Ah, France. Land of cheese and baguettes. A country of delicate, fluffy pastries and croissants, of pies and crepes, and so much more. I lived in France before I was diagnosed as a celiac, and my copious consumption of bread products and pastries certainly led to my finding out I was unable to eat gluten. It’s also responsible for how sick I got before doctors figured out my beloved baguettes were part of the problem. The good news is that traveling in France is very possible while strictly gluten free. The bad news is that croissants smell really, really good.
Being a celiac in France means availing yourself of all the wonderful, quality base ingredients that are found throughout the country. This may mean avoiding bakeries (unless recommended below) but it does not mean going hungry. From fabulous cheeses to buckwheat crepes, to stews and salads and so much more, there is plenty to eat that won’t get you sick – and that will still make you smile.
This guide will help you navigate the dishes you will find, as well as offer alternatives when you are eating out.
Happy and safe travels!
Gluten Free France: Table of Contents
Gluten Free Restaurant Card in French
What is Safe to Eat and Gluten Free in France?
Shopping Options and Gluten Free Restaurants for Celiacs in France
What is Unsafe for a Celiac in France?
Further Reading about France
Tailored Gluten-Free Restaurant Card for France
For starters, this detailed gluten free restaurant card will help communicate your eating restrictions, and allow you to understand what is safe and unsafe from the menu. The card was created with celiac-specific research, mention of cross contamination, and a double checked translation from locals who speak the language. The food names and dishes within the card are also double checked for accuracy with different regions in France.
Note: The card is available for purchase via Gumroad, a trustworthy 3rd party site that uses https, so you know your information is safe. I am not gathering emails or information for anyone who buys the card.
Why is this gluten free card different?
I have used several different translation cards on my travels, and I still got sick. I may be more sensitive than some celiacs, but even a small amount of contaminated oil for frying, or wheat-thickened sauce in the food, is enough to make me ill for days. Let alone the joint pain later that week, and the inflammation.
This card is different because:
- It uses all of the local food names for what to eat or avoid,
- Makes clear mention of the cross contamination concerns.
- Is researched by celiacs; and
- Translated by a native speaker who is familiar with the disease and local food, then double-checked with a second translator.
- Sized specifically for mobile, so that you can save to your phone and have it with you as you travel.
An English version of the card – so you know what you’re buying! – is available on the purchase page.
Gluten-Free Dishes and Snacks in France
The following dishes are commonly wheat-free in France, as confirmed by translators.
As with any destination, at home or abroad, it’s important to confirm on a case-by-case basis that no flour was used in the sauces, or to thicken.
Dishes that are likely to be safe for celiacs in France:
- Riz (rice) or farine de riz (rice flour) are both good terms to know, especially when looking for gluten free products in grocery stores.
- A Breton crêpe or galette is a must-have for celiacs in France. These delicious pancakes are similar to their famous cousin the crêpe, but galettes are made with buckwheat flour, called farine de sarrasin or blé noir, and are usually savoury rather than sweet. There are many variations on this dish, one of the most popular being the galette complète, with grated cheese, ham and egg cooked on the galette. While in most restaurants the galette will be made with 100% buckwheat flour, it’s always important to ask, as some places may cut the buckwheat with regular wheat flour as well.
- Chestnuts are a popular ingredient in French cuisine and can be called châtaigne or marron, while chestnut flour is usually just farine de châtaigne.
- Fromage – cheese, glorious cheese! As one of French cuisine’s claims to fame, there are so many to try, but a few to stay away from! More on that later, but for now…a few of the safe ones: Brie is a rich, creamy white cow’s milk cheese with an edible rind and a flavour that strengthens with age. Camembert is a soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese from Northern France in the Normandy region. Roquefort is a tangy, crumbly, cave-aged blue cheese made from sheep’s milk. *Note: previously, blue cheeses were classified as unsafe for celiacs but new research has shown otherwise. See here. Fromage frais is creamy, fresh, unripened cheese. Fromage blanc is similar, but the fermentation process has been stopped. Faisselle, much like fromage frais or fromage blanc, is often served as a dessert, both savoury or sweet.
- Omelette au fromage – Omelette with cheese. Generously buttery French omelettes come in many forms, and are usually served for lunch or dinner, rather than for breakfast.
- Charcuterie plates should usually provide some safe and tasty options for celiac travellers, but remember to double check that all the meats are safe and that bread (pain) is served separately. Some charcuterie options may include:
- Pâté – ground meat and fat mixed with herbs, spices, and veggies and cooked into a spreadable paste. Often made with liver and other offal. Avoid pâté en croute, which is encrusted in pastry like a pie.
- Terrine is similar to pâté, but features more coarsely chopped meats cooked in a mold and most often served cold.
