Dear Ms. Adventures,
where I can find good gluten-free Italian food in restaurants in Milan? I’ve been “told” that some restaurants in Italy even offer gluten free pasta. I did see that you posted about the grocery shop Natura Si, which sells gluten free products and great if you live there, but I’m like to find where we can eat out as a visitor without a kitchen. ~ Jaime
While I’m not gluten-free myself (though I often experiment with gluten-free recipes, alternative flours, and grains like chestnut flour muffins, quinoa and the recent flourless Chocolate Nutella cake) I can imagine the difficulty in traveling to foreign countries and not being able to serenely order from a menu.
Here’s some of my advice, and I strongly welcome comments from actual celiac disease sufferers with experience eating and traveling in Italy. I’ll incorporate some of the best / most helpful comments back into this post as well.
Some people recommend just saying, “Sono celiaco/a” (a for women, o for men) when traveling in Italy but I don’t think it’s quite enough. While everyone in Italy will understand what the disease is, it’s not guaranteed that they can or will accommodate your special needs. Italian restaurants and people are normally sensitive but they won’t always rearrange their menu and cook a special order, and it’s a bad assumption to make when arriving at any restaurant. Another useful phrase to ask is “è senza glutine?” (is (it) gluten-free?)
Ideally, you would call ahead of time to check a) if there are any gluten-free options already on the menu, or b) if you bring your own gluten-free pasta, will they cook it for you. If you have even more time, and the restaurant is online/has an email address, try sending the following message (not perfect, but it’ll do):
Sono celiaca, e sto cercando informazioni sui ristoranti a (cityname). Sarebbe possibile sapere se ci sono piatti senza glutine sul menu al vostro ristorante? Altrimenti sarebbe possibile far cuocere la pasta senza glutine, che porterei io al ristorante?
or for breakfast in a hotel
Sono celiaca, e sto cercando informazioni sugli alberghi a (city name). Sarebbe possibile sapere se ci sono opzioni senza glutine per la colazione al vostro albergo?
Grazie per l’informazione.
For people suffering from celiac disease, it is possible to eat well and travel in Italy – the land of pizza and pasta.
Please note that the smaller town you visit, the fewer options you might have. Luckily Milan is a big city with a lot of options for you. You can get gluten-free pasta at many pharmacies and definitely at health food stores like Natura Sì (Porta Venezia & Centrale/Gioia metro), and some international stores like SuperPolo (Moscova metro stop) might be good options if you want to pop in and get a few packages of pasta to bring with you. Many of the larger supermercati will have rice cakes, gluten-free crackers, and probably some sort of pasta di riso (rice pasta). In any case, I would stick a package in your luggage/purse that you can have on hand for a backup.
To find a gluten-free-friendly restaurant, I suggest you visit the Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AIC). I can’t provide a list of restaurants and hope it will stay updated on this site – but they are committed to providing one for restaurants (ristoranti), gelaterie, and even bed & breakfasts. They also give a phone number to call inside Italy: 89.24.24. The English section of the site is currently offline, but they have a Facebook page and might be a good place to get some information or possible feedback before your trip.
To use, go to the Restaurants section, click on “Seleziona un regione” (choose your region) in the drop-down – the names of the 20 Italian regions are in Italian. If you’re not sure what region the city you’re visiting is in, a quick Google search for “cityname regione Italia” and it will probably turn up the answer. For Milan, we’ll select “Lombardia” (Lombardy region) and you can further narrow down the results by selecting “Provincia” province. Google can also help you find this out “cityname provincia Italia.”
Once you get the results, click on the restaurant name and you should get an address and phone number.
Here’s some helpful direct links on the AIC website:
- Milan gluten-free restaurants
- Rome gluten-free restaurants
- Gluten-free restaurants in other regions
- Gluten-free gelaterie in italy
- Grom, one of the decent gelaterie that are a chain and found in many cities is celiac-friendly
Here are suggestions for some Italian dishes that are gluten-free, just the way they are:
- Patate – Potatoes
- Farinata or panelle – made with chickpea flour. For panelle, make sure they are not fried with flour/breadcrumbs.
- Gnocchi – ask if they are made with only potatoes, some have flour
- Crocchette di patate – a snack; potato balls/tots; might be covered in flour/breadcrumbs.
- Risotto – rice, ask if gluten free broth
- Zuppa di lenticchie – Lentil soup
- Insalata di riso – rice salad (more a summer dish)
Breakfast is probably the most difficult meal to eat gluten-free, as it’s mainly a piece of bread or Italian croissant with jam and of course coffee. Eggs and other savory breakfast items are not part of the normal Italian breakfast. You may try to request gluten-free crackers, fresh fruit (frutta fresca) or yogurt as alternatives, but bringing a few options from home is always a good idea if you need a hearty breakfast while in Italy.
Do you have suggestions for finding gluten-free food in Italy? What are your favorite Italian dishes that are gluten-free as they are?
If you have a food-related question, contact me with “Ask Ms. Adventures in Italy” in the subject line and I might answer it online!