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First trip to Italy- Florence and Venice, please help with gluten free options

Hello I will be taking my first trip to Florence (6 days) and Venice (3 days) with my friend who does not eat gluten. The trip is not until the spring so I have plenty of time to plan but wanted to start to research eateries with non-pasta/pizza/bread dishes that are great. We are from New York and looking for very authentic dining experiences. I've looked at several posts but many of the restaurants don't have websites with full menus so I'm hoping for some insight.

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  1. So, I've been waiting for another ChowHounder to post to this topic, and I have had an array of thoughts about this.

    First, I think that this may be a more relevant post in the Special Diets forum instead of the Italy forum. I wouldn't believe that the GF phenomenon is prominent in Italy.

    Second, your friend should choose menu items that she/he knows are GF. Meats, seafood, and vegetables.

    I haven't been to Europe for a couple of years, but I doubt that the strong food cultures that are so traditional there will have popup GF options as we have had here in America. I might be corrected, but this would sadden me.

    That said, I hope YOU enjoy every slice of cafe pizza and trattoria pasta that you can find. Enjoy your fabulous trip to Italy!!

    1. Contrary to the above post, Italians do recognize gluten free and there have been many discussions on this topic on this board. Just type in 'gluten' on the top right box and hit search.
      As for Venice, there are pizza everywhere but good osterie and trattorie do not serve it. They do serve pasta but many will have a risotto or two on the menu. Bread dishes are mainly in bacari or front bars of restaurants that serve cicchetti where sandwiches and crostini are common. Given all that, your friend should not have trouble finding good food in most of the places recommended on this board. I would speak to the waitstaff as dishes may have flour in them: ie thickener for sauces, breading for frying or as a binder for stuffing. If cross-contamination is an issue, then one has to be extra careful. Very few eating places in Venice have their menu online. If you have places in mind, you might post them and hopefully some posters can answer your questions.

      1. I have read that there is strong awareness of celiac and related disorders in Italy because of a relatively high incidence of celiac among the population. I also understand that government/public organizations are required to provide GF options when serving food.

        That said, I think it will be very important to do your research carefully before you leave. I normally eat a low-gluten diet by choice, but found I had to abandon this approach during much of the time I was recently in Italy. If your friend is celiac and could become seriously ill from eating gluten, abandonment is not an option.

        It will be especially important to pick your restaurants carefully in Venice, as there seem to be a lot of tourist-trade eateries that serve only so-so pasta/pizza food. Elizabeth Minichilli's apps Eat Venice and Eat Florence never let us down and we relied on them extensively for Rome as well.

        The typical Italian breakfast (coronettos, sweet buns, and caffee lattee) may be the biggest hurdle to a GF vacation. If you have access to a fridge, you can store some yoghurt, fruits, cheese, or other breakfast options.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bonlee

          Thanks for the shout out for Eat Rome and Eat Venice.
          As others have mentioned, it really does make a huge difference if your friend is on a gluten free diet or if she truly has celiac disease. If it is simply a gluten free diet, then she shouldn't have any problem at all. Avoiding pasta and pizza is pretty easy, especially in Venice where there is plenty of risotti and polenta at almost every restaurant.

          If, however, your friend is truly celiac then it will be a bit more challenging, but not impossible. You just have to be careful, as with any other alimentary allergy. It would be helpful to have something printed out ahead of time, just to make yourself clear.


          1. re: minchilli

            Just to clarify - celiac is not an allergy but an auto-immune disease. And thankfully, speaking from lots of experience, you can eat in Venice as a celiac. Not easy but it can be done. If all else fails, as I mentioned above, head to the market for fruit and vegetables.

            Each time we visit a foreign country, we do take along restaurant cards in that particular language which can be very helpful, especially if you are eating at an untouristy place.

        2. There is an Italian association for celiacs with a list of participating restaurants on their website, if you need to be very strict for your friend: http://www.celiachia.it/DIETA/afc/Ris...
          I actually came across it quite randomly today while looking at the website for the restaurant Enotria in Florence.

          Under "Ricerca Esercizi" you can sort by region and province, and then search for menus and reviews from there.

          I won't claim to be an expert on gluten-free diets or the exact preparations of all dishes, but you could probably do well in Florence sticking to bistecca, trippa/lampredotto (obviously not in a sandwich), braised meats, game etc. Good luck!

          1 Reply
          1. re: culinas

            Wow, I can't thank you enough for all the advice. Thank goodness I have plenty of time to do some research.

          2. Italy is the easiest place for celiac's. Your friend won't have any problems. Just inform the waiter. If you don't speak Italian, learn the few words you need. In many restaurants you will see them on the menu and he will recognize them. I forget what the term is, but its obvious.

            1. I am wheat intolerant, I am Italian and I can confirm that gluten-related problems in Italy are on the rise and very well known.

              Most supermarkets carry GF products, therefore snacks are always available. However, you need to stock as historic town centres don't have supermarkets which tend to be in the suburbs.

              Above all your friend must make clear if she is celiac rather than simply on a gluten free diet. If she is celiac and highly sensitive when visting a non certified restaurant she needs to explain that any contamination can be cause of serious illness.

              If she is on a gluten free diet then she can pick from any menu as protein-based dishes and vegetables are available everywhere.

              Please also check this article for a few more location-specific tips http://www.legalnomads.com/2012/05/gl...

              1. As stated below, Italy is quite aware of celiac problems. I would have her print out a little card and hand it to the waiters.

                Italy has wonderful gluten free pasta and it is easy to avoid pizza, bread etc.

                If she is VERY sensitive-- and can get really sick- then watch our carefully- i don't think mos tpeople know that even some salumi has flour in it!

                You can get ice cream in a paper cup instead of a cone- BUT- if the icecrem container has little crubms of cone in it from previous "dippings".

                Find out how serious her case is.


                3 Replies
                1. re: Diva

                  If she has celiac, it is serious. Like being pregnant or a little pregnant! :-)

                  We travel to Venice regularly and have a few tips as I have celiac myself. Many gelati is not gluten free. Some places have shown me ingredient labels. However, Grom gelato is all gluten free.

                  Frequent markets. Pharmacies carry GF products.

                  Polenta and risotto are often GF but be sure the stocks are house made as commercial brands contain gluten.

                  But it is true that Italy is generally far more aware than most countries. They will know what celiac is.

                  Oh, if you have anything grilled, be sure the grill is scrubbed in case bread was on there.

                  1. re: chefathome

                    i must say GROM is very good-- in that they are also trained if you are celiac-- to take from a new tub as they also serve gelato in cones-- and could have crumbs!!! BRAVI

                    1. re: Diva

                      Yes, they are the only place I feel "safe" eating gelato. I love that they get it! Bravi is right.