Every country has its staple food, a cheap and available carbohydrate to feed the masses. Rice in China, potato in Ireland and in Italy that staple is wheat flour. It is the basis of so much Italian cuisine with pizza, bread and pasta a part of most Italian meals. This has always made traveling Italia with a food loving, gluten free eating wife an enormous challenge. So many cheap and delicious tastes avoided as we wander the cities and towns of this food loving nation. So many mouth watering aromas admired then ignored.
Like elsewhere in the world there has been a rise in gluten intolerance or the more severe coeliac disease in Italy. This has made life a lot easier and more delicious for us and it brought us out of the tourist centre of the Sardinian capital, Cagliari to the restaurant Man.gia. They specialise in these glutinous favourites without the gluten and despite this omission they deliver in incredible fashion on the flavour and texture of the real deal.
We arrived reservation free and were initially turned away at the door of the packed restaurant. My gluten free girlfriend (G.F. G.F.) sweet talked us onto a table on the proviso we finish up by 10pm the restaurant-pizzerias busiest time. So we ordered pronto and tucked into our crisp dry Sardinian Vermentino to wet the palate. Our speedy order; a pizza and a pasta to share.
I am a gluten free sceptic but the pizza was one of the best I have ever eaten. Chewy, doughy crust and a thin base topped with delicious prosciutto crudo, fresh wild rocket and buffalo mozzarella. The pasta was fusilli like spirals that came close to the texture of wheat based pasta and carried the flavour of local sausage, pesto, cherry tomato and saffron. I was totally satisfied and G.F. G.F. was blown away by reliving the joy of eating “real” pizza and pasta.
Our ten o’clock deadline came and went as a few tables cleared allowing us to relax a little. I poked my camera into the kitchen to see careful rolling of the mystery dough that is the cornerstone of this local favourite. No secrets were revealed as to how they make such a traditional texture and taste without the gluten. What was shared nightly at the restaurant was the joy of these Italian classics for people who for health reasons choose to avoid gluten.
So with the time pressure off us we ordered dessert; a chocolate fondant. Soon after a plate with this chocolate lava explosion and a Nutella mousse cake with shortbread like biscuit crust arrived. The kitchen takes great pride in their food and after my visit they were eager for us to taste more than our order. All very sweet and flavoursome and with an espresso and a finishing aperitif of Mirto (a Sardinian berry liquer) a perfect end to our Man.gia experience.
The saying goes that the hardest sell is selling ice to eskimos but if you could sell a frosty non ice based substitute to those same eskimos you would really be onto a winner. The packed alfresco area of Man.gia selling gluten free to Italians proves they are doing something very, very right.
words by Wade Ranson
photography by Wade Ranson and Michelle Ranson
Man.gia Ristorante – Pizzeria
Via Goffredo Mameli, 196, 09123 Cagliari CA