13 November 2011 ~ 28 Comments

Gluten-free in Germany – tips and recommendations for this and other food intolerances

 

Although this is a guide for Germany, I have chosen to write it in English because that way it will be accessible to more people. However, if there is anything you don’t understand, please feel free to ask as I speak fluent German.

In my experience, German restaurants and stores are not yet as progressive about offering gluten-free options as their British and American counterparts. However, the situation is improving and because I know how hard it can be in such cases to find somewhere to eat in Germany – particularly when you have multiple intolerances (as I do to gluten, dairy and egg) – I’m writing this article for those who are gluten-free in Germany, in particular my friends at Allergen Free Diet for Hashimoto Patients, a Facebook group I co-moderate.

I often find that if a restaurant or store offers gluten-free options they can usually accommodate other intolerances too. It all starts with them having the awareness to be able to offer these options in the first place (and it really helps if the owner or a staff member has celiac or gluten intolerance). For some, eating out (wherever they are) seems fraught with constant dangers due to the fact that there is always the risk of cross-contamination, so always be aware of this when you eat out and consider asking how stuff is prepared.

Gluten-free fast food on the road

For instance, I know that some who are gluten-free and starving hungry may get fries from McDonalds or Burger King when there is really no other option. Whilst I’ll never recommend this as a healthy option, I understand the need to eat when you are hungry and I also know that both these options are gluten-free. For those who are super sensitive to gluten, however, it would be best to check whether the fries are done in a separate fryer.

An even better and generally healthier option is actually the Turkish kebab places – whilst you won’t be able to have the typical Döner Kebab, you can order a Dönerteller (Doner kebab plate), but watch the rice it is often served with – many times you will find that Turkish rice is mixed with little noodles, so make sure you ask about that and if you can’t have the rice they can usually give you another side such as fries, although I can’t guarantee that these aren’t fried together with other breaded items – cross-contamination is not such a huge deal for me as I am not super sensitive, but I know some people react to even the tiniest amount of gluten. Frankly, here in Germany I can’t always afford to turn down a place to eat here that caters for food intolerances, as there aren’t that many to choose from and sometimes that is the only option for somewhere to eat when we’re on the road (I can’t even do most sushi as sadly I currently have an intolerance to maki).

Gluten-free grocery stores

I hear some supermarkets are improving their range of gluten-free offerings, but in my personal experience when you are gluten-free or have multiple intolerances you are probably best off shopping at a Reformhaus (health food store) or, if you are lucky enough to have one, at an organic supermarket (these often have the word Bio in the name and I have noticed that many organic brands tend to have a greater awareness of food intolerances). Another thing I have found is that there are a few things (such as gluten-free oats) that you can only order online from sites such as amazon.de or gluten-frei-supermarkt.de. You will find further mail-order stores by Googling glutenfrei (gluten-free).

Many people have also found drugstores (Drogerien) such as Rossmann (I love their gluten-free falafel mix) or Drogeriemarkt (DM) to carry quite a decent range of gluten-free (many Schär products) and sometimes lactose-free options, as well as dairy alternatives such as goat’s milk, as do most of the other stores I mentioned above. Whilst some of us are intolerant to cow’s milk, some of us can still tolerate goat’s milk or even sheep’s milk. Dairy intolerance and gluten intolerance often go hand in hand and if you can’t do dairy at all (if you are just lactose-intolerant, the normal grocery stores stock brands such as Minus L) the organic supermarkets and health food stores stock grain milks such as rice milk and millet milk (e.g. Swiss Cereal Drink’s Hirsenmilch from Soyana – the brand’s only gluten-free grain milk) – beware of some of the other grain milks such as Oatly as they are often not gluten-free).

In case you are wondering where we shop in Düsseldorf, I shall tell you. There are two great organic supermarkets I would recommend in Düsseldorf. Superbiomarkt at Nordstraße 82 – 84 (there is a nearby multi-storey car park or Parkhaus) has a good range of products, as well as some nice fresh fish in the refrigerator section. But if you are looking for even more variety, you should check out Basic Bio at Friedrichstraße 73 (you can usually park on the side of the parking strip on the side of the street – even on a Saturday). I was quite impressed when I first went there. Both stores also have a fruit and vegetable selection that is of a high quality, which is unfortunately not something I can always say of other supermarkets I have visited where the fruit and veg has sometimes been wilted or squashed – as it is, when we are doing a big shop, we buy our fruit and veg from a Turkish greengrocer called Turan.

