Gluten-Free in the Italian Language

May 26, 2015

Senza glutine

Eating Gluten-Free in the Country of Pasta, Pizza and Pane

A guest post by Mirella Colalillo

Italy, home of the 3 P's (pasta, pizza and pane), is also home to more and more people with celiac disease,  an autoimmune disorder affecting the digestive system. As one of them, I'd like to share with you how to enjoy Italy if you or someone you know is affected by this illness.

Here is my advice for a happy and symptom-free holiday in Italy:

Restaurants, Bars and Hotels

You can find gluten-free places to eat throughout Italy, and most restaurants offer gluten-free pasta so you don't have to give up spaghetti! Always ask for the ingredients in soups, stews, meats and fried foods. 

Hotels and B & B's are not always gluten-free equipped, but if you request a special menu upon booking your stay, they will accommodate you. Some Italian coffee bars carry gluten-free snacks. Since I don't drink coffee, I especially love having freshly squeezed orange juice in bars, where you can often find fruit smoothies and other juices as well.

Supermarkets and Mini-markets

All supermarkets have a gluten-free aisle with a wide range of products, including vegan products for those who are lactose intolerant or simply vegan. My favorite supermarket is l'Iper-Coop for the variety, freshness and convenience.

If you're strolling along the cobblestones of, let's say, Florence, skip the pre-made sandwiches and pizzas sold in the tourist eateries on the major streets, and just turn the corner into a vicolo (bystreet). That's where you'll find mini-markets (negozi di alimentari), which sell fresh local (and cheaper) food items.

Not everyone knows that la farina di forza (strong flour), which contains much more gluten than normal flour, is often used by i panettieri (bakers) to make bread. Click here  for a list of gluten-free panetterie (bakeries) throughout Italy.


Many central and southern cities are always brimming with seasonal fruits, such as oranges, tangerines and lemons, even during the fall and winter months. In the major train stations, you'll find fruit salads and vegetable salads, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit smoothies and fresh juices, nuts and other dried fruits. Trains, such as la Frecciarossa, also carry gluten-free snacks.

All of Italy abounds with fresh local produce, therefore options for a delicious and satisfying meal are always available. If you are near Mantova, the Italian capital of la zucca (squash), you'll find plenty of zucca spaghetti!

A word of caution: Be careful when ordering food, such as a slice of cecina (also called farinata), and make sure knives and other serving utensils are not shared with gluten foods, such as pizza.  If you're gluten or lactose intolerant, let the servers know or find a more gluten-free conscious eatery.

Words and Expressions

senza glutine, per favore — gluten-free, please

sono celiaco/celiaca — I'm celiac

sono intollerante al glutine — I'm intolerant to gluten 

grano – wheat

germe di grano — wheat germ

segale – rye

orzo — barley

farina –- flour

semolino – semolina

farro — spelt

Mirella Colalillo, recently featured in an article on the Molisan community in Canada in Panorama Italian Magazine, is a linguist fluent in four languages, a teacher and the founder of Parlatè, an Italian language and culture website. Click here to view her engaging videos and here to sign up for her newsletter and bonus material.

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA:  My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

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