Buenos Aires for Celiacs?

I’ve never been to Buenos Aires, but I very much want to visit. That’s largely because of the city’s architecture and art and music (those who know my darker, crime-fiction-writing side will also understand my interest in seeing Recoleta). My curiosity has been piqued in the past couple of years because it seemed that Argentina’s capital city is a great destination for the gluten-free. Silvia Basualdo Róvere has sent information about restaurants that serve gluten-free food (in this post and in this one). Also, the group Ley Celíaca (Celiac Law) has been very successful in passing legislation to increase awareness and accessibility for celiacs.

But Timo Rantalaiho, a reader who has lived in Buenos Aires for five months wrote to me with a very different — and quite negative — impression of the city. For his full text, visit the comments under this post. Here are some excerpts:

I’m sorry to break your illusion, but Buenos Aires is not a celiac paradise by any means. This has been the experience of our celiac family that has now lived in Buenos Aires for five months.

Almost any restaurant that has ever heard of the celiac disease or is asked whether they make food suitable for celiac people or if they have anything on the menu without flour will tick the box in Guia Oleo, but that doesn’t mean that you could actually get that kind of food in the place, at least not easily. Practically nobody knows anything about the celiac disease, gluten, or wheat. Weird stares ensue whenever we go to a restaurant and start the story. Often a waiter will happily bring us a (normal wheat) bread basket just after the five-minute discussion of what could we possibly eat, how we cannot eat even crumbs of wheat etc.

There are a couple of exceptions that are the places recommended by the local celiac associations: Te adoro Garcia, Comer en compania, Zona natural and perhaps one more. But these are actually just cafeterias / bars that are not even open in the evening and that serve a very limited selection of lunches, typically heated up in the microwave. And I am not kidding. The times we ate in Te adoro Garcia and Comer en compania the food was OK, but it’s definitely not the kind of restaurant experience that a healthy person can easily enjoy in Buenos Aires. The reality is that there is not a single restaurant in Buenos Aires where a celiac people can go out and dine as well and safely as in Helsinki, which is where we lived before.

One thing that limits the choice a lot in the normal restaurants (all except those three or four) is, that in this country, wheat is everywhere. Everybody is certain that normal cheeses and sausages contain wheat flour and definitely must not be eaten — there’s a couple of brands that are safe, and that are enlisted in the lists of the local celiac associations. It’s practically certain that any restaurant will not use these brands but something else. But what’s the most amazing thing that according to celiac people, doctors and associations in here, even normal spices contain gluten.

As you can imagine, in the end this leaves one with pretty little choice. The most ubiquitous safe bet is grilled meat and salad (you just have to make sure they don’t put pepper or other spices in the salad). Other than that, some peruvian restaurants, which there are a plenty, can prepare some of their dishes such as ceviche and parihuela without using any dried spices.

The celiac law is not enacted in Argentina yet which means that the packagings cannot be trusted. The gluten-free symbol or failure to mention wheat in the ingredients does not have any legal consequences before the law is in place, which I understand will take some time still.

I’m always suspicious of sweeping statements, such as “the reality is that there is not a single restaurant in Buenos Aires where celiac people can go out and dine as well and safely as in Helsinki.” But Timo’s letter raises a number of interesting points: Do restaurants in Buenos Aires that identify themselves as celiac-friendly actually try to give gluten-free patrons rolls made from wheat? Do they not know what celiac disease is when you visit them? Is wheat so ubiquitous in Argentina that it’s in most cheeses and spices? Is it very difficult to get a good gluten-free meal there? Are celiacs limited to eating in cafeterias and luncheonettes?

When I visited Chile, I found a number of gluten-free products that had been made in Argentina on supermarket shelves. I tried many of them, and even brought some home with me because I was impressed by the quality. They certainly didn’t make me sick. Of course, the products I sampled represent only a tiny fraction of what would be available in Argentina now. Does the gluten-free symbol on a product’s packaging not truly indicate that it’s safe for celiacs?