- Rilletes are again made with chopped meat, heavily salted and slowly cooked. Much of the fat content is maintained, which lends itself to the paste-like consistency perfect for spreading. Traditionally made with pork, but there’s no limit to other types of meats than can be used.
- Boudin blanc de Rethel is a specific type of pork sausage whose name is protected by the EU protected geographical indication (PGI). This means if it’s listed as boudin blanc de Rethel, it can only contain pork, milk, and eggs, and zero added starches. But be sure to ask, as not all boudin blanc are guaranteed to be safe. The same goes for boudin noir, a traditional blood sausage.
- Saucisson is a dry cured pork or mosty pork sausage similar to salami. Variations include different herbs and spices, and in the case of Saucisson aux noisettes, hazelnuts.
- Foie Gras is a controversial but luxurious French delicacy of fattened duck or goose liver. It’s rich and buttery, and may be served as a mousse or pâté, or on it’s own as a main dish. Despite the contentious production methods, foie gras is a deeply engrained part of French gastronomic culture.
- The French love oysters (huîtres), and for good reason—they have some of the most famous oyster growing regions in the world! Best eaten au naturel or with a splash of lemon juice.
- Moules marinières a classic dish of mussels in a sauce of white wine and cream. Ask about any potential flour used for thickening the sauce, but it should be both safe and delicious!
- Tartiflette is a dish from the Savoy region of the French Alps made with potato, reblochon cheese, pork fat and onions. Potatoes are a staple food of the Savoy region, and thus are featured in many of the traditional regional dishes.
- Traditional Salade Niçoise is a salad of tomato, olives, hard-boiled eggs and anchovies dressed in olive oil. Although it originates from the city of Nice, variations have spread all over both France and the world. Other ingredients may include: tuna, potatoes, green beans, red peppers, artichokes, spring onions and so much more. The argument over what constitutes a salade nicoise is fierce and continuous, but in most cases, it should be safe for celiacs.
- Ratatouille– a Niçoise veggie dish of eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, tomato and bell pepper stewed with fresh herbs until soft and creamy.
- Escargots à la Bourguignonne – snails cooked in garlic and herb butter.
Gluten Free French Desserts
- Macarons are popular meringue and almond cookies sandwiching buttercream or jam filling. These colorful confections are pretty trendy on a global scale right now and flavors can vary from the traditional to the experimental. Many, many French patisseries have a selection of macarons to choose from, but it’s always best to check that no wheat flour has been added!
- Made from simple whipped egg whites and sugar, the stiff peaks and crispy exterior of meringues can form cloud like structures that are both visually impressive and Meringues may be flavored with almond, vanilla or coconut and served on their own or as part of another dish.
- Calissons or Calissons d’Aix are delightful almond-shaped treats made from a paste of ground almonds and candied fruit, often melon or citrus, topped with a bit of icing. Almost always safe, but again, it’s best to ask. This was the first thing I ate for dessert once diagnosed, and they still hold a happy place in my heart for their delicious hit of marzipan sweetness.
- Pâtés de fruits are a simple treat made from fruit cooked with sugar and pectin and then cast into a mold. Served cold.
- Caramel or chocolate bon bons, called bouchées, should be safe.
- Mousse au chocolat – rich, creamy chocolate mousse made from chocolate, eggs and cream or butter.
- Crème brûlée is vanilla custard with a hard burnt layer of caramel on top. Yum!
- Floating island or île flottante is rich dessert made of meringue “floating” in light vanilla custard.
- Tergoule– a rice pudding made with milk, cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg and slowly baked in a terrine for hours in order to create a caramelized crust. A speciality of Normandy.
Shopping Options and Gluten Free Restaurants for Celiacs in France
- Carrefour is a supermarket chain with shops across France. They carry a range of gluten free products, including their own brand.
- Most major supermarkets, such as Intermarché, carry a range of gluten free products, often in a separate aisle with other “free from” foods.
- Un Monde Vegan is a vegan supermarket in Paris with extensive gluten free section.
- Causses is a high end, slow food inspired grocer in Paris with dedicated gluten free section and tons of local products. There are three locations to shop in Paris, in the 1st, 3rd and 9th arrondissements. The locations in the 3rd and 9th arrondissements include restaurants as well.
- Naturalia and Biocoop are organic health food chains with gluten free options available.
- Niepi is a French magazine all about gluten free life, recipes included, for those who live in France longer-term.
- France has an active celiac association called AFDIAG, and their logo below is indicative that a product has less than 20ppm of gluten, and is thus safe for celiacs.
