Gluten-free in Galicia

Hotel Costa Vella

Breakfast at Hotel Costa Vella, complete with gluten-free bread

Deciding to uproot myself and move to Spain came with its fair share of anxiety. A large part of that anxiety was due, of course, to the uncertainty of what I would be eating for the next year. And since Spain is a hefty player in the culinary world, I wanted to maximize  Surprisingly, though, being gluten-free in Spain was a breeze. Since I lived in Santiago de Compostela, this post specifically addresses going gluten-free in Galicia, though it is largely applicable to Spain as a whole.

At the supermercado

Living on a tight budget, this is where I got most of my grub. Overall, I found that Mercadona, Carrefour, and Familia had the best selection of gluten-free specialty foods – everything from magdalenas (small breakfast muffins) to pasta to cereal to flour. The frozen food section of the Carrefour in Santiago even carries gluten-free frozen empanadas and churros. When looking outside the specialty gluten-free section, scan labels for the words “sin gluten” (gluten-free). Spain does a pretty good job at labeling their products.

My most uncomfortable experience with grocery food was not actually caused by gluten. With many brands, eating a gluten-free loaf of sandwich bread (“pan de molde”) or baguette (“pan rústico”) is like eating a brick of vegetable shortening. Namely because the second ingredient is vegetable shortening. Check ingredients before you buy to avoid digestive displeasure.

Dining out

Behold, I give you the two keys to your eating success:

Soy celíaca.

No puedo comer gluten.

With these two phrases, Galicia became my oyster. The majority of restaurants understood the implications of these phrases (perhaps with some help from “no harina” – no flour). In my experience, Galician cuisine uses straightforward ingredients. What you see is, more than likely, what you get.

Galician cuisine is heavy on seafood. Seafood is often prepared simply, though there are some specialty seafood dishes that use sauces (ex. almejas a la marinera, or clams with marinera sauce) that you should avoid if you cannot ascertain the sauce ingredients. Caldo gallego, a traditional Galician soup, can also be troublesome (but worth investigating because it is scrumptious). Seafood a la plancha (grilled) or al vapor (steamed) is just as common and a safer bet. Food that is cocido has been boiled; potatoes are commonly cooked this way. Spanish tortilla, a simple, savory staple often served as a tapa, is traditionally composed of potato, oil, and egg – also a good go-to item.

The Asociación de Celíacos de Galicia has compiled a PDF of restaurants that have received training in how to safely prepare gluten-free meals for consumers. However, I never used this list even once and was easily accommodated everywhere I dined. Additionally, if you feel less than confident in your Spanish-speaking abilities, Celiac Travel offers a great free Spanish dining card.

On planes and trains

Once upon a time, on a long-haul train from Santiago de IMG_1745Compostela to Madrid, I wandered into the dining car and found that it sold gluten-free pastries. I was elated and ate my calorie bomb in blissful appreciation. In general, however, the dining car is friend to neither your wallet nor your stomach. Be prepared, be prepared. Pack nuts, fruit, and sandwiches to get you through your journey. The same goes for air travel. Once upon a time in the Málaga airport (in Andalucía, not Galicia, mind you) I found two happy oddities: a gluten-free brownie at Starbucks and a gluten-free vending machine (!). Again: exception, not the rule. Airports lean heavily on the sandwich side. Be prepared.

Hope your stomach is as happy as mine!

-MB

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