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The Gluten-Free Guide to Paris

Have your cake and eat it too

A baguette still warm from the oven, a flaky pain au chocolat, tender brioche, éclairs, palmiers, madeleines, canelés, a decadent Paris-Brest—for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, Paris is a relentless march of glorious things you can’t eat. But focusing on foods that are off-limits obscures just how many gluten-free delights do exist in La Ville Lumière.

Like much of the rest of Western Europe and the United States, France has seen a rise in diners looking to avoid wheat. But after years of lagging behind countries like Italy in terms of catering to this population, France is now in general much more welcoming—and Paris especially so. The city's deep reverence for food makes this temple of bread and palace of pâtisserie one of the best places to eat gluten-free in Europe, if not the entire world.

A gluten-free tart in Paris is filled with custard made with egg yolks and fresh milk, and topped with small, perfect strawberries dusted in powdered sugar. The city's gluten-free bread isn't the starchy, crumbly, pre-sliced, mass-produced stuff: it ranges from fluffy and soft to dense and dark, redolent with nutty flavor. And that's just the classically gluten-heavy dishes. A number of Parisian delights are traditionally gluten free, most notably the divine macaron. In addition to bakeries, restaurants are also relatively simple to navigate. Sure, dining out gluten-free can be stressful, but the culture of dining in Paris is one of being taken care of by experts, so be prepared to extend more trust than you might back home. Effusively stating merci if there's a language gap will go a long way. (Here's a full rundown on French dining etiquette.) So go forth and dine your way through Paris, where you can now have your gluten-free cake and eat it too.

Dedicated Gluten-Free Bakeries

All hail Chambelland. This incredibly ambitious bakery is entirely gluten-free; they make their own rice flour from scratch using their own mill (which means there's definitely no wheat contamination, since the entire process, from their growers in Italy and France to the Parisian bake shop, is fully controlled). Chambelland's foccacia-like square breads are available in a variety of flavors both sweet and savory, made without the gums or preservatives present in so many American gluten-free options. The quality and freshness of the flour impart nuanced flavor to all the breads; don't miss the five-grain, a showstopper of texture and an excellent example of the pure, almost primal nourishment that can be found in a truly great loaf. Also available are a selection of beautiful tarts and feather-light chouquettes, as well as sandwiches to eat-in or take away. You'll definitely want to take some bread back to your hotel or apartment for your breakfast, assuming it lasts that long. Swing around the corner to the Verre Volé provisions store and pick up some stellar French butter to spread on it, too. 14 Rue Ternaux, +33 1 43 55 07 30, website, 54 bis Rue de la Folie Méricourt, +33 1 48 03 17 34

Pastry chef Marie Tagliaferro's Helmut Newcake is the place to go for the more delicate and confectionary side of French baking—i.e., where to get your éclair fix. A trained pastry chef who is herself gluten intolerant, Tagliaferro made it her mission to create safe versions of the classics of French pastry. Her bakery, run with her husband, serves a wide away of beautifully composed pastry classics as well as more trendy French additions like le cheesecake. Generally allergy-conscious, the bakery also caters to lactose- and nut-free diets. 28 Rue Vignon, +33 9 81 31 28 31, website

Chambelland. Meghan McCarron

Navigating Non-GF Bakeries and Cafes

The single most important—and potentially life-changing—thing to know about Paris bakeries is that most macarons are gluten-free, as they're usually made with almond flour (although it's worth double-checking at bakeries that don't specialize in macarons, just in case wheat flour has been added for lightness). A large number of Parisian bakeries serve them in a variety of hues and flavors, and the results range from delicious to transcendent. Pierre Hermé, the world-famous pastry chef with several shops clustered around the city's tonier neighborhoods, offers lots of surprising flavor combinations to help blunt the pain of not being able to have a pain au chocolat. (Here's the full lowdown on macarons in Paris.) Various locations, website

Meringues, ultralight desserts of whipped egg whites and sugar, are also available in many French bakeries, which will often display their ethereal, cloud-like formations in the window. But, counter-intuitively, be careful about nut-flour cakes like financiers—they will almost always also contain a bit of wheat flour.

