UPDATE: There is now an official Gluten-Free Guide To France. The information below is still very helpful, but I thought you might want to use it along with our latest blog on eating gluten-free in France.
Many people have emailed me over the years for advice on how to navigate gluten-free through Paris, France. Finally, someone has done some exhaustive research and field investigation with great results. Please welcome Danielle of Mrs.GF as she shares with us the gluten-free details about her fabulous trip to the romantic City Of Lights. Feel free to share any of your own gluten-free nouvelle cuisine finds around France in the comments section below. May our combined tips become the force majeure that leads to a bon voyage! ~Kelly
My husband mentioned casually that he thought we should go to Paris for our 10 year anniversary. We went to the countryside of France for our honeymoon, but skipped right over Paris. When time opened up in October, and my parents could come and take care of our children, we booked our trip. I studied, I searched, and took hours and hours to find anything, and from all apparent appearances, Paris was going to be a difficult experience for someone who could not eat gluten.
Honestly, I didn’t miss eating the bread, or the pastries, because I always had lovely desserts after dinner. Oh, I walked into the boulangeries and smelled the bread and looked at the pastries, I didn’t mind. I even had my husband eat a falafel at the famous L’As du Falafel and had him describe the taste to me, and it didn’t bother me a bit.
I did miss the attitude of bread in France. I wanted to be able to grab that bread, some cheese, and fruit and sit in the Tuileries Garden in the autumn sunshine with my husband. We could have done the same thing with fruit, cheese and the gluten-free crackers I brought with me, I just didn’t want to carry food around, I wanted to throw myself into this experience and see what came out of it.
All the bad things that are out there about Paris, the waiters, chefs and food?
Paris was beautiful. The waiters and chefs were friendly and accommodating. I never had a problem with gluten, from the fanciest restaurant to the smallest and busiest cafes. Some relished in taking special care of me, while others took good care and made sure I just blended in with the scene. One waiter apologized to me every time he came by asking my husband if he wanted bread. Another waiter was so matter-of-fact, he would plop down the dishes we ordered and would say, “You. Don’t even touch that,” as he hustled off to another table.
And, my favorite waiter, Anis, rescued us on our first night in Paris. Jet lagged, tired, and starving, we had walked all the way across Paris to go to a restaurant I had emailed about eating there, gluten-free. We finally found it and it was closed. I had forgotten what day it was! I was ready to give up and go back to the hotel to sleep, when my darling husband grabbed my hand, took me to the nearest restaurant, and asked about a gluten-free meal presenting the card. Anis was so effusive, he got us settled in with huge glasses of wine, and hustled us up some beautiful steaks, pomme frites and green beans. We chatted in our broken French, and his better English. And he saved the night for us, and the magic of Paris took us over from that point on.
TIPS FOR EATING GLUTEN-FREE IN PARIS
To make your gluten free trip to Paris more comfortable and happy, I have gleaned a few tips for you…
* Get some cards that explain gluten free eating in French, whether it is the Triumph cards, or the other cards available on the Internet, www.celiactravel.com. Even with booking ahead, all the chefs wanted to see the cards. I printed up several, but everyone returned them to me. This was not a busy season, so I would still print up a few to have extras.
* Do some research. Find the restaurants you want to try, email them your needs, and book ahead.
* Use the concierge at your hotel, before you even get there. As soon as you book your hotel. Email him/her your needs, send your list of restaurants, and ask for any recommendations. I did this a little too late, but our concierge was fantastic, and got us to try 3 different types of French restaurants, and all the meals and service was fantastic. I think the restaurants liked having a native French speaker make these requests. I would also send a copy of the French card to the concierge.
* Realize that you may not have a lot of variety for breakfast and lunch, and rest on the knowledge that you will have a fabulous dinner that you already booked. Oh, I am not saying that you may not have a great find at lunchtime, but I found myself having a lot of omelettes and pomme frites, steak and pomme frites (french fries ~ Paris cafes don’t do a lot of frying, I didn’t find one with anything breaded and fried, so everywhere I went for lunch I was able to eat them.) I like to prepare myself mentally about my food before I go somewhere, and I find I stay much happier this way.
