I am starting a series of posts—don’t worry, they’ll be sporadic at best—about my gluten free adventures as I travel to different places around the world. I decided to do this because I have benefitted tremendously from various articles on gluten free travel. I hope some people will find these posts useful. If not, move along. I have a great post on Theory as Liberatory Practice you should read. 🙂
This post will be about our travels last August to England, Scotland, and France. I was very worried about being gluten-free in Paris, since my 6 years of middle and high school French classes had not prepared me deal with dietary allergies. As it turns out, it was harder to find options in Edinburgh than in Paris. After doing a lot of research on how to make certain requests in French, I was good to go. French waiters always seemed willing to help with accommodating my dietary needs. I had heard that they are more likely to do so if you try to talk to them in French, so I did. Always.
So based on our travel adventures last year, here are some recommendations I can make:
1. Talk to your transportation providers about gluten free options
My dear husband managed to request gluten free options for our plane and train rides. While Virgin Atlantic biffed it on the trip east (they simply “lost” the request and had no food for me), they had a full gluten free meal for me on the trip home. The trains were less able to accommodate my requests, but most of their meal options include at least one option without gluten. Either way, I found it helpful that we talked to the transportation providers before we traveled so we could understand what accommodations they could and could not make. Also, since we knew that the trains would not have many gluten-free options, we packed snacks for me to munch while enjoying the trains’ non-stop coffee and tea drinks (we had first-class seats).
2. Find grocery stores near your hotels
The first thing we did in London and Paris (well, after hitting H&M in London to buy new clothes for the kiddo, whose upset tummy required a new wardrobe—oy!) was find a grocery store near the hotel. Each had plenty of gluten free items that we could keep on hand. Heads up that the supermarket I found in Paris did not look like supermarket (more like a clothes store) but there was a huge supermarket underneath the first floor. The name of the supermarket, I think, was Monoprix. At the French supermarket there was a whole section of gluten free options, including gluten free baguettes that were not all that bad. Instead of eating at a restaurant one night, we loaded up on fresh fruits, cheeses, olives, Nutella, and gluten free baguettes and we ate like kings in our hotel room. It was wonderful!
3. Research how to ask for gluten free options and the etiquette around it
This is especially important for places where you are not a native speaker of the language. I printed these celiac information cards in French, but ended up not using them (I will probably need them for our trip to Italy in June). I taught myself how to ask for options “sans gluten, s’il vous plait.” Most articles I read recommended not being demanding or expecting that people will bend over backwards to accommodate your needs. I agree & was always gracious and appreciative of the wait staff’s help.
I learned how to ask for crepes with buckwheat flour (sarrasin, or ble noir). I asked a guy who was running a crepe stand near Notre Dame and he said, yes his crepes were made with buckwheat. I politely asked if it was pure buckwheat and he went to ask the kitchen staff. Turns out, no, it wasn’t. We thanked him and moved on. At the next place, I exchanged the same questions and this guy pointed me back to the guy with whom I had just spoken. I say, in French still (somehow), that the first had pointed me to him. Second guy then loops his arm through mine and takes me to go back to the first guy to talk to him about the purity of his buckwheat flour. My husband and son are watching in amazement at this point. We walk back to the first guy and the two fellows proceed to argue (with too-rapid-for-me-to-understand exchanges and wild gesticulations) about whether or not their buckwheat flour blends were pure. I loved it! I felt totally taken care of—these guys genuinely wanted me to have a positive result. In the end, they recommended a creperie on Ile St. Louis (called La Sarrasin) where we had a wonderful lunch of pure buckwheat crepes. Bonus: There was a Berthillon ice cream place just a few doors down.
4. Know some of the danger ingredients and what they are called in the language of the country where you are going
Again, this is more important when you are traveling to countries where you don’t speak the language, but I even had to do this for our time in London and Scotland. I wasn’t sure, for instance, if haggis was gluten free (it’s not).
5. Go to these gluten-free friendly places
Dishoom (London) — Overall, our favorite dining spot for our entire trip. I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously. Amazing. This Indian restaurant in London offers a version of their menu with the gluten-free options highlighted. Our waitress was knowledgeable about gluten allergies and knew how to help us order. And the food, oh my god, the food.
Wagamama (London) — This is one of my husband’s favorite restaurants, so we had to eat there. While there are not a ton of gluten-free options, the wait staff was knowledgeable and helpful. The kitchen is prepared to modify dishes for people with allergies. So, yeah, it’s a win for us.
La Sarrasin (Paris, Ile St. Louis) — As I mentioned before, this little creperie uses pure buckwheat flour (at least, they did when we were there). The place is tiny—we ate at their little outdoor tables. The house wine was also delicious.