Julie Bourne, a gluten free Blogger and college student studying in Rome this semester, joins us once again for her regular monthly column to share her thoughts on shopping for gluten free food in Rome -- and fixing healthy, easy, and affordable gluten free meals.
Italy, being the mecca of all that is good in the eye of a foodie, encourages visitors to partake in the authentic Italian cuisine offered up at the abundant selection of restaurants. During my first few weeks in Rome, I took part in this vacationer ritual, going out to several Rick-Steves-approved restaurants to fill my tummy with classic Italian food (and I'll be sharing these -- and some of my other favorite dining spots -- in my post next month). However, this “honeymoon” phase of my time in Italy has come and gone as I am settling into life here as a temporary local. Whether I am navigating the Italian grocery store shelves, cooking a meal in my small and communal kitchen space, or preparing for a weekend excursion, I am discovering something new about eating gluten free in Italy every day.
When it comes to grocery shopping, I’ve been doing it the Italian way. Italians are very particular about the freshness and quality of their foods, so they sell fruit and vegetables at the frutteria, meats and cheeses at the alimentari, and everything else at the regular old grocery store. Gluten free labeling is considerably more prominent in the average Italian supermarket than it is in the U.S, but it still takes extra time and effort, nonetheless. The key words, here being “senza glutine,” are often found right near the ingredient listing and/or nutritional facts -- same deal as it is back home.
Fruits and vegetables are extremely affordable here, making the seasonal goodies a regular go-to snack for me. I keep my food cabinet regularly stocked with gluten free pasta (“Le Veneziane” is the most expensive GF pasta but “Schar” will be the best bang for your buck), quinoa (sent to me from home, thanks to mom), rice, and polenta. To these staples, I add various vegetables, beans, cheeses, and meats, making filling and affordable meals. I live in an apartment with four non-GF roommates who also cook in the kitchen, but they use separate utensils and cookware. My study abroad program, ISA, was thoughtful enough to supply me with my own cookware upon my arrival, so I have all of this labeled as “Gluten Free” and have communicated with my roommates about the risks of cross-contamination - they have been nothing but understanding!
I’ve found it to be difficult to find gluten free food bars (like Larabar or KIND) in Rome, so I had my mom send me Costco boxes of them for emergency food situations. I haven’t needed to use them at all in Rome, but they have been lifesavers during weekend excursions when meals such as breakfast and lunch are a little bit “iffy”, consisting usually of sandwiches and pizza.
All in all, living gluten free in Rome has proven to be quite simple! Sure, everything is written in Italian and interactions with the food shop owners often result in awkward broken language. But in true Italian fashion, Romans just want everyone to be able to enjoy good food, including us gluten free eaters!
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