All Eric Kayser bakeries (there are 21 locations) label all the ingredients in everything they sell, so it's a safer place to scope out options beyond macarons and meringues, especially if you are extra-sensitive or have celiac disease. A select handful of Eric Kaysers also offer gluten-free bread, but it sells out quickly. Various locations, website

Another unmissable item on your gluten-free tour of traditional French food are savory crêpes made with buckwheat flour (often labeled sarrasin or ble noir). Most restaurants serve them with a bit of wheat flour mixed in, but a few specialists go full buckwheat, to spectacular results. French buckwheat is smokier and more complex than anything stateside, and the heft of the flavor combined with the delicacy of the crêpe is a true pleasure. The real standout is Breizh Café (109 Rue Vieille du Temple, +33 1 42 72 13 77, website) in the Marais, especially because their crêpes can be paired with a large selection of funky Breton ciders. A more casual and relaxed option (which is definitely off the tourist map) is West Country Girl in the 11th (6 Passage Saint-Ambrois, +33 1 47 00 72 54, website). The classic order is a complete, with ham and cheese. Don't mess around with anything else.

There's a growing number of "bio" (organic) boulangeries and bakeries around the city that might also have gluten-free options. Panifica offers a gluten-free buckwheat bread cut into thin, hot slices in-house. A few other breads alongside it are advertised as "low" gluten (probably because they were only partially made with wheat flour), so it's worth confirming that something is sans gluten (gluten free). 15 Avenue Trudaine, +33 1 53 20 91 18, Facebook

Trendy Cafes & Restaurants

This is sort of a fuzzy designation—Chambelland and Helmut Newcake are stylish as hell—but there's a large swath of internationally chic, ambiguously cosmopolitan cafés and restaurants in Paris that, like their kin in Brooklyn and Mexico City and Melbourne and Singapore and Cape Town and Berlin, are more hip to gluten-free needs than other types of restaurants are. These are all promising signs that a café offers at least a gluten-free cake or cookie, if not a full meal: chalkboard menus, vintage furniture, proudly displayed bags of indie coffee, a curb sign exhorting you in English to "chill out," forest creatures mounted on the wall, forest creatures in the name, a visible record collection, fixie bikes parked outside, a creeping sense of dislocation warring with your desire for said gluten-free cake.

Two cafés that fall smack into this category are Bears and Racoons and Thank You, My Deer (not kidding about those animal names). Bears and Racoons (23 Rue Richard-Lenoir, +33 9 51 67 87 71, Facebook) serves an excellent spread of sandwiches on gluten-free bread among many other options like brownies, muffins, and gluten-free beer, and Thank You, My Deer (112 Rue Saint-Maur, +33 1 71 93 16 24, website) serves gluten-free breakfast, lunch, and brunch (le brunch is very on-trend in Paris right now), as well as their own line of take-away mixes and cookies.

Lots of other coffee shops and vegetable-heavy restaurants also have you covered.

Rice pudding at L'Ami Jean Helen Rosner

Traditional French Restaurants

In general, France is a much more formal society than the United States, and any interactions with your servers should be accompanied by a great deal of gratitude and patience. For most of your restaurant meals, you'll make a reservation either by phone or online; when you do, be sure to let the restaurant know you're gluten-intolerant. Places from casual bistros to fine-dining tasting menus will more often than not be able to work around any issues, as long as they have enough of a heads-up.

Traditional French cooking can involve a lot of imperceptible fortification with flour, but don't let that stop you from exploring the best French cuisine Paris has to offer. Every waiter I spoke to understood what sans gluten means; it's probably good to use some French up front — "Je suis désolé(e), mais je ne mange pas du gluten" (I'm sorry, but I do not eat gluten) definitely gets the job done. If you're unsure of your French, printing out one of these dining cards is also an option. But be warned that they tend to make waitstaff very concerned, because of the cards' aggressive emphasis on the fact that even a small amount of gluten can make the bearer sick. That is mostly a good thing, but prepare for some extra hovering or attention from the kitchen.

The best bistros in Paris do their cooking from scratch, and the staff is extremely well-versed in the recipes and kitchen practices. Lunch at the classic bistro Chez L'Ami Jean (27 Rue Malar, +33 1 47 05 86 89, website) is stellar—the menu changes regularly, but you can't go wrong with a generous pile of razor clams, followed by luscious, only-in-France veal sweetbreads—and ends with their iconic, gigantic bowl of rice pudding. Superstar chef Daniel Rose's La Bourse et La Vie (12 Rue Vivienne, +33 1 42 60 08 83, Facebook) offers a great combination of extra-friendly service and refined French cooking; its menu focuses on sauce-heavy dishes that could include flour, but the confident servers are more than happy to walk a gluten-averse diner through the menu. Servers at both restaurants are used to international diners, and speak fluent English.

Other Restaurants and Resources

Lead image: Meghan McCarron

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