Gluten Free Shopping Italy: Dedicated Gluten Free Shop

On my gluten free journey I have searched for many gluten free holy grails. Some I found (gluten free Cornish pasties), some I suspect will be a lifelong mission (the perfect gluten free bread) and others I’ve found without realising I was looking for it. A shop for Coeliacs sits very firmly in the latter category.

Mr D and I were enjoying a lovely sunny stroll around the sights of Genoa before our flight back home when we came upon this shop:

Genoa gluten free pharmacy

A shop for Coeliacs, how amazing…and surprising! My jaw literally dropped and heart skipped a beat when I clapped eyes upon it.

A whole shop stocked full of gluten free products. I don’t think I can convey just how excited I was by the products on offer. Some photos of their huge selection of gluten free products…

senza glutine genova

The shop had a huge range of different brands including what appeared to have the entire range of Dr Schar…

gluten free pharmacy

I loved the name of this gluten free pasta range – Happy Farm – and was torn on which of their great looking pasta’s to buy. In the end I settled on the giant shells (conchiglioni).

gluten free pasta italy

I really miss eating couscous so was happy to see this:

gluten free cous cous

At the back of the store there were several freezers containing everything you could imagine would be in a gluten free paradise from frozen pizza through pasta and pastry. Eagle eyed readers might be able to spot the gluten free cornettos!:

gluten free cornetto

Many of the brands on offer, such as Agluten below, are not available in the UK so I found it really interesting to check out the different ranges and products.

senza glutine genova

We noticed big bags crammed full of gluten free products (which are just visible on the floor in one of the photos above). As we left the store we noticed a sign in the window advertising an ordering on line service. If you’re in the area, you can access it here. If you don’t speak Italian, you can use Google translate on the site. Even if you’re not travelling to Italy, it’s worth a look just to see what a huge selection of varied products are on offer in this store.

Farmacia Alvigini is located right in the centre of Gonoa. The address is via Patrarca 14r, Genova, Italy.

Gluten Free Shopping in Italy: Supermarkets and Pharmacies

Going to Italy? Wondering about what gluten free goods are on offer? Thinking how much of your luggage space you will need to assign to transporting gluten free goods for your holiday?

Well, you’re in for a treat. You may find this surprising but Italy, the land of pizza and pasta, is a gluten free paradise. In fact it’s probably exactly because of all that pizza and pasta that the incidence of Coeliac disease is high in Italy. The good news is that due to a national screening programme for small children, awareness of Coeliac disease is high.

For me, Italy is the easiest country in the world in which to eat gluten free. I can understand you might want to take some emergency gluten free goods with you but you will see in this post, Italy has much to offer. Which is great because buying your supplies in Italy means there’s space for that extra pair of shoes (or two!).

If you’re travelling to Italy the first thing to be aware of is that gluten free goods are sold in pharmacies (farmacia) as well as in supermarkets.

In the interests of research (sorry Mr D!) I went into lots of different farmacia to see what was on offer. Almost every one I visited carried some gluten free products. Some just carried gluten free spaghetti, while others such as the one next door to our hotel in Rome, carried a good selection of cakes, biscuits, wafers, crackers and grissini, all gluten free. I also found it easier to find lactose free products in the farmacia than the supermarkets.

Although the selection was good, the farmacia generally only carried one of each product. I also noticed that the farmacia all seemed to carry different products so I would recommend that if you see something you like, buy it when you see it.

When looking for gluten free goods in Italian farmacia, you will need to have a good look around as they were often on low shelves or tucked behind the door.

I loved these individually wrapped Madeleines

These wheat free, gluten free, lactose free individually wrapped crackers were great and I had them for breakfast with some ham and cheese:

Supermarkets usually stocked different product ranges to the farmacias. In supermarkets the gluten free goods were often tricky to find as they were in the same section as the non-gluten free goods. You could spot them though by looking for the crossed grain symbol.

In a Spar in Rome between the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain on Via del Pozzetto I even found Daura gluten free lager!

