Celiac disease is hard. Traveling with celiac disease is not only hard, it is at times traumatic, tearful, pathetic, embarrassing, and enraging. If you have a food intolerance then I am willing to bet you understand that it is absolutely possible and normal to experience all these emotions at once. And that also pretty much sums up my amazing trip to the South of France this weekend – completely breathtaking yet marred by frustration and extreme food envy.
Traveling with friends means you will also feel the added sense of guilt over not being able to eat with them everywhere they go. My friends in Spain are the best ever and want to find places I can eat too but every celiac knows this is not always a possibility. Cue the inner turmoil: Do I buy tons of snacks (aka rice cakes) and just eat those all day every day? What if they want my expensive gluten-free snacks? Maybe I can distract them with gum. What if they offer me their food? You’re too kind but no I don’t want to try your gluten-containing meal. QUICK does this restaurant they like have anything I can eat? Do these potatoes look like they were fried with other flour-battered things? Maybe I should just have gelato for dinner and chips later to make this easier.
I have at one point or another thought all of these things to myself. Usually all in one day and especially in France where I was constantly wondering what I could eat while friends were enjoying their warm chocolate croissants.
Basilica of St. Sernin, Toulouse, South of France
Okay now we’re done with the brief pity party let’s get to my favorite topic – food. Breakfast at the hotel in Toulouse was provided for us and here I was able to employ my common sense and enjoy a drama-free meal. I bee-lined for the prepackaged yogurts and apple sauces, juices, meats and cheeses at the hotel buffet and was always pretty full after. I also grabbed mini servings of Nutella in case I found a gluten free snack to smother it with later on in the day. Fortunately the first day started off with a walking tour of Toulouse and a little wine and cheese tasting to fill me the rest of the way up!
wine & cheese, cheese & wine
Lunch is usually the trickiest for me but in the south of France I think I got pretty lucky. Day ones lunch was provided by my host mom in the form of salami on gluten free bread (it is a testament to Spanish meats that I can tell you they make even gluten free bread completely palatable). The second day I had a picnic with my friends by the river with the food we found at local markets. Everyone I was with got excited when I found some fresh baked gluten free bread – in France of all places! I went for the buckwheat/corn option because the rice/corn option sounded like everything else I eat but if buckwheat is not your thing or if you haven’t tried it – steer clear!! It cost 3,75 euro but I still have some leftover because it is so dense. Again, if you like buckwheat it’s worth the investment.
Aside from this incredible glutey free find, I split a gorgeous little round of goat cheese with a friend so my bread would taste even better. We cut it in half and got our own knives to avoid any crumb cross-contamination. Annoying but necessary when sharing food with normals. If you’re as lucky as I am, your friends will be completely understanding and just so happy you can eat something that they eat.
Picnics are a great way to fill yourself and I filled up on my gluten free bread, cheese, nutella, champagne and tons of fruit in our little riverside park location that day. Europe has fruit vendors and open air markets everywhere so when your need is dire you are never to far from delicious, fresh produce. Even when you’re not a starving allergen-ridden tourist the fruit here is amazing. I always find myself staring wistfully at the array of produce and wondering what the hell some of it is.
Day threes lunch in Collioure (pictured below!) started off with chocolate coconut gelato because I did not think I would be able to translate another scary French menu. But as luck would have it my friends and I chose a crepe place not only with an English menu but with a meal option that included a huge omelette and generous “side” salad. The lesson we learned here was that even in the tiny, picturesque town of Collioure there is hope, my celiac friends.
Last but not least – dinner. The first night I downed half a rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes with a friend. We also split a basic salad with dressing (olive oil and herbs) on the side just in case it wasn’t gluten free (the owner and only waiter did not speak any English). For dinner the second night in France my friends wanted to go out for a fairly nice, sit down meal which naturally filled me with anxiety (because obviously I can’t eat a damned thing on the menu). But I worried for nothing because we chose a charming place called La Reserve that does a wide variety of Italian food and has the added bonus of being near the river park in Toulouse where all our friends were gathering after dinner. The staff was extremely accommodating to our group of 8 rowdy American students and everyone’s meal was fantastic – including mine. Pretty much the only thing I could order on the menu was a salad and while it came in at around 16 euros total, it was worth its weight in jamon. Seriously, half the plate was dry cured meat, and the rest was tomatoes, grilled peppers, onion, Parmesan, fresh Mozzarella and a a hint of lettuce. I know it seems like I end up with a lot of salads (and I do!) but even when they cost upwards of $20.00 USD it is absolutely worth it to be able to enjoy a worry-free meal with amazing people in a spectacular French city. Just like I said in Porto, I’ll have the salad – and I’ll enjoy the heck out of it.