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Eating Gluten Free in Spain

Earlier this year I went for a long weekend in Madrid and had the challenge of eating out gluten free for every meal while I was there. This is something that I’ve never done since before my diagnosis of coeliac disease – I normally go for the safetly of self catering with perhaps one or two meals out. I’ll be writing specifically about gluten free food in Madrid in another post, but I thought it was also worth writing a general post about eating gluten free in Spain. In particular what sort of foods are typically gluten free in restaurants, how to ask for gluten free food in Spanish and what sort of gluten free food is available in supermarkets.

First, in my opinion it seems like there is a very good awareness of Coeliac disease and gluten free food in Spain. However, it is definitely worth learning a few words in Spanish, both to help you decipher food labels in shops and also to make sure that the people serving you in restaurants understand you. Here are a few basic gluten free words in Spanish to help you out:

1) Sin Gluten = Gluten Free: this is an easy one to remember and is very useful. You’ll see this on food packaging (I was amazed at how many packets of crisps were “sin gluten” in Spain compared to here!). It’s also a good phrase to know when you are served your food. You can point to it and just confirm that it is gluten free by saying “sin gluten?” as a question. You can also do the same if you are out at a market or somewhere with stalls that sells food. Just point and ask.

naturally gluten free food at a Spanish market!

2) ¿Tienes algo sin gluten? = Do you have something gluten free? This is a good one to use before you go into a restaurant. I used it every time I went into a restuarant in Madrid and was understood each time (even with my poor attempt at a Spanish accent!). I found that usually the waiter or waitress could tell me immediately what was gluten free, or they went off into the kitchen to ask the chef. If you want to be extra sure they understand you then back it up with the phrase below.

3) Soy Celíaca = I am Coeliac: Usually I used this phrase just to be doubly sure that they understood why I wanted gluten free food. Most of the time it looked like people understood me!

4) Trigo = Wheat  – a good one to learn so that you can understand food labels.

5) Cebada = Barley

6) Centeno = Rye

7) Avena = Oats

Hopefully if you are armed with all of the above, this will help you to survive gluten free in Spain, both in restaurants and in the supermarket.

If you’ve been to Spain before you probably already know that tapas are very popular. There are a few tapas that are commonly gluten free, but you definitely want to make sure that this is the case in each restaurant or bar that you go into because it is always possible that recipes are slightly different or there is a risk of cross contamination. Here are a few tapas that are usually gluten free:

  • Olives (Aceitunas)
  • Spanish Omelette (Tortilla)
  • Spicy Potatos (patata bravas) – be careful here as there is always a chance that they have been fried with other food so there is a risk of cross contamination.
  • Manchego cheese
  • Serrano ham, Chorizo (double check).
  • Salad (e.g. ensalada mixta) – quite often contains lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives and tuna. Usually this is just served with olive oil, but it’s always best to check first.

Usually a combination of the above makes a really nice meal.

Gluten Free in Spain

If you are self catering you’ll find that many of the larger supermarkets have a fantastic range of gluten free products. I went into the Cortes Inglis, which is a big department store with a food section (usually in the basement) and I was really impressed with the range of gluten free food available. Probably about three times as many products as there are in my big local Tesco store. Products included baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat, magdeleines (little fairy cakes), lots of different types of bread & rolls, cereals, pasta and more. So if you’re on a self catering holiday you will probably find that you don’t need to bring any gluten free stuff in your suitcase unless you are going somewhere very remote without a decent size of supermarket nearby.

I hope you found this post helpful and if you’ve been to Spain before while on a gluten free diet please post any tips you have below. Thanks!



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