I know that the Gluten-Free Guidebook has many readers in Buenos Aires, and I would love to get your opinions on this subject. Also, I’d love to hear from anyone who’s traveled to the city (and through other parts of Argentina). What was your experience of dining gluten-free in Buenos Aires?

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REMINDER: The Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Reader Report Contest deadline is June 7, 2010. Complete details are here.

Reader Reports for Celiac Awareness Month


October is Celiac Awareness Month, so there’s an uptick in coverage about the disorder and generally about gluten intolerance. A couple of the better pieces that have been published lately: “Gluten-Free: Is It for Me?” by Daphne Oz on Oprah.com and “Why Common Foods May Hurt Your Health” by Dr. Jon LaPook on The Huffington Post.

Everyone knows it’s Halloween at the end of this month, but parents of children with celiac disease and/or food allergies need to hear about the Halloween candy list that’s available from Sure Foods Living. Keep in mind that this list was compiled using American sources. Canadian parents, when you read that Smarties are free of gluten, know that this is not true of the popular Nestlé treat, but of an American candy that is unrelated but shares the name. Also this month, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness hosts a Gluten-Free Cooking Spree in San Francisco. It will take place on October 30th; check the NFCA site for details and ticket information.

Some Gluten-Free Guidebook readers also have advice to share. Carolina, who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, recommends one gluten-free spot:

There is a place called CeliGourmet here in Buenos Aires that sells food to take out. It has all sorts of things, such as crepes, tarts, pizzas, sandwiches, empanadas (typical local food). There are also many kinds of cake, like cheesecake, chocolate cake, tiramisu, etc., and a variety of breads. There are two stores: one in General Paunero 1927 – Martinez (like half an hour out of town) tel, 4798-2990, and one in Thames 1633 – Palermo Soho, in town, tel 4831-5162.

To my ear, Buenos Aires sounds more and more like a gluten-free paradise. Reader Silvia Basualdo Róvere shared some local restaurants in this post and in this one. If you visit Buenos Aires, check out Oleo, a website that allows you to search for city restaurants that serve gluten-free meals (“comidas para celiacos”). There are currently 300 places on the list!

Another reader, Sybil, left an incredibly helpful comment on my post “Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Eaton Centre.” In it, she mentioned that the Druxy’s Famous Deli in Toronto’s Commerce Court kept gluten-free bread in its freezer. I’d never heard about Druxy’s offering gluten-free options, but Peter Druxerman, the company’s vice-president of marketing, confirmed it. Right now it’s just a test program — the only Druxy’s with gluten-free bread is the one in Commerce Court — but it’s one that Druxerman says the company would like to expand.

Next summer, if you’re visiting Ontario’s spectacular Stratford Festival, take a tip from another reader, Marilyn, who shared this:

We twice visited the festival last summer, and we were able to order ahead, by phone or online, for a gluten-free picnic lunch that we picked up from the Festival Theatre lunch bar. We found the food and beverage supervisor very helpful in discussing options, and the food was excellent!

If you go, the Festival Theatre Café is located at 55 Queen Street, Stratford, [tel] 1-800-567-1600 or 519-271-4040. According to the website, picnic lunches need to be ordered at least 48 hours in advance.

Many thanks to Carolina, Sybil, and Marilyn for their terrific tips. Please keep them coming!

Reader Report: Buenos Aires Restaurants

Silvia Basualdo Róvere, the reader who provided such a wonderful list of Buenos Aires restaurants a few months ago, is at it again. Silvia has compiled a list of celiac-friendly eateries in and around Buenos Aires and put the information into a spreadsheet. Anyone who wants to view it can click through here.

Silvia is a member of Ley Celíaca (Celiac Law), an organization that promotes the welfare of Argentina’s 400,000 celiacs. Gluten-Free Guidebook readers are invited to visit the group’s website at www.ley-celíaca.com.ar; Ley Celiaca also has an online forum. The site and forum are in Spanish and can also be read via Google.

Thanks so much to Silvia for providing a wealth of information about Buenos Aires restaurants! A few of her latest recommendations are listed below. There are many more on the spreadsheet; just follow the link above to access it.