* I flew Air France, and they do have gluten-free meals. It seems that they combined a few special requests into one special meal. My meal was gluten-free, dairy-free, low fat, and low sodium. Not very flavorful, but I was grateful to have anything. My husband got the regular meal, and we shared some things. He got a rice pudding that said right on the package “gluten-free”, some good cheese, and a yogurt that I stole. I also stole his real butter, it made the fish taste so much better.
* Speaking just the little French I knew, trying, totally paved the way for some friendly conversations. I had read this while researching about France, and it’s true. I learned how to say, ” Bonjour Monsieur or Madame. Je suis desole. Je suis allergic au gluten. Qu’est que vous me recomende?” (Hello, I am sorry. I have an allergy to gluten. What do you recommend?)
I used a free pod cast, French Survival Phrases to help with the pronunciation. It was very helpful, especially since I studied Spanish.
* I was shocked at how much 7 macarons cost at Pierre Herme (there was one right around the corner from my hotel, yay!), 16 euros!!! Pierre Herme was more of a boutique feel, nowhere to sit. I was glad I did splurge on them though, those contained all new tastes and textures that totally satisfied my pastry craving.
Talking about macarons, go to Laduree, another famous spot for macarons. We had a late afternoon coffee there and a plate of macarons. I do think I prefer the Laduree macarons as far as flavor, plus with such a pretty restaurant to sit and enjoy them, I thought they had the whole package.
* I went to one natural store, tried the chocolate croissants, then promptly threw them in the trash. I wouldn’t bother, unless you have an apartment, or are there a lot longer, and have a way to heat them up. After that I decided to not eat any more gluten free products, I just stuck with the restaurants.
* Check out my Gluten Free Travel Paris post for more information and links for your upcoming trip to Paris. Also, be sure to check out David Lebovitz’s blog for the perfect scoop on life as an American in Paris. He’s not gluten-free, but he knows good food and shares helpful tips about how to navigate through the city as a visitor.
As you research, you will find the restaurants that will work for you, and what experiences you want to have. But I also know that before I went, I was dying to find out some good restaurants that other people enjoyed. Here are our 4 restaurants we went to dinner at…
La Gueuze ~ This is where my lovely waiter Anis saved the day. Our experience here demonstrated that it is all about who serves you. This was a beer house. Nothing really special, and I wouldn’t tell you to trot right over and get that steak. Although, it was one the best steaks I ever had, because of the camaraderie, the joy, and the feeling that my husband and Anis would take care of me. ( located on 19, rue Soufflot ~ 75005 Paris tel. 01 43 54 63 00 )
Au Gourmand ~ This was our longest most gourmet meal. We arrived at 8 o’clock and we were among the first to be seated, which worked out very well. We had time to talk and go over the menu. We got the tasting menu here, and they only had to change 2 items on the whole list – no sauce on my steak course, and a different dessert. It was a taste sensation meal. Very fancy, not cheap. A wonderful experience. ( located on 17, rue Moliere – 75001 Paris, tel. 01 42 96 22 19 )
Le Timbre ~ I thought I wasn’t going to do this, (show favorites) BUT…I loved this restaurant. Absolutely. I could have eaten here every night and enjoyed it as much. This is the restaurant I would return to every time I went to Paris. The menu is on a blackboard, and the restaurant small and cozy. There was only a couple things I could not eat on the menu, everything was was free and clear, totally gluten-free as they were, no modifications. The food was delicious. I adored this restaurant. (located on 3 rue Saint Bueve – 75006 Paris, tel. 33 1 45 49 10 40 )
Aux Vieux Paris ~ We had our last meal here, and I thought that I wasn’t going to like the food very much. I was wrong. The food was fresh and delicious, and I was even able to have all the sauces with my food courses. It is located on the Ile de Cite (the island in the River Seine), tucked down a little side street in an old house built in 1512. It was a fun and romantic evening. ( located on 24, Rue Chanoinesse – 75001 Paris, tel. 01 10 51 78 52 )
I hope this will be helpful for an upcoming trip to Paris. I never got into the chocolates, cheeses or candy stores. There is so much more Paris has to offer the gluten-free traveler, and I just touched the tip. Hmmm, I guess that means we’ll have to plan another trip??? Maybe our 20th anniversary? Even better, the 15th? Oh, honey….
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