If you follow my Instagram, you know we travel often. It seems so far in 2017, we’ve been away more than home. Some jokingly say we don’t need a house, just a place to crash for a few days between trips. And now, only a few days back from filming on location in Asheville, NC (making more of these awesome videos!), we are off for another getaway.
So why do you travel so much?
It’s the top question we’re asked. Most assume it’s for Dreamy’s work, but truth is, travel is our hobby. We love it, we’ve always loved it and so we go. We’re grateful to be able to explore this big, beautiful world.
How do you keep to your gluten-free diet when you travel?
The second most-asked question we get brings us to the topic of this post. Especially after our most recent visit to France, Germany and Switzerland late January/early February this year, emails poured in with many of you wanting to know exactly how I maintain my medically necessary gluten-free and allergen-free lifestyle.
The short answer: It’s really not that difficult these days and we find it a bit easier in Europe than in the US (especially in London, France and Germany) in most cases. With more gluten-free restaurants popping up in major cities, better food and labeling laws than in the United States and my ability to speak French and muddle by in German, we manage well.
But that’s not a thorough enough answer. To provide one, it will help you to know what our family must avoid, how we normally eat, and how we eat when in Europe. Plus, I added some additional info I think will help you if you’re off to France or neighboring countries.
Non-Optional Gluten-Free Living
I have celiac disease, so gluten-free living is not optional. I do not “cheat” my health by consuming gluten knowingly, ever. (If you do, or you’ve ever considered cheating on your GF diet, read this.)
Ma Petite (our 16-year-old daughter) is gluten-sensitive and maintains a non-cheating gluten-free diet, too. We’ve had a 100% GF home since my diagnosis in 2007 and Dreamy rarely eats gluten when we’re away to avoid cross-contaminating me.
Celiac Disease + Multiple Food Allergies and Intolerances
Ma Petite and I are both allergic to soy. I am also allergic to peanuts and tree nuts (coconut is not a nut – read more). I never eat dairy in the US, but I do sometimes eat small amounts of dairy in Europe. (That’s an entirely different, research-based post that I’ll share in the future.)
Eating at Home in the USA
Our at-home diet is 90-95% whole food (meaning food in its natural state, not from boxes or bags). I regularly bake nutritious muffins and breads for breakfast or snacks; our lunches are either leftovers or hearty salads and I cook dinner every day. We rarely dine out here in the States (just a personal preference).
Eating in Europe
It’s similar to how we eat at home, with a focus on real food, but we obviously dine out much more (about once each day) and pick up little treats like raw chocolate (my favorite treat!), macarons (for Ma Petite), ice cream for Dreamy (his favorite food!) and special jams (violet and rose petal) that we don’t find here in the US.
Gold stamped chocolate from Switzerland, above.
A variety of macarons for Ma Petite.
Here are some typical foods we eat at each meal.
Breakfast is usually something very small like a slice of gluten-free toast with confiture (jam) or a yogurt with coffee. I love having a tartine (like an open-face sandwich) for breakfast. This is one I made with leftover veggies. I ate it looking out our bedroom window at the colorful buildings of Colmar.
Mid-morning, we pop into a café for espresso, tea or vin chaud (warm spiced red wine, in winter; pictured below). Warm red wine is very popular in winter months and SO tasty!
There are countless café stops throughout the day, always. You always get sugar packets and water with your espresso.
For lunch, we either go to a crêperie or brasserie for a galette (the Breton variety, not the cake) or we’ll make jambon beurre (ham and butter sandwiches) at home from our market finds.
These galettes are from a crêperie in Colmar, where we stay when we visit the wine route. Top is ham, cheese, tomato and bottom is loaded with veggies (that’s mine!). These are very thin and made from only buckwheat flour, so they are 100% gluten-free. At this location, this is the only type of crepe they make, so there was no issue of cross-contamination of the griddle.
This is some gorgeous ham we bought at the covered market in Colmar. It made spectacular sandwiches! Did you know the French eat a lot of pork? They do!
