Eating gluten-free in Paris is surprisingly easy. Even more so if you choose to rent an apartment for your stay instead of a hotel. Given the cost of hotels in Paris, I highly recommend exploring this option. Contrary to popular belief, the French diet is fairly gluten-free, more so than the typical American diet. Of course, you will be forgoing morning croissants and baguettes, but there are other delicious options for you. Remember, when entering a small shop, always, always address the shopkeeper with “Bonjour/Bon soir Madame/Monsieur”. And when you leave, always say “ Merci beaucoup Madame/Monsieur, bon journeè/bon soireè. In France, the customer is not king, and shops are viewed as an extension of the proprietor’s home. Being mindful of this, even if you don’t speak great French, will get you far.
- Get to know your local market or market street- even if you are staying in a hotel, chances are, right around the corner from you is a tiny market, filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, and perhaps even a boucherie (butcher)or a fromagerie (cheese).
At the boucherie, in addition to finding raw meats, you will also find an assortment of cured meats- sausages, ham, pate, terrines, and foie gras. You can order a small bit- 125 grams = 1/4lb, and make a meal. The boucherie is also where you can purchase fresh eggs.
Le fromagerie is typically a one-stop dairy shop. Obviously the primary focus is cheese, but they also carry creme (heavy cream), yaourt (yogurt), and lait frais (fresh milk). If you can’t decide on what cheese is calling to you, some shops offer a small plate of assorted cheeses for a very reasonable price.
The fruit and vegetable shops on the market streets are filled with beautiful and enticing products. Be aware that in many shops the shopkeepers will select the best fruits and vegetables for you, and that handling the produce is not permitted. This is not the case in every shop- if you are unsure, inquire with the shopkeeper (in french please) as to whether you can touch the produce- or watch the other locals and do as they do.
- Seek out your local magazin bio (organic foods store)- Naturalia has more than 20 stores in Paris proper- each with a small gluten-free section.
While it’s not a steaming baguette, Naturalia carries 4 (!!!) varieties of fresh gluten-free bread, made every day! We tried all four- chataignier (chestnut), teff, quinoa, & sarrasin (buckwheat). Our favorite was the chataignier. The breads are on the top shelf of the fresh bread display, preventing the possibility of cross-contamination with the fresh gluten-full breads.
And, for those of you desperate for a gluten-free beer in the land of wine, Naturalia carries an organic, gluten-free beer from Germany. It’s a pilsner-style ale, not very dark, but if you need a beer it gets the job done.
Dining Gluten-Free in Paris
When dining in Paris, especially if you have food allergies, always call ahead. At the very least- unless you’re stopping in to a stand-up bar that has a few seats- stop by and ask for a table in an hour. With busy/popular restaurants if you don’t call ahead, you’ll either have to wait an hour or two, or come back once you’ve made reservations.
Likewise, when you enter a restaurant- even a casual one- never just go sit down. Always wait to greet and be greeted by the host/hostess or proprietor. While these little courtesies may seem unusual or even silly to some of you reading this, please remember that you are in a different culture, and the more you are willing to observe local customs and courtesies, the more positive experience you will have.
For the gluten-free, there are allergy cards that you can print out, carry with you, and give to your server. I found there were always items on the menu that were naturally gluten-free. Obviously the biggest gluten worry is sauces thickened with flour, and soups thickened with flour. Unfortunately this means that most soupe l’oignon is off limits- but I do have a lovely recipe you can make in your Paris apartment that will satisfy that urge quite nicely!
When calling ahead, or making online reservations, always notify the person on the phone of your allergy, and then reiterate to the server and host/hostess when you arrive. In my experience, the people I spoke with were exceptionally helpful. Below is a break-down of some of the notable restaurants we visited.
Sadly, the restaurant below-Des Si Et Des Mes, has closed.
Des Si Et Des Mes- This absolute gem of a restaurant is entirely Gluten-Free! Located on the historic and famous rue Lepic in Montmartre, Des Si Et Des Mes has a lovely atmosphere and fabulous food! This is not your average bistro fare- the food coming out of this kitchen is beautiful, flavorful, and very creative. The only place they fell short was the bread. I found the gluten-free bread to be typically ‘gluten-free’ in texture, and a little on the beany side. But honestly, the food was so delicious, I didn’t care about the bread. They also sell the bread in take-away form, so if you’re in the neighborhood and just need some bread, you’re welcome to stop by and purchase a loaf. The service was great, and if we hadn’t been so far from Montmartre, we’d absolutely have returned. This restaurant will be a priority for us every time we visit Paris.
