10 Best (And Worst) Destinations for Gluten Free Travel
If you want to go on a big vacation or travel anywhere with gluten sensitivity, intolerance or allergy, you need to find out if your chosen destination is a good place for finding gluten-free food!
I have celiac disease and therefore cannot eat gluten under any circumstances. I need to either have gluten-free food, or cook on my own (it’s actually a great way to save money while traveling), when I travel.
In all my years of travel, there are some places where eating gluten-free was a dream come true. There are other destinations where eating gluten-free was a challenge. In these places, I had to make sure that I could cook my own food in a hostel or Airbnb.
Mexico was such a dream for me that I practically started breathing tacos. In addition to Mexico having a pretty corn-based cuisine, there are lots of non-taco items you can try. I rarely cook (and I love to cook!) because there was so much local Mexican gluten-free food that I could safely enjoy.
TIP: Take one of the best Mexico City food tours with Eat Like a Local. Our English-fluent guide double-checked with every vendor at which we stopped, to make sure something gluten-free could be made for me, or to find an alternative. So, so delicious (and what a pleasure!)
Having been to Mexico twice now, I’ll tell you why I love it so much. Being in Mexico is a place where I can order a dish of great food from an authentic restaurant and be pretty sure that I don’t have to ask for any alterations or substitutions to the meal.
Keep in mind I’m also lactose intolerant and I do not eat beans or legumes as part of eating a low-FODMAP diet, so if you don’t have these limitations, eating in Mexico will be even easier for you.
Here are my favorite things to eat in Mexico:
Tacos al pastor
These tacos are made with corn tortillas (it helps to check, as, on rare occasions, tacos might be made with wheat tortillas) and have meat and sometimes pineapple. They’re always served with cilantro and raw onions. They’re typically dairy-free as well.
Have you ever had an enchilada? Enchiladas are corn tortillas bathed in salsa and have a filling of chicken, beef or cheese. I usually add extra hot sauce.
I was never introduced to chilaquiles in the US. Chilaquiles, which I ‘discovered’ in Mexico, are strips of corn tortillas in a bath of salsa (my dream come true!) and have either chicken or cheese on top. I could die happy!
Tacos de canasta
Sure, they qualify as tacos, but tacos de canasta are also something you rarely find in the US. They are tiny little tacos that sit in a ‘canasta,’ or basket, all day until they’re sold. Typically these will be sold from breakfast-time until after lunch, or whenever the vendor sells his entire supply of tacos de canasta. They’re usually served cold because they’re sitting in the basket and the vendor isn’t in a proper kitchen. Usually, a tacos de canasta vendor will have these tiny tacos filled with potato, beans or meat.
One more Mexican delicacy that I love is the tamale. Tamales are corn flour steamed in big leaves and usually have a small filling of chicken, beef or cheese. To find out the filling, you have to ask the vendor, so speaking some Spanish or using Google Translate will be crucial!
Behold the pho noodle, as this is what will get you through Vietnam if you are a celiac or gluten-intolerant traveler. It’s a good thing pho is both gluten-free and absolutely delicious, as I could eat it three times a day, and sometimes in Vietnam, I almost did.
If you are a gluten-free traveler and you happen to love pho (note that it’s hard to get the vegan type, as most of the broths will be beef-based), you’re in luck because you can try it from every single eatery in Hanoi, for example, and the flavor will never be exactly the same. It’s a pho-venture!
In Vietnam, the land of noodles, there are various types of noodles, and some are made of rice, some of mung bean (glass noodles) and some of wheat (the ones that look more yellow). Pho noodles (flat rice noodles) and vermicelli (round tubular thin rice noodles) are what you can have, as well as the bigger ‘bun’ noodles. The whitest noodles will always be the rice ones, and these are only made of rice and water, so they are completely GF.
Your enemy in Vietnam will still be soy sauce, but note that fish sauce is actually OK! I did a lot of research and wound up sticking to:
- pho ga (chicken pho)
- pho bo (beef pho)
- bun bo (cold bun noodles with beef)
- bun cha (rice noodles with pork. It’s still debatable how it’s made, but by looking up authentic recipes, few called for soy sauce.)
Estonia is a relaxing place to travel, and English is widely spoken in the cities.
While Estonia’s cuisine is indeed true to the Northern Europe types, focused on breads of wheat and rye, meat and game, dairy products and cold-water fishes, I was delighted to find that Tallinn (the capital city) has a very health-first approach in many new cofeeeshops and cafes, along with restaurants.
Asking for something vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free is almost normal, which was impressive. There are lots of new healthy cafes offering modern takes on traditional Estonian food, and farm-to-table goodness.
