Gluten-Free In Europe?

Aug 5, 2015 by

I went to France, land of crepes and croissants, and Belgium, land of wheat beer and waffles, and like a crazy person, chose to pursue a gluten-free diet. Since I decided to cut out gluten a year ago, I wondered what it would be like to travel overseas, particularly somewhere laden with all the gluten.

In Paris, the pastries, the giant pretzels, the croissants, the eclairs, the breads – were surprisingly easy to walk away from. That is likely because I am now used to turning my back on the fluff-alicious yumminess after a year of practice, but I did see bread and bread products everywhere, and it made the idea of grabbing a quick snack almost impossible.

So what does one actually eat(!?) in Belgium and France when gluten is not an option?

Well, it takes a little planning and a loaf of patience.





In France, I was able to survive on the reliably present array of (strange) salads. I should really have taken better notes to better illustrate my point on their strangeness, but the ingredients included in French salads is quite perplexing and odd. I would most often opt for one that seemed to have the best balance of ingredients – various vegetables and a good source of protein. The above salad had potatoes, lettuce, tuna, tomatoes, smoked salmon and egg.





Here is another good meal option in Paris, affordable too! An omelette is a great source of both flavour and protein. Honourable mention to weird salad #2, and the necessary cafe au lait.






My friend and I were very lucky to stumble upon this little carnival/food fair on our way to drink wine under the Eiffel tower. There was all kinds of food being served, and we opted for the seafood and curry chicken paella stand. I don’t remember asking if this was gluten-free, but I remember feeling pretty confident that it was, so I may have asked, but I also remember that it didn’t have the look of a dish thickened with flour. At 7 euros for a small portion, it wasn’t exactly cheap, but it was satisfying and incredibly tasty, just what we both wanted!







Lucky for me, macarons are naturally gluten-free, or at least I’ve never found any information indicating otherwise. After schnarfing the paella, my friend and I took our macarons, some dates and candy and cheap wine down to the Eiffel Tower for dessert. Such a cozy night.




Weird French salad #3… the ham, the Swiss cheese, the hard boiled egg, the olives and tomato, and whatever that is drizzled on top (Balsamic something?). Like, seriously weird, but very nutritious and balanced.






I moved on from Paris to Belgium, and the first stop was Lissewege, a teensy, tiny little village not too far from Bruges. It was there that I met up with Kathy and where our Belgian culinary adventures began. After we lapped the town about three times by foot, we concluded that the dining options in Lissewege were expensive and limited. When I struck up a conversation with a local, he directed us to Ter Doest, a couple of kilometres away. We hopped in Kathy’s rental car and drove down the long country road before arriving at just the spot we had craved. The restaurant was tucked away amidst some trees, and the entire compound – inside the restaurant and out on the patio – was packed with locals and hungry people.

We started with a little mussel snack, courtesy of the kitchen (not photographed). We followed this with oysters (possibly the best of my life???) and a delicious tomato soup, and I could really taste the fresh ingredients. Nothing canned here. After that, I had a melon and prosciutto dish, while Kathy tucked into the preset menu she’d ordered. I don’t remember all that came with it, but I did dabble in the steak she’d ordered, even though I’m not a big meat-eater.





Oops, total cheat here. While I didn’t ask about this local dish, Flemish beef stew, being gluten-free or not, I know full-well that stew = gluten. I’m a big sucker for stews, so really wanted to try this, and I was quite frankly, getting a little frustrated with the prices and the options that I saw while I was in Bruges for a day. The stew was still pricey, but it was just the comfort food I wanted. If I were celiac, I would have had to either a) spend a little more money to get something else or b) plan ahead and pack my own food. Only on my insistence did Kathy start to allow “picnicking” so as the trip went on, we saved money by eating food from supermarkets and opting to treat ourselves occasionally.





A European-sized (tiny) cappuccino served to get me started on a day trip to Blankenberge. Later, I filled up on frites and some nibbles I got at a grocery store. Not pictured: olives, a tomato I ate like an apple, and rice cakes.





Back to Ter Doest for a strong coffee. After, we hit the road and went onward to De Haan, our second small town stay in Belgium. In the evening, we treated ourselves to a tasty seafood meal. I was reassured there was no gluten in this though it does look quite suspicious does it not? Shrimp, crayfish, and four kinds of fish – salmon, cod, pollock and common dab (<– that’s a new one on me!) in a rich creamy sauce, topped off with frites for dipping… my poor arteries!








Another itty-bitty coffee (though extra large!) no bigger than my hand, for the drive from Belgium over to Dunkirk, France, where we would catch the ferry back to England.

This, followed by an evening of elaborate dining. Kathy was really excited about the 4 kinds of foie gras and insisted over and over again that I try it. Well, after trying the dish earlier this year and deciding it wasn’t for me, and after learning a bit more about how foie gras is made, I don’t think I will be dabbling ever again. Not for me, thanks.

I had a delicious salmon salad – actually not weird at all like the other French salads I’d had. This was practically artisanal. For dessert, I had a poire belle Helene – vanilla ice cream on a poached pear with chocolate drizzle and whipped cream. Perfection.


And another thing.

Kathy has, let’s call it a habit, of indulging in an aperitif before dinner each night. According to her, she “cannot eat without working up an appetite” and the way she does this is with said aperitif. Let’s review some of the highlights:









At least we know the booze was (definitely) gluten-free!


Have you ever had a modified diet while traveling? How did you cope?

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  1. 1. Now I totally want to go to France with you because I think we would have an incredible time slow-eating our way around the country. Except
    2. I’d probably make you mad by eating all of the croissants. But that’s okay because
    3. Eating a tomato like an apple? Really? Ick. But
    4. Agreed on foie gras. Although
    5. I’m totally with Kathy on the aperitif.

    P.S. Schnarfing is now my new favorite word.

    • Colleen

      I like this format of comment…
      1. YES
      2. No, I”m totally ok with that (and refer back to #1)
      3. Ick? You mean great!
      4. Glad you’re with me on that!
      5. Ditto!!!


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