Traveling To A Foreign Country…How To Eat Gluten-Free

¿Cómo se dice   GLUTEN-FREE   en español?

I travel for a living, therefore, I eat in many restaurants, and I do it often in foreign countries.

First, In languages that I can get my tongue around, like French or Spanish, I learn how to say “I am allergic to gluten”.  I like the website Google Translate.  This is what Google Translate translated when I wrote: “I am allergic to gluten” to Spanish: Soy alérgico al gluten.  But, after discussing this with a native speaker, they advised me to say that I am allergic to wheat and flour (Soy alérgico al trigo y la harina).  The native Columbian-Spanish speaker advised this because in many rural parts, gluten is not a known word.  I like this advice, what is the point of saying that I am allergic to something that does not translate?

Before leaving to a non-English speaking destination, I do research at home on google translate.  I translate a few gluten-free phrases for eating out, and then print what I think represents what I am trying to say.  (Things like: Do you have a gluten-free menu?  Do you have gluten-free options?  I am allergic to Gluten. etc,)  Next, there is always someone in a hotel or tourism office that can help you to pronounce the phrase as well as advise  you on your best approach as exactly what to say.  Sometimes the person helping is willing to write my questions in their language, on a piece of paper.  This person is usually familiar with the local customs and level of understanding celiac disease/gluten-free.  Let me be clear here, the translator may not understand what gluten-free or celiac disease is, but, they will usually understand the comprehension level of the population that I am visiting, with regards to the population knowing what gluten is, or not.

I was in Brugge, and absolutely stood no chance of pronouncing anything correctly in Flemish.  So, I went to the tourism office, explained what I needed and the representative was kind enough to write my allergies on a piece of paper which I presented at restaurants.  People have been very kind in helping me with this eating out, gluten-free issue in a foreign country.  It is really very simple, just make sure that the person helping you understands that they must convey (on your behalf) that you have zero tolerance for your ‘allergen’.  And if you are in Brugge, go to that delicious french fry stand (there are two, and both are awesome) in the main square, french fries ONLY in their fryer.  And by the way, this is where fries originated.  Yum!  (And, another by-the-way, gluten-free Belgium Beer, gluten-free moules and gluten-free fries, why aren’t you planning your trip right now???)  Or dine in a restaurant there with ease, satisfactorily eating gluten-free fries and of course moules!

If you feel uncomfortable, as usual, there is always fruit and a salad, but do not forget about the grocery stores, many stores in Europe and some of the big cities in South America have gluten-free options.  And, don’t forget to look up the translation for “gluten-free” so that you can look for it in a foreign language on the label!  Often the store will have gluten-free items in one area, thank you nice store people!

I would like to emphasize that the google translator is not always exactly what you need, but it is a good starting point.  Print the translation and then ask a person that is educated in both languages if it makes sense.

Bon Voyage!

Here are two gluten-free guide books:

I have only poked around on these sites a limited amount due to the fact, that I do pretty well on my own.  But, I thought that I would include them if you are newer to achieving gluten-free in a foreign tongue.  Good luck!



  1. Thank you for this advice! I am going on my first trip to Europe this summer and am concerned about the language barrier and accomplishing gluten-free dining! These are some great ideas that you have presented here. When I get time, I will check out the websites that you recommended. I am open to any more travel tips that you may have. Thanks again.

  2. Nicole

    I just got back from Milan and had a good conversation with an Italian speaker on the plane I was on. She said that usually in Italy you are safe from MSG in your food and MSG is big for having gluten in it. She was a fellow Celiac and said that in some countries she goes to you have to watch out for added MSG because people don’t understand it contains gluten.

  3. Judi Wallace

    I have enough problems trying to eat out in a restaurant in Los Angeles, USA! I can not imagine going to a country where I do not speak the language and tackling my gluten-free issues. You make it sound so easy. Maybe you have gotten better at it because you travel frequently to foreign destinations. Honestly, I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but I can order a salad in a restaurant, clearly state that I can not have any dairy, bread, croutons etc. and the salad will come with one or all of these items on it!

    And then, if they take it back, upon return, I am looking for the crouton crumbs, because I am convinced that they just took it back to the kitchen to pick the crumbs off of the salad. I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but we are talking about being sick or not being sick and some uncaring waiter. I would like some advice on how to achieve eating gluten-free in the U.S.A.!

    Thanks for your tips.

    • To be honest, I think that I have more difficulty in the USA when eating at restaurant that does not have a gluten-free menu, than I do in a foreign country. Perhaps that is because in a foreign country, we are trying so intensely to understand each other. In other words, we are both present in the moment and concentrating on what is being said.

      In the U.S. if I do not know that the restaurant is gluten-free friendly, I go on my gut instinct. Here in Denver, so many restaurants understand gluten-free, but when I recently traveled to the Youngstown, OH area, they were completely unfamiliar with the term gluten-free. If I get a bad vibe, I leave the establishment, or go with the basic salad and vegetables.

      In general, when I am in a restaurant that does not have a gluten-free menu; I sometimes, wonder if I have a communication problem with wait staff. I too will say something like “I can not have bread, bread crumbs, flour etc.” then my salad arrives with a beautiful peace of flat bread lovingly placed on top. Really? As weird as this sounds, when I am with my husband, I have him order for me and they usually get it right. Is it me? Is it my female voice? Is it because they like the looks of my husband? Who knows? I don’t know! Sometimes the waiter just isn’t present in their job.

      Lastly, if I feel like it is going to be difficult to achieve a gluten-free meal, I ask to speak to the manager first. Usually, I try to ask about gluten-free before being seated, which of course isn’t always an option when others are choosing the restaurant. I know that it can be awkward, like you are stepping on the waiter’s toes to talk to the manager, but I manage to pull it off.

      Good luck, I hope this helps.

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