…even in Italy!
People often ask me how I ‘cope’ not being able to eat wheat when I’m in Italy. Actually, contrary to popular belief, it’s surprisingly easy. I very lucky that I’m only intolerant to gluten don’t have full-blown coeliac disease; but in fact the Italian restaurateurs are truly very skilled in preventing cross contamination.
Ironically, the worst place for coeliacs is actually the best coeliacs – this owes much to a national coeliac screening programme introduced in Italy around 2005 (it has since been phased out due to cost). It raised awareness and put the disease in the spotlight. Gluten is such a major part of the Italian diet they started screening schoolchildren.
The Italian Coeliac Society strongly advocates the rights of sufferers, and you can visit their website and get an updated list of pizzerie, trattorie, gelaterie and B&Bs in any region that are certified gluten-free. I’ve often experienced a really warm response to my asking whether they have gluten-free options – often being brought a specially-made seared polenta dish that’s not on the menu much to my friends’ envy! J A few years ago a friend and I stopped off for lunch in the beautiful village of Sermoneta – and the owners of the restaurant were positively overjoyed at my being gluten-intolerant so that they could test out these special dishes they had made for coeliac customers.
Lots of people are ‘going gluten-free’ as part of a warped trend to stop eating wheat… But for serious allergy sufferers, coeliac disease is far from trendy. With coeliac disease, the immune system reacts to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), attacking and damaging the lining of the intestinal wall, with symptoms including weight loss, bloating, tiredness, vomiting and diarrhoea. The only treatment, and cure, is a gluten-free diet. While bloating may seem harmless, over time, unmanaged coeliac disease can lead to osteoporosis, iron deficiency and malnutrition as damage to the intestinal lining prevents nutrients from being absorbed properly and coeliacs are twice as likely to develop bowel cancer.
A couple of years ago I went to Florence for a spectacular wedding and was amazed as how many gluten-free options I found on menus, as well as the range of fully gluten-free restaurants (for more info see my Free-From in Florence post).
There are actually so many delicious alternatives to pasta and pizza – look for gluten-free options on the menus in regular restaurants, such as dishes made with beans, lentils, chickpeas, polenta, rice, quinoa instead of pasta. The other great thing about the primi-secondi course formula in Italy is that the secondo (main course) is usually some kind of protein with a side of vegetables. And if you’re out and about and fancy a quick bite – and as you can’t easily walk into a pizza al taglio (pizza-by-the-slice) place, then look out for the words ‘Tavola Calda’. These are café type places that do a range of ‘hot’ foods such as roast chicken, fish, rice-stuffed tomatoes and tons of vegetables.
One of my favourites is actually in a more residential area of Rome called Monteverde - Franz is an institution with the most amazing roast chicken I have ever had in my life. The kindest grandpas run it too :)
Another one I tried the other day also does gluten-free suppli and fiori di zucca which are pretty good – New Food
Some bakeries even do gluten-free biscuits and cakes like Il Gianfornaio which has about 4 branches across the city; or Grezzo in Monti which specialises in raw, vegan cakes; or Senza Pensieri Healthy Bakery in Testaccio.
And the best gelaterie don’t use gluten in any of their fare – see my page on the best gelato in Rome for more info.
And for an extensive list of Rome’s best gluten-free offerings, see The Fork’s page.
And then if you feel like something other non-Italian, these are some good alternatives:
Ethiopian – the ‘bread’ called injera used in Ethiopian cuisine is made using teff which is closer to quinoa and therefore gluten-free. Check out these restaurants – Mesob is a great one!
There’s also great sushi in Rome – places like Sakana, Sushisen, Temakhino are all fabulous! And you can request tamari, which is wheat-free soy sauce.
So if you’re gluten-free don’t worry – Rome, and Italy in general, is super manageable on a gluten-free diet. You might even discover some delicious alternatives you never tried before!