We recently spent two weeks travelling Italy. The main reason for the trip was to visit the Gluten Free Expo in Rimini. As the largest European GF Conference you can bet I was super excited to be headed there! Of course a 9 hour flight is just not worth it for only 3 days so we decided to see the countryside.
As a general rule we investigate every place for potential gluten freeness before we head out. On a search for safe restaurants I headed to the Celiac Association of Italy’s website. Oh man was I impressed! North America: take lesson! Celiac disease is taken much more seriously over there. Translation; no need to research. I downloaded their app of all the places that have been certified Celiac safe (not just gluten free) by the association. Rome alone has over 400 safe places to get food. If you use the map feature and zoom out over the country, it is lost in a sea of red flags indicating gluten free goodness. Keep in mind that this is just the number of places that have been certified and are checked up on.
Upon further research I found that since celiac disease is taught as part of health class (all the way through school), that it is an annual screening for all children age 3 to adulthood and that food is the most important thing in the world; the places not certified are also pretty safe.
Heading to Italy? Here’s my advice!
Download the App
It’s a bit complicated but well worth the effort. The app is set up map style, you can input the city you wish to search and little red flags will pop up. The flags have pictures to let you know if the place is a pizzeria, a gellatoria (head to Grom, seriously don’t miss Grom), a casual sit down or fancy place! There is also a section for stores that offer celiac safe gluten free foods.
Along with the app make sure to Google search. Same as here they have to pay to get certified and keep up the certification. Many places offer safe gluten free foods without being certified. Check out the chain, Star Bene, though not certified they are dedicated GF facilities. Check this out!
Yes the food was as good and some better than it looked! I made sure to hit as many of these as possible. Many days my routine was: get up head to a café grab a cappuccino, hit a Star Bene for a cornetto and of course grab a little something for later, then explore the sights and sounds of whichever city we woke up in!
1 Simple Word: Celiac!
I had been told, but as someone who gets super sick when glutenized, I don’t like to take risks. Our first day in Rome we checked into the hotel around 3; since it was too early for dinner we thought we would go for a walk; we had just driven 5 hours from Rimini so were in desperate need of a stretch. I had a hotel room snack then we headed out. My hubby, not celiac, walked into this beautiful bakery looking for his afternoon snack. He orders and the kind girl behind the counter asked if I would like anything. My answer of course was “no thank you”, she said “something little?” and pointed to a variety of amazing looking bite sized treats. Me “Sono celiaca”. Oh boy did she jump to! All of sudden she’s repeating me “celiaca, celiaca” in extreme broken English “follow, come, come”! In the bakery around the corner and down a short hall was celiac paradise. This, what appeared to be small bakery, had an entire separate kitchen preparing GF pizza’s, breads and treats! Not on the app but very safe! They take such care to ensure every person, Italian or not, has something to enjoy. And I DO mean ENJOY!
Don’t Eat in the Tourist Locations
Seriously why would you?! Same as anywhere else in the world it’s cheaper, lower quality food and a greater likelihood of contamination as there is not as much pride taken in the creation of your meal. Now I can’t say from experience because as a general rule hubby and I do not enjoy the tourist stuff. Sure we visited the Colosseum but we headed straight away from the neighbourhood to have lunch (Ciao Checca; Totally worth the walk). Why would you eat at a place called the American Café when you’re in Italy??? If I wanted American food I could have saved a ton of money on the flight!
Don’t Stress; Enjoy!
Okay! So there are MANY places to eat. If you are from North America you may have encountered “gluten free” symbols on menus only be brought a salad with wheat croutons, or become sick from cross contamination. The biggest lesson we learned in Italy is this: tell the staff you are celiac. This is a word they understand all too well. They are up front and will tell you straight off if they can accommodate your restrictive diet. A simple yes or no. If “yes” don’t stress; enjoy your meal. You will not be brought wheat, or food with glutinous crumbs.
We stopped in for a café (espresso) at this tiny out-of-the-way place. They had a lunch counter full of beautiful paninis and baked goods on one side and gelato on the other. Now, I don’t generally consume ice cream that is scooped (cone contamination) but there was one tub that was brand new. So I asked. Since we were outside of tourismness the counter girl did not speak English, but once more “celiaca” was enough for her to jump to running to the manager/owner to see if it was safe. He came out himself to apologise and tell me that they get the gelato from a local guy down the road who also makes the cones so he would not allow me to purchase the product because it may have contamination. Extremely sincere, he apologized multiple times and told me where the closest Grom was (a gluten free gellatoria). We sat down to enjoy our cappuccinos and for my hubby to eat a buffalo mozzarella panini. After paying I realized they did not charge me for my cappuccino!
Italy is a beautiful country, with wonderful people and amazing food. Not once in our travels did I feel out of place or like a pain when walking into a restaurant. In fact many times it was the opposite. They were honoured that I entrusted them to feed me safely. It was very interesting to see that if one person at the table is celiac, table bread is not brought (unless they have GF bread). One place (Mama Eat) brought all food celiac safe because sharing is not only encouraged but assumed!
Of all the places we have been Italy is by far the easiest place to eat safely. I seriously figured I would be sick multiple times. Nope! Not once in 10 days!