy, under that Umbrian Sun :D

  3. When I was tested for celiac’s, my best-foodie-friend was more nervous about it than I was. She told, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do if you can’t eat gluten.” I guess the solution would have been to move to Italy.

  4. I also can’t eat gluten, but when I was in Italy I usually just went to Chinese restaurants.

    • Interesting! I’ve actually had a lot of trouble at Chinese restaurants because they use soy sauce quite a bit, which has wheat flour in it and makes me sick. I thought I’d be ok with that small amount of wheat but I’ve found no, my body does not want soy sauce ;) They also use wheat gluten itself in ingredients for some vegetarian dishes, something I found out in Asia after I was told it was mushrooms and then wondered why I was ill. Definitely more gluten in foods than I realized when I was first diagnosed!

      • On May 24, 2012 at 11:40 am gene in montreal said:

        So what are the alternatives to shoyu? It’s so ubiquitous in Asia; like harissa is in the Middle East

        • It’s true. I tend to ask for the dish without it, where possible. Or I bring a small bottle of Tamari, which is the soy base but without the wheat flour, and use that for things like sushi instead. Many dishes in Southeast Asia do have soy, but many also have fish sauce instead, and often the vendors will be confused but they will not use the soy if you ask.

    • !!!!

      Go back to Italy, walk into any restaurant and proudly ask for “Sans-Gluten”.

      You’ll be amazed.

      Once in Verona, the cooks specially warmed up GF ciabatta so I would have a snack to munch before my GF pasta alfredo was ready.

  5. We loved our visit to Italy last year, yet never asked for special gluten-free food. I loved the warmth of everyone we met, and have been longing to go back. Knowing that we can simply ask for gluten-free options will make our next visit SO WONDERFUL! My daughter has gluten allergies, and our family follows a paleo diet. It’s not easy here in England (they put flour in all sorts of things you wouldn’t expect!) and this makes me want to visit Italy again sooner than later! Thanks for the very thorough post!

  6. I definitely should not have read this post hungry!

    Excuse me for getting totally anectdotal, but on a family trip to Italy, one of my sons and I felt maxed out on Italian food (hard to believe) in Venice and
    set off in search of a Chinese restaurant we saw listed some place. After much wandering lost (a treat in in itself in Venice), we found the Chinese restaurant and had, hands down, the worst Chinese meal of our lives.

    Moral of the story: When in Rome……

    • Ha, fair enough. Though I guarantee the restaurant made food for the owners/their families that was delicious, but redid the menu based on the Italian palate. I’ve found the safest thing is ‘what did you eat from here today?’ – that gets me the best dish!

  7. So glad you had a good experience in Italy. It is probably one of the last places I expected to be so gluten-friendly. I knew what celiac disease was but I learned a little bit more about it through your post. It will help me be a little more sensitive to others as I now understand more of the things they can’t have and the extent to which some people are affected by this.

    • You and me both, Jer! There’s levels of intolerance vs allergy (e.g. gary seems to not be affected by soy but some others are), but ultimately it’s wheat, barely and rye and oftentimes sauces are the biggest problem because they use flour to thicken them. Even gelaterias occasionally use flour to thicken their desserts. So, I just try and ask as much as possible, and it was refreshing that in Italy people understood the concern right away.

  8. On May 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm Heather Dakota said:

    Thank you, thank you for this! I have a gluten intolerance, but not celiac. I’m going to Italy in September and was wondering what I was going to eat! Now I know what to tell them. YAY!!

  9. What a pleasant surprise! I would have thought it would be much harder to find gluten free things to eat in Italy especially, but more pork instead of a sandwich sounds like a nice alternative!

  10. Another thing that (in my experience) factors into how accommodating Italians are when it comes to food allergies & whatnot is how highly they think of the dining experience. They want to not just give you sustenance, calories to get you through to your next meal, but to give you a dish that you will genuinely enjoy. If your body can’t tolerate gluten, then no matter how good their bread or pasta is, you won’t enjoy it – & that’s not okay with Italian cooks.