The market is a treasure trove of delicious, local and mostly naturally gluten-free foods (minus the pastry, of course!).
Generally, if we eat in for lunch, we dine out at dinner, or vice versa. We have a list of favorite restaurants in areas we like to visit, and a list of must-try spots for upcoming trips. I’m always learning of new spots that open up and adding those to our list.
Here’s a peek at some of the meals we enjoyed this trip.
In Switzerland, we enjoyed pork over sauerkraut with boiled potatoes.
We always visit Kartoffelhaus in Germany. Our love of “potato house” is strong!! This dish was Dreamy’s lunch – potato gratin, salmon, loads of cheese sauce and herbs.
I had a gratin with tomatoes, olives, herbs, onions and cheese. It was divine! We can never finish our plates there. So much food!
We enjoyed mussels in Paris (steamy pic!), always a favorite dish for us with plenty of cold, dry white wine.
I’ll share a more detailed food post later, but now that you have an idea of how we must eat due to food allergies and celiac, and how we eat when we are in Europe (not bad, huh??), I want to share some obstacles a gluten-free traveler might face, as well as the solutions that will make eating gluten-free in Europe easier for you if you have any of the same issues.
Potential Obstacles a Gluten-Free Traveler Might Face Dining Out in Europe
Of course, there are more obstacles that can (and do) arise, more solutions to offer and more information in general, but for the sake of space (and your time in reading this), this is an overview. Look for more posts on travel coming soon and if you have specific questions you’d like me to address, please let me know.
My goal in sharing our travel experiences with you is to help you realize this lifestyle is not one of restriction and to inspire you to go anywhere you want to go, all while honoring your health by adhering to your gluten-free diet.
Talking about Your Special Diet – The language barrier
Once you arrive at your destination, if the primary language is not English, you can encounter issues when purchasing or ordering food. I speak French, so that’s not an issue when we travel to France. I also have an elementary knowledge of German, so that helps when we pop across the border. In Switzerland, we get by with a mix of French, German and English.
If you do not speak the language of the place you’re visiting, I strongly recommend getting gluten-free travel cards (or making your own) and brushing up on the key words you need to convey your food allergies and health issues, along with those foods you must avoid. Even if you can’t pronounce them, be sure to write them down and take that along with you.
Here are a few key phrases:
Gluten-free in French is “sans gluten”.
I have celiac disease. = J’ai la maladie coeliaque.
I must eat gluten-free. = Je dois manger sans gluten.
I am allergic to… = Je suis allergique à…
Wheat = le blé (Je suis allergique au blé.)
Soy = le soja (Je suis allergique au soja.)
Dairy = les produits laitiers (Je suis allergique aux produits laitiers.)
Nuts = des noisettes (Je suis allergique aux noix.)
You’ll notice some changes (le to au) in wheat and soy; les and des to aux in dairy and nuts; noisettes to noix for nuts. Those aren’t typos. It’s French grammar. ;-)
Many menus in large European cities (like Paris) will have an English description for dishes, and many servers will speak at least some English. That is the case in most cities that receive a high number of English-speaking visitors.
As you get away from large cities and heavily touristed areas, you won’t find a lot of English spoken in France or Germany. Be prepared!
Avocado Toast from NoGlu Paris – we visit every time we’re in the City.
When at a “regular” (not dedicated GF) restaurant:
- Use those phrases listed above and any others you need to convey your food allergies and sensitivities or any other health issues that affect your diet.
- Do not order fried foods unless you’re 100% certain no gluten goes into the fryer.
- Be aware of sauces on dishes. Many use wheat flour for thickening.
- Don’t overlook the garnish. I’ve had dishes served with crumbled toasted bread, desserts topped with cookie crumble (or almond crumble). It’s best to ask about all ingredients at the beginning of the meal to avoid frustration (yours and the server’s/chef’s) later.
