Eating gluten-free on the Camino de Santiago is absolutely possible! Even pleasant.
Here are some tips:
1. Look for places that are serving pincho de tortilla de patata (Spanish omelette) for breakfast.
It’s mostly potato, held together by some egg. Yum. One time I even saw it where they made an “sandwich” by putting ham and cheese in between slices of omelette “bread.”
Tortilla always came with a piece of bread, which I usually gave away to other hungry pilgrims. But you could always order yours sin pan, if you remember.
2. Do not be excited by albergues serving breakfast.
It is probably buttery toast or some delicious looking pastry you can’t have.
3. Always carry extra snacks.
I found it fairly common for people to not carry much food because it was heavy to carry. This will strategy will not work for people with dietary restrictions. Here’s why:
In the early afternoon, you are done walking. You are very hungry. You are in a small town and the fruterías and supermercardos are closed for the afternoon siesta.
There is a vending machine full of cookies. A bar selling sandwiches and deep fried food. Friends offer you a bit of what they have left over, but you can’t have any as it’s all wheat based.
Dinner is not served until 7:30, very early by Spanish standards. But that seems like many long, hungry hours away.
This is not a fun way to spend an afternoon.
As a result, I always carried some nuts and fruit with me. Or these magical packs of gluten free corn cakes (pictured above), the Spanish answer for rice cakes.
4. Lunch time: sandwiches without bread.
One day I had 250 grams of cheese for lunch. That was so gross, that I diversified to both chorizo, fruit and cheese from then on.
It’s pretty much the same as hiking and camping at home. People who eat bread may pity you, but you’ll survive.
5. Dinner: pilgrim menus are your friend.
Everywhere you go, you will see pilgrim menus for dinner. They are two courses followed up by dessert. The awesome thing is that you can eat almost everything!
I usually had paella or salad for my first course (which came with tun and eggs — very filling), meat for my second course and then ice cream or flan for dessert.
6. Beware the surprise deep fried items
One time I ordered fish as my second course of a pilgrim menu, and was surprised it was battered and deep fried. I was able to switch it out for another meat no problem by explaining I was allergic to wheat.
Often I was also surprised that “potatoes” meant french fries. And packaged french fries are often coated in wheat, so I usually skip them.
8. “Gluten free” is everywhere
Packaging on meat and snacks was often labeled “sin gluten.” Some restaurant menus, even in tiny towns with 20 people in them, had clearly marked gluten free options. It was much easier to find items than when I travel sometimes in the states.
With that said, just like at home, some people in restaurants don’t know what is in the food they are serving. Sometimes they will just heating packaged food, rather than cooking from scratch. Like I do at home, I err on the side of knowing what is usually in a typical dish and not eating things that are risky.
8. Learn some basic Spanish vocabulary around your food restrictions
I also focused on some particular food words, by checking out this gluten-free restaurant card.
9. Be flexible
I am very allergic to wheat, and accidentally eating even a small amount gives me immediate breathing problems and hives. So this is a firm dietary restriction for me.
But I usually also limit eggs and dairy at home, as my digestive system is much happier for it. (I’ll spare you the details there…) But while on the camino, I ate all the eggs and dairy I wanted, so I could still have a good time and not be hungry.
If you have any dietary restrictions that don’t severely impact your health, I’d suggest being as flexible as you can! I heard from several people that bread usually bothers them at home, but did not in Europe. So if it’s not an allergy or celiac disease, you may want to give bread a try and see if you can enjoy having some additional food options.
What about you?
What advice do you have for people walking the Camino de Santiago with food restrictions? Leave a comment below!