We took a family vacation to Barcelona, Spain this summer. Now that my two year-old nephew David has been diagnosed, we have four people in the family that are gluten-intolerant, and three of them were along on this trip!
It's particularly difficult when you have a young child with Celiac, as their needs are very immediate. It's one thing for me to find myself without anything to eat. I can always decide that Sangria will be sufficient until I get back to the hotel and have a Laurabar. Kids, however, need to eat regularly and will not understand if everyone else is eating and they can't.
We found it somewhat challenging to eat gluten free in Barcelona. The first problem was the language barrier, although most waiters seemed to understand "sin gluten." (We had a native Spanish speaker with us, but Latin American Spanish and Castilian Spanish are different, not even getting into the fact that many of the menus were actually in Catalan, a distinctly different dialect of Spanish.) The second problem was that I am not a big seafood eater, and the two-year-old, well, you try getting a two-year-old to eat things with tentacles.
The biggest problem, however, was the meal times. Lunch time in Barcelona ends around 2 pm and dinner starts at 8 pm. In between, most restaurants are closed. I knew that going in, but I had read that tapas bars are open pretty much all day, so I figured we would just do that. Because, you know, five kids.
The problem is that, even though the tapas bars are open, they generally do not have a kitchen staff from 2-8. All the food available is pre-made, and the vast majority is sitting on a piece of bread. They can't go make one for you that isn't on a piece of bread, because the kitchen is closed. We ran into that at several establishments, though we had a couple that were able to make some minor accommodations.
|The kids enjoying the tapas at Ciudad Condal.|
The best of the tapas bars that we visited was Ciudad Condal. They opened at 10 am and stayed open all day. They were one of the few places that served hot food during the day, and they were able to accommodate requests. The solomillo (miniature beef filet) was excellent and the brocheta d'escamarlans was basically plain jumbo shrimp on top of bread, and they were able to bring it without the bread.
|Tapas restaurant on Ramba Catalunya|
They also had an excellent potatoes bravas (we asked for the sauces on the side for the little guy), as well as a "tortilla espanola" which is completely unlike a Latin American tortilla; it's a potato omelette! These two dishes were available in most tapas bars and are pretty reliably gluten free.
|Potatoes Bravas at Ciudad Condal|
If you are able to wait until 8 pm, more choices open up. My favorite meal was at Copasetic , a cozy little restaurant on Carrer de la Diputació, which is still very close to all the major hot spots, but kind of tucked away from the crowd.
I made a reservation through Allergy Chefs.es , an INCREDIBLY helpful service with a list of allergy friendly restaurants. They will contact the restaurant and make a reservation for you. In my case, they actually contacted the chef and convinced him to open the kitchen for us at 7 pm, instead of 8 pm, on the grounds that we had 5 children with us. I am guessing he didn't want 5 children in his restaurant during prime time anymore than we wanted to be there at that time. We were enormously grateful for their flexibility and for the assistance of Allergy Chefs.
Copasetic had menus available in Spanish or English, and most of their dishes are naturally gluten free or can be made gluten free. They also have lactose free milk available, which was great for the kids!
|Menu at Copasetic|
All their crepes are made with rice flour, so I had the "bacon, chicken, cheddar, and cherry tomato" crepe. OMG. It was sooooo good. I am going to be trying to re-create that at home. It was the best thing I ate on the whole trip. Wow.
|Chicken Crepes at Copasetic|
Little David ate a deconstructed hamburger. They could have put it on a gluten free bun, but with a baby it's easier to just cut it up into pieces without the bread. That's a little baked potato there on the left, and they served his salad in a little jar. Too cute!
|David-friendly food at Copasetic|
The other kids, of course, were dying to try the dessert crepes, so we shared a chocolate/banana and a lemon crepe. Surprisingly, I liked the lemon crepe better. It's hard to imagine anything beating chocolate, but the lemon was really good.
|Lemon crepe at Copasetic|
Note that the website says they "serve food all day long." Do not be fooled by this at Copasetic or any other place in Spain. They are open, but they only serve pre-made foods outside of the lunch and dinner hours. We ran into this again at Pudding, a kid-friendly cafe in the L' Eixample area. The website claimed that they could make their sandwiches on gluten free bread, and that the cafe was open all day. However, at 5 pm, they told me there was absolutely nothing that was available gluten free at that time. They were only serving cake and a few other pre-made items, like quiche and meat pies. With no chef in the restaurant at that time, the servers couldn't even answer questions about ingredients. We ended up leaving without being fed, and, on their recommendation, went to a salad place nearby where the kids had grilled chicken and I had hummus and veggies,
There was one other snag in our culinary adventure. Apparently much of the country shuts down for the month of August. That's right: they close for August! How can you close your business for a whole month? Weird. At any rate, we were unable to try the marvelous sounding restaurants described on Gluten Free Boston Girl's blog. Both Bar Tomas and Pollo A L'ast were closed because, you know, August.
I had great luck at El Corte Inglés where I found an incredible selection of gluten free products. I stocked up on snacks for the plane ride home, and the non-gluten free kids devoured my stash of chocolate cookies. Rats! Next time I'll have to put them in a box labeled "broccoli." That should keep them away. :)
|El Corte Inglés|
All in all, it was definitely a challenge, but the kids were troopers about it all, and we got to experience another culture and it's cuisine.