Eating Celiac when I Don’t Speak Italian

Upon flying to Italy, I had no knowledge as to manage my dietary restriction, and that scared me. My dietary restriction is celiac disease. Now, celiac is a genetic autoimmune disease which causes my body to attack itself, making me violently ill, whenever the gluten protein is present. Effectively, this is a gluten allergy sans anaphylaxis.

At bare minimum, everyone at least KNOWS what celiac disease is. The issue is whether or not the restaurant can safely prepare gluten free food. I am lucky enough to not be so sensitive that a shared kitchen affects me, so I can eat at more places than others with celiac. That being said, since the waitstaff and cooks know what celiac is, they assume that I cannot eat at their restaurant. I think that a few of my restaurant choices which have turned me away on account of “non celiaco” (roughly translating to: no celiac friendly options) still had gluten free options, but the language barrier makes it a full ordeal to clarify.

Now, this sounds terrible and bleak, yet it is quite important to note that I have eaten, and I have eaten well many times on this program. When the restaurants can accommodate, the food is miraculous. In the Castelli Romani alone, I have found a celiac friendly pizza restaurant, multiple gluten free bakeries, and a bar (café) which offers gluten free pastries!

I am for sure a foodie, in fact, the first thing I asked the tour guide, Ettore, and the JSB program staff was “Are there any gluten free options nearby?” To my extreme luck, I have an ally in this search: Lydia, the program’s executive director this semester. She is gluten-free as well, and has taught me the best phrases to illustrate my concerns; “Abbiete cibo senza glutine?” (Do you all have gluten free food?), “Hai un menu senza glutine?” (Do you have a gluten free menu?), and “Sono celiaco.” (I have celiac disease.). Between these phrases and the food culture being hyper-cognizant about dietary restrictions, I have been able to dine extravagantly – sometimes it just takes a little searching first.

A delicious gluten free donut from Mama Eat Roma

Ciao, salve, and grazie mille.

-Tavin Schroff