Uh - oh! How am I going to eat gluten free in Paris?

My long awaited vacation to London and Paris was planned for early May (2006) so I had less than four months (after my Celiac dx) to figure out how exactly to take the trip, and remain healthy while doing so. I'd heard rumors of England being very Celiac friendly but Paris is the home of the delightfully gluten laden croissant - how the heck could I go there and eat safely? Celiac message boards were of no help whatsoever - most people suggested I cancel my trip actually. I think someone said 'there is no way you can eat gluten free in Paris'. Obviously I took that as a challenge, so my quest for a game plan to take and enjoy my trip began.

I'd recently signed up on the Celiac listserv - it's a great way to get help from others living the gluten free life. It was people on the list that saved the day. Several fellow list members were also planning trips to Paris, and one lady from Chicago would be back from her trip before I left. She was an absolute lifesaver! She not only provided me with a list of places she ate safely all over Paris, she also reassured me that gluten free in Paris was not only doable - it was much easier than eating in the US gluten free. But how could that be? I really don't have an answer for that question - even after finding out it's true personally. It is what it is. Simply put - Paris is the least Celiac friendly city in all of Europe and they are years ahead of the US on this issue - period.

For the trip I printed and laminated some free gluten free dining cards in English, Italian and French. I should have taken every language card available since both London and Paris offered so many ethnic cuisines but I did fine eating safely all over both cities. Only two of our meals were pre-planned before leaving town - afternoon tea at The Dorchester Hotel and one dinner in Paris, accross from Notre Dame, where the Chef's wife was a Celiac. We ate every meal out the entire trip - well I did have to take my own meal on Delta which didn't offer a gluten free meal option at the time - and I never once reacted (for me that's bloating or a serious stomach ache) to my food. I never 'got glutened' as we say. I'd be very afraid to attempt such a feat in the US.

I think the fact that I'd been to Paris once before (unplanned 20 hour layover) did help since I'd had a 'real' croissant and French bread. Somehow, knowing how great both those things were didn't tempt me to cheat on the diet. I could not afford to get sick on vacation. The biggest mistake I made was packing a backpack full of food - nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, crackers, energy bars - anything I could think of. You name it - it was shelf stable and gluten free, it was in my backpack. The crackers and salad dressing packets came in handy at times but most of the food came right back home with us. I ate cheese in Paris three meals a day and my crackers were the perfect accompianment for that. That's the only snack I ate most of. I didn't put a dent in my stash of pretzels, energy bars or anything else I took.

In London there is a grocery store called Sainsburys. They have a gluten free product line that is somewhat similar to Hostess items in the states. It seemed much more healthy but as it's shelf stable, it does contain perservatives. I bought a few boxes of tiny gluten free loaf cakes to supplement my breakfast in London and managed to get one box of loaves to Paris on the train. I should have bought much more stuff at Sainburys and brought it home. There is nothing like this product line made in the US - that I've found anway. If you're ever in England, I'd suggest you look for a Sainbury (or Tesco) and stock up yourself, on all the gluten free delights that we can't get here.

I know this post is long and for that I apologize but I have to make one more very improtant point. I never had to settle for a bland, plain meal in either London or Paris. The most uninspired meal I had was actually one I'd packed for the Delta flight - a turkey sandwich, chips and fruit. But for breakfast I'd packed bacon, and egg, cheese, crackers and fruit and when the other passengers got a whif of my bacon, they all wanted what I had. Delta served a green bananna and a hard, cold roll for breakfast on that flight...lol! I ate like a Celiac queen during my travels and you can too. It takes some research and planning but it's oh so worth it! Safe and tasty gluten free travels everyone!!!

Comments

  1. Thanks, Tiffany, for this write up! I am actually living in Paris right now and had a bit of a health crisis leading up to a (somewhat unconfirmed as I don't have healthcare here right now) diagnosis of Celiac/GI. I've had to discover it through an elimination diet, but it has turned up as the core of all my health issues. Thankfully, my boyfriend's ex wife, who is French, has a confirmed diagnosis of Celiac and she is *very* helpful!

    I read this blog for tips on eating out in Paris (something we do very little of anyway) and discovered that what you wrote about here is actually going to be more helpful for a return trip to Canada and the US this summer! I had not thought about having to bring food on the plane, and your recommendations to snack up really helped me think this upcoming trip through!

    I was wondering if you remember the name and/or location of this place: "...one dinner in Paris, across from Notre Dame, where the Chef's wife was a Celiac."

    Also, as has been reported on other blogs, there is now a G-Free restaurant in Montmartre, not far from the Sacré Coeur Basilica on rue Lepic called Des Si et Des Mets http://www.dessietdesmets.com/index.php

    I walked past it a couple of weeks ago (it opened in Nov 2008) but have not been there to eat, yet. As far as I know it is Paris' official first G-Free restaurant. I thought I would add that to the comments here in case anyone else is searching and turns up this post.

    Thanks again!

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  2. Oh I'm sooooo jealous! I am not sure if the name of the restaurant is in my Trip Advisor report. I'll look for it, thought that was over three years ago so the chef could have left the place by now.

    Another fabulous place in Paris is Au Sergent Recruteur...all you can eat salad, cheese and meats to start - almost every entree could be made gf and there were two dessert options. Ile Saint-Louis en I'lle 75004, Paris. Tel 01 43 54 75 42 www.lesergentrecruteur.com

    Check out my Examiner.com web page. I'll be posting an article this week about a new Canadian celiac website that should helf with your upcoming trip. The link is to the rigth of this page - Atlanta sites - Examiner.com.

    Safe travels and thanks for the tip on the new place in Paris! I'll put the info on my new Gluten-Free Travel Examiner.com page which will be up next week!

    Tiffany

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  3. Thank you, Tiffany! It took me a few days to make it back here, but I wanted you to know that I did. Based on your post here, and other ones I read about traveling g-free in Paris, I decided to start a Wordpress blog where I write about my life here. I will have to check out the Au Sergent Recruteur and I will definitely stop off at the page you mention, too. Here's my new web address for the WP blog, if you want to check it out! http://analienparisienne.wordpress.com/

    I also discovered there is a lovely vegetarian restaurant that prepares g-free meals, the link is here: http://paris.angloinfo.com/afdetail.asp?Rec=10093 Le Puits de Légumes. I hope to blog about my dining experience there soon.

    AngloInfo has a LOT of resources on it, again if others visit this post and want links to restaurants and stores that sell organic and gluten-free products to visit while traveling.

    Thanks again!

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