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Gluten Free in Italy: College Student Studying Abroad Has Great Success Dining Gluten Free at Restaurants in Rome

Gfcollege logoOur "Gluten Free in College" Blogger Julie Bourne joins us this month with a report on the gluten free dining scene in Rome, where she is studying abroad for the semester.

Though it seems like I just left Seattle yesterday, I have already been in Rome for nearly a month. Where has the time gone? I now truly understand what people mean when they tell me to “savor every moment” of my abroad experience since it will be over before I know it. I like to think that I’m taking advantage of every day here. I can certainly assure you that I’m taking advantage of the plethora of gluten free foods available!

It is a common misconception that Italy -- being the decreed land of pasta and pizza -- would be a miserable place for gluten free eaters, let alone those of us with full blown Celiac Disease. Quite the opposite is true: Italy happens to be one of the best options for gluten free travelers due to the prevalence and general awareness of Celiac Disease throughout the country. Before the age of seven, Italians are tested for a variety of diseases and allergies (Celiac Disease included), so nearly everyone who has developed it by that point knows it. (Therefore, the average time one waits before a proper diagnosis in Italy is far less than the average diagnosis lag time of “11 years” adult Celiacs in the U.S. deal with.)

Restaurants chefs are almost always trained to accommodate guests who have specific dietary needs, and even pharmacies carry gluten free, food since it is considered a serious medical condition in Italy. Simply put, Italy -- or as far as I know through personal experience, Rome -- is a gluten free heaven.

GF gelato and cone in RomeDuring my first few days in Rome, I was treading very carefully, having been fresh off the plane from the United States (where you can’t ever be too careful about eating safely). I stuck to restaurants that had been recommended by GlutenFreeTravelSite (find reviews on their Italy page) and various people online who’ve posted locations that are safe for gluten free diners. Some of those recommendations included La Soffita Renevatio, Il Capriccio, and for gelato, Gelateria Fatamorgana. As I quickly became comfortable ordering food from these places, I started to branch out to other restaurants that didn’t necessarily advertise being “gluten free friendly,” but would possibly be able to accommodate my dietary needs. Using the simple phrase, “Io sono celiaca. Posso mangiare qui?” which translates to “I am a celiac. Can I eat here?” I have been able to eat comfortably and happily at every restaurant I’ve stepped in. Even at a sandwich shop that my friends and I went to, the woman who ran the shop offered to prepare for me a (off-the-menu) fresh fruit salad!

A successful recent dining endeavor occurred when my friends and I went out to the Trastevere neighborhood of the city for some dinner and drinks. I had already eaten, so I simply ordered some wine at the restaurant where we stopped.

GF spaghetti carbonaraThe waitress asked if I would like something to eat like the rest of my friends. I told her about my dietary health circumstances, upon which she immediately offered up some of the restaurant’s pasta with my choice of sauce, all gluten free! Despite my already full stomach, I didn’t turn this down. Let me remind you that this was a random restaurant that we just stumbled upon, and they just so happened to have gluten free pasta! It’s so easy here, and I’ve truly cherished every time that I leave a restaurant feeling well fed and, more importantly, not sick. My advice? Visit Rome, see the sights, and eat well.

You can read all of Julie's "Thriving GF @ College" posts on our Blog. She joins us each month with advice from living gluten free at her home college of University of Denver -- and now from her study abroad base in Rome.