Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Living Gluten Free In Europe

Living gluten free is a joy in Europe.
I have wondered for a long time why it is easier to purchase delicious gluten free food in Europe than it is in the United States.  

By 'delicious', I mean food that tastes sinfully good.  

My litmus test for really good gluten free food is my husband, since he honestly doesn't like the taste of anything without gluten.  (I've been gluten free so long, I honestly can't remember the flavor of wheat... but he assures me it is amazing.)

He's the same guy that is still a little embarrassed by my diet, even now after ten years.  The guy that awkwardly jokes with every waiter, "I'll take her gluten," and sometimes threatens to print tee-shirts that say "I (heart) gluten."

So when he says he's impressed with something I'm savoring, it really means something.

We live in Europe now, but when we first came to stay here for an extended period of time with our kids two years ago, I had been really worried.  Would I be able to find any gluten free food?  What on Earth would I eat?  Would I have to cook everything at home... or would restaurants be able to accommodate my diet?

I wondered about this a lot; but my desire to see Italy was stronger than my worry about what I would eat while I was there.

As it turns out, Italy is an absolute mecca for insanely delicious gluten free food.  It was easier for me to find gluten free items at closing time on a Sunday at a tiny corner market in Lucca (when the entire town was shut down!) than it often has been for me to find it at your average Vons in California.  

Food is really important in Europe.  Not just what you eat, but how you eat it too.  

In Spain, where we'll be living for the next year or two, the entire country shuts down at lunchtime so that people can eat together with their family, friends or colleagues.  

Saturdays and Sundays are often day-long eating events, where large extended families and friends get together to eat (and drink, and laugh) all day long.  

It turns out that much of Europe views the need for a gluten free diet as something of a calamity that deserves support and attention.  If you cannot eat the delicious handmade pasta in Florence, it is a bit of a tragedy for both the waiter and the chef.  They feel terrible for you... they want to make it up to you... they work hard to create the best gluten-free meal for you possible.

I could weep when I think about the crazy-delicious gluten free pasta I've now eaten in Italy.  The pizza crust that had that perfect level of crispy and soft.  The cookies that melted in my mouth. Wow.

Grocery stores here have entire aisles devoted to allergen-free products, mainly gluten-free. 

Entire long aisles in grocery stores devoted to food allergies, with a special focus on gluten.
And so, while I haven't been blogging about my gluten free life for the past several years, I've been living it quite happily.  I'm grateful to have the chance to try out a wide variety of gluten free products not yet available in America... and I've decided to write about them from time to time.  

It seems like a handful of companies have a corner on the market for gluten free food in the USA, and every grocery store that carries anything gluten free has the same five products.  As someone living the gluten free lifestyle for almost 10 years now, this gets really old.

I'm going to try to introduce America to the really cool gluten-free food options I have found (and continue to find) here in Europe.  Maybe this will help pave the way for these other companies to find their footing in the U.S. market.  Better, maybe it will inspire more U.S. companies to figure out how to make better tasting gluten free food!

Honestly, I'd forgotten that food could taste this good. 

Even my husband now admits, from time to time when I give him a bite of my dinner or dessert, "Wow - that is actually really good.  I almost couldn't tell it was gluten free!"  High praise indeed.

Insanely delicious pastries from my favorite gluten free baked goods shop in Barcelona