    Plus, there’s that whole Italian obsession with digestion. If you can’t digest gluten, they TOTALLY get that & will bend over backwards to accommodate it. :)

    • That makes sense as well, and I think what Letizia hinted at when she spoke of that balance, the emphasis on food as sustenance and as a source of pleasure (not guilt!) No complaints from me :)

  11. With the words celiac and gluten becoming so prominent in our vocabulary, it’s hard to avoid the subject. As someone who has no problem with wheat products, I’m enjoying learning about the subject and the recipes I’ve tried are often better than those with wheat. Your article is informative and fascinating. Thanks so much for telling us about your experience. Keep writing…

  12. Amazing photos! Such great food pics – - super hungry now! :)

  13. Very interesting read, and I’m very glad for your pleasant experiences!

    Probably italian awareness about celiachy depends from the fact that pasta and bread are everywhere and that for celiac eating them may have dangerous consequences.

    Just a quick note: Italy has about 60 millions inhabitants, so 1% of celiacs is surely an impressive quantity of people, but not several millions.

  14. Great article. I have cealics disease too and this gives me hope when visiting Italy. It’s lovely to hear that so many places will go out of their way to make sure you can have a delicious meal and not get sick.

  15. Although I don’t have wheat problems I love this post. I’ve read it several times now in an attempt to remember it all when with friends with these kinds of allergies.

    As I was reading I thought two things – one, that pasta and breads are so widely eaten in Italy that anyone with problems just HAS to find an alternative – as you confirmed later in the piece.

    The other is that the enjoyment of food is so basic and important and fundamental to Italian life that, really, there would be no question but that they would find ways around it for anyone who couldn’t enjoy the typical dishes!

  16. Oh, and a question, because in my mind the two nations which really, truly incorporate this enjoyment of food into everyday life are Italy and France (despite that there is wonderful food in other countries, that’s just how I think), so how do you find it when in France?

    • I haven’t travelled France since being diagnosed in 2001, but I will say that when living there then, people were extremely unreceptive, and would even say things like “what, are you on a diet or something?” I speak French, so it isn’t as though I wasn’t communicating the issue. But who knows, perhaps it has changed now – it’s been many years and awareness is likely much higher. I’m sure Italy wouldn’t have been as receptive in 2001 either! I’d be curious to hear from readers with celiac if they have travelled through France recently.

  17. I haven’t been to France for a few years, but we are traveling through Ireland. Because of this post, my consciousness has been raised about celiac diets. Yesterday, in the small town of Kinsale, we had dinner in a seafood restaurant. The menu expressly stated that most dishes could be prepared gluten free.

  18. Because the universe has a way: In the past week, three people have discussed their possible gluten intolerance with me and I’ve been able to point them here. And Elijah made quinoa. Again. You are clearly the fairy godmother and angel for all things gluten free, and I thought you had to know.

    Lovely post, lovely photos, and hunger-inducing as always!

  19. Really interesting article. I hadn’t thought about it but it’s totally true. The awareness may have trickled down to the general public thanks to the gluten free shelf at every supermarket and pharmacy, and the regional government subsidies that are advertised on those shelves. Italians are also very aware of lactose intolerance and quite used to substitutes there, and they’re quite good with my strange range of intolerances too. Just thank god you’re not vegetarian AND celiac… more pork for you!!

  20. I definitely am surprised by how easy it was to find gluten free dishes in Italy and how accommodating they were. I would have thought the options there would be particularly limited. It seems like the gluten free diet is getting more and more popular. I’ve noticed that Whole Foods has started to carry tons of gluten free products – crackers, pastas etc. For health reasons my mom is now on a gluten free diet so I’ve been looking into gluten free cooking and have purchased the various quinoa pastas, soba noodles, brown rice pasta, lentil flour crackers, etc and there really are tons of options out there. I’m sure it is easier to follow a gluten free diet in Asia with all the rice noodles/rice dishes but it’s great to see that it’s also not too hard in a pasta focused country like Italy!

    • Like you, I initially thought my options would be limited.

      About the quinoa: buy some smoked paprika. A great side dish is quinoa with the smoked paprika, some olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped up cherry tomatoes. Great on rice crackers or with a chicken dish. I’m a big fan!

  21. Thank you for the post. I’ve also found Italy to be the best place for us non-gluteners. Ireland is also a good place to travel where a lot of people know about Celiac. In my experience Germany and France have been not-so fun, but you have to know where to go when it comes to dining out.

