We get it: the idea of traveling gluten-free can be overwhelming. For people with a serious allergy, preparing for a vacation is a whirl of printing out diet cards in different languages, spending hours online digging through gluten-free blogs and travel forums, and packing half a suitcase of gluten-free snacks, just in case. It’s exhausting.
The good news is that gluten-free travel is getting easier as global awareness increases—even in countries you might think are heavy on the wheat. Here are 3 countries that are not just good for gluten-free travel, but are surprisingly gluten-free. Instead of worrying about what’s in your food, you can focus on immersing yourself in the culture around it.
The land of pasta and pizza, Italy seems like an unattainable dream for the gluten-free among us. Sure, there is plenty of Italian cuisine that is naturally and mouth-wateringly gluten-free (osso buco! risotto! cacciucco!), but you don’t have to skip the pasta in Italy to stay in the safe zone. The fact of the matter is that the phrases “io sono celiaca” (I am a celiac) and “senza glutine” (gluten-free) have been commonplace in Italy since before most Americans had ever heard the word “celiac.”
Already comfortable using alternative flours like chestnut and corn in traditional cuisine, Italy hopped on board the gluten-free bandwagon in the 1970’s. Even as far back as 2007, some of the pioneer gluten-free food bloggers were gleefully relating how accommodating Italy was for gluten-free travelers—including how it was not unusual to bring your own gluten-free pasta to a restaurant for the chef to cook with his or her sauces. These days, however, the country is turning out some of the best gluten-free pasta brands available—Jovial, Delallo, Rustichella d’Abruzzo, and Riso Bello are all made in Italy. Even chain restaurants have menus senza glutine. From the smallest rural Umbrian village to the fanciest Roman restaurant, all you need are the magic words “io sono celiaco(a)” and you’ll be just fine.
If what you crave from Ireland is a pint, a slice of brown bread with that famous Irish butter, and maybe a basket of fish and chips, I wouldn’t blame you. But when you cannot tolerate the Guiness, nor the brown bread, nor the batter on the fish, it’s easy to get discouraged. Fear not, because Ireland is another country with a fairly high concentration of celiacs for whom gluten-free is old news. The Irish Coeliac’s Association was founded in 1963, far before celiacs disease started gaining world-wide notoriety. In fact, the quality of gluten-free products in Ireland has been absolutely stellar for over a decade. Back when there was only one brand of rice pasta widely available in the U.S., Tesco, a European supermarket chain, had an entire dedicated gluten-free section stocked full of cookies, breads, crackers, and pasta. These days, of course, the quality and availability of gluten-free food in Ireland only continues to get better. The long history of gluten-awareness means that Ireland has some of the best resources for gluten-free travelers, such as Gluten Free Ireland, a search engine which links to over 700 gluten-free establishments across the country. And the best news? No one will scoff at you for choosing a Bulmers (known as Magner’s in the US) cider over a Guinness. Naturally-gluten-free cider is just as popular in Ireland as beer is. And it doesn’t fill you up quite as much.
Insider tip: There are quite a few Chinese restaurants in Ireland, but the use of soy sauce makes these not gluten-free-friendly. While some do accommodate, you’ll have to do a little more homework on this one.
It’s hardly surprising that Australia, a country riding the crest of a food revolution wave, is gluten-free friendly. What is surprising is just how gluten-free friendly it is. In 2014 I sat down at the award-winning restaurant at Sandalford Winery just outside of Perth, and was about to start weeding out the (usually) few options on the menu that I could consider when I realized that everything had a gluten-free option available, from the ravioli to the dinner rolls. And it’s like that everywhere. From high-end eateries to tiny breakfast cafés, there are always gluten-free options. The plethora of options is astounding but the real winner was the absolute lack of stigma, not a single eye will bat. Gluten-free? No worries.
I love Paris anytime, but as one of the gluten-allergy afflicted, sometimes it can be tough to love at mealtimes. Those crusty loaves of bread and exquisitely aromatic pizzas tend to spark serious jealousy. It’s not impossible to eat gluten-free in France, especially if you cook for yourself, as there are plenty of supermarkets with gluten-free products. Restaurants, however, are much more difficult; there’s still little patience for substitutions and little compassion for those who are gluten-free. But Paris makes this list because it is home to what is arguably the best gluten-free bakery in the world: Helmut Newcake. Everything you’d ever want from a Parisian bakery, but all gluten-free.
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