Feasting in foreign lands is one of travel’s great pleasures. But if you follow a gluten-free diet, the prospect of indecipherable menus and unknown cuisines is enough to send you rummaging for an emergency snack bar (trust us, every gluten-free traveller has one).

The gluten-free diet eliminates wheat, barley and rye, the building blocks of most pastas and breads (and the secret ingredients in countless sauces and soups). Some people voluntarily follow the diet but others have no choice, like sufferers of coeliac (or celiac) disease. With good preparation and a steely eye on the menu, there is no destination you can’t devour – though if your health is on the line, always use resources like language cards to ensure your needs are understood. Here’s how to be a gluten-free glutton in eight very different countries.

Gluten-free travel: Someone holds a stick of mochi, backdropped by cherry blossoms in Japan © ntrirata / Getty Images
These colourful treats are a reliable gluten-free snack © ntrirata / Getty Images

Japan

Gluten-free friendliness: 3/10

Sushi, sashimi, rice dishes galore… you could be forgiven for picturing Japan as a dream destination for coeliacs. In reality, it’s extremely challenging. Blame the post-WWII influx of wheat to Japan, which established ramen noodles as a staple food and sprinkled flour into every sauce. Kindly chefs will do their darndest to feed you (especially if you’re armed with a language card) but facing unfamiliar dietary constraints, they are likely to make a mistake. Donburi bowls in which sashimi is laid across rice are often a safe and delicious option, while chewy mochi (rice-flour dumplings) make moreish desserts (or breakfasts, or bedtime snacks, we don’t judge). Tokyo has a minuscule range of gluten-free eateries, including rice-flour bakery Comehiro.

Dig in: we hope you like protein – sashimi is usually a safe bet (and an excellent conclusion to touring Tsukiji Fish Market).
Watch out: most soy sauces contain wheat, so make sure your ‘safe’ sashimi doesn’t arrive pre-splattered with the stuff.

Gluten-free travel: A plate of Parma ham and a glass of red wine in Italy © Anita Isalska / Lonely Planet
The best things in life are (gluten) free – Parma ham and red wine © Anita Isalska / Lonely Planet

Italy

Gluten-free friendliness: 8/10

Incredibly, the land of pizza and pasta is one of the best places in Europe to be gluten-free. Kids in Italy are routinely tested for coeliac disease, so awareness is high and numerous restaurants can offer gluten-free pasta or at least advise on alternative dishes. The biggest range of coeliac-friendly spots has sprouted in Rome, with standouts including Mama Eat for pizza and Sans de blé for pastries. It’s also worth nibbling your way around Emilia-Romagna, whose famous hams and cheeses are usually naturally gluten-free. Delizioso.

Dig in: say ‘sono celiaco/celiaca’ (masculine/feminine ‘I’m a coeliac’) and you'll know from the response if you've picked a restaurant that can cater.
Watch out: potato gnocchi and rice arancini sound gluten-free, but they’re rolled in crumbs or flour.

Gluten-free travel: A woman ponders the bounty of dried fruit and nuts at Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem © Anita Isalska / Lonely Planet
Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, a trove of snacks suited to coeliacs © Anita Isalska / Lonely Planet

Israel & the Palestinian Territories

Gluten-free friendliness: 7/10

Middle Eastern cuisines offer bread with practically everything. But nudge the basket of pita aside and you have a bounty of Mediterranean olives and veggies, smoky grilled aubergines, hummus (pure-blended sesame and chickpea), plus grilled meats and seafood. Jerusalem’s cosmopolitan dining scene accommodates gluten-free diets with ease: feast in Fresh Kitchen then grab quinoa cake from Village Green. Upmarket spots along the coast offer an increasingly gourmet experience, like Helena in Caesarea and world-famous seafood spot Uri Buri in Akko.

Dig in: shakshuka, eggs poached in spicy tomato, is the most filling breakfast you can slurp.
Watch out: avoid kebabs where meat or fish patties have been reshaped (with possible breadcrumbs).

Gluten-free travel: A colourful fruit market stall in Peru © Peter Cook / Getty Images
Gluten-free and packed with flavour – Peru's fruit pleases many a taste bud © Peter Cook / Getty Images

Peru

Gluten-free friendliness: 6/10

Naturally gluten-free ceviche (fish pickled in lime juice), corn breads and super-grain quinoa abound in Peru, but hold your fork: wheat flour and wheat-laden soy are increasingly inveigling their way into Peruvian menus. Feast on grilled and roasted meats but it’s safer to skip saucy dishes like beef stir-fry lomo saltado – console yourself with a big swig of pisco sour. If your credit card can weather the storm, the talented chefs at globally renowned Astrid y Gastón in Lima can easily tailor their French-tinged dishes for gluten-free diners.

