Allergy Travel in Italy: A Wedding in Montepulciano

Navigating restaurants abroad in a country where you don't share the same language as the locals can be very difficult. I speak very little Italian but luckily my uncle and aunt who I was there visiting were able to help. Italians are familiar with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, and in fact there were many occasions on which I saw GF options. Dairy and nut allergies, however, are decidedly rare over in Italia. It didn't help that we were in a very non-tourist-y area where barely anyone spoke English. One night when Bran and I were having dinner without my relatives we actually ended up getting my uncle to call ahead to a restaurant where he knew the owner. They arranged for there to be something I could eat and it was an amazing meal. We had a mound of barbecued goat skewers, hearty bowls of pasta, and fresh melon for dessert at the local family restaurant called Longhorn in Pescara, Abruzzo. 

We visited Chieti, a nearby town, one afternoon. This was one of my nonno's favorite towns and he often spoke of how many fond memories he had in Chieti. I had been several times as a kid and was eager to go back. We went during siesta without thinking about how all the restaurants would be closed for lunch, and when we finally did find a couple places they were unwilling to accommodate my allergies. I think the issue was that they didn't understand and my translation cards were not enough of an explanation. Oh and did I mention it was about 45C? Luckily there was a grocery store open and we were able to buy some fruit, juice, and water to hold us over. Grocery stores are often my saving grace while on vacation.

Dining out in Pescara (below) was a little easier because my relatives were often around and had arranged restaurants for the family to eat in each night. It's a city where fishing is a main industry and the harbour is lined with boats and beach clubs. We found a cafe that had great Wifi signal and planted ourselves there during siesta most days to get some work done. They made a great Americano coffee, but we also learned that Americano is the name of the cocktail below that we accidentally ordered. 

We also visited the beautiful town of Loreto which I really regret not having been able to spend more time in. Penne was also on the list although I had been there in the past. Both are quaint mountainside towns with stunning views and impeccable ancient fixtures and details. 



And of course there was a beautiful wedding, the main purpose of our trip. The ceremony took place in an ancient stone church and the reception was a day-long event at a restored villa on the mountainside. I managed to stave off my anxiety throughout the seafood and grill buffet courses but once we got to the sit-down dinner I began to get anxious. Seafood is rarely prepared with dairy products like cheese or butter in most regions of Italian cuisine. In fact, some may be offended if you ask! My dad notoriously got in trouble by a chef in Italy several years back when he was telling her (he speaks Italian) about my allergies - she swore to him there was no way seafood and cheese would ever meet in her kitchen.

There were several courses of pasta and each of them had a creamy sauce that the waiter said was made with olive oil but I was convinced was made with butter. I immediately got a vision of an ambulance trying to scale the mountain to get me, ruining the wedding, and having to be resuscitated in the extreme heat. I did end up getting over it and tasting about a tbsp of pasta, but I gave myself a D for how well I managed my fears at that point. As soon as the dinner was over I had a glass of wine, relaxed, and we danced to the live music while the sun set over the ocean view. 

Have Epi Pen, Will Travel?

Musings on food allergies and travel as a young adult

Read More