I've truly enjoyed visiting both Venice and Rome in the past, but I have always wanted to see the picturesque Tuscany region. I assumed it was for those looking for beauty, slow pace and good wine - and it certainly delivered!
I have multiple food allergies to peanut, tree nuts, egg, seafood and mustard. My wife has celiac disease. We knew Italy was great for gluten-free options, so I was the one more apprehensive regarding finding safe food at the onset of the trip.
We first went to Florence which was a beautiful city jam-packed with history, museums and a lively night scene. I found finding safe food options here quite easy as it's very touristy and full of diverse restaurants. I dined at a pizzeria where the waiter spoke perfect English and assured me that the margarita pizza I ordered was safe.
Most restaurants had gluten-free options for my wife, but a few mentioned how much they wish we contacted them in advance so they would make sure they had more options that day. They were really celiac-aware, and menu's commonly had "GF" beside gluten-free meals. Many places used the EU's common numbering system for labelling allergens, but not all.
After two days in Florence, we hit the road and went to the sprawling hills of Tuscany. This is where I encountered more challenges with dining out with food allergies.
Challenges of Dining out with Allergies in Italy
Italy has some pretty strict dining times with most restaurants closing up after lunch (2 or 3pm) and reopening later in the evening for dinner (7pm). Of course, our stomaches started rumbling around 3pm and we found this out the hard way. Because of this, there were very limited options and I actually left the one available restaurant as I just didn't feel there was enough safe food for me.
It is very common to open up a menu and see several courses to order for a meal starting with "antipasto" followed by 1st course, and a 2nd course. As much as I love the concept, I found this tough as I'm usually looking to find ONE safe thing to eat, not three. It adds additional potential for error when ordering so many items. I skipped most course and stuck to the 2nd "main course", but found these portions were smaller than I'm accustomed to because they are part of a 3-4 part meal. There were times I was still hungry after my meal because of this. Here is a sample menu of a restaurant we dined at.
In some spots in Tuscany, we got by fine with English, in other areas, there was no English at all. My customized Italian Equal Eats allergy card came in handy several times just in ensuring my message was understood. My wife had a digital celiac translation card, but found no issues finding safe menu options, despite even some menus being Italian only.
At one point a waitress asked "How high is your allergy?". I responded with "very high" and she seemed to grasp at that point that this is serious.
It really depends on the place and the wait staff in whether there is a significant language barrier. I would personally never go without an Italian allergy card because of the inconsistency. I'd rather play it safe.
I did bring back-up food (which I ended up eating all of), but also had success finding safe food at grocery stores. We found some incredible cheese, gluten free crackers and of course an amazing bottle of Tuscany red wine and enjoyed one meal at our hotel.
What would I do differently next time?
On a future trip (which I truly hope to do), I would likely do more research in advance for restaurants and form an itinerary around them. I'd bring more back-up food and likely look for more Airbnb-type accommodation with kitchens so we could cook and purchase more from grocery stores.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip and would love to visit again someday!