Other places we frequent are Kaufhof and Karstadt, as these sometimes have specialised products and some of them have an “organic corner” of the store (with various gluten-free/dairy-free alternatives). A place that I particularly revel in visiting is the Carlsplatz Wochenmarkt (weekly market). This is great for speciality produce such as blue potatoes or zucchini blossoms and they have a wonderful selection of fresh meats and fish, as well as various other stalls that are well worth a look.

Perhaps you are wondering which gluten-free bread I would recommend (when I even eat bread – which is rather rare). Well, the breads I eat also have to be dairy-free and egg-free, which leaves me with slightly fewer choices. Schär has some good options that are widely available in the aforementioned stores, but my favourite has to be Schnitzer Spezial. They have a wide range of breads with different grains and you don’t need to pre-toast them either. My absolute favourite, however, has to be a bread that you do have to bake in the oven, but it is very yummy. I particularly like the Bio Rustico variety. I should perhaps remark that the vast majority of gluten-free products in Germany tend to contain corn in some form. Luckily, I have no issues with this, but unfortunately I don’t have any tips for those who do – perhaps it would be best to order special products online. If you can offer any tips for those in this predicament, please feel free to comment.

Recommended gluten-free restaurants in Düsseldorf

Here I would like to make some specific gluten-free recommendations based on my experiences. I find that it’s rare that a German restaurant will actually mark gluten-free items on its menu or even have a separate menu for gluten-free diners, although there are a few rare exceptions and even if a restaurant doesn’t specifically state this, there are also those who cater for us members of the “gluten-free club”. In Düsseldorf specifically, I can recommend the following (please bear in mind that since dealing with multiple food intolerances we have tended to cook the majority of our meals at home because eating out – as in any country in this situation – tends to be a stressful experience, but I have had positive experiences at the following eateries):

Vivu at Moltkestraße 117 – we live round the corner from this Vietnamese restaurant and I must say it’s always a pleasure to go there. We know the friendly manager from our repeated visits and she’s always very accommodating and knowledgeable about what goes into the food and also about the gluten-free diet – the added bonus is that all the food is free from MSGs (Glutamat, which in German sounds suspiciously similar to Gluten, so sometimes people not in the know get the two terms mixed up!) The prawn cracker appetisers are made with tapioca flour, so they’re also safe for those on a gluten-free diet as are most of the dishes (but avoid the gluten-containing spring rolls – opt for the rice paper summer rolls instead – they are phenomenally fresh and yummy!). One thing I have also learned since being dairy-free is that Asian dishes often add cream to their coconut milk sauce, so you always have to be careful about this. However, the sauces at Vivu are generally safe for those on a gluten-free diet.

Talking of Asian – a word about soy sauce: whilst this contains wheat, I have read that many people don’t have a problem with the wheat in soy sauce because it is fermented. Even my highly allergic celiac sister-in-law can eat it if push comes to shove (she found out by accident when she ingested some and had no reaction whatsoever and this is someone who reacts to even trace amounts of gluten normally) and I’ve actually read in various articles that even many normal soy sauces are considered gluten-free, but it all depends on the individual. I go for gluten-free Tamari soy sauces at home as these are certified gluten-free, but if a place adds soy sauce to their sauces I will not worry about it because I know from experience that this never causes issues for me personally. I don’t think Vivu  uses soy sauce anyway.

Anfora at Hüttenstraße 11 is a Turkish restaurant I like to recommend. They have some delicious fresh fish and grilled meats and lovely fresh salads with an olive oil and lemon dressing. The rice is a no-go because (as mentioned above) it contains little noodles, but you can have other side dishes instead. The waiter has always been pretty attentive and accommodating whenever we have gone in there. Ironically, I know the place from when I was paid to do some restaurant reviews and I wrote a more detailed review here.

Middle Eastern cuisine such as Lebanese and Persian also tends to be good for those of us who are gluten-free, particularly as most of the stuff is made fresh. One place that does very tasty kebabs and doesn’t add flour to their falafel is Noah’s Deli on Oststraße.

Because we have an annoying intolerance to nori at present (less to do with the iodine content, as iodine doesn’t cause us a problem, and more to do with the fact that we ate here several times a week pre food intolerances), we haven’t been to the wonderful Japanese restaurant Okinii Sushi and Grill since my diagnosis as the all-you-can-eat menu leaves little left for us to eat. As you hand-pick each item you want to eat, this is a pretty safe bet for gluten-free, particularly as they have a nice selection of Japanese-style appetisers, although you should of course mention your food intolerances – they even state on their website that they are accommodating when it comes to food intolerances (of course, there is only so much you can do when something like nori is contained in so many dishes! Oh, cruel world!)

