Monday, November 26, 2007

Gluten-Free and Easy in the U.K.

I recently traveled to the UK (England and Scotland) for the very first time and found it relatively easy to eat gluten-free. Many restaurants were familiar with celiac (coeliac) and weren't put off by my requests. Here are a few discoveries:

1) Jacket potatoes, with various toppings, are a meal standard, and are usually served with a side salad. Gluten-free and cheap.

2) Marks & Spencer has ready-made meals that are healthy and relatively inexpensive, such as salad meals. Just make sure to get one without the pasta.

3) AMT coffee shop (like a Starbucks) sells gluten-free food bars at the check-out counter. Don't we wish Starbucks had something like that?

4) Holland and Barrets health food store chain sell gluten-free bread, crackers, cookies, etc.

5) Boots Chemist has some gluten-free items, and sometimes prepared meals.

6) Grocery stores such as Tesco and Sainsbury have gluten-free items.

7) Several chain restaurants in the UK have gluten-free menus:

  • Smollensky's (American fare)

  • La Tasca (Spanish tapas)

  • Wagamama (a stir-fry place - it doesn't have gluten-free menu but can modify several of their dishes)

  • Pret a Manger (I was told they have a gluten-free list but I did not go here so cannot verify the list)

8) In Edinburgh, I highly recommend a meal at Always Sunday Food Company, near St. Giles Cathedral at 170 High Street (the Royal Mile). Tel: 131-622-0667. It's a healthy place to eat and they know gluten-free.

9) In London, check out The Souk, an Arabian fast-food restaurant, with eat-in, carry-out, and delivery service. All of their wheat-free dishes are clearly marked (remember to ask if they are also gluten-free). They also sell gluten-free packaged foods in the refrigerater section. Address: 8 Adelaide St., London WC2N 4HZ. Tel: 020-7240-2337.

10) In York, eat at El Piano Restaurant Cafe and Bazaar. Gluten-free menu items are clearly marked, delicious, and inexpensive. Everything is also vegetarian. Address: 15/17 Grape Lane, The Quarter, York, Y01 7HU. Tel: (0) 1904-610676.

11) Pay attention to packaging because "gluten-free" and "wheat-free" products are often side-by-side on shelves.

12) When reading ingredients on packages, also look for the presence of wheat starch, which is considered gluten-free in the UK.

13) Do not eat anything made with scotch broth. It's made with barley.

14) Shop at the street markets for food treats. This one is at Portobello Road.

15) Gluten-free food is readily available at the airports!
A few other non-food tidbits:

1) If you go to Edinburgh, stop in at Neanie Scotts's shop, located on The Royal Mile. Neanie's granddaughter runs the shop and loves to tell you its history. It's one of the most authentic expriences you'll have while in town.

2) See a show in London. It's a "must-do."

3) Traveling in the UK is expensive! But worth it!

A Celiac's Guide to Eating in Italy

Book store and library shelves are chock-full of guidebooks to help travelers get the most out of their trip to Italy. Advice is offered about which famous sites to see, where to stay, and what to eat. But not a single guidebook points the celiac traveler in the direction of a gluten-free meal!

Below, then, is a list of some of the major tourist destinations in Italy and the names of restaurants near these sites that can accommodate the gluten-free diet. I can personally recommend most of the restaurants. Many are drawn from the more than 855 hotels and restaurants that have been trained by the Italian Celiac Association (AIC). These are indicated with a *. For a complete list of AIC venues, go to As updates become available from fellow travelers, I'll include their comments and the dates of their travels - with their permission, of course.

