This is Julie Bourne's final Blog post from ROME, where she has been studying -- and eating gluten free -- for the semester. She shares with us some of her top restaurant picks...places she can rely on for a safe, gluten free meal in Rome. Stay tuned for her January post, when alas, she returns to her "home base" at the University of Denver.
The first reaction that I get when I tell people that I am studying abroad in Rome is always the same: “How can you eat anything there? Don’t they only eat pasta and pizza?”
The truth about Italy as a whole is that the vast majority of people who work at restaurants here understand the needs of people with allergies or Celiac Disease. Since Celiac Disease is so prominent in Italy (due to more aggressive efforts in diagnosis than in the U.S.), there is a good chance that your waiter has a sister, friend, parent, or cousin-twice-removed who also has Celiac Disease or “Celiaca” (che-li-aka), so they will do what is necessary to provide you with a safe meal. That does not mean, however, that you can go into any restaurant unprepared.
A key phrase to learn before traveling to Italy is “Sono celiaco/a. Posso mangiare qui?” This translates to “I am a celiac. Can I eat here?” This is something that you can ask the seating host before entering a restaurant. This will either confirm to you that you need to go elsewhere, or it will give you a peace of mind in knowing that you can eat something there. I might quickly add that I have yet to be turned away by a restaurant - they have always been willing to make something that I can eat. I know that anyone with a gluten allergy or with Celiac Disease will gag when I say this, but if you feel at all doubtful, a salad will almost always be safe as they serve only olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dressing. Luckily, Italians pride themselves on the simplicity of their food, meaning that they are not adding unnecessary gluten to their menu items. It if sounds gluten free, it is probably gluten free- just double check with the waiter before ordering.
While studying in Rome, I have not been eating out as much as I probably should be due to my penny-pinching nature and the constant fear that I will run out of money while I’m still abroad. I cook most of my meals in the apartment, but when I decide to go out to eat, I have several restaurants that have started to recognize me as a repeat customer. I've reviewed all of them on GlutenFreeTravelSite.
My favorite restaurant in all of Rome is La Soffitta Renovatio in Piazza Risorgimento. They can make nearly anything on the menu gluten free, including everything from ravioli to bruschetta to pizza. I always go for the classic marinara pizza, as their tomato basil sauce is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. If you are in the Trastevere area (arguably the best neighborhood of Rome), check out Pizza Roma for some amazing gluten free spaghetti carbonara and even more amazing hospitality. In the same area, you’ll find Baccanale where you can get the best eggplant Parmesan you’ve ever had. For dessert, stop by Gelateria Fatamorgana for some pistachio gelato on a gluten free cone. If you’re spending the day in Vatican City, you can get your gelato fix at Old Bridge Gelateria where you will stand in an incredibly long line for some of the best gelato in town. Tell them you are gluten free and they will wash their hands before getting you a gluten free cone and piling it high with refreshing strawberry gelato. Hungry yet? I know I am.
For more gluten free restaurant and travel reviews from Italy, be sure to visit GlutenFreeTravelSite's Italy page -- or search any specific town or city in Italy or elsewhere -- on our Search/Mapping page.