Celiac / Gluten Allergy in Italy
For the majority of tourists, Italian food means pasta, pizza and wonderful cakes. For the unlucky ones who can't digest gluten, these foods are poison! This page addresses the question of eating out (and in) in Italy for celiacs or those who are allergic to/intolerant of gluten.
The good news is that the Italians have got there before you! A diet based so heavily on flour means every family now seems to have at least one member who can't eat the stuff. So you'll find restaurants are geared up and young waiting staff will have been trained in checking ingredients. (You may find some difficulty in the traditional family-run trattoria if they haven't come across it personally.)
First some words: "sono celiaco" (pronounced che-LEE-a-co) for a man, "sono celiaca" (pronounced che-LEE-a-ca) for a woman. Even if you're not actually celiac, this is the simplest formula to get your message across.
Antipasti: apart obviously from things like bruschette and crostini, which come on bread, you need to watch out for fried items as the oil may well be contaminated with batter. If you can't resist, ask if it can be "fritto a parte con olio nuovo"
Primi: this is the twilight zone! Pasta in many shapes with many sauces, bread soups like the traditional Tuscan ribollita - a disaster!! However, there will usually be at least one risotto. Also you can ask for "pasta senza glutine" (GLOO-tee-nay) with the reminder that it too must be "cotta a parte" to avoid contamination. Gluten-free pasta is very acceptable.
Secondi: this is home territory. Meat, fish, shouldn't be any problems here but it's always worth checking that whatever you order is "senza glutine".
Dolci: there's usually fresh fruit: macedonia (friut salad), ananas (pineapple) and in season fragole (strawberries). The safest advice is to skip everything else. You can always get a "gelato senza glutine" from an ice cream parlour.
Pizza: don't bother, the gluten-free pizzas we've tasted in Italy are all disgusting. You can probably get a better one back home!
Food shopping: the large supermarkets are your friend here and will have a "Prodotti Senza Glutine" section with the trademark sign all over. You will also find chemists shops have a gluten-free section as registered Italian sufferers can get a discount on these foods. The prices will be outrageous, though! Definitely a last resort.
I hope this is helpful and welcome your comments and experiences. In the near future, a pages on sympathetic restaurants will be added. Buon appetito!