Italy Remains A Great And Evolving Culinary Society

If you have significant allergies, I understand it can prevent you from traveling too foreign places since you don't know how how the locals deal with allergies.

My wife has severe allergies and it pretty much ensures I will have to travel on my own to exotic places. However, there is one place I have absolutely no worries visiting (outside the USA of course) given her condition. That place is Italy.

Having visited Italy on three occasions, I can confidently tell people with allergies you're safe to go. Italians are so progressive and sophisticated on their views of food and diet it literally leaves you stunned and amazed.

I dare say, my culinary experiences in Italy were far more memorable than they were in France - and I enjoy French food.

There's a certain under stated rustic realism, beauty and incredible ability to adapt in Italian cuisine I respect and admire.

"And so, at first thought, my plan for an Italian vacation bordered on insanity. "

That's the misconception North Americans have about Italy. Its cuisine and diet is so much more than pasta. So much more. It's just that pasta is incredibly popular people think Italians just eat pasta all day which is simply not the case. It's part of an overall Mediterranean diet.

"To our surprise, we found it to be closer to heaven. Wheat’s prevalence in Italian cuisine has made Italians especially conscious of celiac disease and Italy one of Europe’s best destinations for food-conscious travelers avoiding gluten."

Which confirms my experience. Italians, moreover, won't make you feel bad either for having intolerances and allergies.

Article on gluten-free Italy from the NYT:

"many of the world’s leading experts on celiac disease are Italian."

Not surprised by this at all.

"Underlying that sort of flexibility is an emotional resonance you may not find elsewhere. We found that Italians responded to the magic words “senza glutine” not with exasperation or annoyance but with genuine concern, verging on pity. In Italy, not being able to stomach wheat is more than an inconvenience or fad diet."

As I experienced and mentioned. They're awesome that way.

"That resonance has translated to an institutional empathy that might shock Americans. For example, the first stop for Italians avoiding gluten (or travelers hoping to cook for themselves) isn’t necessarily the supermarket, but the local pharmacy. In central Turin, I asked a bespectacled pharmacist what packages of corn pasta, rice-flour cookies and specially formulated focaccia were doing hanging next to his dark wood counter. It turns out people with celiac disease are given a monthly allowance of about 100 euros (about $135) from Italy’s national health system to buy specially formulated gluten-free products. “In Italy, this food is medicine,” the pharmacist said.

I think it would shock my wife as well. I got a glimpse of the depth of Italian food when I visited the SIAL in Paris (the world's largest) in 2004. No one, and I mean no one not even the French, matched the Italians in the sheer size and scope of products. The French take food seriously, but the Italians are on another planet.

I desperately want my wife to experience Italy.

"When Jen got to the front of the long line, she hesitantly mentioned she’d like a cup, not a cone, and asked if the apricot gelato was senza glutine. The busy server’s eyebrows shot up. In what was clearly a well-rehearsed ritual, she went to the back and washed her hands, then lifted the steel canister of apricot gelato aside to reveal another — uncontaminated by cone crumbs — underneath. A spoon, carefully folded in a clean napkin, was procured from a sealed tub in the back of the shop.

Grom (which has two branches in New York, plus a stand in Central Park open in the summer) was a best-case scenario, but we found that even at small gelaterias and restaurants not on the AiC’s list, the servers knew their stuff. Ingredient lists were always close at hand, and sometimes prominently displayed."

Broken record. Not. Surprising.
Best meal experiences in my life was the one we had in Lucca. We were tired and hungry and were looking for something to eat. We settled on a place only to be told they were closing for siesta. Probably taking pity on us the woman made an exception. She warned it wasn't much but we were grateful she was making an exception.

Everything she brought out was simply divine as we sat out on a Lucchese terrasse overlooking the town. 

“What most Americans don’t know is that pizza and pasta are a big part of the culture in Italy, but they’re not the whole thing,” said Shauna Ahern, a Washington State-based gluten-free cookbook author and blogger who teaches cooking classes in Italy several times each year.

Hey. I shoulda written this article.

And this belief and perception runs deep. In a society obsessed with avoiding stereotypes, the idea that Italians only eat carbs is a strange one to cling on to. It's why I was annoyed and surprised to hear a Canadian Olympic athlete about to set out to winter games in Torino 2006 needing to prepare her food because of she worried about its carb-diet.

How splendidly parochial. It also reminded me how little we actually know about Italian food. 

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