On my recent trip to Florence for a wedding, I was amazed at the abundance of eateries that served gluten-free and vegan dishes. So many friends and clients or mine - and myself included - longed to join in on the incredible pasta and pizza diets of Italian holidays, and now it seems that dream is fast becoming a tangible (and delicious!) reality. Italy – the country that was once a coeliac’s worst nightmare now seems to be a gluten-free dream come true.
What is most satisfying is that, in many cases, the traditional dishes and flavours aren’t compromised i.e. the flour is different but the other ingredients are consistent with the unique quality of Italian food in general – simple dishes made from locally produced ingredients with life-changing flavours.
Longing for a pizza, on my first night I insisted on taking some friends to Mister Pizza having read about its senza glutine menu. I was bold over by the ethos of the place adorned with proud posters declaring that no dietary requirements are too complicated for their chefs to satisfy. This kind of culinary flexibility is typically un-Italian; when living in Rome I was often witness to the tragic faux pas of tourists ordering a cappuccino after midday or asking for parmesan cheese on pasta dishes with fish. Absolute sacrilege.
Italians have always prioritised fruit and vegetables in their diets, but never in all my visits to Italy had I ever seen so many juice and smoothie bars – some gelaterie even served acai bowls!? Even some pasticerrie proudly advertised their wheat-free and dairy-free selection of sweet treats. Signs reading ‘biologico’ (organic) and ‘vegano’ were everywhere. In the past I would be count my lucky starts to find a café that knew what soya milk was, and now I was being offered a choice of rice, soya or almond milk for my cappuccino! Mind. Blown.
Truly inspired, I have compiled a list of my favourite spots in the city for healthy meals, snacks, coffees & treats - for those who are celiac or intolerant to gluten, dairy-free or Vegan, or those who just need their daily fix of smoothie bowls, quinoa, avocado toast and matcha lattes – or indeed, a break from full-blown pizza, pasta and gelato.
Lunches & Suppers
This cute little restaurant truly lives up to its name with an extensive menu featuring mainly quinoa dishes and using seasonal produce. It proudly claims to have been the first 100% gluten-free restaurant in Florence, certified by the AIC, or the National Coeliac Association. If you’re not keen on quinoa, they also serve rice noodles and some lentil dishes too.
A great chain that prides itself on the fact that all its food is free-from animal products, colours and preservatives. There aren’t too many gluten-free options but good cocktails and burgers which are of course all 100% plant-based.
Extensive list of smoothies and smoothie bowls, wraps and salads - the menu on their website is slightly different to the one at the cafe itself, and the takeaway section one door down has further lunch options such as Thai-inspired coriander peanut bowls, or quinoa curry. Some raw options too such as courgetti noodle salads.
4. Mister Pizza
A great spot for delicious gluten-free and vegan pizza with a couple of branches in Florence – the most scenic is definitely the one overlooking the Duomo. They also do usual pizza too, but can make any style gluten-free.
5. Da Garibaldi
This is hands down the best place for gluten-free pasta – they also have a whole menu devoted to gluten-free dishes - and is a lovely option for supper.
Coffee, Cake & Gelato
1. Cantina del Gelato
This was my firm favourite for delicious, natural, dairy-free gelato – a must-visit! Both the branches serve açai smoothies and smoothie bowls with 100% acai berries and a little guarana to sweeten it for only €4! I fully recommend the dark chocolate (vegan) and any of the sorbets such as the refreshing pineapple, ginger & mint or seasonal cherry or fig.
This is a fully-organic gelateria, in prime position by the Duomo, with lots of delicious gluten-free and dairy-free options. Try one of their delicious milk-shakes blended with rice milk and your choice of homemade gelato.
A trendy coffee shop and the go-to for your matcha or chai latte with almond milk fit. There are three branches in the city and all have are lovely spots to relax with a book, or use the wifi and people watch. They do a whole selection of breakfast and brunch items, as well as day-time cocktails, and you can buy their coffee beans. Reasonably priced too.
5. Alberò Cafè
Right by the Ponte Vecchio, this is a tiny organic juice and smoothie cafe that does delicious detox and veggie blends, as well as soya milk coffees. You can even blend your own or add an ingredient (I always ask for extra ginger) for the same price. An excellent place for a pit-stop pick-me-up during a day of sight-seeing.
Craving a gluten-free croissant with your morning coffee? Then look no further than Starbene - there are 3 branches in Florence – which is a 100% gluten-free pastry shop. They even have a selection of vegan and dairy-free tarts and cookies too.
But if you're keen to avoid these ‘free-from’ places, and desire an authentic traditional Italian trattoria experience, then some easy wheat-free options on offer are polenta or risotto (you can ask them to make it senza formaggio – without cheese) – or just stick to meat, fish and vegetables, which are always a delicious alternative to pasta and/or pizza.