Saturday, January 31, 2009

Great Tips for Celiacs Travelling to Italy

Italy is a spectacular country to visit, Celiac or not, and I don’t think I need to convince you of that. As a Celiac there are a few things you should know that will just make your life much easier and relaxing, like a real vacation should be. For whatever few days of vacation you have a year, you don’t want to be stressing about what you can and cannot eat and how to communicate your needs. The Italian are tremendously helpful and many speak English and are willing to try to speak with you in English. Of course, I always recommend learning a few words and phrases in the native tongue of the country you are visiting, but if worse comes to worse, they will help you out. They may get emotional at times, but they are proud and most are happy to take some time out of their day to aid a visitor to their beautiful country.

Luckily, most things in Italy are natural so if you buy cheese, it’s cheese. If you buy sundried tomatoes, it’s sundried tomatoes, etc. and you don’t need to worry about hidden gluten as much. Also many products say “senza glutine” (gluten free) or “non contiene glutine” (doesn’t contain gluten) or “non contiene tracce di glutine” (doesn’t contain gluten) or contiene tracce di glutine (may contain gluten). Nonetheless, if you are at the grocery store or deli and want to buy something, read the ingredients and

  • Amido modificato (modified food starch)

  • Glutine (gluten)

  • Grano (wheat)

  • Semolina

  • Durum

  • Kamut

  • Monodigliceridi (monodiglycerides from corn or wheat)

  • Destrosio (could be from maize: safe or grano: not safe!)

Especially be careful with the sliced meats like salami and prosciutto cotto. And if you are casein sensitive or lactose intolerant, it’s best to get your meat from behind the counter and ask for salami, prosciutto cotto, speck, bresaola, etc. that doesn’t contain gluten or casein (che non contiene glutine o lattosio– kay nohn cohn-tee-en-ay glue-teen-ay oh lath-oh-zee-oh). Someone behind the counter usually knows because luckily for us, there are many Celiacs in Italy. If you are a bit shy or don’t want to ask, you will always be safe buying good, ol’ prosciutto. It doesn’t ever contain gluten or casein (Horray!), but it does contain sulfites (being cured meat) if you’re sensitive.

Besides the supermarkets or small delis, you can get good quality gluten free products at the Farmacia. There are pharmacies practically on every street corner, as frequent and widespread as Starbucks or McDonalds in the US. Not all of them sell gluten free products but most of them do. It’s not uncommon to stumble upon a pharmacy that has a large and diverse gluten free section with many kinds of pasta, pane (bread), biscotti (cookies), crackers, congelato (frozen) ravioli and pizza and dolci (desserts), merende (snacks), chocolate and budino (pudding), birra (beer), farina per dolci e pizza (flour for desserts and pizza), and more. I remember the first time I went to the Farmacia near my house in Rome, I practically cried. It was a gluten free epicurean paradise and I was overwhelmed (did you hear me correctly? I said OVERWHELMED) by the amount of products without gluten.

Ristornanti, trattorie and osterie (More expensive restaurants, moderately priced trattorie and osterie) are all safe places to eat. Let the waiter know that you are Celiac when ordering. You can say, “Sono Celiaca” (So-no Chel-eee-aka) or “Non posso mangiare glutine, farina di grano, lattosio, uovo…” (Nohn po-sso mahn-jar-ay glue-teen-ay, fah-reena dee grah-no, laht-oh-zee-oh, ooo-oh-voh). Always ask about the meat because the meat can be breaded and fried or cooked on the same grill. “Non c’e farina o glutine?” (Nohn chey fah-ree-na oh glue-teen-ay) The risotto is generally safe for celiacs, but of course ask about the broth they use “Il brodo non contiene glutine?” (Eel Broh-doh nohn cohn-tee-en-ay glue-teen-ay) and no breadcrumbs, “senza pane grattugiato” (sen-tsa pah-nay grah-too-jah-toe) The cotorni (sides) of potatoes and vegetables are safe for celiacs, as are salads and generally meats. Semifreddi (creamish dessert), Gelato (ice cream), Macedonia (like fruit salad but better) and Pannacotta (cooked cream) are also desserts traditionally without gluten.
Almost always they understand Celiac disease and are very accommodating. I have never come across a waiter in Italy who is unfamiliar with celiac disease or gluten. On the contrary, a few times, the server even asked me if I’d like corn or rice pasta that they keep on stock for celiacs!

Tips for those off the gluten path but on the bargain road:

  • Buy food in supermarkets…it’s delicious and cheap…and then take it out to a piazza or park and people watch.

  • Avoid sitting down in Bars (it costs more to sit than stand at the counter) and avoid buying coke (although it does taste better here than the US) in restaurants.

  • Avoid tourists’ areas and explore other areas of the city for normal priced food.

  • Write me, comment and ask questions and I’ll help you out

Other Useful Phrases:

“Mi scusi…” Excuse me (formal)
“Scusa…” Excuse me (informal)
“E’ senza glutine?” Is it without gluten?
“Sono senza glutine?” (They are without gluten)
“E’ senza lattosio?” Is it without casein?
“Sono senza lattosio?” They are without casein.
“Cerco la farmacia, supermercato, etc. Dov’e’?” I’m looking for the pharmacy, supermarket, etc. Where is it?
“Grazie mille!” Thanks so much!



  1. I am so thrilled that you have set up this blog. I want to visit Italy later this year but have been nervous about finding gluten free food. Thank you!!

  2. Thanks for this. I love Italy but the last time I was there I strayed from the gf path and came home bloated and ill. Next time I will enjoy my trip and dining just as much and return healthy.