If you’re jonesing for authentic Mexican cuisine, check out Casita Mexicana, where all the food is freshly made and the friendly staff cater for food intolerances. You can’t have the dishes served with wheat tortillas (but it is specifically stated which ones these are), but Casita does offer a wide range of dishes with soft corn tortillas (which is great as long as you don’t have issues with corn – thankfully I don’t). There are also some yummy salads and the guacamole (as you may know, avocado is a great thyroid-booster) is to die for!

Bearing in mind that there are probably even more gluten-free options, but I haven’t tried them all since my diagnosis, I would also tentatively recommend that you give the Greek restaurant Askitis a whirl – they have quite a large menu and very good service, so I suspect that they could offer you something yummy. In my experience, Mediterranean is often a good choice for healthy gluten-free cuisine. Of course, you have to watch the cheeses and dairy if you are lactose or casein intolerant, but many of these places make their dishes fresh and there are often many great fish and meat options.

Recommended gluten-free restaurants elsewhere

I have limited experience of eating gluten-free elsewhere in Germany, but when accompanying my husband on a business trip to Mainz we researched where I could eat and found Hahnenhof, a gem of a restaurant, which I can honestly say served the best German-style cuisine I have ever eaten in more than 11 years of living in Germany. Their restaurant marks many food intolerances on the menu and all their sauces and soups are gluten-free. Their staff also seemed very knowledgeable about the preparation of the dishes and I can highly recommend the Ganzes Bio-Schwarzfederhuhn vom Grill aus der Provence (whole black-feathered organic chicken from Provence). I guess God really does lives in Provence as this was di-vine!

On our last trip to a mediaeval German Christmas market in Mülheim an der Ruhr, like a fata morgana (but luckily this one was real and Fata Morgana was its name!) we stumbled upon a lovely Egyptian restaurant where they used millet instead of wheat in their tabouleh and various other foods and the wait staff were unbelievably nice. They even double-checked with the kitchen to make sure the food was safe for me and I was able to have a lot of their dishes, which is particularly impressive when you consider that I am dealing with multiple intolerances. They were kind enough to made me a special dessert – while the others ate pastries, I was served fruit.

Sabine Lohner, a member of the Facebook group I co-moderate, recommends Sommerhaus at the university in Kaiserslautern for gluten-free and lactose-free dishes. 

Another member, Martina Breeden, recommends the restaurant of Klostermuehle in Muenchweiler/Alsenz, near Kaiserslautern: “On their website it doesn’t list that they label their food on the menu, but I know they do. It’s labelled GF or DF and something else I unfortunately don’t remember. It’s also a very nice hotel and a great place for kids with a playground, big lawn, a “Wassertretbecken” (no idea what that’s called in English. Kneipp basin?)”.

This article is for those of you who are in Germany and are still struggling to find gluten-free options. As I said, awareness isn’t as widespread just yet, but we can certainly do our best to change that, can’t we? A few years ago, a friend of mine couldn’t even find lactose-milk in any of Bochum’s coffee shops and now this has vastly improved … I’m looking forward to moving to the US because we will be living just outside of New York where I will have more options, but before I move in just over a month’s time I wanted to share what I have learned with you. I would love further recommendations, which you are welcome to add in the comments and if anyone would like gluten-free tips for other countries, I may be able to help too as we travel quite a lot – it just depends where you are going to be. It certainly helps when you speak several languages as I do, but the gluten-free restaurant cards can also really come in handy. I’ve linked to a German one below, but there are cards for currently 50 other languages here – great if you need to explain your diet in a restaurant, but are lost for words.

All that remains for me to wish you now is: Gluten-free Appetit!

Further links for more recommendations (some of them Germany-wide):

  1. German gluten-free restaurant card
  2. Glutenfrei in Berlin (blog) (recommended by Natalia MarínGovea)
  3. Travel gluten-free in Germany
  4. Gluten-free registry for Germany
  5. Gluten-free cafés and restaurants in Frankfurt and the surrounding area
  6. Nibelungenschanke at Nibelungenallee 55 in Frankfurt
  7. Sicilia at Niedenau 9 in Frankfurt (gluten-free pizza and pasta)
  8. Saarland gluten-free dining
  9. The German Coeliac Society (DZG)
  10. Gluten Free Travel in Europe: German and Austrian Reformhaus Product Reviews including GF Beer and Croissants (recommended by Dianna Bailey)

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