When we decided to visit Rome while in Europe this winter, I worried I wouldn’t find many vegan and gluten-free options. As I embarked on my research, I learned that Italy has a very high rate of Celiac’s Disease and food safety is taken seriously. Many restaurants offer gluten-free pasta and pizza. Though if you have Celiac’s Disease you should look for the Associazione Italiana Celiachia symbol on the website or menu. I was surprised to learn that some restaurants even have dedicated separate kitchens to eliminate cross-contamination. As suspected, Rome has very few vegan restaurants and none are located in the Centro Storico, or city center. Luckily, Italian cuisine includes many vegetable side dishes that are vegan, such as artichokes ala Romana and roasted potatoes, and you can always order a pizza without cheese. I did a lot of research prior to our trip, but it’s often difficult to tell whether a restaurant will have menu items that are both vegan and gluten free, and we encountered a few places that had one or no options for me. However, we enjoyed some wonderful, sumptuous meals and I didn’t feel deprived of the Italian culinary experience.
A two-minute walk from Campo de’Fiori, Voglia di Pizza has been serving gourmet gluten-free pizza for fifteen years. It has an extensive, separate gluten-free menu, and is certified by the AIC. Both times we started with the heaping plate of grilled vegetables on a bed of greens with a sprinkling of fresh basil on top. The variety and quantity of the vegetables, which included: zucchini, eggplant, red bell pepper, artichokes, carrots, black olives, cherry tomatoes surprised us, and even a few french fries.
On our first visit, I ordered the gluten-free vegetarian pizza without cheese. It came with cut-up versions of the grilled vegetable platter and even sported a few French fries. Its crust was crisp yet chewy and so delicious, and its sauce and toppings weren’t dried out because of the lack of cheese.
On our second visit, I had the vegetarian spaghetti lightly dressed with tomato sauce and peppered with the same grilled vegetables without cheese. The flavor of the al dente pasta shined through and was perfectly accented by the roasted vegetables. It was nothing like the stodgy versions of gluten-free pasta in the U.S.
On both visits, looking at the food on our table I couldn’t imagine eating it all, and each time we cleared our plates. Glancing around at other tables, the portions were all very generous, and the salads were beautiful. Voglia is centrally located and open daily from 12:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., which is helpful for travelers who may not be on a typical Roman eating schedule. Their prices are very reasonable, especially considering the amount of food and that we each had a glass of wine. If we’d eaten here our first day we likely would have dined here all four days.
Pandalì is a gluten-free bakery just a block and a half behind the Pantheon. All of their bread is vegan, but they only have a small selection of vegan baked goods. Luckily, as we arrived they were pulling a fresh tray of spinach calzones out of the oven. They also offered cabbage, but it was a bit early in the day for that flavor. The calzones were as large as my husband’s hand and stuffed with nothing but fresh, steamed spinach. The bread was soft, steaming, and tasted amazing! It made a wonderful breakfast that fortified us for a morning and early afternoon exploring the Colosseum and forum. Although Pandalì does not offer hot drinks, the kind lady said we could go to the bar next door and bring back to-go coffees, but we’d already had coffee in the hotel room and instead opted for sparkling water.
The other vegan options that day included pizza nera di beridde, which is a Roman Jewish cookie that looks like focaccia bread with dried fruit and raisins, and ciambelle al vino cookies. If you follow a gluten-free and vegan diet, Pandalì is an excellent option for breakfast or to stock up for snacks in the hotel or the plane ride home.
After working up an appetite at the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica, we walked ten minutes to La Soffitta Renovatio for a late lunch. Certified by the Associazione Italiana Celiachia everything on the menu can be prepared gluten free. Several of the starters were vegan, and then we modified our pizza orders. We started with a crisp insalada mixta with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, which was large enough to share. Next, we devoured a plate of perfectly seasoned, crispy sauteed potatoes. We ordered gluten-free pizzas without cheese and the waitress offered us lactose-free cheese, so it’s important to take the extra time and explain that you’re vegan. Their gluten-free pizza crust was delicious, and they were very generous with the paper-thin sliced mushrooms, long slices of zucchini, and thick rounds of eggplant. La Soffitta Renovatio is an excellent place to find vegan and gluten-free options for lunch or dinner while exploring Vatican City or the Castel Sant’Angelo.
The Italian Celiac Association (AIC) website has some very useful information. Look for their symbol in restaurant windows and on menus.
Although most of the waiters and waitresses speak English, the person who brings out your food may not. Here are a few important phrases to learn:
sensa glutine: without gluten, gluten free
niente formaggio: no cheese
niente carne: no meat
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You may also enjoy my guide to planning a vegan and gluten-free vacation, which includes restaurant recommendations in Paris, Vegan and Gluten-Free: Paris.