Gluten-free in France
How gluten-free is seen by french people
I start with this introductive paragraph, because it will clarify any strange behavior and remarks you may encounter.
Food is the cornerstone of the french culture. Contrary to northern countries, eating takes a large social place, food is not something useful, it is something you enjoy, and preferably with other people. For example, in companies, the lunch break usually takes 1h30 to 2h and it is completely normal. In a general manner, discussing the local culinary specialty and contests between regions are national sports.
This particular approach to food may explain the rather reluctant behavior toward gluten-free diet. Even if 1% of the french people are celiac, it is still little known in France. Refusing the standard cuisine is often seen as rude, disrespectful to the cook or just a way to draw attention to yourself.
However, gluten-free food and awareness about celiac disease and gluten intolerance are spreading very quickly. In about 10 years we went from nearly no edible gluten-free food in the supermarket to special corners with various brands and products in almost all stores. So please, do not despair and come to France to visit us !
A few words
Here is some vocabulary if you need to read ingredients, or ask questions at the restaurant :
- gluten free : sans gluten
- Wheat : blé
- Is there gluten ? : Il y a-t-il du gluten ?
- Is there gluten-free options/dishes ? Il y a-t-il des options/plats sans gluten ?
- Do you have the allergen list ? Avez-vous la liste des allergènes ?
- I eat gluten-free. I absolutely need to avoid gluten, wheat and all traces Je mange sans gluten. Je dois absolument éviter le gluten, le blé et toute trace.
- I have a disease that does not allow me to eat gluten, wheat and I need to avoid all trace. J'ai une maladie qui m'interdit de manger du gluten, du blé et je dois éviter toutes les traces
- Can you assure me there are no traces of gluten? Etes vous sure qu'il n'y a pas de traces de gluten?
Buying food at the supermarket
As I said previously, gluten-free food can now be found in nearly every supermarket. Depending on the size of the shop, you will find gluten-free products : with the same non gluten free products (very small supermarkets, curiously also for pastas), on a special shelf or on the organic food shelf. Sometimes also at this three places at the same times, so it may be a little bit of a treasure hunt before you get used to it.
If you visit a big city, you will not have any issue finding gluten-free food. The same goes for the country side, if you go shopping in large supermarkets. It is sometimes harder if you are in a more remote place, with only a small grocery store. You will always find maïs crackers, but gluten-free bread and cakes may be missing. This is why, when I go on holiday to some place I do not know, I always have a piece of gluten-free bread, just in case.
Another place you can find gluten-free products is the organic shop. Food is way more expansive there, but you also find products you cannot finds elsewhere. This is mostly true for flour and cooking ingredients. Unless you want to cook your own bread, I advise you not to go there (unless of course you especially want gluten-free and organic food, that you will also find in most supermarkets).
On gluten-free shelves, you will find a lot of products, of various brands. The most common products (and my recommandations) are :
- Schär bread
- Barilla pasta (on the pasta shelf, because they do not separate their gluten-free and non gluten free products)
- Schär biscuits
If it is a large supermarket, you will also find
- other biscuits brands
- cereals for breakfast
- gluten-free flour mixes
- gluten-free crackers
- frozen-food (pizza, fish stick...)
Ordering food at the restaurant
Your luck at the restaurant depends on the kind of restaurant you visit.
Contrary to most European countries (see here a list for MacDonald), you will not find gluten free options at MacDonald or Burger-King (unless you ask for a burger with no buns...). The same goes for all sandwich or bagel places. If you are looking for a snack , you will most likely end up with a salad. There are a few gluten free options I will list you here :
- Lebanese fast food. If you can sit there, they will most likely serve plates with meat, houmous, vegetables...
- Asian food. Yes, we gluten-free people often have to turn to Asian food for gluten-free options. In France, Asian food restaurants are very standardized. There are a lot of wok brands for instance, that serve rice noodles.
- Kebab in a plate. Yes most people may say it is heretic, but if you are starving and looking for a cheap snack, this is a possibility
French cuisine restaurant
If you are visiting France, you most likely want to discover the french cuisine. Depending on where you are in France, you will not always eat the same thing. But there are standard dishes that are indeed gluten-free. This is a list of suggestions, with pictures of it.
Magret de Canard. This is a big piece of duck meat, cooked rare (yes it has to be so, and yes it is safe not to cook it medium), and served with fries, mashed potatoes or vegetables. It is typical from the South West of France, where you eat so mush duck that I often say they see it as vegetables !
Bœuf bourgignon. This dish is composed of marinated beef (the marinade includes red wine) and vegetables.
Le steak tartare. Rare beef with onion, caper, mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, parsley and a raw egg yolk. This is very common to find in french cuisine restaurants, and a specialty I advise you to test.
