Gluten Free in Europe

While I was traveling through Europe in May and June, I knew I wanted to blog about how to eat gluten free across the other side of the ocean. Much of the information I found was through blogs and forums, so I felt it was only appropriate to give back to the GF community through the Internet.

A little background: I have been GF for almost two years, and the difference in my health is remarkable. At the time when I started having pretty severe reactions to my food, I was uninsured and didn’t know how to deal with my problems. I did a lot of research, and was hesitant to go GF. By eliminating gluten from my diet before getting tested for Celiac (which would have cost a ton of money because I wasn’t insured), I would essentially guarantee that any test results for Celiac disease would be skewed. Therefore, I would never know definitively whether or not I had Celiac. After binging on cake, chicken parm, pizza and beer for my brother’s 3oth birthday party, I was in a world of pain — literally. I had horrible stomach pains, was completely exhausted, achey, nauseous, and only wanted to sleep all day. After this experience, which prior to I had been having episodes like this more and more often, and due to the advice of my chiropractor, I decided to go GF for a few months to see if there was any difference. It was like night and day. I can honestly say my quality of life has improved by leaps and bounds, and I no longer experience the digestive issues I had for the first 22 years of my life. Although I will never know if I truly have Celiac, or rather just an allergy or sensitivity to gluten, I do know I will never go near the stuff again. (I have tried gluten a few times since going GF, and in turn became completely incapacitated for about a week.) So naturally, I had some nerves about travelling to Europe regarding my diet and visiting countries where I did not speak the language.

Before leaving, I did some preliminary research as to how GF is viewed in Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Florence. I read information about GF restaurants, and what was generally safe. Based on my experience and research, this is what I found:

France

By far the most difficult place during my travels to find GF food. Luckily, it was also the most expensive, so Anna and I opted to not eat out every night. There’s no real nice way to say this– the French don’t care for Americans much, and they really couldn’t care less about your personal concerns, even if it is a food allergy. I spent a pretty considerable amount of time when eating at the restaurant at the Eiffel Tower explaining to the staff why I couldn’t eat gluten. In part, the language barrier was a problem. But mostly, they brushed it off as some American with a funky diet. Fortunately, one of the tour guides helped me to communicate this (I think mostly because he liked me– so I can only thank my good looks and charm), and they listened to him about the severity of the issue. After his help, they promptly were attentive to my needs and I was grateful for that.

The other major meal for which we ate out was a small restaurant near our hostel. I showed the waiter my restaurant cards in French — an essential— and he could not have been more understanding. He was extremely thorough with checking back and

Fish and Veggies in Paris

forth with the kitchen and me to make sure I was eating safely. I ended up ordering fish with grilled veggies,  and when I say fish, it was literally and entire fish– bones, head, tail, and all. Nevertheless, it was delicious. And free– the waiter didn’t even charge us! Although I do not think the free meal had any relationship to requesting gluten free.

Some overall tips for gluten free eating in France: Trust your gut. As soon as you go to the restaurant, show them the restaurant cards. If they brush it off, or seem like they don’t care, then do not eat there. Also, salads are usually a safe bet. They aren’t lettuce-based like the salads in the U.S., and are more filling. They also aren’t loaded with dressings that could be hazardous. Most food there is grilled, not breaded or fried, so if you request it without sauce then it should be safe t0 eat. We went to a lot of grocery stores and lived of fresh veggies, fruits, cheese, wine, and coffee. Might sound bare minimum but all were so delicious that we could eat (and drink) our fill.

Spain

Delicious. Spain is all about tapas and sangria, and I could not ask for anything more. I barely used my restaurant cards here, and had little problem finding safe food. The reason: tapas are all displayed either in pictures or actually on the plate at the restaurants. You can easily see the ingredients in the food. While I know to some Celiacs this is still a major concern, I rested on the fact that the Spanish are very simple when it

Tapas and Sangria

comes to their food. Again, it’s not breaded or fried. A sample dinner of tapas for two would consist of about four or five plates: grilled calamari with some light spices; greek salad (no real dressing, just some EVOO and basil, and again not lettuce based); Spanish cheese; olives; among others. I still carried my cards, but I didn’t really use them because of the convenience of being able to see the food and knowing that the Spanish tend to cook in order to enhance the natural flavors of the food. I felt it was very obvious to see the actual ingredients.

Italy

I know what you’re thinking– all that bread, pasta and pizza. There’s no way a GF eater can even think about touching food in this country. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! There is a high incidence of Celiac in Italy, so restaurants are required to know about gluten intolerance. I still carried my restaurant cards and gave them to the waiters and hosts when entering a restaurant

Grilled Tuna and Salad in Rome

(because of the language barrier), but most of the time they knew exactly what it was right away. “Senza glutine!” The wait-staffs I encountered in both Rome and Florence were usually incredibly understanding. One of our last nights in Florence, a waiter brought over bruschetta to our table. Our main waiter promptly came over, apologized, and instructed me not to touch the bruschetta. He brought over another small appetizer that I could eat instead. In Florence, we also encountered a little place on Piazza del Duomo that served GF pizza and pasta. Delicious! There

Gluten Free Pizza in Rome

was also a restaurant near St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City called Restorante Renovatio La Soffita. Again, just as delicious. I was so excited to eat pizza that I treated Anna and myself to a bottle of wine, although I’d be lying if I said a bottle of wine with lunch wasn’t a common occurrence.

Again, I ate a lot of grilled fish with vegetables. No complaints, it was always great food. I think one of my favorite meals on the trip was our first meal in Rome. I had grilled tuna with a small side salad and a balsamic glaze over the fish. It was fantastic, and very safe to eat in any country. Another important note about eating in Italy: not all gelato is gluten free! In Rome, I had gelato once and was able to read

Gelateria in Florence (Take from Google Maps)

the ingredients posted in English to know it was safe. Many of the places we visited simply would not serve me. I’m not sure if all flavors were unsafe, but I believe that at least some of them were, and they did not want to risk the contamination. This was fine with me, since my GF motto is that I’d rather not eat the food than risk getting sick. Again, this is where the restaurant cards were useful. In Florence, there was a great little gelato place with a very knowledgeable  staff in Piazza della Signoria. They even had gluten free cones! I highly recommend this place.

Gluten Free Menu in Florence

Considering I did not get sick once this trip, I would say it was certainly a success! Now, here are some online resources I used and I hope that you might find them useful as well.

Gluten Free  in Europe (General)

I can’t say it enough– Restaurant Cards courtesy of celiactravel.com

Google was my best friend. Remember to Google “gluten free” in the other countries’ native languages, as well as English.

Gluten Free in Paris

Restaurants with GF menus (although I did not go to any of these): Des Si & Des Mets; Cojean; Soya (vegetarian); Biosphare; Twinkie (breakfast); Le Reminet;  Maubert-Mutualité or St-Michel; Saveurs Végét’Halles (GF/vegetarian)

A blog about dining in Paris by  David Lebovitz

Gluten Free in Barcelona

Celiacs Catalunya (if you scroll about halfway down, you will find many restaurants for Celiacs)

Gluten Free in Rome

Restorante Renovatio La Soffita (Vatican City)

GF Restaurants Part 1 and Part 2 (courtesy of celiacdisease.com)

Gluten Free in Florence

A blog post from Celiac Chicks

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~ by Caitlin on August 15, 2011.

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