We just got back from Italy and had the most amazing trip! We explored some of the most beautiful cities and ate some of the best gluten-free food ever! Throughout our trip, one of the most commonly asked questions I received via Direct Message was “how do we find restaurants when we travel?”. I answered so many people on Direct Message that I wanted to write a blog post about it.
As background, my husband & I are both of Italian heritage and have been to Italy before, but our children had never visited. Both our boys wanted to visit and our youngest son (who has Celiac Disease) had heard so much about gluten-free pizza and pasta in Italy that his personal objective was to try as much gluten-free pizza and pasta as he could and find the best ones out there!
So the objective of this trip was both an overview or highlight of a few different parts of Italy and to find and eat the best gluten-free food!
A few caveats
Even with my tips below, it can’t be said enough… with regard to gluten-free food and cross-contamination, always check out a restaurant yourself. Restaurants charge, chefs change. And people have different comfort levels. So do your own research.
Whenever you’re dining out, you need to find restaurants that work for you and anyone you’re traveling with. So that includes not only dietary restrictions but food tastes/menu range, budget and location.
How do we choose restaurants?
If you followed my Instagram Stories while we traveled throughout Italy, you know we ate really well. Some of the best gluten-free food we’ve ever eaten. So how did we find these restaurants?
Whenever we travel, I essentially do a small research project before we leave.
1. Scoping out the options
- I start by scanning the internet for gluten-free dining possibilities at our planned destination.
- I look at blog posts by gluten-free and Celiac bloggers I trust.
- I scroll through the Find Me Gluten Free app, which isn’t 100% Celiac-safe but I read the comments and use it as a starting point.
- I make a list of restaurants that sound promising. Most times, the same restaurants start popping up.
2. Narrowing the choices
Once I have a list of possible restaurants, I see what keeps coming up. Then I search those restaurants online. I look at the overall site and at menus.
Here what I’m looking for:
- Does the menu have something that will appeal to my celiac son? He’s a teen boy with a voracious appetite, so if the only thing gluten free on the menu is salad, it won’t work for him.
- Will it have something for the rest of our family? When traveling, our personal food preferences often take a back seat to my son’s gluten-free needs but if we can all eat happily, why not?
- Does it fit our budget?
- And this is perhaps the most important question… how does the restaurant approach gluten-free? Do they have a separate menu? Is a regular menu labeled well? Do they make any statements on the menu or on their website about a commitment to gluten-free food or other dietary restrictions? Are they certified by any gluten-free groups?
3. Does the location work for us?
Once I have a narrowed down the list, I look at the location of the restaurant. How near is it to our itinerary? Google maps (on the computer more than on the phone) is hugely helpful here.
4. Reaching out to the restaurant ahead of time.
Finally, unless the restaurant is 100% gluten-free, I contact the restaurant myself and ask questions about the menu and cross-contamination. For the specific questions I ask and what we do once we are at a restaurant, here’s the link to our blog post Tips for Dining Out Gluten-Free.
If there is no language barrier (hello Italy!), I often do this before we leave. In the case of Italy, I enlisted the help of concierges and guides to ask questions on my behalf.
Additionally, when we make reservations, we alert the restaurant ahead of time that we will be eating gluten-free and that one of us has Celiac Disease.
It may sound like a lot of effort but as with anything related to Celiac Disease and gluten-free living, it becomes second nature over time.
And it’s worth it! We love that we have opportunities to travel and explore the world with our kids and don’t want my son to ever feel like he cannot because of Celiac Disease.
Obviously, traveling and eating gluten-free is much easier in some places than others but this is the process we use no matter where our travels take us.
Leave a comment and let me know if you find this helpful and if you have any other tips.