Galettes bretonnes. These crepes are made of buckwheat only. This is the traditional dish in Bretagne, but you can find crêperies everywhere in France. This is a very good gluten-free alternative, rather cheap and you can have various ingredients : the complète with ham, cheese and egg, or more original recipes. This MUST be accompanied with a bowl of cider.
Oyster. Obviously gluten-free, and a must have if you can have fresh ones.
Gratin dauphinois. This is a very fat recipe, with potatoes, creme, butter and milk (yes the entire dairy shelf ends up in this, but its delicious) but no flour.
L'aligot. This may look like a random mashed potatoes plate, but this is a specialty from the center south of France, with a ton of cheese, creme, butter and garlic. Finding a good aligot can be hard, but this really is a good gluten-free deal.
Foie gras. You may be reluctant to eat the liver of a duck or a goose that was forced into eating a lot of food. The production of foie gras is subject to a lot of debate in France. But from a gluten-free perspective only, this is a go. Just bring your bread with you, and do not spread the foie gras on it !
Among other gluten free specialties, I can cite : poulet basquaise (chicken with bell peper and served with rice), the famous escargots (snails) and cassoulet (a dish containing enough calories for an entire week). For the desert there are also some good options :
Macarons. This is not something you will find in restaurants for desert, but you can by some in most boulangeries, and they are normally gluten-free. This is my favorite solution for a sweet snack when I forgot to bring some gluten-free biscuits.
Crème brûlée. This is my favorite desert in a restaurant. You will find crème brûlées in all the french cuisine restaurants.
Another good desert is the île flottante.
I am not talking about restaurants where you order 11 courses meal, but rather about quality restaurants where you have a good chef, who you can ask a bout gluten-free options. This kind of restaurant is not the most common ones, but if you find some, they are very friendly to gluten-free persons. This is the kind of place where the waiters know the ingredients of dishes, and where the chef will most likely adapt if there is a small amount of gluten in the recipe, that can be removed. In order to find such places you need patience, and Google Maps comments (until I develop my gluten-free map on France I am working on!).
Some good addresses I know
I have not been everywhere in France, nor did I test every restaurants. I will mainly give you adresses in Paris where I have lived for 6 years.
- Have a gluten free pizza or some pastas at Gemini Pizza. They have three addresses in Paris, and you do not need to order your gluten-free option in advance. You should have a reservation though.
- Have gluten-free bread or some delicious quiche at the Boulangerie Chambelland. They make the best gluten-free bread in Paris, and their flour is bought buy many restaurants all over France for gluten-free recipes. They are a very nice place for a quick snack at lunch time.
- Eat in a high quality restaurant at La Grille. This restaurant in Sceaux (Paris suburb, right next to the beautiful Parc de Sceaux, you can have dinner there after a stroll in the park) goes in the category of non gluten-free restaurant where you feel so comfortable. The cook and the waiters are completely aware of the gluten-free diet and they will adapt the dishes (most are naturally gluten-free anyway).
Invitation at people's place
If you come to visit friends in France, or for work and meet colleagues, or if you stay long enough to make friends and be invited to their place, here are some things you need to know.
As I said in introduction, food is sacred in France. So is the cook. So if you eat gluten-free, you need to warn your friends about it as soon as possible. Many people do not know about the gluten-free diet, and what you can eat or not. You should always explain it, in order to be sure you will have a gluten free meal. You can even call the day before to kindly ask what is the menu and if it really gluten-free. I even give my friends some ideas of gluten-free meal (you can pick in the list above if you want to look very frenchy ;) ).
My best advise is for you to bring desert. I always do so. Gluten-free pastry is even one bridge further gluten-free cooking in terms of difficulty. There are two main options if you do not do so : your friend will have so glutened food, because they could not find gluten-free cakes, or they will try to cook a gluten-free recipe and will probably fail, because they know nothing about gluten-free cooking. One solution you have, is to go to a pâtisserie and buy an assortiment of small portion cakes. They often have one or two gluten-free options, you can chose one for you and buy various gluten containing pastries for your friends : everyone will have a good desert.
Who am I ?
I have given you a lot of advises in this article. I hope this will be useful and that you will enjoy your trip to France.
I order for you to trust what I said, let me introduce myself. I was born with celiac disease and my parents discovered it before I was 1 year old. I have always lived 100% gluten-free and it never prevented me from enjoying social life or travelling. Last year I decided to create this website to talk about gluten-free diet : recipes, medical aspects, news and travel guides. This is the only article in English for now, and I am not a native english speaker. So please, if you find it difficult to understand, or you think something is inaccurate, just let me know (in comments below or via the Contactez nous page). If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, or if you would like more international articles (travel guide for instance), you can also tell me ! You can also follow me on Instagram, where all posts are translated anyway ;)