Gluten-free Food and Restaurants in Italy

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

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:

Here are suggestions for some Italian dishes that are gluten-free, just the way they are:

  • Polenta
  • 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!

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Comments

  1. says

    I noticed a lot of the gelato shops have gluten-free cones, individually wrapped in plastic (so they don’t get contaminated). That’s a nice touch..

  2. Tiana says

    This was a perfect post! I have been following you for a while, and 2 weeks ago I arrived in Milan to study abroad. One of my friends has celiac and it has been quite an adjustment to Italy for her. We went to a restaurant last night called Bio Solaire (Via Terraggio, 20) and they were very accomodating. If you ask beforehand they get gluten-free pizza dough and make rice cake bruschetta. The waitress was the nicest person I’ve met, and I highly recommend it.

  3. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @David – I’ll have to pay more attention – I’ve never noticed them!
    @Rebecca – excellent links, thanks for sharing them!
    @Tiana – glad this post got you to come out and comment :) I’ve been to a Bio Solaire on Via Valtellina, I wonder if they are a chain – thanks for the recommendation!

  4. says

    Thanks for bringing attention to this prickly problem. I am both gluten and lactose intolerant and when eating out usually just stick to vegetables and meat or fish, always checking first that they don’t have breading, flour or cheeses added on.

  5. cristina says

    Hi Sara
    People are always amazed that there are so many Italians with celiac disease. Here in Vancouver, all the Italian delis have gluten free pasta-including gnocchi made with brown rice flour and potato. they are really good.
    One thing I have noticed in Italy though (I go to Puglia every year) is that often farro (spelt) is considered gluten-free. While it is very low in gluten, it isn’t gluten-free. Don’t know if that piece of info will be useful to anyone. thanks for the interesting post! Cristina

  6. says

    Many of the pharmacies, at least in northern Tuscany, carry gluten-free pasta and other basics for those who have rented an apartment and want to cook.

  7. says

    To echo James above, one of the best and easiest places to stock up on gluten free goods is in pharmacies . Most larger supermarkets will carry a line of gluten free pasta, crackers and snacks. Riso Scotti, a popular line of rice-flour pasta is gluten free.

  8. J'Marinde Shephard says

    Can you please identify what the pic at the top is that looks kind of like and Armenian pizza, and put ina link for the recips? Than klyou.

    BTW – - my biggest gripe is pages that do not do this and leave my to wonder what the food is and where to find the recipe.

  9. says

    Venice also has a specialty store with gluten-free products, a minute off the main drag that many people use to walk from the station to San Marco (Cannaregio 3803 – Calle Priuli off Strada Nova) called Mea Libera Tutti

  10. says

    Sorry about having put the URL for my blogspot.com blog, mymilanitaly, in the post…the “Note” is so small that it made for hard reading for these poor ol’ eyes, and I saw the warning too late, and can’t see how to delete so as to rewrite my post. Will do a better job next time, sorry and thanks!

  11. Elizabeth says

    Hi Sara,
    Thanks for this information. I just had an inquiry on the same subject. Sames like many people have gluten allergies.

  12. Jaime says

    Hi Sara-
    I’m just back from Milano last week and it was a great trip. Wanted to follow up on where we went!

    I used the website Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AIC) that you gave above and mapped out places that were close to where we were staying (by Teatro Scala). At the restaurant, a simple “Senza glutine” was enough! At all of the places below, the staff spoke some English.

    - Specialita: Pizza is the speciality and its so good I went back again!

    - La Rosa Dei Venti: Seafood restaurant where the chef is celiac. Homemade focaccia bread is well worth the trip. Gnocchipretty good too. This is the only place they told us its better to call ahead to inform the kitchen.

    - Cantina Piemontese: Classic. The gluten free cutlet was outstanding! The spring vegetables tagliatelle melted in my mouth.

    Can’t say enough about those 3 places!

    Another option is Japanese food. We liked Bento Bar where the bento box bento box was a great lunch! Depending on what you order, its an option besides Italian food.

    On a side note, my husband is a gelato fan and we went to Il Massimo del Gelato, Chocolat, Pinguino Blu, and a couple others. Chocolat was our hands down favorite.

    All the best!
    Jaime

  13. Dian Leeper says

    My husband has celiac disease. We are traveling in Rome then to Naples and then to Amalfi coast – staying in Sorrento and town of Amalfi for 12 days. We need eating information on both places on Amalfi Coast. Thanks for the wonderful website.

  14. says

    Hi. We just spent two weeks in Piedmonte, Veneto, and Tuscany. We found that almost every restaurant we went to understood “senza glutina” (female). We had some outstanding meals, though, at gluten free establishments. Here are our picks:
    1. Piedmont, Alba, IT: B&B Villa La Favorita. Roberta, innkeeper is super gluten-free-friendly. http://www.villalafavorita.it
    2. Florence: Ciro & Sons (could make anything on their menu GF)- you can find them on tripadvisor
    Ciroandsons.com
    3. (Valdarno, Arezzo): Osteria dell’ Acquolina- loc. Pattern 96- Terranuova Braccholini- served GF bread, pasta, and GF FRIEBDLY MENU
    4. Arezzo, Italy- Miva d’ Piu- total GF menu available

    It was so exciting going out for dinner getting bread, pasta, pizza, and knowing that they understood our GF needs!

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