Friday, March 12, 2010

I Heart Gluten Free Spain

As of now, I have been living in Spain for over two months. ¿Cómo está mi español? No es bueno. Yo sé solamente un poco. I thought trying to convey my gluten issues at restaurants would be difficult. I came prepared with my Triumph Dining Cards in Spanish, and studied the food allergy section in my Spanish phrase book. My first day at Alicia Fundacio I realized that was over kill. They showed me all of the gluten free products on the market in Spain, showed my their training manual for restaurants all the gluten free basics and cross contamination risks. Every day, my colleagues would bring in another GF product. Wow. I was overwhelmed. Here I thought that I would be bringing them some knowledge from the USA, where our gluten free / Celiac awareness has grown exponentially over the past couple years. There is even a local Catalan Celiac web site: I figured that I would face difficulty when eating out, especially with the language barrier.

Every place I went to eat I would say in Spanish, "No puedo comar harina de trigo. = I cannot eat wheat." And they would respond, "Eres una celiaca! = You are a Celiac!" Almost happy in their recognition. Spain has proved itself as a safe haven for those with gluten issues. The awareness here is mind blowing. One of my favorite moments was a little cafe/ice cream shop where when I ordered a salad, they brought out toasted gluten free bread for me. So sweet and thoughtful. Deprivation is not a concern here. I can find gluten free bread and baked treats in just about any little grocery store. In the grocery store, they post tags "sin gluten" by featured products. Even Estrella Damm, the largest Spain beer brewery, carries a beer "Para Celiacos." Now that the time is coming to return back to the USA, I wander if I will compare the American response versus the Spaniards. Probably. But I also know that gluten free awareness is growing globally.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure


Anonymous said...

Hello Erin, what a lovely spanish GF experience! Just wondering if you tried the bread in the yellow package? This is the bread they are now importing into Australia - hugely expensive but maybe its worth it... Kate

Erin Swing said...

Kate - That particular Dr. Schar bread is just okay. I don't know if I would buy it again. My favorite Dr. Schar bread is this one: It is great toasted up in the oven. It puffs up nicely: light & fluffy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Erin,

Great information! I'm going to be travelling to Spain later this year and I was a little worried that I would have a hard time finding anything to eat. I'm travelling to Barcelona and Madrid. Do you know of any restaurants in either city that are celiac friendly?


Anonymous said...

Hi all

Most of the products of the biggest supermarket in Spain, Mercadona, are Gluten-Free (they are labelled 'Sin Gluten') and in big cities like Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, etc. it can be found in almost every corner. It seems that owner's doughters suffer from Coeliac disease and therefore it makes the supermarket really sensible to GF products. Another important thing is that it is not as expensive as many other places because they use their one brand 'Hacendado'. You can find more details in this web page:

Other supermarkets like Carrefour, El Corte Ingles and Eroski also have a special line for Gluten-Free products but form me Mercadona is the best one.

In the case of restaurants, it is not common to see the GF label in menu cards. However there are many places that are able for celiacs. If you want more information about GF restaurants you can consult FACE which is the association of Spanish celiacs:

One of the most surprising things is that McDonalds and Telepizza have special GF menus. In the first case it is visible even in the menu card but in the case of Telepizza you have to order it in advance. Regarding the typical Spanish restaurants you should warn waiters about the disease just to be sure that there is no issues. In many touristic places and the most expensive restaurants it is possible to find GF typical Spanish meals. Consult to see the list of available restaurants.

Regarding hotels, in the ones with 4* and 5* there should not be any problem because they are usually prepared with GF products.

In general, if you suffer from Coeliac Disease you can visit Spain without any problem and I could say that it is probably one of the countries where GF products are more available in supermarkets. Mercadona has make 'Sin Gluten' label very famous and almost everybody is aware of the disease.

I hope you enjoy your visit to Spain.