Gluten-Free Eating: Italy

Gluten-free eating has always been difficult while traveling. Most of Europe seems to operate on baguettes and croissants for breakfast and then pastas and sandwiches for everything else. But in Italy, restaurants have really gotten a grasp on food sensitivities and provide full gluten-free menus more often than not. In the smaller towns, this is less frequent, but we had little problems finding food I could have on our trip.

Here are a list of 10 places we tried around the country, so depending on where you are, we can point you in a tried and true direction.

Nice, France: Tuna Nicoise
Since our holiday started in Nice, I have to start with the salade nicoise. This salad actually originated in Nice, which makes it a fitting order to have on the French Riviera. We had our meal at the Galion Plage on the water. We didn’t think the meal would be that great since it was a bar on the beach, but it was actually quite fresh and flavorful. I was pleasantly surprised to also see anchovies on the plate. That’s not a typical ingredient included in English or even American renditions. Quite pricey at €18 for a beach-side pub, but it was authentic and filling.

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Vernazza, Cinque Terre: Seafood Risotto
One of the only dishes I can have in the pasta/pizza laden region of Italy is risotto. There are definitely worse things to get saddled with, but the unfortunate thing is most restaurants make this a dish for two. Al Castello in the village of Vernazza had incredible views of the ocean side and a lovely breeze that swept through the restaurant during the hottest part of the day. And they had one of the freshest seafood risottos I have ever had. Hearty, starchy rice with prawns, mussels, clams, and a single crab leg hit the spot and was a perfect Italian dish to enjoy on the water. If you’re stuck for a gluten-free choice, the risotto is the way to go. But seafood can always be trusted when you can smell the salt from the water in the air.

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Manarola, Cinque Terre: Farinata
In all of Cinque Terre, there were signs for farinata: a gluten-free, chickpea flour based flat bread. On our last night in the famed villages, I had one from a little shop called Pizzeria La Cambusa. It was dressed with some pesto, a sauce that was originated in Genoa, and was absolutely perfect in a greasy, pizza-stand way. This flat bread also originated in Genoa and later traveled toward Nice and then south in the Liguria region of Italy. I could not find it outside of Cinque Terre, but where you can find it would be where you can find pizza by the slice, so keep your eyes peeled.

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The Duomo, Florence: Le Botteghe di Donatello
Right next to the Duomo is a restaurant with an outdoor patio called Le Botteghe di Donatello. It was finally a chance for me to have some pizza on this trip. I ordered the olive, artichoke, ham and mushroom pizza with a glass of wonderful Chianti Classico wine. I am here to tell you, it was pretty incredible. We were overlooking the powerful and gorgeous Duomo, noticing the dirt on the facade and inspecting the design as we each enjoyed a pizza and shared bottle of wine. Florence is not without flaws, but this place was pretty good for a quiet dinner in the center of town.

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Santa Maria Novella Cathedral, Florence: Shake Cafe
I love green smoothies. Invariably, I have one every day. It’s the perfect way to get extra veggies in a meal without feeling guilty for having a smoothie. But when we travel, I am without my breakfast staple. Not this time. We stumbled upon Shake Cafe in Florence near the Santa Maria Novella Cathedral and Train Station. They have a large menu of all kinds of combinations. Since I was drawn to the ginger, banana, almond and yogurt shake, I asked if they could add some spinach to my order. They had no problem accommodating, and I felt at ease with this guilt-free choice of breakfast. I highly, highly recommend finding this place. They have a ton of choices and are quick to order if you’re running to catch your train.

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Montalcino, Tuscany: Osteria di Porta Al Cassero
The small town of Montalcino is famous for their Brunello wine and their wild boar dishes. Since wild boar roam the vineyards and destroy crops, hunters will frequently be called in to clear the beasts. So, it is no surprise to see wild boar on most of the menus in the small town. We rolled into Monalcino close to 2p when most cafes close up for the afternoon siesta, but we managed to squeeze into Osteria di Porta Al Cassero before they closed for a quick pranzo. I enjoyed a wild boar with sliced polenta dish. It was an ugly presentation but very tasty, but when you order, make sure you ask the servers about the allergens and ask to have the flour removed from the sauce the boar is served in. Oh, and order a glass of the Brunello. You won’t regret it.

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The Vatican, Rome: La Soffitta
Right next to The Vatican is a hole-in-the-wall place called La Soffitta. Recommended on Trip Advisor, we walked into this place with faded outdoor signs and gaudy decor. But our waitstaff were incredibly helpful and polite, and I was finally able to order proper Italian pasta. I had a spinach and ricotta ravioli with chicken. Everything on the menu is gluten-free, and they make sure you know that even sharing plates is okay. They did advertise a gluten-free tiramisu, but sadly, they had sold out by the time we had arrived. I can understand why as I haven’t had tiramisu in years. But I do recommend this place for a quick bite near The Vatican. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was quiet, decently priced, and welcoming.

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Trastevere, Rome: I Sandri
Jeff and I found this place when we were in Rome last year. I could not wait to go back and headed straight toward it without a map. I knew exactly where it was on Via Roma Libera in the Trastevere neighborhood. Famous for being trendy and catering to locals, Trastevere has a very hip and bohemian air. But it also has the most gluten-free restaurants I have ever seen in a row! The service at I Sandri was over the top as they brought me separate silverware and made sure we were happy with our orders. We just dove in for another pizza and enjoyed every calorie-laden bite. It was exactly as I remembered it from before, and it did not disappoint. I cannot recommend this place enough for great eats in Rome.

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Other gluten-free places of note in Rome are listed here.

Venice: Brek
Venice didn’t offer a lot of gluten-free choices. While we found some places listed online, they were never in convenient locations for where we were, so we relied on home cooking and quick snacks more than finding a proper restaurant to have a nice meal. But we did come across a place called Brek right near the train and bus station. Set up like an a la carte cafeteria, there are many options to pick and choose from. Again, this was not gourmet eating, but a chickpea salad with beef carpaccio is still something you won’t find in a fast food place in London or America. I was perfectly happy with my meal and the price was unbeatable. Designed for quick meals, everything was €7 or under.

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For my fellow gluten-free traveling foodies, let me know what you found roaming around! Everywhere we go, finding places to eat is always a struggle. Leave me a commend with your favorite gluten-free eats!

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