Dig in: freshen your carb-loaded palate with Peru’s phenomenal variety of fruit, from sweet, grainy guava to zingy maracuya.
Watch out: corn breads and tamales – theoretically cornflour-based, but some vendors are vague on the true ingredients.

Gluten-free travel: A close up of Russian kebabs smoking on a barbecue © Jonathan Smith / Getty Images
Stick to meat and vegetable dishes to be safe in Russia © Jonathan Smith / Getty Images

Russia

Gluten-free friendliness: 4/10

Vast birch forests, teeming megacities, and dumplings as far as the eye can see. From ear-shaped pelmeni in western Russia to rounded buuz in the east, wheat-based dumplings are a Russian staple. Then there are equally gluten-packed bliny (pancakes) and breads, all washed down with rye-based tipple kvass. The gluten-free godsend of traditional Russian cuisine is buckwheat; otherwise, keep it simple with plain meat and vegetable dishes. Shashlyk (grilled kebabs), herring dressed with beets and egg, and stiff shots of vodka should keep you fed until you reach St Petersburg, where you can dine like a tsar at largely GF Ferma Benua.

Dig in: scrutinise ingredients just in case, but Russian salads are creamy blends of gherkins, ham, chicken, veggies and hard-boiled egg.
Watch out: beetroot soups and chicken broths seem safe until you notice dumplings bobbing in your bowl.

Gluten-free travel: Indian street vendor makes snacks
Idli make for a filling, tummy-friendly snack © EyesWideOpen / Getty Images

India

Gluten-free friendliness: 7/10

Carb-loaders, rejoice! Many Indian dishes are naturally gluten-free, including fried foods like onion bhajis, which are usually bound with chickpea flour. Idli, steamed rice and lentil dough balls, are a button-straining and satisfying breakfast dish, usually served with creamy coconut relish. Sugar rushes are well fuelled by carrot pudding (gajar halva) and almond- and chickpea-based burfi (like grainy, aromatic fudge). We particularly recommend South India, the heartland of the dosa: a pancake made from chickpea and rice flour, often with mustard-flecked potato mash squished in the middle.

Dig in: always ask, but wheat flour is seldom used in sauces; so masala, daal and dopiaza dishes await.
Watch out: spicy rice classic dum pukht biryani is sealed with a wickedly wheaty pastry lid.

Gluten-free travel: beer and salt beef sandwiches in New York
Friedman's Lunch in Chelsea Market, NYC – GF beer and salt beef sandwiches © Anita Isalska / Lonely Planet

USA

Gluten-free friendliness: 6/10

From cartoons in The New Yorker to Jimmy Kimmel, American media loves to poke fun at gluten-free diets (strangely enough, coeliac sufferers don’t get the joke). This makes it difficult to know whether waiting staff will honour gluten-free meal orders or be slapdash, having assumed that you’re following a health fad. Politely flag to staff that you’re gluten-free for health reasons (and tip generously if they treat you well!). Still, travellers can float off to gluten-free heaven in New York City and Portland. In NYC, Friedman’s Lunch in Chelsea Market prepares a towering GF club sandwich and Wild bakes truffle-sprinkled, all-gluten-free pizzas. Over in Portland, Groundbreaker brews GF craft beer to lubricate an entirely gluten-less menu of buttermilk chicken, duck and other comfort food.

Dig in: in many US cities, vegan and gluten-free dining go hand in hand; wellness-themed restaurants will almost certainly have your back.
Watch out: if your waiter sounds clueless about what gluten-free means, those ‘GF’ stickers on the menu mean zilch.

Gluten-free travel: Ethiopian food is often coeliac-friendly
This Ethiopian staple isn't off limits for coeliac travellers © Toby Adamson / Getty Images

Ethiopia

Gluten-free friendliness: 7/10

The business of crumb-dodging means that coeliacs often miss out on communal dining experiences. Not in Ethiopia: staple grain teff is gluten-free – not to mention bursting with B vitamins and iron – and forms the basis of injera, pancake-like rounds of bread. Diners tear off spongy bread to scoop up doro wat (chilli chicken), azifa (tangy green lentils) and all manner of (equally gluten-free) stews. Get your hands messy at the capital’s justifiably popular Yod Abyssinia or with some musical accompaniment in Habesha 2000. The down side? Though plenty of local food is devoid of gluten, the concept of gluten-free is poorly understood; sensitive coeliacs should use a language card.

Dig in: brave meat-eaters should sample raw beef kitfo; vegans can tuck into spicy red lentil-based mesir wot.
Watch out: wheat-contaminated injera. The introduction of wheat as an alternative to teff means some restaurants cut corners and use a blend.

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