If you take the train from Rome Termini station, there’s a Conad supermarket located on the floor below the platforms. They carried plenty of gluten free goods, including bread. Certainly enough to make a picnic for the train (note the Schar crackers).

Even in the Conad supermarket on the tiny Aeolian island of Salina, I managed to find gluten free goods in the supermarket. These rice cakes came to Stromboli with us (note the volcanic lava pebbles!):

Finally I will leave you with this image. I found this Disney gluten free chocolate cake on the island of Stromboli. Ever seen a gluten free chocolate cake sitting in the refrigerated section of a supermarket? Nope, me either. And this was in a tiny supermarket in the middle of nowhere. Amazing.

Opening Hours

Opening hours for supermarkets and pharmacies will depend on the area of Italy you’re visiting and the season so you’ll need to check locally but I hope this will give you some indication.

Pharmacies: Generally open approximately 8.30am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm Monday to Friday. Some will be open for at least the morning on Saturday but usually not in the afternoon. Rarely open on Sundays. There will be an emergency farmacia open somewhere in the city / area you’re visiting but better to plan on doing any gluten free product shopping Monday tthrough Friday and Saturday morning.  

Supermarkets: Supermarkets are nornally open approximately 9am to 1 or 2pm and 4pm to 8pm. Some close on a Wednesday afternoon. You should be able to find supermarkets open on a Saturday morning and many will be open in the afternoon too. Rarely open on a Sunday. Check opening times because there are likely to be regional and seasonal variations. Large supermarkets (such as the IPERCOOP) will have extended opening hours of approximately 8am to 9pm Monday to Saturday and they do not close for lunch. They will also be open for at least part of Sunday, if not all.

Coming Next: Part 2 of gluten free shopping in Italy: A dedicated shop for Coeliacs

Gluten Free Pizza: Palermo, Sicily

I found Palermo to be a somewhat challenging city. It’s blessed with beautiful old buildings, full of interesting architectural details. But they’re crumbling, many beyond the point of repair. I guess you could call it a development opportunity but I found it incredibly sad. The city seemed to be completely neglected, not just in the condition of many of the old buildings but rubbish was overflowing out of bins and covering the streets. Even the parks which are usually kept so well in Italy were littered with stray plastic bags, cigarette ends and other discarded bits of rubbish. Like I said, really sad. I hope Palermo’s Mayor or Municipal administration give Palermo some TLC soon because it could be great, it’s just not right now.

A couple of photos of Palermo.

A church built in 1580.

Detail

There were lots of street markets all over Palermo selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as stalls selling a veritable pile of tat! I really liked this Ape van piled high with artichokes.

After a day of watching the fabulous Royal Wedding, we asked the concierge for a recommendation on a gluten free pizza restaurant. The concierge called around all of the best pizzerias in Palermo but unfortunately none could do a gluten free pizza. Eventually they suggested Ristorante Pizzeria Naif located at Via Vann’anto 21, Palermo. This is just out of the centre of town in a nice residential area but was easy for us to reach from our hotel. When our taxi pulled up outside Naif, I was not sure it was for us. There was graffiti everywhere. However, having been in Palermo for a couple of days this had become normal, every wall space seemed to be covered in graffiti.

The restaurant was empty when we went in just after 8pm but quickly filled up. The waiter brought the menu:

They had another gluten free beer for me to try, Celia:

I had a bit of a half Italian / half English conversation with the waiter about gluten free options. He was quite animated about one of the starters that I could have so I decided to go with enthusiastic recommendation and that we’d share it. It seemed to me that it was a plate of chips but hey, what do I know? I barely speak any Italian. With a flourish, our starter arrived and it was…..

….. a plate of CHIPS!! We looked around and half the restaurant were also tucking into chips as their starter. I have no idea if this is a Palermo thing but when we ate dinner the following day we noticed the chips for starter thing going on then too. Most odd.

I chose the “Naif” pizza which included sausage, bacon and pepperoni in the topping.

The home-made  base of this pizza was quite interesting. It was the most bread-like of all the gluten free pizzas I’ve eaten.  It was extremely filling because it was very thick and it tasted quite sweet. I liked the pizza and IF you’re in Palermo (but frankly unless you’re visiting your family / roots I’m not sure why you would be) then if you’re near to Naif, I’d recommend giving it a try.