  • *Ristorante da Poggi, rio terra de La Madalena, 2103 Cannaregio, Tel: 04-1721199. Located between San Marcuola and Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stops.
  • *Trattoria Cammillo, Borgo S. Jacopo, 57, Tel: 05-5212427. Near Ponte S. Trinita.
  • *Ristorante Ciro & Son’s, Via del Giglio, 26/28r, Tel: 05-5289694. Near San Lorenzo.
  • *Ristorante La Gratella, V. Guelfa 8 R, Tel: 05-5211292. Near Galleria Dell’Accademia.
  • *Ristorante I Quattro Amici, V. Orti Oricellari, 29, Tel: 05-52154513. Near train station.
  • *Ristorante Il Portale, V. Alamanni, 29r, Tel: 05-5212992. Near train station.
  • *Alex Café, Via Vittoria Veneta 20, Tel: 06-4823618. Metro: Barberini. Located directly across the street from the Cappuccin Crypt. The price is high, quality mediocre, and service fair. I've had much better meals at much lower prices, but it was nice to get gluten-free pasta in a centrally located restaurant. (Update by KathleenO'Neil: A fancier place in a glass-enclosed space on the sidewalk, offers a gluten-free menu in English and other languages (they cater more to tourists). The food was good, but not exciting. April 2008)
  • *La Mimosa Fiorita, Via Bari 11 A, Tel: 06-44291958. Metro: Policlinico, and then there’s about a 3-4 block walk. (Update by Kathleen O'Neil: A nice family-run restaurant with GF pasta, pizza and other offerings - my waiter was also Celiac and took good care of me. There was no official GF menu, but I just described what I wanted and they were very accommodating. I enjoyed the seasonal roasted vegetables a la carte as my antipasti, and they made me some focaccia with pizza dough as my bread. April 2008)
  • *Renovatio, Piazza Risorgimento 46 A, Tel: 06-68892977, Located in the vicinity of the Vatican, near Via Crescenzio.
  • LaTavernetta di Pepi Claudio, Via Sistina 147. Tel. 06-4741939, Located between Barberini and Spagna (Spanish Steps) Metro stops. The owner and his daughter took very good care of me. For more information see "Reflections of Rome" in November 2006 archives. (Update by Kathleen O'Neil: No set gluten-free menu, and the waiters I spoke to didn't know what Celiac was, but the manager did and explained it to them. I had a basic, good but unexciting meal of roasted chicken and a vegetable. April 2008)
  • Miscellanea, Via Della Paste 110 (a block toward Via del Corso from the Pantheon). This is a very casual sandwich and salad place. There are no GF sandwiches, but many of the salads are natually gluten-free and are meals in themselves. (Update by Kathleen O'Neil: No GF menu, the owner wasn't there when I came by, and the waiterI spoke with didn't know about Celiac. Only the salads looked safe - it's a pretty Americanized pasta and pizza place. It advertises itself as a restaurant for American students, so they do speak English well. April 2008)
  • Giulio’s Osteria del Crispi, Via Francesco Crispi 19. Tel. 06-6785904. Reservations required. Located between Barberini and Spagna (Spanish Steps) Metro stops. I ate here on two separate trips to Rome, and each time had a wonderful meal - the best was an asparagus risotto. (Traveler Kathleen O'Neil said the restaurant was closed when she was there in April 2008, and possibly no longer in business. My observation was that this restaurant is open only certain days of the week and even then only certain hours of the day. So call and inquire).
  • Il Tulipano Nero in Trastavere (SW Rome), off Piazza San Cosimato, Via RomaLibera 15, 06-5818309. A casual, neighborhood pizzeria and restaurant that has a gluten-free menu, including gluten-free pizza, pasta and a British GF beer. The pizza crust was the best I've had - just like the real thing. I went there twice and ordered a pizza to go for the next day's lunch (something that confused my hotel's staff - they apparently don't believe in eating cold pizza there.) Save room for the GF desserts, including tiramisu. (Info provided by Kathleen O'Neil, April 2008)
  • *Best Western Hotel Spring House, Via Mocenigo 7. Tel. 06-39720948. Located past Vatican City, about 5-6 blocks from Ottaviano S. Pietro Metro, and about 2 blocks from Cipro Musei Vaticani Metro.. I didn't have an opportunity to stay here, but I did contact them and learned they have gluten-free food at their breakfast buffet for guests staying at the hotel, and was told there are many restaurants not far from the hotel that offer gluten-free food.
  • *Hotel Holiday Inn Eur Medici, V. le Castello della Magliania 65. Tel. 06-65581. This hotel is located near EUR, which is halfway between the airport and downtown. They provide a free shuttle bus to downtown. Otherwise, it's 6 km from the Metro Magliania, and then you must take Bus 771 to the hotel. The Muratella city train is 200 meters from the hotel. Gluten-free options are offered for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Non-guests must make restaurant reservations.
  • Gelateria: 1) Gelateria Buccianti, Piazza Cavour 18 (near Castel Sant'Angelo) Has GF cones, but said only the fruit flavors were GF (not sure if that was due to potential cross-contamination or ingredients). Liked the raspberry.2) Il Gelato di San Crispino, 42 Via Della Panetterra (right around corner fromTrevi Fountain). No cones, almost all flavors are GF (so try the chocolateand the hazelnut!) 3) Fior di Luna, Via della Lungaretta, 96 ( Another place without cones, also sells chocolates. 4) A gelato place in Piazza Sant Eustachio has the GF cones, but I didn't try their gelato (I didn't write down its name). You should still ask if the gelato is GF, even if they have the cones. I asked at one gelateria on Viadei Serpenti that had GF cones, but they said none of their gelato was safe since they didn't thoroughly clean the gelato mixer between batches. (All gelateria info provided by Kathleen O'Neil, April 2008)
Cinque Terre