    For those traveling in Europe, please take a minute to visit Schar’s website (http://www.schar.com/) they have a really good map with all the locations that you can buy their products and even listings for restaurants that will make special order GF pizzas.

    Another tip in Italy is to stop by the pharmacy (farmacia), you’ll see them with a green cross. At all of these you’ll find a special section for GF foods and can even place special orders (overnight for free!).

  22. This is surprising, but good. The number of gluten free options keep growing. I don’t have this issue personally, but know people who do.

    Even some chains are starting to have Gluten free options on their menu.

  23. Thanks so much for publicly confirming what I’ve been quietly saying for years! And thanks for the shout-outs.

  24. I was not very knowledgeable about gluten-free eating, and then recently decided to try it for a while. The experiment didn’t last long enough to tell me whether I feel any different off the stuff, but it got me thinking about which gluten products are easily swapped out and which aren’t, and then I thought about traveling and eating gf, and I landed on Italy, wondering how difficult it would be for one to avoid gluten there. Though it doesn’t affect me directly, I feel oddly reassured just knowing it’s not difficult!

    • It’s amazing how many products do have wheat in them. Soy sauce usually surprises people as no one expects it to be wheat-based, but it’s the second ingredient. Thanks for reading!

  25. On July 17, 2012 at 5:27 am Tim Martin said:

    Well I don’t have any issues with gluten though, but good to see that for those who have, options are available.

    And Jodi after looking at these pics, I am rushing to my kitchen. HUNGRY :)

  26. Thank you for this. It is very timely! I just found out I might be celiac. I have other allergies, and eating out in Canada and the US is NOT FUN.

    The best experiences I’ve had are actually at higher-end restaurants. I think it is because they seem to use fresh/unprocessed food more often.

    • Thanks for stopping by Moe! Strange that Canada and the US are lagging behind the rest of the Western world in accepting these allergies but I’m happy to see many cities (Seattle, Denver, Toronto) starting to understand what causes them and why. I’ve actually had better experiences at the fresh markets and simple farm-to-table places, as higher-end restaurants seem annoyed that I have issues with their very carefully set menus. As I travel, I eat primarily street food, often in a place that speaks no English, so I’ve learned to ask for certain things (soy sauce, wheat, etc) in the local language and then avoided them. Also, great to get SelectWiseley.com’s allergy cards if you do travel abroad – they list out allergies in the local language and are extremely helpful to have with you in case of emergencies.

      • Great tip – thanks! I am headed to Italy in a few weeks and had heard that it was relatively easy there…it will be my first trip since going 100% GF…I’m actually more nervous about my next trip to France – the land of flour-thickened sauces! I was wondering how that would work in Asia too!

  27. I was happily surprised by your post about the ease of which you can fine gluten free products in Italy. I can’t believe it.

    Travelling and having certain eating restrictions is a real B*%$# and i’ve been looking for realistic and practical solutions that one can follow when travelling.

    Specifically I’ve been wondering how easy it is as a raw vegan on the road. I’m not a raw vegan but i though it would be fun to experiment for 7 days while i’m in Germany with my family to see how doable it is. Especially since Germany is the land of sausages and potatoes..

  28. Wow! What an incredible post! My sister and I are both celiacs, and when we visited Italy a few years ago I didn’t know I was and really got to eat everything that was out there. Now my sister is going back next year, and I know she’s a little worried about what she’ll be able to eat. It’s great to know it will be easy and delicious for her to find options in Italy!

  29. On August 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm Ali DeCardona said:

    So glad to know about this. Thanks for sharing. Going to Italy soon and can’t wait to say the magic words: Sono celiaca, senza glutine. Ha ha. I hope to survive without getting sick.

  30. My question is: why it was a surprise that Italy was a gluten-free friendly country?

    I mean it’s the place where wheat is an abundant ingredient in almost every meal so where’s the surprise?

  31. Thanks for this great post!! My 20 year old daughter doesn’t have celiac but is gluten intolerant and has pretty much eliminated it from her diet in the past 6 months. We have been to Italy three times but she is headed to Rome in Feb. to study abroad for 4 months. I sent her your post and she said it was so encouraging and made her even more excited!! Thank you!!