Here are a few places to eat, where staff speaks great English and where veganism and gluten-free-ism are welcomed:
Known for gluten-free-friendly meals, along with lactose-free, vegan, vegetarian and health food in a cool retro atmosphere. Also laptop-friendly, although the WiFi was not super strong.
This cafe also has great deco and can be a bit loud, but they have a health menu with smoothies, omelettes, oatmeal and salads. Every single item is marked with allergen information.
Take one look at their photos of food and you’ll be sold on this farm-to-table health-conscious eatery that also has a small health food market inside. Every item is marked with vegan/gluten-free/lactose-free markings so that you can eat with no stress.
See more of our recommendations for cafes in Tallinn.
On a trip to Israel, you’ll be delighted to see that waitstaff in restaurants really ‘get it’ when it comes to allergies and food intolerances.
Maybe it’s because Jewish people are notoriously allergic to things (myself included), but aside from the simple understanding of it, there are many Israeli foods that are innately gluten-free.
For one thing, there’s shawarma, and OMG, it is my favorite. Shawarma is meat that is fired on a rotating rotisserie, and it’ll be either lamb, beef or shawarma. Sometimes you can order ‘mix’ which will be a combo of the designated types that the restaurant has. If you get ‘chips,’ this is French fries, but you can ask if they’re fried alone.
Plus, have you ever wanted to be in Israeli salad heaven? At most shawarma and falafel eateries, you can treat yourself to a whole buffet of pickled vegetable toppings… all included in what you paid.
Eat at this gluten-free-approved establishments in Tel Aviv:
See more recommendations in our Tel Aviv city guide.
One of the best things about traveling in Ireland is that mostly everyone speaks English (not everyone, but most).
Irish food by nature is not the most gluten-free, but because Ireland is a northern European country that is respective of food allergies, this made traveling much easier. Wait – it gets better! – Ireland now has menus that are part of a certification in menus that list 14 or so allergens, and if a restaurant wishes, they can denote which dishes on a menu have which allergens. For someone like me who avoids the gluten-dairy-soy trio, this is AMAZING!
The best meal we had in Ireland was at Bollywood, an Indian restaurant in Shannon, and while this was not Irish food, it was incredible and I was certain that everything I was eating was GF.
Travel in Colombia is enlightening and exciting, which is why I’ve gone there three times, once for two months (with Remote Year). First, let’s talk about the fruit in Colombia. It is delicious, and always gluten-free.
Even though no one in Colombia really knew what gluten was, I was able to explain in Colombia that I had an allergy to ‘productos de trigo’ (wheat products) and I stuck to foods made of rice and corn. It came as news to me, finally on my third trip to Colombia, that empanadas can indeed be made from 100% corn (delicious… but do try to check as best you can by asking in Spanish).
In the Cartagena region, you can enjoy ceviche or other simple seafood dishes like grilled fish, and in the Medellin region, opt for the famous ‘bandeja paisa,’ which will present you with a loaded plate of things like avocado, grilled plantain, white rice, a fried egg, sausage (eat at your own risk), a thin piece of steak or chicken (depending on which bandeja you ordered) and an arepa, which will be a dry corn-cake (gluten-free for sure!). Arepas are the national hot cake of Colombia, and they’re always made of corn. If you want to get creative like I did, make arepa pizza at home!
For travel in Medellin, eat at:
Modern Colombian food drawing from many parts of the country’s resources
Kind of like a Colombian diner – Colombian comfort food, ‘paisa’ style
Tacos. Tacos. Tacos. Gluten-free!
Selina Hostel Medellin
Colombian and Israeli-style backpacker favorites
Shanti Cocina Vital
Healthy food in El Poblado
Uber-trendy restaurant and bar with a splendid brunch and great staff (I got tacos, corn tortillas and all! No gluten)
Traveling in Sri Lanka is such a great surprise, as many people know little to nothing about this island nation.
Sri Lankan cuisine, a cuisine I knew little about before trying it once with a friend in Manhattan, turns out to be very rice-heavy and that is a great thing when you can’t eat gluten. This is a gluten-free destination that I highly recommend!
Most foods in Sri Lankan cuisine have rice and coconut oil (great for lactose intolerance). Curries are made with coconut milk and coconut oil, and served with rice. There are some fun bonuses like ‘string hoppers’ (flat pancakes made from rice noodles) and ‘pittu’ (rice flour mixed with coconut and served in a conical shape).
Watch out for: roti (Indian bead) and kottu (chopped wheat noodles, stir-fried), as these are not gluten-free in Sri Lankan cuisine.
As a very health-first and forward-thinking modern European nation, the Netherlands is a great place to be gluten-free.
