Eating out with children when you’re on holiday can be challenging, especially when you have a child who is gluten and dairy free. As much as is possible, I do my research before hand to make sure I find us suitable places. But on this particular occasion I didn’t.
We went to Rome. It’s Italy, I thought. The land of pizza and pasta. They’re bound to do gluten free versions. I’ve also been to Rome twice before and always had wonderful food, so I wasn’t worried. That said, I don’t need to eat gluten and dairy free.
The reality was, it was really difficult. On the one hand the Italians understand if you ask for something ‘sensa glutine’ and are happy to find you a suitable alternative from the menu. But this is Italy for goodness sake, where practically every restaurant you go to is either a pizzeria or trattoria, offering an abundance of pizza and pasta dishes. How do you tell a five year old that he can’t have the pasta at any of them, when it’s his all time favourite food?
On our first night we arrived late and so had to dump our suitcases and go out to find somewhere to eat. My son was tired and hungry and had been looking forward to a comforting bowl of pasta pomodoro. By the fourth restaurant we had to give up and ended up ordering him some chicken and potatoes. As we sat waiting for our food, we suddenly realised that our little one had his head bowed and was crying silent tears.
‘I just want some pasta,’ he said.
As I’ve said on previous occasions, not once has he moaned about having to eat differently or miss out on treats that the girls have had. But the combined effect of tiredness, lack of food and being in Italy and expecting to be eating pasta ’til it was coming out of his ears, took its toll.
There was a sinking feeling in my stomach at that moment and I regretted not having done my research. The realisation that it might not be so easy to find suitable restaurants in Rome hit home.
Thankfully, the lovely Rosanna from our hotel was so helpful and understanding. When we got back and told her what had happened she rang around until she found us a place that offered gluten free pasta and booked us a table there the very next night. That restaurant, plus one other that was recommended by a local Roman became our new favourite places to eat over the next three nights.
What we learned is that restaurants in the popular strips and squares of Rome, whilst they may promise that they can cater for gluten and dairy free dining, don’t in fact offer alternatives for the allergy sufferer. They are mainly interested in getting bums on seats and profiting from the vast numbers of tourists that pass their way.
Those restaurants that truly cater for people who avoid gluten are few and far between and are more likely to be found on the lesser known streets and in quieter areas. What we did find out about these places, though is that they were so welcoming and helpful and they made such a fuss of our little man that it completely made up for that disastrous first night.
That and the fact that Rosanna also found us a Gelateria that offered soya ice cream, made the whole trip worthwhile. Because as well as going to Italy for the pasta, you can’t possibly go there and not sample the ice cream too.
The restaurants we went to: