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How to Eat Gluten-Free While Studying Abroad In France

May 14, 2024
by Siah Potts
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How to Thrive as a Gluten-Free Study Abroad Student in France 

Wine, cheese, and bread are what come to mind when French food is the subject of conversation, so as a gluten-free traveler, I was expecting to encounter some challenges in my decision to study abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. While one cannot reduce the richness of French culture to these three things, there’s truth to be found in the stereotype that these elements, especially bread, are interwoven into day-to-day life in France. The outlook isn’t entirely accommodating being a gluten-free individual living in France, but I’m here to share my experience and encourage you along the way. 

My Personal Journey 

I’ve been gluten-free for four years while living in the U.S., with a shorter period spent living in Mexico, and now, France! While I can tolerate cross contamination, my body generally becomes inflamed when I consume wheat products. Through choosing a gluten-free diet, my quality of living has been heightened. I’m now intentional about what I put into my body and my health consciousness has progressed.  

A display case with food on it

The holy grail of gluten-free bread! Everything is so beautiful I'm always swept up in a sudden urge to become a baker. 

That isn’t to say that it’s an easy path to take. In many ways, culture and community may rely on food to bring people together and it’s not attainable for me to simply “eat whatever is placed before me.” I learned to be upfront about my needs and to offer solutions so that I can share a part of the connection! We’re pleasantly living in a world that’s progressing towards a wide range of accommodation and understanding of individuals’ needs. It’s helpful to remember to be kind and patient towards people who don’t understand your situation, as we’re all experiencing different lives.  

Baguette Culture 

Many countries are very accommodating to gluten sensitivities, but I haven’t found this to be the case in France. The average French diet contains bread, cookies, or pastries in almost every meal or snack, and they place a heavy significance on what I’m terming, “baguette culture.” Baguette culture refers to the importance of a trip to a local bakery of choice to buy fresh baked bread for the day. Because bread is so highly esteemed in France, there’s sometimes almost a lack of comprehension towards people who may not be able to consume it. There are significantly less gluten intolerances in France, which may be because of higher quality of ingredients or strict crop regulations, but unfortunately, this means that a gluten-free lifestyle is still a bit foreign and underrepresented in the French food scene.  

A hand holding a piece of bread

A tear & share baguette! I originally didn’t know why the shape was so bizarre, but discovered it's made like this to walk and eat a baguette in portioned pieces… possibly with a friend! 

Dining Out 

Here’s my recommendation for dining gluten-free in France: Choose restaurants that don’t serve traditionally French food. I know that sounds like strange advice for someone who wants to live in, and experience, France, but France is a food capital of the world—renowned for great chefs and centrally located as a culture hub for Europe and the Middle East. If French cuisine doesn’t cater towards your needs, there are bound to be excellent restaurants nearby offering food from other cultures and regions of the world, which are still a part of France’s food economy.  

A friend of mine and I bonded over trying restaurants in the Aix-en-Provence area and we set out with the common goal of “gluten-free and cheap!” We tried Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisine, all of which offered many options catering towards us, and the food was amazing.  

On the Hunt: Gluten-Free Bakeries  

Gluten-free bakeries do exist in France! I like to think of them as rare gems… more valuable because they’re hidden and one of a kind. There’s usually one per major city so when I’m visiting new places, I do a Google Maps search for “sans gluten” and the treasure hunt begins! Access to these special boulangeries and patisseries isn’t a guarantee and sometimes requires walking the extra mile, which can be frustrating when there are regular bakeries on every street. Instead of becoming disheartened by this, I worked on gratitude that amazing gluten-free bakeries do exist, and they’re unique, and high-quality!  

Being gluten-free in France can be an opening to build a community. I was blessed to have a great, celiac-friendly bakery that’s a ten-minute walk from my apartment called “La Manufacture Bio.” During my time living in AIX, I went out about twice a week to order two baguettes, occasionally tried a new pastry, and conversed with the lady who runs the front of the shop. I don’ speak French fluently, but she was patient and kind with me working towards communication and I’m appreciative of having a routine  based around exceptional bread and friendly faces. 

A group of bread on a table

My regular order: two baguettes and whichever pastry called to me.  

The Most Notable Gluten-Free Bakeries: 

Mama Baker 

Mama Baker is a walk-in bakery with gluten-free baked goods. Cross contamination. I ordered a citrus cranberry bread loaf and enjoyed it immensely. Check it out at 13 Rue de Lépante, 06000 Nice.

Les Gasteliers 

Les Gasteliers is a beautiful café/bakery/pastry shop in Lyon, France. Celiac-friendly. I bought a ginormous pain au raisin and had to hold myself back from purchasing another. Their other pastry options were stunning so maybe stop in and try them all. Their address is 123 Rue de Sèze, 69006 Lyon.

A hand holding a pastry

The most delicious pain au raisin from Les Gasteliers. 

La Manufacture Bio 

In my opinion, La Manufacture Bio is the best gluten-free bakery in the South of France. Celiac-friendly. The primary employees speak French, English, and Spanish and are exceptionally kind. I recommend their baguettes, pain au raisins, and brioches sucrées. Visit them at 18 Rue Courteissade, 13100 Aix-en-Provence.

A store with different types of bread

A glimpse of the pastry shelf in La Manufacture Bio. It’s so hard to walk by without something catching my eye.  

Gluten-Friendly Hacks: 

  • Macarons are a well-known French specialty that are always gluten-free. They’re made with almond flour and are delicious.  

  • In place of France’s love for biscuits and cookies: rice cakes with a thin layer of dark chocolate, which can be found in the biscuit section of the grocery stores.  

  • There usually is a very small gluten-free section in larger grocery stores, ask an employee where to find it. 

  • Rice noodles were my favorite pasta substitution in France. They can be found in regular or Asian grocery stores and prepared however you enjoy pasta. Yum! 


Siah Potts is the Content Creator - Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is currently studying at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
 
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