It’s not because the cuisine itself is gluten-friendly, as it’s not (heavy on bread), but it’s because people will understand what you want and there’s a wide range of international cuisines available, along with health-conscious shops and eateries, at least in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
In nicer restaurants (figure a sit-down establishment rather than a grab’n’go), main dishes will consist of poultry, meat or fish, with sides of vegetables, and this is the route I took in order to have some grilled or roasted GF protein.
Eat gluten-free food at:
Fenix Food Factory, Rotterdam
STACH Food, Amsterdam
Anne & Max, Amsterdam
Costa Rican food is Central American, so it’s pretty simple and focused on the rice and beans game. At a ‘soda,’ or a Costa Rican bodega/diner, you can get casados: rice, beans, fried egg, corn tortilla, plantain and sour cream or cheese. This is a typical meal, and unless it has a curve ball like a wheat tortilla thrown in, you’ll almost always be in the clear, or can at least eat around something glutinous.
If you have questions, you can say, “Tengo alergia grave de harina y productos de trigo.” (I have a grave allergy to flour and wheat products.)
India is a massive country, so undoubtedly, there are regions that are better for eating GF than others. In general, India stretches from the very northern and ‘wheaty’ region near the Himalayas and closer to Everest, all the way to the tropical tip in the Indian Ocean. In general as well, cuisines in the tropics have more rice, due to how it grows best, and regions closer to higher altitudes will have more wheat and cheese. This is what my research has shown me all over the world!
Having been to both the ‘middle of India’ near Mumbai and the more tropical rice-and-coconut region of Kerala in the southwest, there is a distinct difference in the food from south to middle to north. Foods in the south are pretty gluten-free friendly, with rice served at most meals, or at least always an option, and curries made from coconut milk, like in Thailand or Sri Lanka.
In the middle of the country, food options will mostly always be vegetables simmered in curries or sauces or yogurts. You will usually be able to eat rice wherever you go.
The danger lies in street foods, because it’s hard to ask if something is 100% rice from how it looks, depending on what it is. As with traveling anywhere, it pays to have a way of translating into local languages (Malayalam in Kerala and Marathi in Mumbai, for instance) or having a guide for the day.
The worst countries for eating gluten-free
Don’t get me wrong at all – I absolutely love traveling in Taiwan. I could go on and on about how I love Taiwanese culture, the Taiwanese people, the landscapes in Taiwan and the cleanliness and safety of everywhere in Taipei.
At the end of the day, though, going to a night market in Taipei means that I’ll only be able to eat fruit salad in a cup, and going to most restaurants meant looking at a menu and knowing that I’d be happier eating at home.
Taiwanese food is loaded with soy sauce and many food items are fried, all together, with flour or other unknowns. If I ate out at restaurants in Taiwan, it was either sushi, or a meal at the very famous Din Tai Fung with the help of a distant cousin who spoke perfect Chinese with the waitstaff to make very clear communication that I could only have the fried rice if it was “clear-friend” (translation from Chinese), meaning fried in clear oil with no soy sauce.
I cooked in our Airbnb in Taiwan, mostly with fresh food from our nearby market (again, not a complaint – just a fact). I did enjoy lots of nice coffee in cafes, bubble teas and the beautiful fresh fruit we found in the grocery stores in our neighborhood.
Tip: A great way to eat gluten-free in Taiwan was to take a food tour with Taipei Eats. During this tour, our bilingual English and Mandarin Chinese-speaking guide (who was awesome!) helped me enjoy several dishes from several of the many restaurants and food vendors. HIGHLY recommend!
Spain is the land of bread, cheese, sausage and seafood. For me, this was a sea of danger because I don’t eat butter, but pertaining to gluten alone, lots of Spanish food is made with or near bread products and gluten. I didn’t particularly care to eat in fancy restaurants where I could safely make my case for having Spanish dishes made with all my required substitutions and limitations, so instead, I opted for finding food like tacos, arepas and sushi (I know, I know) during my time in Madrid and Barcelona.
There is one dish in the Canary Islands to try for a gluten-free diet, and it’s ‘wrinkly potatoes.’ They’re called “papas arrugadas” in Spanish and frankly, they’re pretty good, served with red mojo sauce that’s yummy.
In Tenerife, outside La Oratava there was a meal at a winery where the kitchen staff made me a special plate of French fries loaded with fried egg and spices. Also, wine. :)
While there’s a lot of great things to do in Myanmar, the cuisine itself posed a challenge for eating local food because the it is loaded with soy sauce and fried in sauces and oils.
Most foods I saw on the street in Yangon were much too complex to be able to ask about them and most local Burmese food contained soy sauce (a big gluten no-no!). I was eating plain fried rice and Thai food (asking very carefully via Google Translate to make the curry without soy sauce, please) in Bagan.