 

 

Gluten Free Pizza in Malfa, Salina: If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get…

Our Italian adventure continued by overnight train from Rome to Sicily. Mr D was very excited. We were going the whole way by train because the carriages were going to be loaded onto the ferry from mainland Italy to the island of Sicily. As a veteran of both the Russian Trans-Siberian “Express” and a return from honeymoon on the Orient Express, I also love the relaxation of an overnight train travel. Our 1st class 2 berth compartment also cost us just over €100 it was good value.

After a strong coffee in Milazzo we boarded the hydrofoil bound for the Aoelian Islands, the volcanic outcrop of islands north of Sicily.

Malfa ferry

Two of the islands, Stromboli and Vulcano are still active. We decided to stay on the island of Salina and stayed at the wonderful Hotel Signum. The hotel had views from the terrace towards Stromboli and we were hoping to see some of her nightly eruptions.

The population of the island of Salina is approximately 4,000. In the pretty town of Malfa, where we stayed, it’s under a 1,000 people. And that’s what makes this gluten free tale so surprising.

A couple of evenings we ate in the hotel’s restaurant and the food was delicious but one night we just wanted something a bit more simple. We wandered up to the Pizzeria U Cucunciu located at 81, via Roma, Malfa. Mr D was in the mood for pizza and I wasn’t fussed as long as it was gluten free. Let’s face it, titchy island chances of getting a gluten free pizza were going to be zero. I was so sure of this, I didn’t even bother perusing the menu for pizza options while we enjoyed a bottle of the local red wine.

gluten free Malfa

The waitress returned and to take our food order and – ever the optimist – I thought I’d ask if they had pizza senza glutine. She gave me a thoughtful look and scurried off to the kitchen. A few moments later she emerged beaming from the kitchen. They couldn’t have, could they? The sure did! Malfa, population under 1,000 a tiny spec of a volcanic island had a gluten free pizza. I love Italy!

So my next problem was choosing a pizza since I’d not even bothered reading the pizza menu and had settled on the usual steak and salad combo.

My pizza arrived.

gluten free pizza sicily

The pizza base was a pre-packaged Dietary Specials type they’d probably bought in case a random Coeliac came in looking for a gluten free pizza. OK, so the quality of the base didn’t match those I’d eaten elsewhere but I didn’t mind at all. I enjoyed it!

For dessert the waitress kindly went through all their ice creams in their freezer to find a suitable one for me. I went for the lemon sorbet which seemed appropriate given the number of lemons hanging off trees all over the island.

gluten free dessert sicily

What I learnt was that even though the menu did not list any gluten free items, the restaurant did have them. In Italy, it’s always worth asking if they have pizza and pasta senza glutine.

A few photos of Salina

Allergy & Gluten Free Show: My Top Picks

The 2011 Allergy & Gluten Free Show was held at London’s Olympia from 6 – 8 May.

This was the first gluten free show I have attended and I was amazed by the sheer numbers of people there, especially small kids. If I were an exhibitor at this event I would have been delighted to see such crowds attending. This certainly does point to the expected rise in gluten free sales and will surely make for a very healthy P&L in the coming year.

Here’s a round up on the event and some interesting finds:

Lavida Foods – Run by a husband and wife team (Mairaed is Coeliac) . Importers / distributors of “Bob’s Red Mill”, “Bakery on Main” and the Italian brand “Le Veneziane” amongst others. Their products can be ordered online through their own site or via retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Planet Organic. I bought a bag of Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour. I was sold on this when I was told this was the flour used in the BabyCakes recipes. Finally I could buy the book with some hope of cooking something since the flours are now available in the UK.

Goodness Direct: Great selection of gluten free goods on offer. Not only was I surprised to hear they offered fresh goods for sale through their website, but also that if you order by 11am they should deliver next day or possibly following day. I hadn’t realised this so one to note for the future.