Gluten-Free Restaurants in Paris
If you decide to dine out for each meal, you’ll find many gluten-free restaurants in Paris. Check out Biosphere café (meals; weekend brunch), Helmut Newcake (pastry), NoGlu (3 locations with meals, pastries, breads), Thank You My Deer (meals; weekend brunch; great coffee), Léon de Bruxelles (moules – but not the frites!) and Chambelland.
I recommend visiting this site for great recommendations for gluten-free in Paris by arrondissement (neighborhood).
When plotting your dining and other adventures in Paris, keep in mind, it’s a large city, very spread out and you’ll want to do your homework and planning before you take off on the metro and/or on foot to do your sight-seeing and dining out.
This is a very real issue when traveling anywhere (and dining out in general), but if you don’t know how to speak the language, getting the point of cross-contamination across to a server can be daunting.
La contamination-croisée = cross-contamination
One very real example is when ordering the ever-popular frîtes (French fries) in France. You’ll find fries on most menus (the French eat them often) but you’ll also soon learn most are fried in oil where gluten-breaded foods are also fried. Always ask, but if you can’t ask, just assume the frîtes aren’t safe for celiac.
If you can find a spot where frîtes are fried alone you may want to try moules-frîtes (mussels and fries). It’s a popular dish that originated in Belgium, but you find it all over France and it’s delicious.
Even in the markets where you can find lovely local fruits and vegetables in season, there is a risk of cross-contact with allergens. Take a look up top at my featured image. See those naturally gluten-free dried fruits next to those walnuts and peanuts? That’s a serious problem for someone with a peanut or tree nut allergy and you’ll be wise to be on the lookout for this setup at markets. I snapped the picture so that I could show you because it’s a great example of what you’ll see in France.
It’s also more challenging to get the “change gloves” or “prepare this in a separate area” points across, too. French restaurant kitchens aren’t usually very large. That is even more the case in a café. For example, those lovely galettes we had (pictured above) were prepared in a kitchen that was under 3-feet wide and about 6-feet long. That’s it! Space is sacred in Europe and that extends to restaurants (both kitchens and dining areas).
Another cross-contamination that we see primarily in smaller towns and villages is raw and cooked (or cured) meats in the same butcher case next to each other. It’s not food allergy related, I know, but I wanted to throw that in here so you’ll pay attention to it if the occasion arises.
Venturing Out | Supermarkets | Health Food Stores
If you decide to venture out into areas beyond Paris or other larger cities (and we certainly recommend you do!), you will have a significantly more difficult time locating gluten-free foods in supermarkets. There may be some products, but the selection is likely going to be limited.
Along roadways, do not expect to find any packaged gluten-free foods (at rest areas, petrol stations, etc.). Most “quick foods” you will find there are sandwiches or pastries.
My best advice is to buy a few gluten-free snacks that you can pack easily and take along. We are able to find a good selection of gluten- and other- free foods in health stores and natural groceries. If you are near a La Vie Claire, a bio (organic) store, you’ll find a wide selection of products.
We also love Alnatura in Germany for organic, gluten-free and allergen-free finds. There are about 100 stores throughout Germany and Switzerland and we always pop into one when we’re there. I also like their skin care products.
We also visit the local supermarket wherever we are for items like bottled water and other items we need. In France, Monoprix and Carrefour are supermarkets that carry a wide variety of products when it comes to gluten-free and other allergen-free foods (these are also great places to pick up any essentials you may need like toothpaste, body lotion, etc.). While we don’t eat boxed foods often, when we lived in France in 2015, we tried lots of packaged foods so that I could tell you about some of them. You can read about some here and here. I also wrote about grocery shopping in France here.
I hope this info gives you a better idea of how we manage celiac disease and multiple food allergies when abroad. Please feel free to share your top tips for traveling in Europe in the comments below!
Find more travel posts here!
And if you’re ready to enjoy Italy gluten-free, be sure to read this post from my friend, Ambra. She has a complete guide to gluten-free in Italy that will make your travels a breeze!