Gluten-Free Eating and Dining in Paris

helmut newcake

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.

Noglu is a completely gluten-free restaurant and épicerie. You can read my write-up of Noglu.

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.



-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.

Strawberries

-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!

Bon Appétit!


Gluten-Free Links

Ten Insanely-Good Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris: Plenty of great suggestions that are gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Girl.com

Gluten Free Paris: A gluten-free Bed & Breakfast in Paris

Health Care Tips for Traveling to France

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (US)

A Gluten-Free Guide to Paris

l’Association Francaise Des Intolérants Au Gluten: French Association of Gluten Intolerants (In French)

Gluten-Free Passport Travel Guide for France & Italy

Living Gluten-Free For Dummies

Gluten-Free Paris: Links, Tips and Information

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.

Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur la Maladie Coelique (In French)



French Gluten-Free Food Blogs

La Belle au blé dormant

Les Carnets de Miss Diane

Ma Cuisine sans Gluten



19 comments

  • All good advice, I think. Also, I can think of one reason to feel more confident eating-out in France than in the US: the French waiter likely has enough food knowledge to communicate intelligently about the food, and the food is actually being made from scratch on site.

    In the US one often has to pay a lot for that kind of conversation. The last perky eighteen-year-old I queried at a not-inexpensive steak house in Boston didn’t know if the ribs were beef or pork.

  • Thanks for writing about this, David. I am a Celiac and visited Paris a couple of years ago. I ate wonderfully well and never got sick while I was there (despite my merely passable high school French). Servers were wonderful and did not mind answering lots of questions.

    One other tip, particularly for the economically-challenged traveler, is to grab some (gluten-free) meat, cheese, and veggies from a local market or grocery and you’ve got a picnic lunch. This is what I did for lunch every day I was there, and I hardly missed the bread.

  • Hi David! It’s Kelly from CeliacChicks in NYC! Thank you for writing about this. I get emailed all the time from people that are going to visit France and are nervous about eating gluten-free.

    I thought you and your readers also might like the link to the European Celiac Society.

    They are very organized and have a great youth program too.

    Also, the book “Gluten Free Passport” is a great help for navigating foreign cuisines.

    Thanks again!

  • CeliacChick: Thanks for the heads-up about that book. I added the link in the post. What great resources! I felt bad since I get asked that occasionally and never knew how to respond. Glad to help my fellow eaters.

    wheatless: I think it depends on where you’re dining. It’s unfortunate that waiters in the US may not know so much about what’s going on in the kitchen (and they should!) but many restaurants in France use pre-made or convenience products as well and often don’t know if there’s wheat-starch lurking in there or not.

    More reasons to eat locally, seasonally, and above all, fresh! : )

    Michelle: Yes, shopping in France is a lot of fun, and more economical than dining out. Especially when there’s all these great cheeses and wines here. Oh, and chocolates too!

  • Merci, David. I’m sure you know how many people are going to google “eating gluten-free in Paris,” out of desperation, and be comforted by your post. you rock.

  • David,
    Did you have some thing new for a celiac who are going to Paris?

  • Bonjour, David!

    I just had guest blogger Mrs. GF ( http://myglutenfreecookbook.blogspot.com/ ) write an excellent guide to dining gluten-free in Paris! She did extensive research and lists several restaurants by name.

    Here is her gluten-free guide to Paris on CeliacChicks:
    http://www.celiacchicks.com/2008/11/paris-gluten-fr.html

    Also, rumor has it that this gluten-free restaurant is opening up in Paris:
    http://www.dessietdesmets.com/

    You’ll have to check this place out for us! : )

    That’s good information, Kelly. I hope that restaurant is a success. There’s not much awareness of food allergies here. For example, my local health food store does stock gluten-free bread, but it shares space, unwrapped, with all the other loaves on the same wheat flour-dusted shelves! -dl

  • Hello David

    I have been enjoying your website as I prepare for a visit to Paris in early Sept.

    One of my things, as a recent Celiac and a bit of a foodie, is finding traditional foods that have always been gluten free. Things that come to mind Indian breads using chick pea flour, the rice noodles in Asian foods etc.

    It is my understanding that galettes de ble noir (buckwheat crepes) – a traditional Breton food – are gluten free. Buckwheat is not actually a relative of wheat at all. However in recipe searches many receipes have added wheat.

    I read with interest your review of the Breizh Cafe. If they are as traditional as they sound I suspect their galettes should be gluten free. I have tried emailing them without a response -is this something you could check. This might open up a whole new dining experience to gluten free diners.

    Mary Ann

  • Hi Mary Ann: Although they told me the galettes they make at Breizh Cafe are made with buckwheat flour only, they do use regular flour in their dessert crêpes, so there’s always a chance of cross-contamination. It’s best to just go in and ask. They’re very nice, and most of the dining room staff speak reasonable English.

