Many people who can’t tolerate gluten fear they’ll be excluded from the culinary delights of Italy. Thankfully this is not true. There’s no reason to be deprived: even if you can’t eat gluten-containing products in Rome, you can in fact have it all.
- Firstly, Italian cuisine is wayyyy more than pizza, pasta, foccaccia, and cornetti – so gluten-free dishes abound on any standard osteria or trattoria menu.
- Secondly, celiac and other conditions that require gluten-free eating are also prevalent in Italy, and Italian people suffer from these conditions too so need places to eat out.
How to tell people in Rome that you can’t eat gluten
The easiest way to indicate that you don’t eat gluten is to say that you’re celiac. Sono celiaca (or celiaco if you’re male). This is proounced “SOH-noh chel-ee-ACK-ah” (or “-oh”).
If you’re not celiac and/or want to be more precise, say non riesco a mangiare il glutine. “Non ree-ESS-coh man-JAR-eh eel GLUE-teen-eh”.
To say simply “no gluten” say senza glutine: “SEN-tsa GLUE-teen-eh”.
Gluten-free restaurants in Rome
There are many restaurants that offer varying degrees of compliance with a gluten-free lifestyle in Rome, from those that offer gluten-free foods incidentally, to those that actively cook gluten-free versions of classic Roman and Italian food.
Top of the list here is the amazing Mangiafuoco (“eat fire”), which has the philosophy of not depriving gluten-free diners of any of the Italian staples, from gluten-free pizza to pasta, right the way down to gluten-free artisan beer.
The entire kitchen at Mangiafuoco is subdivided, as is the menu. Gluten-free and gluten-eating dining partners can even order the same dish, and there is no chance of cross-contamination. Absolutely peerless execution. Nearest metro is Sant’Agnese/Annibaliano.
Other restaurants where cross-contamination is taken seriously:
Centro storico (historic centre)
- Pandalì on Largo di Torre Argentina
- Voglia di Pizza on Via dei Giubbonari
- Emma Pizzeria on Via del Monte della Farina
Prati (Vatican area)
- La Soffitta Renovatio on Piazza Risorgimento
Gluten-free options in ‘regular’ restaurants in Rome
As mentioned, Roman cuisine is far more than the starchy staples.
For appetizers there are many antipasti – cheeses (formaggi) and cured meats (salumi) which can be enjoyed without concern.
Among other gluten-free options are any salad (insalata) or main course salad (insalatone).
The only standard starch course that may be suitable would be a risotto, but do check with the waiter that flour-based bechamel (besciamella) is not used in the sauce.
Finally for secondi (protein course) there are lots of options of steak, pork, lamb (abbacchio), fish, scamorza (smoked cheese served as a main), and various side dishes (contorni) such as cicoria, spinach, roast potatoes, etc. etc.
You should just be careful when something comes with a sauce – such as saltimbocca, which is dredged in flour before cooking – or is breaded (impanato).
Whenever ordering anything, make sure the waitstaff understands that you need it senza glutine. And in regular restaurants do bear in mind that if you’re severely intolerant there is a danger of trace amounts in non-gluten containing dishes.
Gluten-free self-catering in Rome
Obviously supermarkets and grocery stores (alimentari) will always carry gluten-free vegetables, fruit, and meat, but nearly every supermarket in Rome also carries a small range of gluten-free pastas, breads, and so on. Larger branches have more variety. Quality is never very high.
Convenience stores rarely carry such items, so in the city center, supermarkets to look out for are the major chains Conad, Carrefour, PAM, and discount chains such as Tuodì, Fresco Market, and Todis.
There is a specialized gluten-free store called Celachiamo Lab in the Vatican area.
There is also a chain called Isola Celiaca (“Celiac Island”) but its branches are in the outer suburbs.
Where to find breakfast and gluten-free bakeries in Rome
While eating a gluten-free lunch and dinner in Rome is relatively easy, one thing you may have to put effort into seeking out is breakfast, since the traditional Italian breakfast is almost exclusively based on sweet, baked goods. Either stock up on proteins and fruit at your hotel’s international breakfast buffet, or check our list below for pasticcerie and bars that carry gluten-free pastries:
Good news is that the above-mentioned Pandalì is not just a cafe but also a gluten-free bakery that will treat you to a typical Italian breakfast treat with not a trace of gluten in sight.
There’s also New Food Gluten Free at Ponte Sisto by the river (and there’s another branch by Ponte Milvio too).
Worth making a trip for is Le Altre Farine del Mulino (“the mill’s other flours”) just south of Vatican City on Via di Porta Cavalleggeri.
Gluten-free apps and websites for Rome
The AIC – Associazione Italiano Celiachia (Italian Celiac Association) has a large number of resources, including an app but it is in Italian only. The free version only lasts for 14 days so wait until you have arrived to install it.
On the AIC website there are useful guides to the unfamiliar Italian names of gluten-free foods such as grains to avoid and gluten-free grains, which can help you to identify friends and foes on ingredient lists.
Obviously celiac and related conditions must be taken very seriously, but for those of us who have a milder form of gluten intolerance, particularly people who come from countries where flour is extremely industrialized find that their symptoms miraculously go into remission while in Italy. This is because the intolerance may not actually be due to gluten, but to various extra additives in the flour; in Italy there is a different mix of flours used, with more heritage grains involved, and also less extreme industrial processes.
If your condition is not serious and you are prepared to give it a go, it may be an idea to try small amounts of baked products labelled alta digeribilità (high digestability) and lungo levitazione (long fermentation) to see how you go, and if you react well, maybe you can start ordering a little more of the amazing flour-based products. Buon appetito!