Over the years, I have heard bits and pieces from various sources the legendary food in Italy. Specifically, the legendary gluten free pasta. Like most legends, I cannot place exactly where I heard this but the story went that the Italians invented the best gluten free pasta you could ever find but didn’t export it. Also, now this one had a bit of indirect evidence to substantiate the claim, that you could go to practically any restaurant in Italy and find a gluten free menu. Apparently there are enough Italians who are Celiacs that the government tests all children, requires gluten free foods to be available in at least some accessible pharmacies in every area, and provides a monthly stipend to buy it along with paid time off work. Three points for socialism.
Utopia does not exist anywhere, not even for food. I inquired around the city after the famed gluten free pasta but no one had heard of it. Instead I found a decent but typical corn pasta. Instead of being able to eat in any restaurant, I found very few restaurants had gluten free menus but that pretty much everyone knew what ‘celiaco’ and ‘sans glutine’ meant. Also, there are plenty of options for gluten free dining but do your research first and both your stomach and your feet will thank you. Personally, I found TripAdvisor.com to be indispensable for this task.
Now, I’m about to reveal a perfect food day for all visitors to Rome.
1) Old Bridge Gelateria. Yes, dessert first. You’re on vacation!
Gelato is not the same as ice cream. I don’t recall the actual ingredient or processing difference but gelato is far superior and Old Bridge Gelato is the best in Rome. We will not speak of how much gelato I ate while in Rome but I was walking enough to balance it out so it’s okay. Since Old Bridge Gelato got it’s start in Rome, I have no idea why it’s in English. What matters is that the gluten free cone above is provided at no extra charge and the above combo was exactly 2 Euros. Two, that’s it. Try finding that much dessert in the U.S. for the same price. Good luck. At 1 Euro per scoop; tax, cone, and all it can’t be beat on price alone. It also outranks all other gelato in the world (really, where would have better gelato than Rome?) purely on the burst of flavor in each scoop. It’s amazing! My favorite stop was the gelateria right in front of the Vatican Museum entrance. If you are stuck in line or coming back out to the heat, stop for 2 Euros of yummy goodness.
2) La Soffitta Renovatio Ristorante is on my list of favorite restaurants. It’s a short list, there are only two. La Soffitta’s in Rome, Italy and The Patat Spot in Charleston, South Carolina. More on that later…
La Soffitta’s is home not only to excellent food but also a warm and inviting staff. Their entire menu is available as ‘normal food’ and as gluten free. I haven’t felt so normal while eating out since I began my new gluten free life. Feeling normal and confident in their careful preparation while also eating delicious food with great service was truly a blessing.
From the first time I walked down the stairs, a very friendly manager (owner?) greeted me. I replied ‘buongiorno’, which can mean ‘good morning’ but is generally the more formal way of saying ‘good day’ or ‘hello’ formally. He then repeated ‘buonosera’ and I nodded and smiled. By the second night I ate there, it became a thing, he insisted ‘buongiorno’ was too formal and that I must say ‘buonosera’ while with them. They were all that genuinely friendly. The waiters would very patiently explain what I was ordering in English and answer any questions I had and were generally very conversable. My third night eating there was the night before my last night. I told them as much and promised to return for my last dinner. When I did, every person on staff greeted me with a loud ‘BUONOSERA’ and outstretched arms. That evening they even put a tiny American flag on my pizza. La Soffitta’s is one of Rome’s hidden gems.
La Soffitta’s had the best food I experienced in Italy. I wish I had taken a photo of the pizzas. They were too large to finish, I have no idea how Romans eat five courses in one meal, and would come with the toppings whole. I saw this in other places as well. You did not order pizza with small circles of pepperoni. You ordered saucer sized slices of salami, preferably soprassetta. The Renovatio in the name apparently means ‘fried’. I was curious so I tried their signature dish and this is what I got, all gluten free, all fried in a dedicated gluten free fryer:
I’m not entirely sure what it all is but some of them had cheese inside and it was yummy. There is also a marmalade pie that will blow your mind. It’s better than… well, use your imagination.
Finding La Soffitta’s is the hard part. Thankfully it seems to be a spot popular with the locals and everyone I asked was able to tell me it was in the square by the Vatican Museum. It took me a bit but I found it. This is what it looked like upon approach and from the opposite side:
It really doesn’t stand out across the square and you’ll miss it entirely if you aren’t looking for it. The hunt is worth it though once you head down those stairs wrapped in Italian warmth and the fragrant Italian kitchen.