Can I Survive as a Celiac in Spain

Dear Ana,

Finding out you were a celiac was probably one of the most relieving-yet-frustrating experiences you ever had. On one hand, you finally knew what was wrong with you. On the other, you probably could imagine how hard it was going to be to maintain a gluten-free diet. Going abroad can be difficult even when you don’t have a dietary restriction such as being a celiac (or a vegetarian/vegan), but if you are wondering if you will be able to survive gluten-free  in Spain for a study abroad program—or a life abroad—my answer is yes!

Although I am not gluten-free, I do have Spanish friends who are, and they seem to do just fine. These are my top tips if you are planning on coming to visit or sticking around long-term as a celiac in Spain:

 A classic  tortilla de patatas  Source: goo.gl/Zjvrt9

A classic tortilla de patatas
Source: goo.gl/Zjvrt9

1.) Take advantage of ‘normal’ Spanish food that is gluten free: I understand that this is difficult for people who are celiac or have other allergies as you have to be careful with the preparation of food as well as the ingredients in the dish. At the same time, there are many delicious Spanish foods that you can thoroughly enjoy such as: Spanish omelette, papas a lo pobre (poor people’s potatoes), roasted meats and fish, big salads, etc.

Warning: Keep in mind that many embutidos, or Spanish styled dried meats, and dips may contain wheat ingredients that could lead to gluten production. Make sure to read all labels or clearly ask your server before moving forward with a choice.
 

2.) Check out grocery stores for amazing options: If you don’t want to risk eating out, feel assured that grocery stores are continuously providing more options for different diets. As a gluten-free eater, I would highly recommend checking out Mercadona as the owner’s daughter is a celiac and they are constantly introducing new products made specifically for this demographic.

Bonus: There are ‘health food’ stores that are popping-up more and more which offer gluten-free alternatives as well. Be aware that they might be more expensive (as they tend to be organic as well), but they are always a good option in a pinch.
 

3.) Look for specialty places: My gluten-free friends are constantly telling me about new places in their cities where they can eat food that is carefully prepared just for a celiac diet. Obviously, these types of places are more common in big cities like Barcelona and Madrid, but we even have a few in Granada now. Local forums and bloggers will help you find places that are new or fun to try.

Warning: I once was at a place that catered to celiacs and, while the owners knew what they were doing, the waiters weren’t fully on top of the situation. This lead to a celiac friend ending up in an uncomfortable (literally) situation. Make sure you check with the staff to make sure they understand that you are celiac and what that means.

 

What tips and tricks have you learned as a celiac abroad? Do you have any specific restaurants that you have been to in Spain that you would recommend?

Sincerely,
Spain