La Vida Delicioso: Gluten-free Spain

Sarah’s post on gluten-free Spanish food the other day reminded me of something very important: I haven’t yet talked about how easy it was to eat gluten-free in Spain! And for goodness’ sake, if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s talk about eating.

My experience was limited to two cities – Madrid and Seville – and my Spanish was limited to a few choice phrases and what was printed on my gluten-free dining card. Unsurprisingly, I managed just fine; both cities are popular with students, tourists and ex-pats and there were plenty of English-speakers to help me out when I got confused.

In fact, harder than finding safe foods to eat was getting used to Spanish timing: it takes a while to get accustomed to a 10pm dinner. Happily, there were plenty of places to snack and plenty of tasty things to try as I bided my time until then.

So what’s a girl to eat, when the café con leche just won’t suffice?

I arrived in Seville armed with a list of sights and sounds and sabor to try, written by a friend on the fancy tablecloth at our best gluten-free meal in Venice. The next time I’m in town, I plan to try them all out; for this first trip I instead relied on the expert palate of a lovely new friend who I met via this very blog (more on her, and the company she works for, very soon).

There are not strong enough words with which I can recommend the restaurant we ate lunch at: Soravito, in Por Venir, near the hospital. It’s run by the recently-diagnosed celiac Nuria and her French husband Florien. Between the two of them they’ve created a comfortable, local atmosphere with some of the most refined, international dishes I’ve ever eaten; now that Nuria has to avoid gluten, it’s also a perfect place for a safe snack.

One of my dreams is to walk into a restaurant and order one of everything. If that dream comes true at Soravito, so much the better. My photos did not come out well, so you’ll have to imagine: unctuous steak tartare, thin squares of seared tuna with wasabi and sesame, crisp salad greens topped with dried fruits, nuts and cheese, a half-breast of tender magret duck topped with a crunch of salt, buttery halves of fingerling potatoes. And then of course the wine. All of it was gluten-free and fantastic.

I was also happy to learn that most of the supermarkets in Sevilla – especially those run by Mercadona – test all of their store brands for gluten. Anything that’s safe is marked clearly “Sin Gluten”:

Of course, there are also plenty of delicious fresh items at the local markets. Avoid the ire of the stall-keepers by pointing to what you want instead of reaching to grab it yourself.

I can happily recommend the Triana Backpackers as inexpensive, ideally located, beautiful, and equipped with a kitchen perfect for preparing your own snacks.

Then came Madrid, where I bought an embarrassing amount of Spanish cheese (note: make sure it’s vacuum-packed so you can fly with it!) and drank far too little gluten-free Basque cider, which was not cloyingly sweet like many British or American ciders can be.

It would have been impossible for a restaurant to beat out my meal in Seville, but I found the staff helpful and the gluten-free food safe and satisfying at both Viva la Vida, a tiny buffet-style vegetarian marketplace on c/ Huertas, in central Madrid and Dehesa de Solana, a small chain of farm-to-table cafés and grocers.

Another great place to visit in Madrid if you’re looking for a variety of foods is the Mercado San Miguel, which plays host to more than a dozen different vendors with everything from frozen yogurt to oysters. Be prepared to duke it out with other tourists, but know that you’ll be able to find something for everyone here. Not far away on the Plaza Mayor is an outpost of Santiveri, which stocks plenty of gluten-free breads and crackers to take with you as you wander.

Have you had any gluten-free experiences in Spain? How’d they go?

5 thoughts on “La Vida Delicioso: Gluten-free Spain”

  1. When I stayed in Gijón, a northern city in Asturias, I had no problems finding gluten free food. The little supermarket had an entire section of GF food, including the best croissants I’ve ever had in my life. I was in heaven!

  2. Great information!! I felt a bit left out on my trip to Eastern Europe a couple of years ago as I had just gone Gluten-Free 3 months prior and was still getting the hang of it. I’m going to Spain on my honeymoon in a couple of months and am so glad to hear you were able to find great GF food and eateries!

  3. I will be going to Spain in the spring and will definitely be in Madrid and hopefully Seville. Anybody have additional recommendations for these cities and Toledo? my Spanish is rusty, did you use a phrase book or card to communicate your food needs? Were the airlines accommodating with GF meals.? I am open to all suggestions. Thanks, Debbie B.

  4. Hello! I just want to comment on the Viva La Vida location in La Latina, Madrid. We called ahead to ask if they could provide gluten free food for a celiac and the manager/owner said “no hay problema.” However, upon arrival, the hostess explained to us that since this restaurant is a buffet, they are not careful in the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination and would not be able to prepare a special dish for me. She said that she understood the severity of celiac disease and while the manager/owner on the phone tells people it’s no problem, she always is honest with celiac patrons about what they can offer. In short, she recommended that I should not eat there. Luckily, just around the corner is El Arrozal, a paella restaurant that is on the Celiac Association of Madrid’s website. However, it was quite disappointing that Viva La Vida (at least this location – sounds like you had some success at the other location) would not be able to accommodate. I have had success at El Arrozal twice now, Da Nicola, Cafe Nebraska, and Pizza Sana, in addition to picking up gf products at El Corte Ingles.

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