Gluten Free Restaurants and Bakeries for Celiacs in France
Gluten Free Restaurants and Caterers in the Rest of France
- Thrillingly, Chambelland is an gluten free bakery in Paris serving beautiful sourdough loaves as well as fresh cakes, pastries and sandwiches. Not only are all their naturally wares gluten free and organically grown, they even mill the flours in their own Chambelland mill.
- Helmut Newcake was the first gluten free patisserie in Paris, and boasts a gluten free grocery store as well as a café serving lunch 6 days a week.
- Maison Bon offers take out and on-site dining, with each dish organic, fresh, vegetarian, and gluten free. They’ve got breakfast options, a menu of the day, and a long list of smoothies and juices, as well as other drinks. They also speak English.
- Maison Kayser– Well-known French boulanger Eric Kayser’s chain of bakeries that spreads across multiple French cities. Not every shop carries the range of gluten-free loaves, but the ones that do (try the location nearest the Louvre in Paris) are worth a try! To protect from cross-contamination, gluten free products are made off-site, and double packaged before entering the shop.
- Thank You, My Deer is a trendy Parisian café and restaurant boasting an entirely gluten free menu, a funky atmosphere, and an online shop.
- Noglu, another gluten free bakery and restaurant in Paris with multiple locations. Here you’ll find an ever-changing menu of fresh ingredients, with vegetarian and lactose-free options as well. Plus, Saturday brunch!
- Italian restaurant Baffo has an entirely gluten free menu, including organic pastas, risottos, and a list of tasty appetizers.
- With two locations in Paris, La Guinguette D’Angèle offers fresh, healthy gluten-free meals either in take-away form (34 Rue Coquillière) or dine-in at the Tea Room (2 Avenue du Général Renault).
- Gluten free in its entirety, Biosphère Café’s menu includes original recipes and homemade pancakes made on-site. They’ve also got daily specials, soups, cakes, pies, sandwiches, and more.
Gluten Free Restaurants and Caterers in the Rest of France
- Breizh Cafe serves traditional buckwheat galettes from Britanny, made with local ingredients and best paired with a traditional cider. Breizh has locations in Paris as well as in the Breton town of Saint-Malo, and its nearby neighbour Cancale, a commune dubbed the “oyster capital” of Brittany.
- At Choopy’s, you’ll find an entirely gluten free menu. It’s a tiny coffee shop in the Côte d’Azur resort town of Antibes.
- Pizza, crepes, and other items that are certified as gluten free by the celiac association at La Flambée des Milles Poetes, a restaurant in Narbonne.
- Gigi Tavola Autentica is the first gluten free restaurant in Nice, as certified by the French celiac association. Grilled meat, pizzas, and a whole lot more.
- Invita Fresh Food serves organic, vegetarian, and gluten free food in Toulouse. The restaurant opened in 2015, and its entire menu is safe for celiacs, including their quiches, made in house.
- Le Resto du Coin is located in Strasbourg and offers specialized gluten free menus that have been approved by the French celiac association, including a reasonably-priced menu of the day.
- Also in Strasbourg: La Pause Quinoa, a cafe with gluten free foods to eat on premises, as well as some products for purchase. Soups, sweets, and drinks.
- Located in Montpellier, La Coutinelle is a teahouse and pizza spot offering 100% gluten free pizzas and meals, as well as beer and ciders that are gluten free.
- Also in Montpellier, Les Demoiselles is an ‘allergy free’ tea house that also offers catered / takeout meals and in-house dining. They specialize in gluten free, nut free, and other ‘free from’ dishes.
- JuJu Sans Glut is a 100% gluten free spot in the city of Tours, with pizzas of the day, desserts, and much more.
What is Unsafe for a Celiac in France?
- When eating gluten free in France, two important words to watch for and avoid are pannée (breaded) and croûte (crust), as well as the obvious pain (bread).
- The pain category includes baguettes, perhaps the most iconic of French breads with its distinctive length and crispy crust. It also includes Brioche, a light and tender bread made with extra eggs and butter, as well as pain boule, a round loaf known to stay fresh longer than thinner loaves.
Other off limits pastries include:
- Beignet, a French donut that differs from the American style ones with holes cut from the middle. Beignets are deep fried pastry dusted in powdered sugar.
- Those buttery, flaky, crescent shaped puff pastries known as croissants (sob).
- Pain au chocolat is made with the same layered puff pastry dough as croissants, but instead is formed into a rectangular shape with a few pieces of dark chocolate folded into the middle.
- Madeleines are small traditional sponge cakes from the Lorraine region of France, now also served at Starbucks around the world. Some variations include ground almonds or lemon zest.
- Éclairs are oblong pastries filled with variously flavored custards or creams and topped with icing.
