When it comes to food in Barcelona, we prefer to leave it to the experts. Looking for people who can master the food scene in any city is not an easy task unless you know where to look. Let me introduce you to Michael Scott-Kline, food guru and the co-owner of The Barcelona Taste, the first (and still the best) company in Barcelona specialising in food tours. He will take care of all our articles with culinary recommendations so you can have a hell of a foodie time in Barcelona. He starts with practical advice for visitors looking for gluten-free in Barcelona.
Gluten-Free in Barcelona? No worries
Visitors to Barcelona searching for gluten-free restaurants and meals might worry that in a place famous for its pa amb tomàquet (literally “bread with tomato”, but it’s really so much more than that…) would face an uphill battle. While it’s true that many traditional Spanish and Catalan dishes do contain gluten, fortunately, there are many excellent choices that do not. So which tapas should you look out for?
Well before you head out for lunch or dinner, you might want to plan in some snacks earlier in the day. In Barcelona, people tend to have lunch from 2.00 pm and dinner after 8.00 pm-8.30 pm. It’s also worth noting that kitchens aren’t open all day. Lunch hours vary but are typically 1.30 pm-4.00 pm (sometimes later) and dinner hours are usually from 8.00 pm. Fortunately, in many places, tapas tend to be served even when the kitchen is closed for more formal dining. However, if you prefer to eat earlier than is considered standard here, you may find rather fewer options available, apart from the most basic tapas.
So, it could be wise to enjoy a large, long lunch in order to stretch to a later dinner or stock up on some snacks that can keep you going until the kitchens are in full swing. Nowadays, nearly all major supermarket chains also stock and sell gluten-free versions of popular foods. Mercadona supermarkets usually have an extensive range of gluten-free foods and were one of the first in Spain to introduce this, as the daughter of the owner is a celiac herself.
When you do eventually arrive at the restaurant or tapas bar, it is always worth explaining to your waiter if you cannot consume gluten. “Sin gluten” (in Spanish) or “sense gluten” (in Catalan) will be understood. If you want to additionally specify that you can not eat anything that is made or thickened with flour you can add “es muy importante que los platos no lleven harina” or more simply “sin harina”.
Traditional Dishes Free of Gluten
Here is a list of snacks and dishes that we have found to generally be gluten-free in restaurants in Barcelona (but again, to be safe, you should always ask before you eat!):
- Aceitunas (olives)
- Alioli (garlic mayonnaise)
- Anchoas (anchovies, usually in oil or vinegar, but of course avoid breaded and fried ones)
- Calçots with romesco (a particular type of small leek, grown in Catalunya, which you dip into a gorgeous tomato, pepper, garlic and almond/hazelnut sauce)
- Chicharrón de Cádiz (make sure it is Chicharrón de Cadiz, pork belly cooked in pork fat, not just chicharrón which would be pork skin breaded and fried)
- Escalivada (grilled seasonal vegetables)
- Esqueixada (A Catalan salad with salted codfish, olives and romesco sauce)
- Gambas al ajillo (shrimp/prawns cooked in garlic oil or butter)
- Patatas bravas (small cubed baked potatoes, served with garlicky mayonnaise and a spicy tomato sauce. Just make sure they are not fried in used oil with trace gluten)
- Pulpo, gambas, calamars A LA PLANCHA (GRILLED rather than fried octopus, shrimp/prawns and calamari)
- Pescado, pollo, or carne A LA PLANCHA (GRILLED rather than fried fish, chicken or meat)
- Pescado, pollo, or carne AL HORNO (BAKED rather than fried fish, chicken or meat)
- Guisantes con jamón (peas with ham)
- Huevos rotos (scrambled eggs, often served with papas fritas, so ask about how they are done to avoid oils with any trace gluten)
- Rice dishes and paellas (but ask about the stock/boullion used in case it has trace gluten in it)
- Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette, a must-have while in Spain! Often with onion, or done with a variety of other ingredients such as zucchini/courgette or peppers)
You can also ask if they have any gluten-free bread to try pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato) as this is increasingly available, particularly in the larger most visited neighbourhoods.
