Since I originally wrote this post, I’ve updated it several times (most recently in 2012) since Paris has become more gluten-free friendly. For those who need to avoid gluten, France may present more of a challenge than other countries. But recently gluten-free eating has gained a bit more visibility. That’s not to say you can easily eat anywhere, but even supermarkets are carrying gluten-free products and natural food shops offer fresh gluten-free pastries and breads, and have aisles of gluten-free products.
You may get a few perplexed looks when you ask if something is without gluten, but it is possible. So here are a few helpful hints that will help you navigate French restaurants and dining, how to deal with waiters, and where you can find gluten-free products and foods in Paris, including a few gluten-free restaurants and a wonderful French pastry shop that’s 100% gluten-free.
-Familiarize yourself with some of the natural foods shops in France.
Well-known ones include Naturalia, La Vie Claire and Biocoop. Many carry gluten-free products and grains. Natural food stores here are some of my favorite places to shop anyways since they carry many regional, organic, and unusual products which are hard-to-find elsewhere in France. Biocoop is perhaps the most varied, although Naturalia has more shops.
Some of the supermarkets like Casino are also now carrying gluten-free products, too.
-Check out some of the gluten-free restaurants in Paris.
Café Pinson in the Marais has gluten-free options.
Tugalik offers gluten-free choices, which are specifically noted on the menu.
Thank You, My Deer (112, rue Saint Maur) is a gluten-free cafe.
Fée Nature (69, rue d’Argout, 2nd) is a vegetarian restaurant that reports to be gluten-free.
-Check gluten-free “friendly’ restaurants.
Soya (20, rue Pierre Levée, Tél: 01 48 06 33 02) is a hip vegetarian restaurant which has clearly marked gluten-free dishes on the menu. The restaurant isn’t strictly gluten-free, though, so that might be a consideration.
A reader alerted me to Le Potager du Marais, and organic vegetarian restaurant which she noted had clearly marked gluten-free dishes and desserts on offer as well.
-Learn the terms for various grains and other French products.
Check an online dictionary here, although I recommend a good French Menu Translator. Although there’s plenty of people who speak English, many of the grains and other terms – and their names in English, may be unfamiliar to them.
-Check out a gluten-free French bakery.
Helmut Newcake (36, rue Bichat, 10th, Tél: 09 82 59 00 39) is a gluten-free bakery, everything sans gluten! There is also a take-out as well.
Papy Bio gluten-free macaron bakery is scheduled to open at 51, rue Richelieu in the 1st.
Chambelland Boulangerie (14, rue Terneux, 11th) Gluten-free bread bakery and café.
-Explore ethnic restaurants.
When people think of Paris, they think of old bistros and bustling brasseries. But Paris has some great ethnic restaurants, including Ethiopian restaurants which bake with teff instead of wheat (although you should confirm to be sure), as well as a slew of great Asian restaurants clustered in the 13th arrondissement.
Chinese restaurants abound in the city, although they do use soy sauce, there’s lots of Vietnamese and Laotian places with big salads and rice noodle dishes. Le Bambou is a favorite.
There’s also a new appreciation for les sushis in Paris. Aside from the mediocre spots springing up all over town, there’s some very good options on or near the rue St. Anne, by the Place de l’Opéra. You may wish to buy wheat-free tamari at one of the natural food stores listed above and bring it along.
-Bring some supplies and snacks from home.
Take with you some gluten-free energy bars and what-not to carry around and hold you over in case you get hungry and all that’s open are bakeries. They may seem icky to you, but when you’re starving in an airport or train station, where the pickings may be slim, you’ll be thankful.
-Rent an apartment so you can prepare meals yourself.
Sure it’s nice to go out to eat. But it’s equally fun to shop in a Parisian supermarket or outdoor market. It’s also a great way to sample lots of the cheeses, make big salads, sample the fruits, and enjoy other specialties that you can’t always get in restaurants.
Look for signs for traiteurs, gloriously-stocked take-out shops. And keep an eye for things that are de maison, or a similar term containing the word ‘maison‘, that means they’re made on-premises and should know exactly what’s in them and how they’re prepared. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—French people love to talk about food!
-Print out a small card that’s easy-to-read, in French, which very briefly explains your condition.
Servers in France are much busier than their American counterparts since they don’t have busboys, runners, etc…and dining rooms are short-staffed. So make their job easier since they may not have time to play charades with you, and blow you off. Don’t take it personally; just realize they’re busy. Keep it brief so they’re more likely to read it. You can find cards to print out in French here.
-Go to the same restaurants over and over and over.
Although it’s tempting to try lots of place, most Parisians themselves go to the same restaurants over and over (they call their favorite their cantine.) Make a nearby restaurant to where you’re staying your cantine where the staff knows you. Even if you’re in town for just a week, by your second visit, you’ll be recognized and they’ll look more kindly on you and they’ll be much nicer.
Also dining during slower times, the waiters and cooks will be under less stress and able to look after you better. If dining in a fine restaurant, tell them your needs when you make the reservation so they have time to prepare and it’s not such a big surprise.
Find gluten-free bread in Paris.
Although there are no dedicated gluten-free bakeries that I know of in Paris, Biocoop sells fresh gluten-free bread (although it’s stored on the same shelves, next to the regular bread) as do Naturalia store. Biocoop also has some freshly made gluten-free cakes as well. As mentioned above, both shops have gluten-free sections in their stores that sell a variety of snacks and other foods.
L’Autre Boulange has gluten-free breads, although they are made in a bakery that produces regular bread as well.
-Apologize for being a bother.
This is the hardest thing for Americans, who are used to the ‘Customer Is King’ concept. In France, you may find people less-accommodating that you’re used to. There’s not much you can do to change it (and believe me, don’t try to either.)
Instead, work with it. Don’t demand that they serve you gluten-free food, but instead, apologize for being a bother – then make your request nicely. They’re likely to take better care of you if they are on your site. And when your health is concerned, you want to be! French people can be quite helpful: You just need to make them want to be. As in many places in America, people don’t understand how careful you must be.
If for some reason they’re not taking you seriously, or you’re concerned that you may be getting something with gluten in it, it’s okay to leave before ordering. Apologize for leaving, thank them, and leave. If you make a scene, you’ll regret it. Don’t let it ruin your vacation. Just move on.
If you’ve already ordered or been served, nicely ask the waiter if you have any concerns without being accusatory. If you’re unsure, just drink the wine and ask for a plate of cheese or a salad with oil and vinegar à parte, on the side, since bottled dressings (which are used frequently) often have wheat starch. Or ask for some fruit.
In France, it’s very rare to return food or to change food once it’s brought to the table (or even after it’s been ordered) so you’re likely to be charged for the meal even if you don’t eat it or it’s not to your liking. Or has gluten in it.
Once again, don’t let something minor ruin your vacation. Imagine if a non-English speaking person came to America with a strict dietary need that was not well-known. Imagine how they’d be treated.
And if you’re frustrated, take another sip of wine and let out an exasperated *sigh*…you’ll fit right in amongst the Parisians!
Ten Insanely-Good Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris: Plenty of great suggestions that are gluten-free.
Gluten Free Paris: A gluten-free Bed & Breakfast in Paris
l’Association Francaise Des Intolérants Au Gluten: French Association of Gluten Intolerants (In French)
Gluten-Free Passport Travel Guide for France & Italy
Schär Gluten-Free Products: Available in Europe—site has search engine for stores which stock their products in France.
The American Hospital of Paris has English-speaking doctors in case you need medical care. You will likely have to pay out-of-pocket then apply for reimbursement when you get home, if you’re American.
French Gluten-Free Food Blogs