No, Not Lunch Meat: A Trip to Gluten-Free Bologna

When I get back from pottering around Italy, I plan to write a proper post: restaurants, groceries, grandfatherly shopkeepers who offered me cookies, experiences with my Italian gluten-free dining card, the whole deal.

That’s a few blissful weeks away, though, and I can’t wait that long to tell you about gluten-free Bologna. So far the gastronomic highlight of my trip, it’s also a wonderful city for your eyes and ears and other organs too.

There is one main reason why Bologna has been so good to me: the magic of the internet. I was able to connect with a gluten-free Italian who studies there, and he made sure I was well-fed.

There are three Ps in Italian glutendom: Pizza, Pasta, Piadina. I had all three – the holy trinity, as it were – in Bologna, gluten-free.

First, the pizza. Nicola took me to La Pantera Rosa, which only recently got its celiac-friendly certification. They have two locations, each slightly outside the city’s main center. The one we visited was unassuming, friendly, affordable, and tasty. With the added benefit of a gluten-free beer, I was in cheesy carbohydrate heaven.

I couldn't choose just one topping!
I couldn't choose just one topping!

Next, the pasta. I’m sorry to tell you that I ate too quickly to photograph the gnocchi we cooked up – but I’m happy to tell you that you can buy your own at supermarkets and pharmacies all across Italy. It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of options, and you’ll have access to gluten-free pasta of all shapes and sizes should you come for a visit.

Finally, the Pièce de résistance: Piadina. I’d never heard the word before, but it’s a sandwich shop staple. A flatbread from the north of Italy, it comes loaded with anything and everything and seems to be on offer everywhere. In Bologna, at L’alternativa Piadina and Kebab, I was finally able to taste what all the fuss was about.

The kebbabare is located in the tangle of streets that makes up Bologna’s historic center, at via Mascarella 44. You’ll know you’re at the right place by the sandwich board outside that says “Senza Glutine” in gigantic letters.

The most beautiful words in the Italian language: senza glutine
The most beautiful words in the Italian language: senza glutine

It looks like any other quick food joint: a couple of tall tables, a counter, a refrigerated case of sodas. The menu spans continents, and you can get your gluten-free piadina filled with prosciutto, döner meat, vegetables, nutella, pretty much anything. There’s also a small selection of Indian dishes if you’re not in a sandwich mood.

With döner meat, salad, and lots of hot sauce. Yum.
With döner meat, salad, and lots of hot sauce. Yum.

They take special care to keep the gluten-free piadina away from any cross-contamination, heating in tinfoil on the grill. The result is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and has a nice light taste to it. As for me, I liked it so much that I ate it twice in three days. That’s what vacation is for, no?

If you’ve been to Bologna, how was your experience? And if you’ve had a piadina, what’d you think?


11 thoughts on “No, Not Lunch Meat: A Trip to Gluten-Free Bologna”

  1. Thank you for posting about your awesome gluten-free experience in Bologna. I also had a wonderful gluten-free trip to Italy last year but have read too many negative reviews online about traveling and eating gluten-free. I am ready to book my next trip to Italy after reading this article. Sounds delicious!

  2. Thank you for posting about your awesome gluten-free experience in Bologna. I also had a wonderful gluten-free trip to Italy last year but have read too many negative reviews online about traveling and eating gluten-free. I am ready to book my next trip to Italy after reading this article. Sounds delicious!

  3. Wow, that sounds amazing. I’ve avoided traveling since being diagnosed with CD, but your experience is making me reconsider!

    Erin S., can you elaborate on your own wonderful GF trip in Italy? Would love to hear more positive stories.

    1. Erin, I want to hear all about your trip too!
      And Katie, the world is full of gluten-free deliciousness – get out there and take a vacation! It takes a little extra preparation, but traveling is still wonderfully fun.

  4. Wow, that sounds amazing. I’ve avoided traveling since being diagnosed with CD, but your experience is making me reconsider!

    Erin S., can you elaborate on your own wonderful GF trip in Italy? Would love to hear more positive stories.

    1. Erin, I want to hear all about your trip too!
      And Katie, the world is full of gluten-free deliciousness – get out there and take a vacation! It takes a little extra preparation, but traveling is still wonderfully fun.

  5. Nice post! Right now you are making me feel guilty for having dinner with meat and potatoes instead of biking till the Pantera Rosa! :-)
    I still have something like 50 more good places to show you… 3 days are not enough! I’ve been so happy to let you taste the G.F. holy trinity! and it’s a honour for me being in one of your posts! hope to see you again!

  6. Nice post! Right now you are making me feel guilty for having dinner with meat and potatoes instead of biking till the Pantera Rosa! :-)
    I still have something like 50 more good places to show you… 3 days are not enough! I’ve been so happy to let you taste the G.F. holy trinity! and it’s a honour for me being in one of your posts! hope to see you again!

  7. My husband and I went to Italy for two weeks this past April. The first few restaurants we went to we asked “Senza Glutine?” and they said no. So then my husband brought up the “card” on is i-phone that says “I have celiac disease. I can’t eat glutin etc.” We showed it to the waitress and she immediately said “Oh I have it too” then she showed me what I could eat and I had the most wonderful meal. From then on, we showed the i-phone info and everyone was wonderful about showing me what I could eat. In fact in one restaurant the waiter thought my husband and I were both GF and I ordered first, then my husband ordered a pasta dish and the waiter said “No, dangerous!” Then we explained that it was just me.

  8. My husband and I went to Italy for two weeks this past April. The first few restaurants we went to we asked “Senza Glutine?” and they said no. So then my husband brought up the “card” on is i-phone that says “I have celiac disease. I can’t eat glutin etc.” We showed it to the waitress and she immediately said “Oh I have it too” then she showed me what I could eat and I had the most wonderful meal. From then on, we showed the i-phone info and everyone was wonderful about showing me what I could eat. In fact in one restaurant the waiter thought my husband and I were both GF and I ordered first, then my husband ordered a pasta dish and the waiter said “No, dangerous!” Then we explained that it was just me.

  9. Emily,
    Thanks for the great post. And thanks to you, Niccola. I’m in Bologna now, and I just came back to the hotel from La Pantera Rosa. I had the pizza senza glutine with tomato, salami, turnip greens, and mozzarella. The spicy salami made this pizza a taste sensation! I also had the GF beer from Czech Republic (2 actually.) I spent more on the taxi rides than for the food, but it was worth it on a rare trip to Italy, and about the best tasting pizza I’ve ever had (and I’ve had quite a variety of pizzas in USA before having to go GF — not CD, but skin problems.)

    This reasonably-priced restaurant was also a great cultural experience. There were 3 extended families, children and adults, talking it up and having a great time. Oh, and the staff was very nice and friendly too, although very busy, with a full dining area in addition to the carry-outs and motorcycle deliveries. If you’re visiting Bologna, I recommend this place for great food and a great experience — regardless of whether you need GF.

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