  • I was very glad to find this post and the informative comments, too. My son and I are only 6 months into our gluten-free experience (gluten-free at home is a breeze), and French food seemed like it would be the most formidable challenge after an uncomfortable experience following a Mother’s Day brunch at a French-inspired fine dining restaurant in the US.

    We love France and Paris, though we are only able to visit every 5-10 years or so. Hopefully by the next trip, the emerging gluten sensitivity research and awareness will be more commonly known in France, too.

  • thank you for the cards david!!! even though i speak french your cards were such a great idea – i am printing out a dozen so the waiter can take them back to the chef and i don’t have to worry.

    thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    alia

    toronto, canada

  • David,

    What a great list! Thank you for pulling it all together. I lived in Paris from 1998-2000- two years before I found out about my celiac disease. I am preparing to go back for a weeklong visit with my husband and some friends next spring, so all this information will be most helpful.

    A decade ago, my diet pretty much consisted of baguettes, panini, crepes, and tartes au citron. (I was a poor university student with three bakeries just outside my door.) I am glad to know that gluten free food does exist in Paris even if I ignored it while I was there.

    Though now that I think about it, I do recall a particularly delicious lentil salad that was probably gluten free at a sweet little place called Les Deux Abeilles in the 7th. Any idea if they’re still around? They also had an amazing chocolat a l’ancien (it was like drinking a melted bar of chocolate- but in a good way).

    Also, do you know if there are any restaurants in Paris that serve socca/farinata? I recently discovered this naturally GF phenomenon in NYC and am totally in love.

    Thanks again!

    p.s. Fortunately, I was able to experience the magic that is l’As du Fallafel on a fairly regular basis before I knew it was causing my body to attack itself… When I take my friends there, at least I’ll know exactly what I’m missing!

  • Hi Senza: I don’t know any restaurants that serve socca, but Alaen at the Marché des Enfants Rouge (3rd) makes them on his griddle. (I wrote about him in The Sweet Life in Paris!) Traditionally socca has no wheat flour in it, but I would ask because he might be mixing & flipping his own variation.

    alia: Glad those could help! I would still be certain that you order carefully. Gluten-free is still a ‘new’ concept to many French people (as are other food allergies) so even if they say the bottle dressing doesn’t contain flour that they’re putting on your salad, they likely don’t understand that ‘wheat protein’ is essentially the same thing.

    But do make sure you get the waiter on your side. Speaking French, even not-so-well, is one great way to do it. Most are very professional and are good at their jobs, in spite of their reputation.

  • Thank you so much for this information, David! Almost a year into living in Paris, I discovered I am gluten-intolerant and this article has been indispensible to me as I negotiate a new way of living and eating here in the city.

    I have a WordPress blog where I chronicle some of my adventures in Paris and what it is like to be gluten-intolerant here, and I just reviewed a restaurant where I ate at the beginning of the month in the 5th arr. called Le Puit de Légumes, 18, rue Cardinal Lemoine. It’s a vegetarian, macrobiotic restaurant with gluten-free dishes that opened about 10 months ago (maybe you have even written of it here; I didn’t check), and I found that the proprietress was aware and knowledgeable about gluten-free food preparation. Many of her dishes were gluten-free (salads, fish, a soy dessert which I tried) and she was very kind about my need to avoid gluten. Since there are also not a ton of vegetarian restaurants here, either (not dedicated ones, at any rate, and though this one served fish, they also had lacto-ovo-free entrées), I thought I would mention it!

  • P.S. My blog is linked with my name up there, but here is the specific post about Le Puit de Légumes

  • Thank you so much David, and thank all of you for the informations!!!
    My husband has a severe gluten-free-dairy-free diet and I couldn´t stop feeling sorry for him when we were in Paris last year. We are coming back in few days and this time, THANKS TO ALL OF YOU, our trip will be diferent, with a rich food experience!!
    If I hear about any other gluten-free places, I will post here for sure.

    Merci!!
    Elizeane

  • Thank you for this post! These are some great resources and ideas.

    I have to add, I ate in Paris not too long after going gluten free, and was treated wonderfully. Better than in the Canadian and American restaurants I’d been frequenting. I was surprised! It helps that I speak (imperfect) french, so I could communicate my needs clearly, but I was really blown away by how easily and politely they handled my needs.

    One waiter even joked around with me, teasing that he’d put blé in my eggs, etc. The lightheartedness about the whole affair was refreshing.

  • Hi there!
    I would like to thank you so much for all the informations you provide us also for how useful your website is. Reached myself by a celiac disease, I know how hard it is to find good places to eat gluten free, that’s why I’m proposing a bed and breakfast “gluten free” in Paris. For more information have a look on my website http://www.glutenfreeparis.com
    Cheers

  • I am celiac. I need gluten free/casien free food. I need to go to restaurants & markets. Thanks. Staying on corner of Archives and Bretonne in the Marais. Jan