Picture yourself walking through the charming Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. You smell pizza baking nearby in a wood-burning oven. Your mouth starts to water and you start craving a taste but think – this isn’t going to work. You are lactose intolerant in Rome. But think again. That dreaded lactose doesn’t have to ruin the delicacies that Italy is so famous for. It’s true, being lactose intolerant in Rome (or Italy) is easier than you might think.
Sheep, Buffalo and Goat Milk
Lactose intolerance means that your body cannot break down the lactose found in cow’s milk. This is due to a lack of an enzyme called lactase. It sounds daunting. Everything is made with cow’s milk, right? Luckily for you, sheep, goat and buffalo milk are formed with shorter amino acid protein chains than cow’s milk. This means that cheese made from these milks are more easily digested. For example. One of the best cheeses for lactose intolerant people is pecorino romano, a sheep cheese found in many traditional Roman and Italian dishes. Plus, it tastes delicious!
Pasta Dishes for Lactose Intolerant Travelers
First up, pasta! You can’t go to Italy without enjoying pasta. If you find yourself lactose intolerant in Rome, consider these go-to pasta dishes to please both your taste buds and your stomach. Naturally, they are all made with pecorino romano.
- Amatriciana. This tomato-based pasta dish contains guanciale or cured pork cheek, fresh tomatoes, red chilli and pecorino romano. Always a safe and tasty bet, amatriciana fills you with a sense of warmth that can only come from a perfect bowl of pasta.
- Carbonara. A fantastic choice for lactose intolerance, a true carbonara is never made with cream but pecorino cheese and eggs. This famous Roman pasta dish has a luxurious creamy texture with a salty kick. La Gricia is like a white amatriciana, but instead of a red sauce, it is prepared with white wine making it into a lighter dish.
- Cacio e Pepe. Macaroni and cheese’s sophisticated cousin is made with tonarelli pasta, pecorino romano cheese and freshly ground pepper. Miscellanea Pub located near the Pantheon is an excellent spot to get your Cacio e Pepe fix. Dining al fresco, looking up at the Pantheon, eating a delicious plate of pasta and sipping a glass of wine is a perfect way to spend a summer evening in Roma.
Lactose-Free Pizza in Rome
Worried that you’ll miss out on real Roman pizza with the crispy, thin crust and fresh local ingredients? have no fear! As a lactose intolerant foodie in Rome, you have more options for lactose-free pizza than you know. Eating pizza with no cheese is common in Italy, especially in Southern Italy. Made fresh with dried oregano and salt, pizza rossa doesn’t need cheese to pack a punch. Take it al taglio (cut to go) for a perfect quick lunch.
For a sit-down pizza dinner, consider an Amatriciana pizza made with pecorino cheese and prosciutto. If this delicious pizza sounds like it’s up your alley, head over to Dar Poeta in Trastevere for some of the best pizza in Rome. Also, keep an eye out for pizza with mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk).
When in Rome Eat Lactose-Free Gelato
If you are lactose intolerant in Rome and crave a sweet fix, head to a gelateria. Although gelato does contain milk, most gelaterias offer fruit-flavored sorbetti or sorbets that have the same silky smooth taste of gelato without the discomfort of dairy. Consider trying the lactose-free sorbet flavors limone (lemon), frutti di bosco (berries) and fragola (strawberry).
However, there are many other flavors in gelaterias that are lactose-free besides fruit. For example, the lactose intolerant flavor cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) gives you a rich chocolate creaminess that makes it hard to believe that it has no milk. Paired with limone, the mix of cioccolato fondente with lemon creates a refreshing combination that will make your tastebuds do a happy dance. Scattered throughout Rome, gelaterias are located in every neighborhood of Rome.
How Do You Say “No Milk” in Italian?
When in doubt do not be afraid to tell your server that you are lactose intolerant by saying “sono intollerante al lattosio” which means “I am lactose intolerant.” Eating with lactose intolerance is easier than it seems and your servers will be more than happy to help you find something you can enjoy. They do not want you to get sick almost as much as you don’t want to get sick. If you’re unsure if a gelato or sorbet flavor does or does not contain milk and you don’t speak Italian, say the name of the flavor you are curious about and ask “con latte?” meaning “with milk?” or “senza lattosio?” meaning “without lactose?”.
Pack Lactose Intolerance Pills
If you want to eat everything you come across in Rome, consider packing Lactaid pills, Pepto Bismal or Imodium. Rome’s pharmacies often keep medications behind the counter that are readily available in the aisles of an American drugstore. This means you might find yourself having to explain your symptoms to a pharmacist instead of just grabbing the antidote to your dairy-woes and getting on your way.
Regardless of whether you decide to stick with lactose-free cheeses or pop a Lactaid pill, it is quite easy to eat well in Italy with a lactose intolerance. Italy’s cuisine is so diverse and tasty that you won’t miss the dairy or the extra calories that come along with it. Of course, you can always use those extra calories to enjoy some more sorbetto.