Green People – I have tried a number of their products but was interested to chat to them about suncream as I am always on the look out for a high factor cream which is as natural as possible. Having been on this mission for a while, I know that getting a very high factor suncream “without nasties” isn’t possible since a high sun protection factor would require the addition of chemicals. I was glad to see they have a factor 25. They advised going for factor 25 and reapplying frequently. They said this was preferable to a higher factor since much of the protection would be lost on clothes / through perspiration. They also do a factor 15 with a tan accelerator but my Celtic skin is definitely in need of a factor 25.

Plamil – Dairy free, gluten free, nut free, no added sugar, organic (phew!) chocolate. Loved the coffee chocolate.

Dialsi– On the K&E Imports stand. Talked to Elena Buchberger who is the granddaughter of the brand’s founder and whose brother has developed this gluten free range of pasta. Elena explained their corn and rice gluten free pasta did not contain starch and said the pasta would keep well until the next day if used in a salad, for example. I tried some of the white bread which was made from a packet mix. If white bread is your thing, you might like it becuase it was incredibly light and springy. Also tried some of their gluten, dairy, lactose and soya free stock. It was delicious! Elena said that in the winter she sips this clear stock as a warming drink – just as her granddad did. I bought some nice big, chunky rigatoni to try.

Fria- The Scandinavian market leader in gluten free products which has spawned Facebook groups to get their products into the UK. What can I say?? I can’t wait for this brand to make its way fully into the UK market. The bread I tasted on the stand was exactly my type of gluten free bread. Dark and packed full of seeds and fibre. I also tried the Swedish brownie which knocked my socks off. Superbly moist and very chocolatey. Not at all what I expected from a brownie but I loved it. Interesting that their products will be available frozen for you to defrost as you like at home. This is what I do today with my gluten free bread, except in reverse. As in I buy fresh gluten free loaf, slice into portions and then freeze for toasting when I need it. I came away with some seeded baguettes to try. Got interviewed about their products which was somewhat random!

Foods Matter / Alex Gazzola– A very busy stand with lots of people signing up for the Foods Matter newsletter. I finally got to meet Michelle, having not done so after arriving SO late (thanks to the trains) at the recent FreeFrom awards. Alex was doing brisk business on his very informative new book “Coeliac Disease: What You Need to Know”. You can pre-order his book here on Amazon.

Daura Beer – I drink this gluten free beer already so I know I like it but they could have had more laid out to try (we had to ask). Maybe that’s just me!

NAKD Bars – One of Mr D’s favourite. They told him to not to hold back. Big mistake!

Coeliac UK / Dr Chris Steele – Many apologies to Coeliac UK but I kind of ambushed him not realising there was an appointments scheme operating. Nonetheless he was incredibly kind to me and happily answered my questions.

Without recounting everything discussed I’ll share a couple of interesting points from our conversation. He said although blood test and biopsy is the “gold standard” for diagnosing Coeliac disease, these days it is often being made on blood test alone as the cost of biopsy in hospital is high and the blood test is 95% reliable. He also said that he believed women who struggle with fertility issues and especially those who have had 2 miscarriages, should be tested for Coeliac as untreated this can cause fertility issues. The good news, he said, is that once a strict gluten free diet is maintained your fertility returns to that of someone without Coeliac.

You can sign up for Dr Chris Steele’s weekly newsletter here where he will cover several topics including Coeliac disease.

Any downsides to the Allergy and Gluten Free Show? Well, yes. It was so hot I had to go down into the Leith’s canteen and buy some water. 2 small bottles cost me £3.80!!! How can it be OK to charge £1.90 for a small bottle of water? But if you think that’s bad, pity the poor people in front of me who paid £22.80 for 3 gluten free pre-packaged sandwiches and 3 soft drinks! Outrageous. I didn’t pay much attention to the food on offer (I just wanted water) but I did see they were serving couscous. I hope next year they have a fully gluten free menu at more reasonable price.

I really enjoyed the Allergy and Gluten Free show because it gave me the opportunity to try lots of new gluten free products – and some old friends too! Not all of the products on offer were for me but it was great to try them and meet some new companies in the gluten free market place.