Guide to Gluten-Free Travel in Italy

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Gluten-free travel in Italy isn’t just possible, it’s delicious. Recent IES Abroad alum and Ambassador Mariah Bensley (IES Abroad Siena | Hope College) found that with a little research and some perseverance she was able to enjoy the best of Italian cuisine while being gluten-free.

Read on to hear her advice for others traveling with celiac disease and her top five gluten-free Italian dishes.

As someone who would be studying abroad with celiac disease, I figured my dreams of enjoying delicious Italian cuisine were out of reach. However, after speding four months in Italy, I learned to be smart about what I ate. The result left me with nothing but the best foods up for grabs.

If you are traveling with celiac disease, or any other food restrictions, a big fear may accompany you when leaving the United States and entering a country with a whole new cuisine for you to navigate around. As someone who experienced all these anxieties, I am here to tell you that you can do it. Do your research before you head abroad and ask questions once you arrive.

So, without further ado, here are the top five gluten-free dishes I found to be most satisfying while living in Italy.

risotto a gluten free dish
Risotto

This warm, creamy, rice dish is the perfect meal to fill your belly and satisfy your taste buds. As with many Italian dishes, risotto can be made with a range of flavors depending on which toppings are offered at particular restaurants.

With its rice base, this meal is the perfect go to for a gluten-free dinner. Personally, I recommend a mushroom or artichoke risotto to really stimulate your taste buds.

gluten free pasta in italy
Pasta

Of course, this had to be included in a list of the best Italian dishes. The country seems to have perfected the art of the noodle, including gluten-free options.

Though I get strongly affected by gluten, I learned while abroad that people who merely have a gluten intolerance can often consume the original Italian noodle due to their ancient grain. Do some research before you go, to see if this option could be right for you.

bruschetta can be made gluten free
Bruschetta

In order to taste this appetizer with all of its Italian flavor—but without the gluten—you may need to do some digging and search around the area you are staying. Once you find a gluten-free bruschetta, however, the taste gives you everything you could ever want on a slice of bread.

If you struggle to find a restaurant that serves this dish, consider making it yourself. Many grocery stores have a large section of gluten-free items such as breads and pastas.

gelato is usually gluten free
Gelato

I’m including gelato on this list as a PSA for everyone, regardless of whether they have a gluten intolerance or not. When in Italy there will be a few places who present beautiful, over the top presentations of gelato that stand a foot high. Don't go there. Go to the hole in the wall gelato shops whose desserts may look plain but hold the genuine gelato. Many shops will even offer gluten-free cones to compliment their rich gelato.

gluten free pizza
Pizza

Everywhere in Italy has amazing pizza. It is easily the most delicious, convenient, and exciting dish Italy has to offer and being gluten-free is no exception. In smaller towns and cities, the options may be more limited, but when traveling to the larger, and more modernized areas, I was taken over by the influx of options. I even once saw a pizza with hotdogs and french fries cooked into it!

After sampling many of the flavors Italy had to offer, my favorite was at a pizza joint in an alley behind the Pantheon in Rome. There, I got a gluten-free, pear and gorgonzola pizza that made me see angels. The combo of pears and gorgonzola cheese was pure inspiration.

While in Italy, you can find gluten-free options to test out all of these foods and experience for yourself the art form that is Italian cuisine.

Keep in mind that, whether you are looking for a specific meal or not, when traveling to a new city do a quick check on Google for the food hubs with the best reviews. Refine your search with your price range, and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Finally, do not be afraid to cook some of these dishes yourself. Ask a local if they have any tips, or do some online research. The most crucial aspect to any Italian dishes are the ingredients used. Do not be afraid to eat well, it's a part of the Italian culture, and being gluten-free should never hinder your experience.

 

We’re not ashamed to say we love talking about food. Check out more food-related content that’s sure to have your mouth watering and your mind at ease when traveling with dietary restrictions.

 


Mariah Bensley

Mariah Bensley, IES Abroad Ambassador
IES Abroad Siena | Hope College

When Mariah was 14 years old and visiting Italy for the first time, she made the definite decision to one day live in Siena, Italy. She says this cemented life choice was based on one unusual but lasting memory: eating her first gluten-free ice cream cone while sitting in the Piazza on a sunny March day. Since that day, she has gone on to pursue a degree at Hope College in Holland, Michigan double-majoring in Psychology and History.

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