You wouldn’t think for a minute that Italy, the land of pasta,
is a gluten-free paradise, would you? But it is . . .
Everyone in Italy knows about celiac disease. When you ask restaurant staff about
gluten-free food, they automatically respond with the question "Do you have celiac
disease?" This is because all Italians are tested for celiac disease at an early age.
The many who test positive receive great services: a monthly stipend from the
government for gluten-free food PLUS extra vacation time to shop for and prepare
gluten-free food!! Also, the Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AIC), the Italian
government and a few major Italian companies that sell gluten-free products have all
worked to promote awareness and understanding of celiac disease. As a result,
restaurant owners, managers, chefs, and waiters are well-informed.
I’m a Professor of Italian in New York so I’ve lived in Italy and I travel to Italy a lot to
do research and for meetings (our next professional meeting is this summer in
Taormina, Sicily!). I usually write books and articles on Italian literature or musical
adaptations of Dante’s Commedia, but since my daughter Sara and I have gone
gluten-free in the past few years (she has celiac and I have gluten neuropathy), I
have started to write for a gluten-free audience. Last year I wrote The Gluten-Free
Guide to New York and this year I decided to write The Gluten-Free Guide to Italy.
I decided to write the second book in part because while everyone in Italy knows
about celiac disease, not many gluten-free travelers to Italy realize that! Italy seems
like the last place where you could enjoy a gluten-free meal. Most travelers are
completely unaware that they can enjoy gluten-free croissant (known as cornetti
senza glutine), gluten-free sandwiches, gluten-free pasta, gluten-free beer, gluten-
free pizza, and gluten-free ice cream (gelato) in a GF cone. Instead, they travel
through Italy “surviving” on snack bars that they brought with them and eating only
meat in restaurants.
We all know that traveling can be very stressful when it comes to ordering food in a
foreign language. So the first thing I decided to do was to pack as much language
help into the book as I could. I enlisted the help of my friends, Catherine, Gonzalo,
and Ulla, who are native speakers of French, Spanish, and German respectively.
Basically, I wrote down in English all the words, phrases and questions we use when
we’re ordering GF food, and then I asked my friends to translate them. I also
collaborated with my friend Susanna (also a professor of Italian), on the best GF-
specific Italian words to use in restaurants. My friends were all too happy to help
(and even to bake me some delicious GF French and German breads!) From their
words, I designed a series of multi-lingual vocabulary sections to facilitate clear
communication of our dietary needs. These sections include a celiac self-
identification statement, questions for the chef, a list of safe and unsafe ingredients,
and an extensive dictionary of key food words and phrases, all translated into Italian
from English, German, Spanish, and French.
Of course I wanted to present in the book not only how to ask for gluten-free food in
Italian but mostly where to find it all over Italy. So I organized the book to offer this
information by region (such as Sicily, Umbria and Tuscany), and, within each region,
by city and town. Each chapter lists where travelers can find gluten-free food in:
• hotels, resorts and B&B’s
• ice cream stores
• food markets and pharmacies
• service areas for GF food on the go
In the course of my research, I contacted the Associazione Italiana Celiachia and
Italian companies that prepare GF products. They were very helpful and happy to
support a book designed for GF tourists to Italy. You see, their information is for
Italian celiacs, and it is written in Italian. Furthermore, they don’t have much
information for the tourist “hot spots” in Italy. So, since I’m fluent in Italian, I
translated their information and brought it all together, organizing it in a universal
format so that tourists of every nationality can understand it. I greatly expanded
upon it to include a lot more information on places like Venice, Rome, the Amalfi
coast, and so on, by personally speaking to hundreds of restaurant owners,
managers and customers all over Italy. Sometimes, the restaurant owners said "no"
-- they could not provide customers with a gluten-free meal. But much more often
they said things like,
• "Come no?” (effectively, “Why not? Why do you even ask?"),
• "Lei vuole gli gnocchi o le tagilatelle senza glutine? Tutti e due sono stati fatti
in casa stamattina” (“Would you like gnocchi or tagliatelle? They're both gluten-free
and homemade this morning."),
• "Anch’io sono celiachia e allora preparo tutto qui senza glutine”) (“I am also a
celiac and so I prepare everything here gluten-free”). (This last comment came from
Ristorante Vecchia Roma, Piazza di Campitelli 18, Roma, www.
MUSIC TO MY EARS!
So, if you’re going to Italy, pick up The Gluten-Free Guide to Italy. You’ll get a lot of
useful information about traveling gluten-free in Italy, including a list of 32
restaurants in Florence, 25 restaurants in Venice, and 39 restaurants in Rome (not
to mention pizza, ice cream and food stores in those cities) all arranged by their
proximity to major tourist attractions! You’ll know where to eat if you are visiting the
Uffizi in Florence, the Piazza San Marco in Venice or the Colosseo in Rome.
While you’re reading the book, and planning your trip, sit down and enjoy an
espresso and some gluten-free biscotti or ricotta cheesecake.
Buon viaggio e buon appetito! Ciao, Maria