Monday, October 07, 2013

Senza Glutine - Travelling to Italy on a Gluten Free diet - Calabria 2013

Amazing pebble beaches in
Marina di Giosia Jonica,
Calabria, Italy

Hello everyone, yes we are back! I know it has been a long, long time since we have blogged. You may have been wondering where have we been? And to be honest, we’ve just been enjoying life and enjoying good gluten free food!

But today I want to share with you my recent travels to the beautiful, picturesque land of Italy. What a wonderful place Italy is, from the rhythmic almost sing-song language, to the smells of fresh brewing coffee and wood-fire pizza drifting through the cobblestone streets.

Homegrown chilli plant

Both my parents are Italian, and come from the same small town south of Italy in Calabria, Marina di Giosia Jonica – on one side beach and on the other luscious countryside. On this trip I travelled with my mum for one month of mother daughter bonding. It had been 7 years since I had travelled to my parents hometown, so it was great to catch up with my many aunts, uncles and cousins – and of course my beautiful nonna (my grandma) one of the main reasons we decided to travel this year in the first place.

Gorgeous countryside in Calabria, Italy

A lot had changed in 7 years but most importantly I was now gluten free. My last trip was pre-coeliac (celiac) so I never had to worry about what I was eating. And this was one of my main fears before travelling this time. Was I going to starve? Was I going to miss out on my favourite Italian treats? Boy was I wrong. I had absolutely nothing to worry about! It was actually much easier than I thought and I brought back the extra kilos to prove it!

Fresh homegrown produce - Tomato & Cucumber Salad

Like most Italians, my family loves to eat – they also don’t understand the word ‘no’ when it comes to more food, but hey who’s complaining? Living with my family for one month I was spoilt with lots of home cooked authentic meals. All delicious, all fresh and all made specially gluten free. 

Gluten free pasta with fresh homemade sauce

The great thing about being in a small country town is that everybody grows their own produce. Fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs are plentiful. Most will make their own fresh tomato sauce in the summer to last them throughout the year. Others will make their own olive oil and wine. Some will even have their own animals for fresh eggs, milk and cheese. And although I don’t like to think about it many will raise their own chickens and pigs for their meat and to make Italian traditions like salami, prosciutto and other cold cuts we Australians only know to be sold in delis.

Lemon tree in my aunties backyard

If any of you have been to Italy you will know that an Italian breakfast consists of coffee and sweets – there is no toast, no cereal and definitely no bacon and eggs! This was probably my least favourite meal of the day. There is only so much sugar one can have first thing in the morning. Although having said that towards the end of my trip, I was quite content to chow down on cake or biscotti for breakfast, always washed down with a café latte of course!

Traditional Italian breakfast -
Cafe latte with gluten free amaretti

I was very surprised to find that gluten free products were readily available in supermarkets in the small town of Marina di Giosia Jonica. There were loads of gluten free pasta varieties all of which were fantastic. I’m sure you all know the bad variety I am talking about – the gluggy type, the kind that breaks into a million pieces when stirred. All the pastas I tried in Italy – and trust me it was almost every day – were absolutely amazing! They held their form and could almost pass as normal pasta. I even had a few volunteers try it and they would have all been happy to have their own plate of gluten free pasta.

Delicious gluten free pasta made
with pistachio and prawns

However not only were the supermarkets full of great gluten free pasta, but there were also varieties of biscuits, cakes, bread – the bread rolls were especially good - ice-creams, flours and even frozen ready made meals.

Gluten free aisle in the supermarket

It also surprised me how knowledgeable the Italians were regarding gluten free food and coeliac (celiac) disease. Almost everybody I spoke to understood exactly what I was talking about. All I would have to say is “sono celiaca” or “senza glutine”. Not only would they understand, but they also understood to great lengths, the issues involved with cross-contamination. I found that in most instances, restaurants and cafés (which the Italians refer to as bars) would not offer gluten free options unless they had a dedicated gluten free area in the kitchen. The rules and regulations are much stricter in Calabria, which in one way is a good thing, but on the other not such a good thing as most places will not provide it with the fear of being fined by the health department.