- Financiers are small almond cakes flavoured with a warm brown butter sauce called beurre noisette. Often contain wheat flour, though may be able to find variations sans gluten in certain places.
- Petit fours – bite sized pastries, both sweet or savory. They come in several main categories: glacé (glazed), tiny cakes covered in icing, such as small éclairs or tiny tarts. Salé (salted), appetizers that are savoury, often called “hors d’oeuvres” in North America, and sec (dry), small cookies, baked mini pies, macarons, and puffed pastries.
- Croquembouche are towers of pastry balls laced together with caramel or spun sugar and decorated with chocolate, edible flowers or fruit. Most often served at special events like weddings or baptisms, and not celiac friendly.
- The list of glutinous pastries continues, but don’t fret over that… think of how many macarons you get to eat!
Other dishes likely to be unsafe for celiacs in France:
- Soufflé is a baked egg dish characterized by its puffiness, a result of beaten egg whites. Soufflé can be served as a savory or a sweet dish, depending on what the egg mixture is mixed with. It’s possible you can find a gluten free version, but most soufflé dishes include wheat flour.
- Quiche, a pastry crust filled with eggs, cheese, vegetables and/or meat.
- Croque-Monsieur, the famous gourmet grilled or baked ham and cheese sandwich.
- Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée, a meat stock and onion soup usually thickened with flour.
- Coquilles Saint-Jacques, scallops in cream sauce, sadly made with flour or breadcrumbs.
- Blanquette de Veau, a popular veal ragout, with a sauce traditionally started with a (flour-based) roux, and adding eggs and cream.
- Cassoulet, a classic but contentious stew of meat and beans, served with much argument over which version is the “real” one. In some towns, the stew is made with pork shoulder, sausage and duck confit, in others it includes mutton, and in others still, only duck or goose meat is allowed. This wide variation means that some cassoulet may be safe for celiacs, but others not at all. A Cassoulet de Toulouse, for example, will always have a crust of breadcrumbs on the top, whilst the same dish in Auch will not. No matter where you are though, it’s always good to ask!
- Coq au vin, chicken braised with wine. Chicken may be dusted/dredged in flour before being seared, and a roux (flour-based) likely used to thicken the sauce.
- Bœuf bourguignon or beef burgundy, also likely to have flour added in the cooking process.
- A few cheeses from Northern France bordering Belgium may not be safe for celiacs. Maroilles cheese, with its pungent scent and reddish-orange rind is sometimes washed with beer in the maturation process and therefore should be vetted before consumption. Similarly, Boulette d’Avesnes, a cheese made from immature or “inferior” Maroilles mixed with parsley, tarragon and cloves is often off-limits for us celiacs, as it can also be beer-washed. Occasionally you’ll run across a cheese that’s been breaded, which is a great time to look out for those vocabulary words — pannée (breaded) and croûte (crust).
Further Reading About France
For those of you looking to visit, here are some wonderful books to help learn a little more about France and its food before you get there.
Historical and Guide Books
For those of you looking to visit France, there are some wonderful books to help inform your visit, and a few other helpful resources:
- For guidebooks, Lonely Planet’s France Guide came out in March 2017, and covers the country as a whole, including language tips and important phrases. Specific cities in mind? DK Eyewitness Paris is a popular option, as is Rick Steves Paris guide for 2017.
- Another fun option for Paris is the Clued In Paris: The Concise and Opinionated Guide to the City guidebook, a Kindle-only $3.99 read that delights and informs.
- For historical reads, head to Seven Ages of Paris by Alastair Horne. “Whereas London…has clear male orientations, and New York has a certain sexual ambivalence, has any sensible person ever doubted that Paris is fundamentally a woman?” Thus begins Horne’s long love letter to Paris, starting with Caesar and Abélard and moving through the ages. Horne tackles the tumultuous history of Paris in a series of ambitious biographical essays, infused with captivating narrative and an attention to detail. The book skilfully blends the passionate politics of the city, with its art and music and scandalous royal class, resulting in a dense but enlightening book spanning Paris’ lifetime.
My Suggestions for Food Books about France
- Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child really needs no introduction. In two volumes, this is seminal cookbook explores both the technique and the pleasure of French gastronomy. A must have for anyone hoping to bring a bit of haute cuisine home.
- My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz is a reflection on how modern Parisians eat and includes 100 recipes, both sweet and savoury, meant to convey this gastronomic landscape. The sense of place created by this mix of recipes is only enhanced by the quirky stories and gorgeous photography dotted throughout the book.
- French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson will make you want Mimi’s life. This book is one part cookbook, one part château renovation memoir, and one part portrait of French village life. Through photographs, anecdotes and of course, recipes, we meet a cast of characters inhabiting perhaps the most idyllic French village there ever was.