Written by Endsley Eggert
Maintaining a gluten free diet is not an easy lifestyle. But keeping up with it while living in Italy? Not as impossible as it might sound.
I started my gluten free lifestyle about 4 years ago after finding out I had an intolerance. While I am not Celiac, I get extremely nauseous if I consume gluten so it’s easier just to avoid it. When I studied abroad in Florence Fall 2012, I decided not to deprive myself of all the pizza and pasta that Italy has to offer. It was delicious while it lasted but resulted in a year and a half of horrible repercussions and sickness. Not worth it. So this time around, I have been sticking to my gluten free lifestyle and am happier and most definitely healthier. And it has turned out to be much easier than you would expect.
What can I eat?
Risotto will become your best friend, especially when you are on a college budget. Risotto is available at almost every restaurant that you go to and is considered a Primi Piatti. It will be a lot cheaper than the Secondi Piatti meat and vegetable options.
Corn Flakes are usually served at hostel breakfasts and you can grab them at the Italian markets. While not the most delicious thing in the world, they are better than nothing when the only other option is bread or croissants.
Thankfully Italians are starting to hop on the Cider train. It is not yet at the markets but can be found at the pubs around town. Cider is a good alternative to beer and is always my go to drink when I want something other than wine.
Of course you can always eat all your normal gluten free items such as meats, veggies, fruits, nuts, rice, potatoes, etc.
What should I avoid?
Gnocchi is made from potatoes and technically gluten free but but the way they make it is not. In order for the gnocchi to keep its shape, it is rolled in lots and lots of flour. Depending on your intolerance level, it could be an option but I know it makes me nauseous.
You also need to be careful of soups and sauces. Over the past four months, I have only had two run-ins with gluten and they were both caused by sauces on meat. Sauces and soup are sometimes thickened with flour. There is not a definitive answer on whether you can eat it or not because I’ve had some sauces/soups that are okay and some that definitely have flour in it. It will just have to be a judgement call!
Where can I find GF products?
When I first got to Italy in August, I spent hours at the market scanning ingredient lists and jumped for joy when I saw “Senza Glutine” marked on a package of crackers called Zero Graino. At the time, that was the only option. Over the past couple of months, the markets, Conad and Meta, have acquired whole GF sections where you can find bread, crackers, bars, cookies and more! You can also find GF products at the pharmacies (Farmacia).
What restaurants can I go to that are GF?
This section is geared towards people in Florence because that’s where I live and have experience.
OK Bar (Via de Servi 97/r) is the only place that I’ve gone to in Florence with actual GF options other than risotto. They serve GF pasta and pizza. The pasta is delicious and I have yet to try the pizza but I’m sure it’s great too.
Ristorante Quinoa (Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, 1) guarantees that all their dishes are GF. They have several different kinds of pasta, ravioli, bread, and as the name suggests, quinoa.
Just walking around Florence, I’ve seen several restaurants that have either “Gluten Free” or “Senza Glutine” clearly marked but just haven’t tried them yet.
Salumeria Verdi, better known as Pino’s (Via Giuseppe Verdi 36/r) is a panini place. They do not carry GF bread but Pino will make you a sandwich if you bring in your own.
Mesopotamia (Piazza Salvemini 14) is a kebab place that will become your drunk food spot. Kebabs are not GF because of the wrap but Mesopotamia offers Donner Boxes where you can get it all the goodness of a kebab minus the wrap. You can even add French Fries to it, which I always do.
Right outside of Florence is a little town called Fiesole. There is a restaurant there with the BEST gluten free pizza I have ever had in my entire life. The restaurant is called Le Lance and located at Via Giuseppe Mantellini 2. It still remains my favorite meal that I’ve had in Italy thus far.
Is there a website where I can learn more?
Of course! The Italian Celiac Association (AiC) website can give you more information about surviving GF in Italy as well as some restaurant recommendations. I even just found out that my favorite gelato flavor at Grom (Crema di Grom) was just made GF with the elimination of wheat flour. You go AiC!!!