A Celiac’s Outlook on the Pizza and Pasta Utopia
Living without gluten quickly tends to become second nature for mostCeliacs. After one starts to avoid gluten, the reactions and symptoms clear up, and one realizes just how good their body can feel. For me, my arrival to Rome preceded my diagnosis of Celiac’s disease by four months. Ibecame aware of it upon my return to Seattle for holiday. For four months prior I gorged on delectable thin, gooey, cheesy whole pizzas (as often is the style to eat a whole pizza in some restaurants), mouth-watering carbonaras, and palatable gelatos of every flavor. Meanwhile, the tolls of gluten’s symptoms were taking a traumatic toll on my heath and university course work. What was happening? What was wrong with me? I just didn’t understand why I was constantly sick while my friends and roommates were not. Well, I soon found out the truth—I was allergic to all Dairy, Chicken, Eggs, Sugar, Yeast, Coffee, Corn, Spelt, Sesame Seeds, and most significantly, a Celiac.
It’scommon for Celiacs to also be allergic to dairy and a variety of other foods. I was no exception. After weeks of searching for restaurants, scanning menus, trying my hand at baking gluten free, and reading countless Italian food labels I had to translate, I realized I can live gluten free AND I can do it amidstthe tempting aromas from the Pizzeria below my apartment.
Scanning the Menu
At first glance there usually appears to be no hope for eating out at restaurants. Walking by that pizzeria may be disheartening at first, but you can still enjoy Italian cuisine without sacrificing your health. Typical Italian restaurants menus include sections “The Antipasto”, “The Primo”, “The Secondo”, “The Contorno”,and “The Dolce”.
The Antipasto: The appetizer. Beware, most to all of these will be bread with meat, tomatoes, or some other topping. This is usually something to skip but if in doubt, ask or you may be disappointed with what comes out. This is especially true if it is something mysteriously labeled and nondescriptive in its name like “Antipasti Della Casa”. You’re not missing out on much anyways!
The Primo: The First Course. Pasta, polenta, soup, and rice are all popular first courses. In Italy, people are very much aware of Celiac disease even more than in some parts of the states. Some of the most important Celiac studies were done here so many places will offer gluten-free pasta if you ask. This pasta 99% of the time is made from corn and doesn’t have the best taste if not paired with a nice sauce (so if you make it at home, add some mushroom or tomato sauce). However, if like myself, you too are allergic to corn it’s best to stay away from pasta altogether.
Gnocchiis a great alternative offered on the Primo. Though it can be made from wheat four and egg, most commonly found are potato gnocchi, which are somewhat dumpling-like and absolutely delicious! It’s a great alternative and very commonly found on most menus in Italy.
Obviously, polenta, soup, and rice all too make for great options though there may only be one of these on any given menu. Further, make sure to specify no formaggio (“senzaformaggio per favore”) to order without cheese. And ask what the soup of the day is! There are a lot of vegetable soups that are gluten free! Soups you can generally trust unless they use a broth cube, which may contain gluten— though this is not usual.
The Secondo: The Main Course. A selection of meats to choose from commonly chicken, beef, fish, and other seafood or animals that is prepared simply. Not a Vegan or Vegetarians’ choice certainly, but delectable if one’s only concern is gluten. Depending on where you are eating however, these plates can get expensive really quickly and most Americans looking for a one-course meal tend to opt for a Primo only or a Secondo only.
The Contorno:Side Dishes. Small portions of vegetables that usually accompany the main course are found here. Generally gluten-free and easy to translate for even the novice Italian-speaker, so you should be able to tell what you can and cannot have without much difficulty.
The Dolce: The Dessert or Sweet. This is where things get tricky. I’m sorry that tiramisu is off-limits but your body will be thanking you when you come home without the extra pounds those friends who indulged in gelato discovered. But if dairy is A-Okay with your body, a scoop or two won’t hurt considering the hundred of flavors you can find in Rome, it is worth it!
Lucky for me living in Trastevere, a historically artistic neighborhood in Rome beloved by locals and tourists alike—Mama! Eathere an entirely gluten free restaurant right outside of Piazza Santa Maria Trastevere that offers every kind of food you can dream of! Pizza, pasta, hamburgers, paninis, cake, and Nutella pizza! Yum! Extremely friendly bilingual staff will be more than happy to help and enjoy the relaxing and comforting atmosphere while your food is freshly made when you order. Delicious and a personal favorite of mine, even get food to-go and don’t forget to grab dessert! You’ll find yourself craving Nutella pizza like clockwork. Your non-gluten free friends will be nicely impressed too!
Another fast favorite and restaurant with multiple locations around Rome is L’InsalataRicca. This salad joint goes beyond Cesar’s time utilizing a variety of local and all fresh ingredients to make endless salad choices, each delightful in its own right and for every taste. Not a salad fan? You will be after you visit here. In fact, you won’t be able to get enough. Beyond their excellent salad for which I’InsalataRicca is known for, they offer scrumptious pizza and pastas for your non-gluten free friends will thank you for! Perfect for any occasion!
Add some variety to your life by going out for sushi! Avoid soy sauce and wheat-noodles, and the gluten-free should be happily satisfied by this foray into Asian cuisine (yes— soy sauce often contains gluten). In the Trastevere neighborhood I recommend Take Sushi on Viale di Trastevere. Friendly, reliable, high quality, and fresh the food here does tend to be on the pricier end for college students like myself but is a dinner favorite with a great atmosphere! Everyone tends to be satisfied by this place, pleasing even the choicest of sushi-goers. If hoping to make that dollar go farther, Miyabi 2 (Japanese and Vietnamese Resturant) near Santa Maria Trastevere is also a great option. Offering an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for 10 euros and a dinner buffet for 16, what may cost you 10 euros at Take Sushi, you can get 10 or at Miyabi. Fresh and good sushi with a great variety of foods most of which are gluten-friendly (including rice noodles instead of wheat), make sure you come hungry and with plenty of friends to share these plates with! Once again, avoid soy sauce. Enjoy!
Menù per Celiaci (Gluten-Free)
Ristorante- Pizzeria- Wine Bar- Cocktail
Aperti dal Lunedi’ allaDomenica dale 10.00 alle 24.00
Via San Cosimato n° 7/9
00153 Roma (Trastevere)
Via Manzoni 6/A
Over 12 locations in Rome.
Via Giulio Santini 12, Rome, 00153
Viale di Trastevere 4
00153 Rome, Italy
Tel. +39 06 581 0075
Via dellaPelliccia, 12,
00153 Rome, Italy
Tel. +39 06 5815 7386
Cooking at Home
The best bet as most Celiacs know is probably to cook at home yourself. You know what ingredients are going into your food and how it is prepared. Avoid cross-contamination and pick up some Italian cooking tricks along the way!
Cooking at home can be fun and exciting especially with your newly found inspiration from Italian cuisine! Picking up ingredients at your local supermarket is a great way to interact with locals and share their experience, but open air markets such as that in Piazza San Cosimato (6am to 1pm) are highly recommended. Buy foods directly from their source! Campo di Fiori is another well-known market (6am to 1pm) in the area but is certainly overpriced as targeted towards tourists.