  • *La Barcaccia, Via Molinelli 6/8, Monterosso al Mare, Tel: 01-87829009.
  • Ristorante Pizzeria Vulnetia, Piazza Marconi 29, Vernazza, Tel: 01-87821193.
  • Nello la Taverna, Via Porrione 28, Tel: 05-77289043. Near City Tower in Il Campo.
  • Osteria Il Ghibellino, Via dei Pellegrini 26. They have aGF menu. (Info provided by Kathleen O'Neil, April 2008)
  • Gelateria: 1) Il Gelato, Piazza del Campo 41 2) Super Parma, 27 Banchi di Sotto. (Info provided by Kathleen O'Neil, April 2008)
Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast
  • *Pizzeria Ciro a San Brigida, via S. Brigida 71/75, Napoli. Tel. 081-5524072. Located near the Galleria.
  • *Ristorante Pizzeria La Fenice, via degli Aranci 11, Sorrento. Tel. 081-8781652.
  • *Osteria La Stalla, via Pieta 30, Sorrento. Tel. 081-8074145.

Eating Gluten-Free in Italy: A Primer

A typical Italian breakfast consists of a pastry and a cup of cappuccino (a coffee concoction of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk). In some small hotels, and especially in Italian B&B’s, this may be the only items offered. Some larger hotels offer a breakfast buffet, with yogurt, cheese, and possibly eggs. I’ve fared the best in my travels around Italy when I’ve carried my own breakfast food. Almost any farmacia will stock at least a couple gluten-free products, such as bread, muffins, cereal, crackers, and cookies, so it’s not necessary to carry an entire vacation’s supply from home!

Lunch is easier to do gluten-free, although sometimes frustrating when the quickest and cheapest foods seem to be the kind that are off-limits – pizza and panini (sandwiches). A fast and somewhat inexpensive option is to find a tavola calda (warm table), which is a buffet that serves meats, vegetables, cheeses, salads, and fruits, in addition to regular pasta dishes. Another choice, especially if the weather is fine, is to picnic. I have fond memories of shopping the outdoor market at Campo de’ Fiori in Rome, buying cheese from one vendor, cherry tomatoes from another, and fruit from yet another, and then sitting at the base of a statue in the square, feasting amidst the hubbub of Roman life. Alimentari (small specialty shops) and supermercato (grocery store) are also great places to pick up picnic items. Some of the larger grocery stores also carry gluten-free items.

Dinner offers the most variety to celiacs, and there are several types of restaurants to choose from: ristorante (usually fancier with extensive menus), osteria (serves regional food and has a wine bar), trattoria (casual family-run place), and pizzeria.

A typical Italian menu consists of several sections. First is the antipasto (appetizer), then the primo piatto (first course that is usually pasta but also can be soup or rice), secondo piatto (second course of meat or fish), and contorno (side dish/vegetable). If a place serves pizza, that gets its own section. There also may be listings for formaggio (cheese) and dolce (dessert). It’s not necessary to order from every section! I usually can find a safe antipasto and secondo for a complete meal.

Fortunately, for both residents and visitors to Italy, there is an Italian Celiac Association (AIC), with active local support groups. Their biggest accomplishment, in my opinion, is the establishment of a gluten-free restaurant training program. Restaurants, pizzerias, agriturismi, and hotels can receive this training. Then, the AIC includes the business’ information on its website, The list can be accessed either by going directly to the “Ristorazione” section of the website, or by clicking on the segment created especially for English-speaking travelers. Entitled “Vademecum for the Celiac Voyager,” this area has lots of helpful information for tourists, including a section called “Choosing at the Restaurant,” that offers suggestions for the safest food when not dining at an AIC-trained dining establishment. As well, there is a part called “Prontuario” that lists commercially available gluten-free products. When eating in an Italian Celiac Association trained restaurant, it will almost always have gluten-free pasta, so I always make it a point to have a primo!

And what about gelato? More often than no, I eat it. While the AIC maintains a list of specially trained gelateria, they are few and far between. So, after talking with a few places and being shown ingredient lists, I’ve decided that eating gelato is generally a safe bet. It’s interesting to note that gelato flavors also change with the season because of the use of fresh ingredients! As at any ice cream shop, though, it’s important to understand that scoops can come into contact with cones, and cone pieces can fall into the gelato. It also goes without saying not to order any flavors that contain gluten items, such as tiramisu, and to remember to ask for it in a coppa (cup). My favorite flavors are fragolino (strawberry) and fiore di latte (flower of milk).

The End of the Italian Journey

I moved to northern Italy with my husband and our three sons two years ago. My husband’s job as a military officer was the reason for the move – he had no choice but to answer the “call to duty.” As for me, I heeded the “call to journey - with celiac disease.”