  32. Wow, sounds like you had a totally different experience in Italy to me! I was in Venice for a week earlier this year and struggled to get anything to eat that wasn’t pasta/pizza. I asked in every restaurant if they had gluten-free pasta and was told no (a lot of Italian restaurants in Scotland do, so I was surprised). Glad it’s not this way elsewhere in Italy though!

    • Really? I had no issues anywhere in Italy, but I didn’t get to Venice this time around. Bologna was equally receptive to non-wheat-filled items :) Will have to check Venice out on my next trip.

    • I read in the Gluten Free Guide to Italy that sometimes the restaurant owners do not participate in the inspections by the Italian Celiac Society (AIC) and that’s where the initial “no” comes from…but if they don’t have GF pasta stashed away, they can most likely still serve you a GF secondo (main/meat course).

  33. I couch surfed with an Italian family for a month in Calabria. They owned a pizzeria by the beach and I was surprised to find that they prided themselves on their gluten-free dough option! It definitely wasn’t for foreign tourists, all of the customers were Italian. I’m not gluten-free but it passed my taste test!

  34. Just stumbled upon this post and wanted to second your impressions. We’re an American family who have been living in Italy for the past 4 years. One of our sons has a wheat intolerance (and may be celiac), which was diagnosed here in Italy. We thought it would be incredible difficult, especially when eating in restaurants, but it hasn’t been a problem at all. Restaurants often have a gluten free option (often not on the menu). If they don’t we always carry a small bag of rice pasta (or other gluten free pasta) and ask if they can prepare it for our son. It has never been a problem. No one has ever considered it strange or an imposition as it would be in the states.

    • Hi Ken, thank you for the comment. I definitely felt quite a lot of relief at how accessible celiac-friendly foods were in Italy. I don’t think that I’ve found anywhere else with such a tolerance/availability for it. I’m currently in Southern Vietnam and almost all the food is gluten-free (and uses fish sauce instead of soy sauce which is great for celiacs), so it has also been a pleasant place to eat. Perhaps a good spot for a family vacation for you!

  35. Celiac is a gluten intolerance (severe one), not an allergy. I wanted to clear that up. But otherwise, this is very helpful to me. I’m studying abroad in Italy my sophomore year of college and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find food I could eat. This is a huge relief to me!

    • Hi Anna, celiac is a disorder resulting from an immune reaction to gluten. We’re both saying similar things. The point I am making is that it is not an allergy like an intolerance to lactose, but rather an auto-immune disease where many other things are affected by this sensitivity to gluten. Safe travels.

  36. On March 6, 2013 at 12:10 am Lizz Codner said:

    I stumbled upon this post just now while searching this exact topic.

    I am considering a trip to Italy next year but was terrified of the food problem. I have only just been diagnosed with celiac about 6 months ago and I’m still unsure of myself when going out to eat or doing anything, really.

    So when I was offered the trip to Italy next year, I was equally excited and scared.

    Until I saw this post, and others like it from around the web. Now I am VERY excited! =D

    Thank you!

    • Hi Lizz, so glad that the post has given you some reassurance. Truly, I had to write it because like you I did not realize how celiac-friendly Italy was, nor how pervasive celiac disease was within the country. Safe trip and hope it’s a great one!

  37. How can you go on about gluten free food and then put that awfull photo of a burned pig without seeing the problem here.

    • Hi Nina, I’m not sure how you think the two are comparable. One chooses to be vegetarian (for many different reasons), but one cannot choose to be celiac – it’s a disease. Whether or not you agree with eating meat, I absolutely cannot eat wheat without being sick. Quite different. The pig was delicious but I respect your choice not to eat it. Unfortunately, not eating wheat is not a choice for me – it has to be avoided.

  38. Much easier to be celiac than vegetarian in Italy ;)

  39. Wow, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of this post. When researching potential areas of the world to travel, where and what I can eat is a huge deal. In fact, the relative ease of eating gluten-free in Thailand is mostly why I’m a repeat visitor.
    But I am truly amazed to learn Italy is so gluten-free friendly. Italy has been on my mind for some time, but I’d almost dismissed it as an impossibility. Not anymore!