Until we did a cooking class at the Bamboo Delight Cooking School in Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake), I hadn’t even tried Burmese food yet. This is where the co-owner and instructor, Lesly, allowed me to make the curry and eggplant salad to my pleasing, sans soy sauce and peanut oil. Thanks Lesly, for saving the day!
See more about this awesome cooking class that accommodated my gluten allergy by reading our Inle Lake guide.
All in all, Latvia is a great place to travel, and it’s pretty under the radar for most travelers! While I recall that most Latvian food was made with butter and that was the reason I stayed away from it, it’s also a bread-heavy northern European cuisine that comes from a focus on grains and meats.
The best meal I had was ‘shashlik,’ which is grilled chicken on skewers with sides of pickles and tomatoes. It helped being on a guided tour in Latvia with a guide who could explain in Latvian to our server that my meal had to be free of gluten and dairy.
The other best meals I had were the ones Dan cooked for me in our hostel kitchen, frying white potatoes with salt and dill. Thanks, Dan!
The best and only meals I ate in Argentina that qualified as Argentine food were steak with chimichurri (spicy, por favor!).
Most proper Argentine food comes from Italian influence, and there’s lots of bread, cheese and pasta. The other semi-challenge was that grocery stores in Buenos Aires and Cordoba didn’t have an incredible amount of impressive fresh produce.
For this reason, we scavenged and cooked most meals from rice, eggs, tomatoes and other vegetables. We also went out for sushi at Kanu in Palermo (Buenos Aires) and drank coffee at various cafes in Buenos Aires.
When I was in the Philippines, I only remember eating coconut rice from a street vendor, and I couldn’t tell you what else I ate, but that I probably got ‘glutened’ due to language barriers and not knowing how to navigate Filipino food. Lots of food in the Philippines is fried, and due to influences from Spain, China and many other places, soy sauce is common, as are hard-to-figure-out sauces. On the bright side, there are lots of fresh tropical fruits, namely mangoes.
South Korean has very delicious and very gluten-heavy cuisine. The best Korean meal I had that comes to mind was Korean BBQ, where you sit down with friends and have a private grill at a restaurant, and you can grill your own meat.
I presume I ate a lot of rice in South Korea. There’s soy sauce in most foods that have a brown-ish color, and some items that look like they made be made out of rice have some wheat mixed in. It’s not the easiest place to eat gluten-free unless you head to some Western restaurants.
Bolivia is a high-altitude country with a cuisine heavy on wheat. Snacks like salteñas, which are wheat empanada-style dumplings, have meat inside and are surely not gluten-free. Choripanes and panes de chola are other Bolivian sandwiches made of wheat bread. I ate rice with meat, or quinoa stew, or boiled potatoes in Bolivia.
I don’t think I did too great a job of looking for food I could eat, but options were slim during my Uyuni jeep trip, where restaurants are basic and allergies were challenging to explain. The only real good news is that eating something simple like meat on top of rice with vegetable salad and a fried egg will be gluten-free.
China is a place where people do not have allergies and therefore do not understand why anyone would have them. I lived in China for two years, and after two years, one thing was true - there was one foolproof dish I could order at most establishments, and it was a Chinese tomato-and-egg omelette served with a generous helping of white rice. This is called 番茄炒蛋 fan qie chao dan, or 西红柿炒鸡蛋 xi hong shi chao ji dan, and it is a dream for gluten-free dieters and vegetarians.
Most other foods I can think of in China have gluten, or traces of gluten, or are fried with gluten (aside from eating fun fruits like Asian pears, mangosteens, apples, mandarin oranges and bananas). I enjoyed looking for Vietnamese food and sushi while living in China (and Hong Kong).
I mention sushi above, but what I mean to say is that the only truly gluten-free type of ‘sushi’ is nigiri, meaning raw fish on top of white sushi rice. It is honestly hard to say if the seaweed wrapping of sushi (nori) has soy sauce in it to give it its proper flavor, and if you have a severe allergy, it should be avoided.
Most other Japanese food, due to Japan being a northern country with cold seasons, is wheat-based or heavy in gluten grains, like udon, ramen and soba.
Sauces like teriyaki are soy sauce-based, and going out for a meal like hibachi where the foods are cooked by chefs on a large grill, means the grill will have soy sauce all over it.
The best meal I had in Japan was at the Tsujiki Fish Market, and undoubtedly, it was the best tuna I have ever, ever had in my life. I was able to eat this uber-fresh raw tuna with scallion on top of a bowl of fresh rice, but aside from this, I (at the time) was seeking out edamame (not the most exciting) and sushi (not entirely descriptive of the rest of Japanese cuisine) during my two trips to Japan.