Prior to the move, numerous family members and friends had expressed concern about how I would manage my gluten-free diet while living in the motherland of pizza and pasta. Admittedly, I was also a bit apprehensive about what I would find to eat when dining out, where I would buy gluten-free products, and how I would convey my needs when I couldn’t speak the language. With our time in Italy now drawing to a close, I realize that worrying about all these things was a waste of time!

Eating is a favorite pastime in Italy so most Italians instinctively follow the time-honored practice of living in harmony with nature by preparing foods according to the season. They take great pride and care in selecting only the best products available and cooking them fresh everyday. This goes for the casalinga (housewife) as well as the Mama who does all the cooking at the local osteria (restaurant). What this means to the celiac diner is that at most any eating establishment, it’s a given that the food will have been prepared on site and the exact ingredients will be known.

I also venture to say that celiac disease is more well-known in Italy than it is in America. In fact, the only difficulty I can recall when dining out came not from an Italian but from a fellow American who was in charge of organizing a group event at a restaurant in Venice. She didn’t want me to participate because she was confident my gluten-free diet would be viewed by the restaurant owner as an impossible, and insulting, request. At first I was crushed, my feelings hurt. Then I struck back, with kindness and information, intent on proving that my celiac disease would not be an inconvenience or an embarrassment. Now, I’m a welcome member of the dining-out group. During our latest trip, to a Palladian villa followed by lunch, the familiarity with celiac was ever so poignantly demonstrated when the restaurant owner simply went to the local farmacia to buy gluten-free bread and pasta for my meal, and prepared my chicken breast on the grill rather than floured and sautéed for scaloppini.

A farmacia is the Italian equivalent of a pharmacy. It’s where gluten-free food is sold because gluten-free food is the “medicine” for celiacs! Every town, no matter how small, seems to have at least one shop. The town where I live, with a population of 16,000, has three. Big cities like Rome and Florence have one on practically every street corner. Of the three pharmacies in my town, one does not carry gluten-free food. Another one keeps only a handful of items in stock, but can order practically anything I want. The third one (naturally, the farthest from my house!) carries a constantly evolving supply. I’ve never wanted for a slice of gluten-free bread, a chocolate cookie, or a plethora of pasta. Frozen gluten-free pizza, gnocchi, and tiramisu are also available. As a familiar face, I even receive product discounts from the pharmacist. The only stipulation seems to be that I speak to her in English so she can improve her language skills, a condition to which I’m perfectly happy to comply.

Mastering the Italian language has proven to be the most difficult task for me these past two years. While the average vacationer can often get by with just a few pleasantries such as buon giorno (good day), per favore (please), and grazie (thank you), greater fluency is required when living or traveling outside the major tourist areas. Even in the town where I live, a mere 20-minute drive from where the American military base is located, English is not common. Many of the Italian students we have met due to our sons playing soccer on the town team tell us they study German as their second language. After all, this area is only a 2-hour drive from the Austrian and Slovenian borders and at different times in recent history, portions of Italy have been under both Austrian and Yugoslavian control.

So, I’ve tried to learn Italian. Sometimes my attempts are even successful. More often than not, however, I get caught up in listening to the melodic intonations of the language, imagining myself at one of the Italian operas that is performed every summer in the first century A.D. Roman arena in Verona. As such, I carry an Italian-language gluten-free dining card with me wherever I go. There’s no sense in getting sick because of a misunderstood word. I’ve also learned to recognize the words for the forbidden grains so I can read ingredient labels when food shopping.

My qualms about living in Italy with celiac disease are not unique. They are the same ones expressed by celiacs moving and traveling practically anywhere new and different. Fortunately, for both residents and visitors to Italy, there is an Italian Celiac Association (AIC), with active local support groups. Their biggest accomplishment, in my opinion, is the establishment of a gluten-free restaurant training program. Restaurants, pizzerias, agriturismi, and hotels can receive this training. Then, the AIC includes the business’ information on its website, The list can be accessed either by going directly to the “Ristorazione” section of the website, or by clicking on the segment created especially for English-speaking travelers. Entitled “Vademecum for the Celiac Voyager,” this area has lots of helpful information for tourists, including a section called “Choosing at the Restaurant,” that offers suggestions for the safest food when not dining at an AIC-trained dining establishment. As well, there is a part called “Prontuario” that lists commercially available gluten-free products.

During these past two years living and traveling around Italy and other parts of Europe, I’ve noted what’s worked best for me, and have sought to share these experiences with other celiacs who also enjoy travel. My dream is to have one central source for celiac travelers, in the form of a celiac travel guide.

In less than two weeks, my husband, children, and I will return to live in the United States. Believe it or not, we do not have a set destination. That’s because my husband has recently retired from 23 years of active duty military service. So, for the first time in our married life, after having lived in eight different places without much say about it (though I’ll never complain about having to live in Italy), we actually get to choose where we want to live! We’re taking our time. It’s a new journey.