I have been pleasantly surprised while preparing to go abroad about all the resources that are available for someone with celiac disease/gluten intolerance. At first I was almost overwhelmed by all the information but I have been slowly sifting through it and collecting information on what I believe to be the most important places and foods to eat or avoid in Spain. But first, let me quickly share how I’ve gone about doing my research.
Google. The ubiquitous search engine that can also be used as a verb (as in, “just google it, Mom!” or “I’m googling ‘how to jump start a car’ right now – don’t worry.”) has been infinitely helpful to me in my research. Simply typing in the name of the city/region/country you are traveling to followed by “gluten free” yields an amazing amount of results. I’m sure that Barcelona, being a large European city (where there is a much higher percentage of celiac disease) and known for its incredible cuisine at that, has more restaurants and groceries that cater to gluten-free diets than say small cities in China or Chile, but the same tactic applies. Just familiarizing yourself with the food culture of the location you are visiting will help you prepare because you are undoubtedly already aware of what you can and cannot eat on a gluten-free diet. Fried foods? Likely not safe anywhere (because remember if they’re not coated in flour something else in the oil may very well be!). Lightly grilled fish in a sauce? Maybe! Ask!
How do you ask about these things? Get a pocket dictionary. You’re gonna need it and your underpants and travel companion are gonna thank you. In Spain, saying “Soy celica” (celico, if male) is usually enough to let any waiter know “I am [a] celiac” and that you cannot consume gluten. Trying to tell them you can’t eat bread (“No puedo comer pan”) is simply not enough. Learn the words for gluten, wheat, flour, etc., and protect your gut! “No como gluten” and “No puedo comer gluten” make more sense than saying it’s just bread you can’t eat.
Some other helpful words in Spanish for the gluten impaired:
Sin gluten – without gluten/gluten free
trigo – wheat
harina/harina de trigo – flour/wheat flour
centeno – rye
cebada – barley
cerveza – beer
sin pan/no pan – without bread, no bread
frito – fried (**look for this word on menus!)
por favor – please (because duh, manners)
gracias – thank you
Learn these words, commit them to memory, use then often. If you are staying a hotel or hostel while traveling, be sure to pack your own snacks and not count on there not always being a gluten free option for breakfast or snack. I recommend power bars and granola bars such as Larabars, Kind bars, and Luna protein bars (**most regular Luna bars are NOT gluten free). Of course you can always find a place to stay that caters to your needs but that is not always an option or a luxury one can afford. Idea, yes, but not always realistic. This is why contingency plans (and snacks) are needed for your travels.
If you, like me, are fortunate enough to be living with someone, staying with friends (or strangers!), or moving in with someone in a foreign city let them know about your dietary needs ahead of time. I know this part totally sucks and you’re probably just as sick of this formality as I am, but its a necessity for your health and respectful to your gracious host. I will be doing a homestay in Barcelona and to kill two birds with one stone my mother suggested bringing a gorgeous new cutting board made from all North Carolina hardwood as my homestay arrival “gift”. This way I have something practical, beautiful and representative of my home to present to my new family as well as a safe gluten free surface for meals to be prepared on in my new home! I like traveling with gifts in general so it makes sense for me to bring something so useful. If you however cannot afford something like this after blowing all your money on airfare, offer to help out your host or roommate with food prep or dishes – or even cook them meals! This way you can clean surfaces and utensils thoroughly, prevent cross-contamination and even change some of the ingredients to suit your needs. The more hands on you are in the kitchen the safer your digestive tract will be and the happier your host. Really, could you ask for anything more?
Part 2 of this installment will feature further research I’ve done on the celiac community of Spain and more importantly – where I can eat out in Barcelona!