Celiac Disease in Translation

In the four years since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I’ve traveled to six countries where I didn’t speak the language. Asking the right questions about food preparation when you, your server and your chef all speak the same tongue can be challenging. When you’re dealing with translation issues, it makes the entire process that much tougher. Eating at a restaurant is always an exercise in trust; for the gluten-intolerant, it feels especially risky. I plan ahead by printing celiac disease translation cards before leaving home. Here’s how to do it — for free.

  1. Start by checking for free celiac information cards from national or regional associations. Both the Czech Coeliac Society and the Swiss Celiac Society offer such cards online. For other countries, take a look at the “International Celiac Societies” listed on the Resources page at Celiac Handbook. Only a few of them provide a card, but hopefully the number will increase. Print several copies so you won’t mind if a card gets damaged in a restaurant kitchen.
  2. The Celiac Travel website provides an impressive selection of cards in many languages (currently there are 38, including Arabic, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Urdu). I’ve used both the Hungarian and Spanish cards from this site and found that they worked extremely well. Given that several companies are charging money for celiac translation cards, I have to tip my hat to Roger and Lyndsay, who run this site, because they’re providing these detailed cards for free (a small donation is requested but not required).
  3. Gluten-Free Passport provides free cards online in French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. I like these because you have the English and the translated language side by side, though of course that makes these cards larger to print.
  4. There are several sites, including Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site and the Finnish Celiac Society, that provide or link to free information about celiac disease in different languages. These descriptions aren’t detailed, but they certainly get the point across in languages including Polish and Thai.
  5. If possible, learn a few words or phrases in the local language before you go on your trip. Knowing how to say “Tengo la enfermedad celiaca; No puedo comer harina o trigo” (I have celiac disease; I can’t eat flour or wheat) made my travels to Spain and Chile easier, because awareness of celiac disease was widespread. But I have to admit that I never managed this in Hungarian.

Has anyone bought the celiac translation cards from Triumph Dining, or paid for gluten intolerance or food allergy translation at Allergy Translation? I haven’t tried either of these options, but I’d love to hear your comments about them.

4 thoughts on “Celiac Disease in Translation

  1. I have the Triumph Dining cards and love them.

    Each cuisine is represented in both English and a secondary language (the most appropriate for the server or cook). So the American cuisine card is in both English and Spanish, the Indian cuisine card in both English and Hindi. The cards content is specific to its cuisine, common and hidden sources of gluten are mentioned, as are examples of safe foods, and cross-contamination is covered as well. The cards are laid out in a really intuitive way; “Cannot Eat”, “Please Check”, and “I Can Eat.” I have lots of servers & chefs that ask to keep the card for reference.

    I find the cards are REALLY useful when the server or cook and I don’t speak the same language. I keep a set in my purse and in the car.

  2. Hi – I am looking for contacts of people with celiac who have travelled to Japan. My daughter, 13yr with celiac, is going with school to a host family in June to Akiruno, 3hrs outside Tokyo. So far I know soy sauce and eel are a no-no! Any info appreciated! Karen Rae from Marlborough, Massachusetts

  3. This is a little late, but anyone going to Japan and needs Gluten free…you best bet is to find a Western Restaurant as they are less likely to have gluten in everything.
    Sushi has Rice Vinegar in it. I don’t know if Rice vinegar has gluten in it or not.

    Fried Rice gluten free: Lemon juice or peanut oil works in place of the gluten.
    GF Japan From Japan With Love blog. Excellent!

    GF blog, focusing on Japan mainly
    rainyrice blog

    Hungary: Gluten Free Globe (As of Oct. 9, 2010 this site did not work for Japan, as no one has commented. But do check here for other countries and regions as well, as more info might pop up with out notice.)

    My own blog, I’m still working on, but when done will be GF recipes for those with unusual food sensitivites, and mostly Vegan. (Onion, garlic, celery, cabbage, etc.)

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