Five glorious months studying in Italy gave me memories of new friends, new adventures, more stamps on my passport and an always upset stomach (to put it lightly). Upon returning to the United States from these five months only to discover it was gluten causing my misery, I started a gluten-free diet and feared I could never return to the land of pizza and pasta. Thankfully “gluten” became as popular a word as ciao, and I can dine almost anywhere I please — Italy included.
A recent trip across the pond landed me in London and Paris. As is true in the states, some places are quick to accommodate and others lag slightly behind — in terms of gluten, at least. London restaurants generally seem to have a fairly widespread knowledge of gluten. There are dedicated gluten-free spots, such as Beyond Bread and Romeo’s Bakery, as well as popular spots with gluten-free menus, such as Sketch, Ottolenghi and Dishoom. In Paris, on the other hand, there was not a single gluten-free menu in sight, but everyone was happy to confirm the dishes that were sans gluten. While I can only speak from experience of being gluten-free, I do have a sister who avoids dairy, meat, almonds, yeast and gluten. Needless to say, we are everyone’s favorite dinner guests. Neither of us requires an EpiPen, but both have severe reactions to the aforementioned ingredients. If your allergies are life-threatening, speak with a doctor. But if you have dietary restrictions leaving you gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free, nut-free or anything else-free, these tips should come in handy while traveling, especially internationally.
Don’t expect airlines to accommodate.
For most airlines, you can call in advance to request a meal that suits your restrictions. In my case, the allergy information of the food served during my flight didn’t make it on board. Thankfully, I came prepared. Larger airports are likely to have something you can snag before you board the plane, but to be safe I suggest packing snacks. I typically opt for bars, as they are easy to pack and easy to eat in a small space.
When you’re dining out during your travels, I suggest you call the restaurant to confirm they can accommodate your dietary restrictions, and don’t call during peak hours — you want them to have the time to answer your burning questions: Does the sushi rice contain rice vinegar? Do you cook your vegetables in butter? Are your fries cooked in duck fat? Often, you can also make a note when making a reservation online so the restaurant will have your dietary information on hand when you arrive.
Learn the local lingo.
In France, I made my travel mate listen to me repeat the phrase “J’ai un regime sans gluten” about a million times only to have the waiter look at me with total confusion when I repeated it to him. I quickly learned that “sans gluten” sufficed. It is also important to familiarize yourself with words pertaining to your allergy. For me, I didn’t want to order pain, but riz was okay.
Understand the local cuisine.
In line with the tip above, learn about the food you are eating prior to eating. Most Indian restaurants offer vegetarian options, but many of their sauces are made with ghee and yogurt. Traditionally, macarons are made with almond flour but some places use additives that may make them not gluten-free. The more you know about ingredients, the easier it will be to navigate the menus!
Know what to expect.
No one likes surprises, so prepare yourself for the worst. If you are heading to Oktoberfest, gluten-free choices might be hard to find. If you are tagging along to a fondue restaurant for dinner, dairy-free could be tricky. If you know options are going to be limited, don’t go hungry. The unexpected can happen, but that is when having a snack in your bag comes in handy.
Do your research (and then do more research).
My trick is finding places where I’ll be able to eat but that my friends will also like. In most cases, I am the only one eager to go to a dedicated gluten-free spot. So I do my best to find places that have something gluten-free to offer, without turning off my gluten-loving friends. This means I spend hours researching to have a handful of options up my sleeve. When someone suggests pizza, I can name a popular spot that just so happens to also have gluten-free crust. Knowledge is power, my friends.
Don’t be shy.
This is coming from a shy girl. I often feel as if my dietary restrictions are something to be embarrassed about. But as we all know, they aren’t. I would rather speak up than pay the price later. An easy solution, especially when traveling internationally, is an allergy card that lists your allergies in multiple languages. You can ask your doctor for one, or you can make one online with the help of an online service.
Protect your stomach and sanity, and enjoy your travels!
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