Gluten-Free International Travel (Part 2)
For a discussion on the importance of focusing on HOW instead of CAN’T, please read Part 1 here.
Based on my family’s collective experience traveling abroad, here are some HOW’s for international travel:*
Easy to eat at restaurants/hotels/markets. GF options readily available.
Known for its red wine and Chimichurri (sauce of herbs, garlic, and vinegar), Argentine cuisine is naturally GF-friendly. It features an asado, a selection of meats (mostly beef) slow-cooked on a parrilla (open wood-fired grill).
Since new labeling legislation in 2008, Celiac Disease has become well-known in Argentina, so you will be able to look for labels in stores (‘Apto para Celíacos’ or ‘No Apto para Celíacos’ and/or ‘Libre de Gluten’ or ‘sin T.A.C.C.’) and discuss your needs at most restaurants (mention you are “un(a) Celíaco/a”).
It will be helpful to have Spanish speaker with you, but Costa Rican food is naturally GF-friendly and it is easy to eat GF on a budget (great for college students!). Beans and rice, vegetables, fruit, and corn tortillas are common dishes and easy to find anywhere.
In general, Ireland is a better option for GF travelers than travel within the United States—the food is cleaner, there is a solid cultural understanding of gluten-free issues (including gluten contamination), and clear labeling of GF options.
Look for items marked “Coeliac Friendly” or “CF” on just about every menu. Menus also label vegan meals (“Vegan Friendly” or “VF”), which is helpful for people who don’t eat dairy.
Visit the local pub and enjoy a pint of cider and delicious pub food, like GF fish and chips and hearty soups and stews.
Like Ireland, England is very GF-friendly—there is an abundance of gluten-free packaged and grocery options readily available and most restaurants and pubs offer clearly labeled “Coeliac Friendly” or “Gluten Friendly” options.
Eating at restaurants is trickier, but good availability of GF options in grocery stores. Consider home away options and smaller or fancier hotels. More travel prep may be required.
Traveling with native speaker is a must for GF travelers, but it is common (and affordable) for most people to hire a personal tour guide. You can’t go wrong with plain rice and veggies, but make sure to avoid all soy sauce and fried rice.
Chinese cuisine is not naturally very GF-friendly, so it may not be the best choice if you’re looking to experience the culture via its natural cuisine. However, if you don’t mind sticking to a more basic menu and packed snacks, you may be able to supplement your meals with international foods in the big cities—Hong Kong has wonderful Indian food.
There was not much cultural awareness of GF issues, so restaurants were hit or miss. I would recommend sticking to naturally gluten-free options (like salads or basic dishes), but make sure to check in with any restaurant about gluten contamination risks and hidden ingredients. You will most likely need to ask more questions when dining out and you may need to try a few different places before you find one that can accommodate you. Luckily, you should have no problem communicating your needs or asking questions as most people in the Netherlands do speak English.
There is a word for gluten-free in German (“glutenfrei”) so you should be able to spot it on packaged foods or ask a basic question at a restaurant. If you don’t speak German, I would recommend bringing a dining card with you because the language barrier may prevent you from getting a truly GF meal.
German cuisine is not naturally gluten-free, so you will probably need to do some research and/or communicating to find places that can safely accommodate you. I recommend doing this research before you get to Germany in case you don’t have Internet access. There are definitely hidden gems in Germany, but you need to know where to look for them.
I did not eat in any restaurants in France, so I can’t provide any specific dining out recommendations. We strategically stayed in a home away house so that we could purchase and prepare our own food. We were only there for a few days, but I was impressed with the amount of GF options in the (larger) grocery stores. Make sure to research where you plan to stay as there may be some different customs around meal time. We stayed in a rural and non-touristy region of Alsace and never actually found a restaurant or market that was actually open when we were hungry.
As a rule, it is easier to find GF options in the cities (Bogota) than in remote areas. When not in the big cities, plan to supplement packed snacks with naturally gluten-free options, like ceviche, fruit, veggies, popsicles, and gelato. Consider finding an international restaurant (Argentine and Mexican are readily available) as an alternative to local cuisine.
Not recommended to dine out without extensive research. GF options not readily available in stores. Stick to whole foods and rely heavily on packed snacks.
Belgian cuisine (waffles, sandwiches, crackers) is not naturally gluten-free. Grocery stores don’t offer a big selection of GF options (other than naturally GF whole foods). It is very difficult to find any chocolate without dairy in it.
Switzerland’s local cuisine is bread-oriented, so ask lots of questions and stick to international cuisine, naturally GF foods, and packed snacks. Like Belgian chocolate, Swiss chocolate is almost never dairy-free and may contain gluten. Packaged foods should be clearly labeled.
*This list only includes places my family and I have actually visited, so it is by no means comprehensive.
Comprehensive Travel Resources
I highly recommend GlutenFreeTravelSite, founded by Karen Broussard after her son’s diagnosis with Celiac Disease in 2005. Continue reading for detailed information about the resources available at GlutenFreeTravelSite, all of which help members of the gluten free community find safe places to eat, wherever they live or travel. All of these resources have been personally helpful to me when traveling.
GlutenFreeTravelSite, launched in 2008, is a very helpful and popular site where people on gluten-free diets can go to search and submit REVIEWS of “gluten free friendly” restaurants (and bakeries, markets, hotels/resorts, and cruises) anywhere around the world. Reviews are organized geographically and easily searchable by location. Another particularly popular area of the site is the Gluten Free Restaurant Menus section listing many national and regional restaurant chains that offer Gluten Free Menus. They also have a section devoted to educating people who are new to a gluten-free diet, as well as a robust Resources section with information about Trip Planning, Gluten Free Getaways, Cruises, and even Summer Camps for GF Kids. There are literally tons of resources and articles on this site — both for new and veteran Celiacs and those who are following a GF diet for other reasons.
The DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app (free for both iPhone and Android) enables fans of GlutenFreeTravelSite to access the site’s thousands of user-submitted gluten-free dining and travel reviews, the Gluten Free Restaurant Menus page, and many other helpful resources on the site in a mobile-friendly format when they’re on-the-go.
Additionally, the Gluten Free Travel Blog keeps the gluten-free community informed about new restaurants offering GF Menus, gluten-free friendly travel destinations, helpful tips for traveling gluten-free, product reviews, and more.
This post was not sponsored. We just want to link you to the best resources available!