Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paris gluten free - patisserie edition

I confess that for some time, I had been reluctant to plan a trip to Paris (or France) because of concerns that it would be too difficult to eat gluten free fulfillingly there.  Unlike some other destinations, where meals aren't the main attraction, dining had always seemed to be a key element of a French vacation experience, and when Emily was diagnosed  7 years ago, reports from gluten free travelers were not that positive.  However, over the past few years, I started reading reports that things were changing for the better, so when we had the opportunity to attend a family wedding in Strasbourg this summer, we added on a week in Paris.  And, I'm so glad we did, we had a wonderful time in all respects.

I'm breaking this report into several posts, as there are a lot of great places to recommend.  This one focuses on more informal places and patisserie


As with previous trips, I did a lot of research in advance, scouring blogs, websites, and Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews for places that could accommodate gluten free.  However, unlike Italy, London or many cities in the United States, I soon learned that there were very few places with official gluten free menus. Instead, we needed to figure out which restaurants had "naturally" gluten free options -- and were aware of cross contamination.  We did find some suggestions of these types of restaurants from my research, but one of our favorite places turned out to be a local brasserie.  So, I'd suggest having a basic list in advance, but also being open to stopping in at places that look interesting, and seeing if they can accommodate.

We also confronted an additional wrinkle -- we were planning to be in Paris in August, and many places do close for vacation for at least a few weeks during that time.  I emailed/ face book messaged places I was particularly interested in in advance (using Google Translate) to find out whether they would be open during the time of our visit, so we didn't make expeditions to locations only to be disappointed by a "closed for vacation" sign.

Gluten free cafes -- and patisserie

I know of two places (Helmut Newcake and BioSphere Cafe) that serve classic gluten free patisserie (eclairs, cream puffs, tortes, etc.) in Paris -- and luckily for us, both were open! Both also are good places for lunch or a cafe break, or spots to pick up treats for another day.

Helmut Newcake is a charming small gluten free cafe near the trendy Canal St. Martin in the 10th.  We actually stayed at an apartment in this area, so went there twice, once  in the late afternoon to pick up patisserie, and once for lunch (and dessert of course).  To be honest, it is a little out of the way if you aren't staying in the area, although I would definitely recommend the neighborhood as a fun place for a meal or a stroll by the canal, it is a very lively area, particularly at night.  Lunch options were limited  but tasty-- the day we were there there was a choice of two pizzas and one cooked meal (a fish dish).  The select of patisserie differed on both occasions, and I think there is a little bit of luck involved as to what you will find at the time of day you arrive -- but on both visits, we were able to purchase some delicious French gluten free pastries.    I can also assure you that even those who do not need to eat gluten free will enjoy the pastries -- I know that I did. (The photo is of a caramel/ salted butter cream filled delicacy, yum.)
They also have a well regarded brunch on the weekends. As with all restaurants in Paris, make sure to check the hours/ days before you go, they were closed on Mondays and Tuesdays when we were there.

Biosphere Cafe is a little bit larger, and has a more extensive menu, including pizza, sandwiches, quiches, buckwheat crepes, and a few daily specials.
They started as a cafe that also served lunch, but now I see that they are open Friday and Saturday nights as well.  There meals are primarily gluten free (or maybe exclusively at this point, their web site suggests this, but double check if this is a concern for you.)  They also bake gluten free patisserie - they have a very tempting display case - as well as gluten free baguettes. We didn't try the baguettes, but I glimpsed them as they were coming out of the oven and they looked good!  It is located in the 8th, more of a business district, but it is not far from some of the main shopping areas, and only took us about 20 minutes to walk to the Place Concorde from there.  We arrived at the stroke of noon after having made a reservation that morning to find an empty restaurant, but within 20 minutes, the place was filled to capacity, so definitely call in advance if you can.

Thank You My Deer is a relatively new cosy and cheerful gluten free cafe in the 11th, again, not on the main tourist beat if you are only in Paris for a short time, but a good place to try if you are exploring the up and coming Oberkampf neighborhood (and I think there is a well known flea market in the area, although I didn't go there myself).  There menu changes daily, with a small selection of soups, muffins, gluten free sandwiches (served on homemade gluten free bread) and salads.  On some days, they serve waffles.  They also serve brunch on Sundays.  Of course, no cafe would be complete without desserts, and although theirs don't seem to be in the classic French patisserie tradition, they have cookies, pies, cakes, etc.

We also wanted to try Cafe Pinson, in the North Marais, which apparently has some gluten free options, but it was closed for vacation.  Next time!

Finally, we had a great lunch at the Cojean in the lower level of the main Printemps Department Store.  Cojean is a chain that serves healthy, self-serve options such as salads, soups, sandwiches, desserts, etc.  Gluten free options are clearly marked right on the items, and they label for other allergens as well.  Their salad options went far beyond a simple green salad, they included options with quinoa, olives, artichokes, etc.  It is a good place for a lunch stop, or pick up some items for a picnic later.


Ah, macarons.  French macarons are nothing like the coconut based macaroon cookies we typically find in America.  Instead, they are dainty, colorful,  almond and egg white confections, with some sort of creamy filling between two delicate cookies. 
Pierre Herme and Laduree are two of the most well known shops selling macarons, and both had many flavors that did not contain gluten.  Both stores have many outlets throughout Paris (and at the airport, for that final fix.)

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