Restaurant Hélène Darroze- This Michelin starred (2 etoile) restaurant is a special treat. For a full review, visit my friend Cristina’s blog, From Buenos Aires to Paris. We reserved online, and let them know that three of us- the kitchen divas in training, and myself, were all gluten-free. They were prepared, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. The restaurant has two levels, the Salle upstairs (finer dining, more expensive) and the Salon downstairs (still very fine dining, but a slightly more affordable tapas-type presentation)We ate in the Salon. The food was exquisite and the service was impeccable- a real treat. Cristina mentions this in her blog, but it’s a fun piece of trivia to share- Ms. Darroze, one of only 2 women in France and the only woman in Paris to run a 2 Michelin Star restaurant, was also the inspiration for Colette- the lady chef in one of my favorite movies, Ratatouille! Be advised-while we dared to bring our daughters here- my youngest only 4- my children are weird; they eat in grown-up places with frequency and knew how to behave. Our lunch lasted 2 1/2 hours, and while the waitstaff were very kind to the girls, use your judgment. They were the only children in the restaurant.
Chez Francis- the draw of this restaurant is the view. And you pay for it. The food is very average, as is the service- you are paying for the view. The view is lovely- to eat in view of the sparkly Tour Eiffel at night is very romantic, and I had no problems eating gluten-free. But given that we paid the same price for dinner at Chez Francis that we paid for lunch at Helene Darroze- there was no comparison. I’ll be spending future meals at Hélène Darroze.
Chez Fernand (Christine)- This sweet little restaurant is just off the Seine on the Left Bank, not to be confused with Chez Fernand near Montparnasse- which we had hoped to get to and didn’t- this restaurant is differentiated by the street it’s on- Rue Christine. Again, when we called to make reservations, and alerted them that 3 of us would be gluten-free, they were very helpful. There was plenty on the menu that was naturally gluten-free. I had Il flottante for dessert- an enormous meringue floating in a sea of creme anglaise. Heavenly, but so large I couldn’t finish. It did seem like all the foreigners were invited to sit in the front of the restaurant, while the locals went to the back. This didn’t bother me as I am a foreigner, and I found the service to be friendly. We would have ordered coffee after dessert, but the waiter dropped our check. It’s entirely possible that it was a miscommunication on our part, as this didn’t happen anywhere else, and it was only our second day- and as I posted previously, I did order mineral water when the waiter asked how I wanted my steak done! The steak was fabulous.
Crepes and Gallettes
The two restaurants below were our dive into traditional crepes and galettes. A galette is made with only buckwheat flour, commonly called blè noir, or farine sarrasin. They are also open faced, whereas a crepe is folded over and made from white flour. There are tiny creperies advertising galettes de sarrasin all over the city, and if you stumble upon one, be sure to ask that their galettes are made seulement avec sarrasin. We got lucky here, but that may not always be the case at every creperie. You can a more in-depth review of these two creperies here.
Aux Ducs de Bourgogne- this creperie was a true discovery. This tiny restaurant just around the corner from the Museè Rodin is very popular and does a bustling lunch. By all means, make reservations, even if you have to come back in an hour. Charles Azzi is a delightful man who speaks several languages, and both days we were there we heard at least 4 different languages being spoken by the patrons. They make both Gallettes and Crepes. They were also willing to give us a dessert crepe on a galette- delicious!
Breizh Café- This bustling restaurant in Marais is hugely popular in part because of David Lebovitz’s glowing blog post about them. That aside, it’s easy to see why people keep coming back. The food is delicious and the staff are friendly. Do not even think about showing up without a reservation. They are aware of gluten-free and assured me when I asked that their galettes were without gluten.
A final bit of advice
If you are going to the time and expense to travel all the way to Paris, please, please, please take the time to learn at least a little French. I never would have believed that English speakers traveling in a foreign country would actually have the temerity to approach a shop owner/restaurant owner/host/person etc.. and just start speaking in English expecting to be understood, had I not seen it with my own eyes. On more than one occasion.
I highly recommend the Speak French with Michel Thomas CD’s. Not only are these the most logical ‘learn a new language’ CD’s I’ve encountered- Michel Thomas was a French Resistance fighter during WWII. He was captured, tortured and somehow managed to escape. After the war he moved to Beverly Hills and opened up a language school, and proceeded to teach language to others for fifty years. If that’s not enough to inspire you to learn a little French, I don’t know what is!