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Monday, April 25, 2011

Gluten Free in Italy

In preparation for a trip to Italy over spring break I had googled "gluten free in Italy" and found one blog so glowing that I went on the trip expecting that I would still be able to enjoy the very best part about Italy from my first trip in 2006: THE FOOD.

I just want it on record: being gluten-free in Italy was oversold. Admittedly, it's easier in Italy than it is in the US to find gluten-free food in stores. On just about every other block there is a "farmacia" (farm-ah-chee-ah) with a blinking green neon cross sign above it. Since being "celiac" (though I only have a "gluten sensitivity" -- ah, the technicalities...) in Italy is recognized as a medical condition, many farmacias (what we would call drugstores in the US) carry GF products.

So in every town I checked out my choices, and had a few favorite products by Schars:
I made my own sandwiches out of the Pane, and I used the Crostini or the Fette to soak up sauces, olive oil or bruschetta when we would receive those big beautiful baskets of homemade Italian bread. That I could not eat.

That was all fine and dandy. But the websites said that so many restaurants in Italy accommodate GF eaters and I just did not find that to be the case. Nine times out of ten, when I would give my big hopeful smile and ask, just like the websites told me to, "Senza glutine?" (Without gluten?) or "Sono celiaco" (I am celiac) all those sweet, accommodating Italian waiters would quickly say "Si!" and then rapidly point to the same 4 items:
  1. Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil)
  2. Risotto in any variety of forms
  3. Zuppa di Fagiole (bean soup)
  4. Gnocchi (potato dumplings ~ though some savvy ones would admit that some wheat flour was used in making them too)
And while I L-O-V-E each of these yummy items, when traveling for ten days they can get a little old. (OK, so the caprese never got old... I tell you what, the "bufala" mozzarella over there is nearly a religious experience....)

I had one hilarious night where I ordered risotto AGAIN and tried it with shrimp. That sounds great, right?

Let's just say I didn't quite picture that I would receive entire shrimp with their black,
beady little eyes staring at me....

Perhaps gluten-free entrees are more available in the larger cities, but they sure aren't on the Amalfi
Coast. Except for two places that appeared like little miracles during our trip.

The first one is pictured at the top - Il Cerasiello in Naples. Perhaps you can read the writing in the window: "Menu e pizze per celiaci." When we stumbled onto this place (and we literally bumbled into it without knowing it existed) I nearly squealed! And here is my one and only pizza experience in Italy -- at least it was in the land of the margherita pizza, Naples. Look at me -- I am so, so happy.
I had to wait several days for another chance to enjoy. Closer to the end of our trip we were tired and very hungry in Vietri sul Mare, near Salerno. All the stores (including the farmacias) were closing at 1pm, like they did in all the quaint little fishing towns along the Amalfi Coast. We found a restaurant on a side street called L'Angolo dei Sapori. The menu looked good, so we sat down.

With barely a smile and certainly no hope, I said, with a sigh, "Sono celiaco." And lo and behold, Ferdinando the owner slapped his chest with both hands, then held up one finger and said emphatically, "One minute!"

He came back with another man dressed in the whites of a restaurant chef, pointed at his chest and he said brightly, "Him too!" Turns out Luciano, his cousin, was celiac! He said, "Don't order. I bring to you," and ran back into the restaurant. I was speechless.

First he came out after about 10 minutes with HOT BREAD. He had toasted it in his pizza oven. He said "senza glutine!" with great pride.

Oh my. At this point I am nearly overcome with delight. (And COMPLETELY embarrassed that I have the same clothes on in both photos, though they were taken 6 days apart. Can you tell we lived out one rolly luggage each?! We just washed clothes at night in the sink. But I digress...)

As I am chomping on the bread, trying to make sure I still chew it because I am so ecstatic, the food arrives...

Remember, I didn't get to order it. He just brought it. A steaming plate of GF pasta with sausage, tomato and cheese, plus a bowl of the BEST Zuppa di Fagioli from the whole trip. I could not eat all this food! But oh how I tried.

We came back the next day because I had to cling to this island of GF sanity for one more day. I had a different pasta then that was equally
spectacular. I also made sure to get a photo with my little angel Luciano.

So I'm grateful for these brief forays into the classic delights of pizza and pasta in Italy. Otherwise, I had to satisfy my cravings in other ways... at least one gelato each day and amazing, wonderful, beautiful cappuccinos, at least twice a day. I can't say I really suffered too much.

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