    Thank you so much! :o)

    • Glad it was helpful Meg! I’m starting a new site (glutenfreetravel.org) this year to serve as a resource for travelers who also have to watch their gluten intake. Hopefully it’ll provide even more help! Re Thailand, are you avoiding soy sauce?

      • Hmm, I can *usually* deal with a small amount of soy sauce. Doing a Thai cooking course in Chiang Mai was helpful for me. I found soy sauce is rarely used (and only in tiny amounts) unless there’s been a Malay or Chinese influence – such as in the favourite Northern dish, Khao Soi.
        Happily, I’ve had only one episode of getting glutenised in Thailand and that was from the aforementioned Khao Soi. I later learned it contains quite a swag of soy sauce and some non-rice noodles to boot. Delicious, yes, but hangover-inducing!

        Delighted to hear of your plans for a new gluten-free travel site, Jodi. I’ll be there with bells on, I can tell you! :o)

        • Thanks Meg! I have more trouble usually – get super cloudy / dizzy right away even w/ cross-contamination. So I’ve struggled because pad sie ew and often fried rice in Thailand also has soy. But in Vietnam the soy sauce has NO wheat flour. This country is magic for celiacs :) So as with Italy, you can come to Vietnam. I’ll be doing a celiac’s guide soon on this site, and will hopefully launch the new site in June. Thanks for the support!

  40. Hi, in Italy there are also gluten free bakery and pastry shop like Fralenuvole in Biella (Piedmont): http://www.fralenuvolebiella.com

  41. This post makes me so happy that I almost started crying. My 2 boys are sensitive to gluten and dairy. We’ll be visiting Italy for a month next year. Now I’m not as worried. THANK YOU

  42. On June 14, 2013 at 5:21 pm CHRISTINE BOYNTON said:

    off to florence on tuesday so it was great to now i will have plenty choice of gluten free food so i wont just have to steak and olives. so thanks .

  43. So glad to find this post! I’m traveling to Italy in a few weeks and was definitely worried because I just immediately think oh my gosh, there’s so much pasta. It’s nice to read that they’re more gluten-free friendly!

  44. Thanks so much for posting this information, Jodi. I grew up in an Italian family and ate bread and pasta ever day of my life. I found out I had a wheat allergy 20 years ago but refused to cut it out of my diet. Over the past two years my stomach issues have become worse and I’ve gotten to the point where I cannot tolerate any wheat in my diet. I will be visiting my family in Italy this summer and was worried about what I would eat and if they would frown upon my new diet. Your blog has put me at ease. Thank you!

    • Great to hear Michele! I was surprised too, as I was expecting a serious dearth of eats in Italy for celiacs. Pleasantly surprised. I’ll be launching a gluten free travel site later this year with a friend who is also celiac, and we’re hoping to provide more resources like these.

  45. I am of Italian descent and visiting Italy for the first time (a lifelong dream) in the fall. Much to my dismay, I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance a few weeks ago and was beyond bummed about finding GF foods in Italy. THANK YOU for writing this article! I am so much more optimistic about my visit!

  46. Very useful article, and so well researched, loved it!

  47. Nice post, love the photo of the Nonna, transmits a feeling of cozyness and ‘benvenuto’, so typical of authentic experiences when visiting Italy off the beaten track :-)

  48. Thank you for sharing. I am definitely surprised by how easy it was to find gluten free dishes in Italy. I just know Italy to be the best place for non-gluteners.

  49. Great article. I was diagnosed about 4 years ago, and quickly learned of the difficulty here in the US. But having spent a lot of time with family in Italy I turned it into a positive and decided to start importing GF products from Italy.

    Italy is really good at the GF options and making it available almost everywhere!

  50. Wonderful to hear! Did you have any issues with cross-contamination? That’s how I usually get sick if I eat out, and was wondering if they generally knew to avoid that as well?

    • I didn’t actually, but I avoided stalls that made, say, pakoras AND samosas — basically trying to minimize the available contamination options by choosing chickpea-only places. For the rotis, important to ask if it’s truly 100% bajra because some do combine with wheat. Happy to report I did not gluten myself once.

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