It’s also worth noting that fried dishes might not contain gluten in their stated ingredients, but it is possible that they might have become contaminated by trace gluten depending on the oil being used while frying, so always double-check with the restaurant (that would be the case with patatas bravas, for example).
For cured meat lovers it’s fair to say that it’s tricky with embutidos (cured meats). Jamón should always be safe, but other embutidos, if they are not handmade, may have some bread crumb as a binding agent or to absorb fat and juices.
Desserts and drinks without gluten
For dessert, if you see crema Catalana on the menu (similar to a creme brûlée, but, in our view, more sophisticated with its gentle infusion of lemon or orange and cinnamon), ask if it has been thickened by wheat flour or cornflour. Often it is the latter and otherwise, the dish doesn’t tend to contain any other gluten-based ingredients. Other sweet treat options include:
- Turrón (almond nougat with sugar traditionally eaten at Christmas time)
- Arroz con leche (rice pudding)
- Mel i mató (a type of ricotta cheese, with honey)
For drinks, some restaurants serve gluten-free beer, though this is still fairly hard to find. Most cavas and wines do not contain gluten, and the region produces some of the world’s best so it is well worth asking and enjoying!
What dishes to avoid if you are gluten intolerant
Over ten years of running personalised food tours, we have also learned to avoid certain dishes which almost always will contain a heavy amount of gluten. These include:
- Albondigas (meatballs)
- Buñuelos de bacalao (fried fishcakes)
- Coca (soft or hard flatbread, very common in Catalunya)
- Croquetas (croquettes)
- Fricandó (a typical Catalan beef stew with mushrooms, which has flour in the sauce)
- Galtas (pork cheeks)
- Gazpacho (usually done using hard bread to make it thicker)
- Salmorejo (usually done in the same way as gazpacho)
- Rabo de toro (Oxtail, which also usually contains some flour in the sauce)
Gluten-Free Restaurants in Barcelona
Located on the northern edge of the Raval neighbourhood and just moments from La Rambla, this elegant restaurant combining Catalan and French cuisine is one of our favourites. Everything is gluten-free, and there is a fabulous large selection of wines to go along with your meal. The decor is divine. It might not be the cheapest option but you are certain to enjoy the entire experience. It is also accredited by the Association for Catalunya Celiacs.
M2 Gluten Free
Food from all over the world (hamburgers, pizza, delicious cheesecake…) and all gluten-free. Great selection and a nice relaxed atmosphere. It is located on Avinguda Diagonal, between Eixample and Les Corts neighbourhoods. Accredited by the Association for Catalunya Celiacs.
Masala73 Curry Bar
An Indian restaurant in Barcelona with excellent gluten-free options. The staff is super friendly and very aware of food intolerances: they’ll help you out. Fast service, affordable options and a menu that is regularly refreshed throughout the year.
Out of China
A Chinese restaurant in the Eixample neighbourhood with some truly delicious gluten-free options, like the ravioli filled with duck and foie. Accredited by the Association for Catalunya Celiacs.
A short walk from Plaça Catalunya, this popular vegetarian restaurant swells up every day (at lunchtime in particular) but has very efficient and professional service. Many vegan and gluten-free options, a polished but buzzy atmosphere and excellent food. They also sell a cookbook so you can recreate the yum at home!
Nutritional coach Anna Edo also has a great list of places for celiacs in her article about gluten-free restaurants in Barcelona. The post is in Spanish but it includes a link to each restaurant’s website for more information. Also, if you are travelling to Madrid, check out our friends’ advice for gluten-free Madrid.
For small, personalised food tours in Barcelona, you can of course also get in touch with us at The Barcelona Taste.
Happy travels and VERY HAPPY EATING!