Cheese and salami at the Italian markets

Most gelato in Italy is gluten free as it is all made fresh with natural ingredients. Of course flavours with biscuits or cake need to be avoided, but with the variety of flavours you will not be missing out. You will find simplicity is key for Italians – chocolate, hazelnut, coffee, pistachio and vanilla are usually the most popular. 
Yummy gelato! All labelled gluten free!

Although the base of the gelato is usually gluten free, I had a few occasions where I was told the flavor I desired was not gluten free because they had already scraped the gelato onto a cone. Naturally I was extremely surprised with this! I was also very lucky to find certain gelaterias sold gluten free ice-cream cones, and they were deliciously crunchy!

Gluten free ice cream cones!

As we were travelling during summer we indulged in lots of amazing frozen treats. Frozen yoghurt from the local ‘Yogorino’ (previously Baby Yoghurt) was one of them…delicious frozen vanilla yoghurt served with your choice of fruit, nuts, or even nutella!

Gluten free frozen yoghurt
with strawberries and coconut

Round two...with Nutella topping!

Granita is also a popular Italian summer treat. This is simply flavoured ice traditionally made with sugar and fruit, served naturally or with whipped cream. The texture is like a sorbet however much smoother. Flavours include strawberry, melon, fig, peach as well as coffee or almond. Granita was almost always gluten free, however it’s best to check before ordering. If you are traveling to Italy, Granita is a must!

Gluten free strawberry granita
served with whipped cream...divine!

During my trip I was lucky enough to have a family member who owned a pizzeria, make me a special order of gluten free pizza. Due to regulations they do not offer gluten free pizza on their menu as it would be too hard to have a dedicated gluten free zone. My pizza was prepared before any of the other work was started so there was no chance of cross contamination with flour. Once ready it was placed on a tray in order for it not to touch the wood fire oven floor. I chose my favourite topping – 4 cheeses with a bonus of salami – Yum!

Amazing gluten free pizza with four cheeses
and salami...salivating just thinking about it!
Latte di mandorla (translated to Almond Milk) is a refreshing Italian summer drink, made from fresh almonds, sugar and water. This is commonly found in all restaurants and bars.

Refreshing Latte di Mandorla (almond milk)

And lastly, but possibly my most favourite food experience during this trip, was the gluten free Italian Dolci (sweets) I was able to indulge in.  Thanks to my uncles connections I met an owner of a Pasticceria (Italian cake shop) that had experience in making gluten free sweets including Tiramisù (coffee flavoured dessert), Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake) and Bigné (light, puffy pastries) filled with cream, and vanilla & chocolate custard. 

A selection of gluten free Italian Dolci

The dolci were made in a complete gluten free zone, so I knew I was 100% safe. The best way to describe this experience would be to say that I was in absolute gluten free heaven. It had been years since I had indulged in these sweet treats – pre coeliac (celiac) to be exact…so let’s just say I was one very happy girl!
Gluten free sweets heaven!!!

Did you know the Italian government provides a monthly stipend to offset the cost of gluten-free foods for those with coeliac (celiac) disease because it is regarded a medical condition? You are also awarded extra time off work each month to offset the time it takes to find and prepare your gluten-free food! How great is that?! I think we need to introduce some of these regulations into Australia!

Freshly picked homegrown strawberries

I had an absolutely fantastic time in Italy, and as you can see there were absolutely no issues with eating gluten free foods as previously feared. Below is a list of a few places to try if you are ever in Calabria, Italy. However remember when all else fails simply indulge in the fresh produce of the land. Happy travels!

Via Montezemolo, 3-28 Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, Calabria

Yogorino (previously Baby Yoghurt)
Piazza dei Mille, 12, Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, Calabria

Via Montezemolo, 63, 89046 Marina di Gioiosa Jonica

Lido Delle Stele
Lungomare Lato Nord, 89047 Roccella Ionica, Italy

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  1. Dearest silly sisters. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart THANK YOU! Yep that was happy shouting! I am a celiac and my dream is to spend a month or two in Italy and pretend I'm local :) but the whole food situation scared me. You have really made it sound completely possible... so excited!!!! Thanks! Now I'm hungry...

  2. You're welcome and so glad that you enjoyed the read and found it helpful! Anything is possible, so reach high and you will get there. Happy eating :) 2SS