As I’ve been discussing, I recently vacationed in France, a country I had not visited for 22 years, long before I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease (CD). Knowing I was venturing to the land of “pain et croissant”, I was a bit wary, so in preparation, I packed plenty of gluten-free food (GFF) just in case. I also discovered a terrific website with traveling tips for celiacs. The site provides cards with a short explanation of CD and the need for a GFF in 43 languages. I printed out 10 copies of the French version, planning to use them only if I couldn’t decipher a menu or couldn’t find any GFF on it.
All was going well until my second day in France when the maids at my hotel in Paris mistakedly confiscated my bag of GFF. Suddenly, my safety net was gone. Though I was a bit dismayed at the time, in hindsight it ended up being a good test of whether or not I could truly enjoy France gluten-free.
Fortunately, when I needed them to be, the restaurants in France were very accommodating. The French cards I brought worked wonderfully. Even if you speak French or your server speaks English -providing a written French explanation of CD is still a convenient, low-key way of communicating your needs to the wait staff and chef. And even though I had several cards and didn’t expect them to be returned, each time I used one, my server nicely returned it to me at the end of the meal. I also gave them to my French hosts when they entertained us in their homes- it was easier than my trying to explain to them my situation. In every case, the French people were very understanding and, in fact, my GF meals were often more appealing than what the rest of the group received when it was a fixed menu. On more than one occasion my fellow diners looked at my “special meal” with envy.
And while I watched with envy as they enjoyed fresh baguettes daily, the meals I had were fantastic – full of fresh, seasonal ingredients and not overly complicated. Just real food prepared really well. Portions were larger than I expected – not to the level we have in the US, but generous all the same. So it turned out I didn’t need my GFF afterall, as I ate very well in France.
If you’re a celiac traveling at home or abroad, be sure to visit CeliacTravel.com. It’s a great resource offering, among other things,the GF restaurant cards in 43 languages. If you’re going to France specifically, a Gluten Free Guide to Paris is also very helpful.