Cúrcuma [address] Ramírez de Velasco 1427, Buenos Aires [tel] 4856 0811 [web] www.curcumacatering.com.ar

La Calandria [address] Fernández de Enciso 4370, Buenos Aires [tel] 4501-0266

Mama Europa [address] B Matienzo 1599, Buenos Aires [tel] 4772-0926 or 4777-3835 [web] www.mamaeuropa.com.ar

Te Adoro García [address] Teodoro García 2902 y Conesa, Buenos Aires [tel] 3535-0288

Reader Report: Gluten-Free Buenos Aires

Gluten-Free Guidebook will be one month old on April 15th, and I’ve already received dozens of e-mails from readers around the world. Some have wanted to share their own experiences of traveling with celiac disease, while others have made specific recommendations about where to eat in a particular city. Thank you for all of your messages.

One incredibly thoughtful reader, Silvia Basualdo Róvere in Buenos Aires, sent me a list of local restaurants willing to prepare gluten-free meals. Silvia has celiac disease and is a member of Ley Celíaca (Celiac Law), an organization working to promote the welfare of Argentina’s 400,000 celiacs. She invites Gluten-Free Guidebook readers to visit the group’s website at www.ley-celíaca.com.ar; Ley Celiaca also has an online forum. The site and forum are in Spanish and can also be read via Google.

Argentina — and particularly Buenos Aires — is a destination that I’m longing to visit, and after reading Silvia’s list, I’m even more intrigued. Silvia has also graciously allowed me to include her e-mail address here (sbasualdo2002@yahoo.com.ar), so that readers can contact her directly. Below is Silvia’s list. You can find more details about these restaurants on Oleo, a Buenos Aires restaurant guide that is available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. (By the way, Oleo also allows you to search for more eateries that serve “celiac food,” a feature I’d love to find on Open Table).

Thanks so much to Silvia for providing this list.

Boomerang RestoBar [address] Montañeses 2814, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4782.2688 [email] boomerang2814@yahoo.com.ar

Casimiro [address] Av. Rivadavia al 6075, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4634-3333 [web] www.lawebdecasimiro.com — Silvia notes that this is a family-friendly restaurant with a playroom for children; there are five locations in and around Buenos Aires

Celigourmet [address] Charcas 4784, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4776 5448 [email] celigourmet@hotmail.com [web] www.celigourmet.com.ar

Comer en Compañia [address] San Martín 951, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4312-3433

El Patio del Farol [address] Alvarado 2296 (esq. Corrientes), Ciudad de Mar del Plata [tel] 0223-494-5125 or 0223-155-285985 [email] reservas@elpatiodelfarol.com.ar [web] www.elpatiodelfarol.com.ar

La Angostura [address] Urquiza 5020 casi Juan B. Justo, Ciudad de Mar del Plata [tel] 0223-480 5528

Mezzo & Mezzo [address] Chile 362, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4300-9419

Mole Tacos Fonda Mexicana [address] Av. Cabildo 1368, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4896-0803 [email] contactanos@moletacos.com.ar [web] www.moletacos.com.ar

Pepino [address] Del Libertador, Av. 14475, Ciudad Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4792-2570 or 54-11 4733-4460 — Silvia says they serve burgers with gluten-free bread

Sensu (Japanese “fast food”), eight locations in Buenos Aires, at shopping centers including Abasto Shopping, Galerias Pacifico, and Solar de la Abadía; [tel] 081077-73678

Sette Bacco [address] Aguero 2157, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4808-0021

Simona Ristorante (Italian cuisine) [address] Humbold 1551, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4772-2008 [email] info@simonaristorante.com.ar [web] www.simonaristorante.com.ar

Tablas de Buenos Aires [address] Perón 7819 Ituzaingó, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4621-7081 [email] tablasbsas@yahoo.com.ar

Tea Connection (café) [address] Uriburu 1597, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4805-0616 (second location at O. Cossettini 1545, Loft 3, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4312-7315) [web] www.teaconnection.com.ar

Zona Natural [address] Tucumán 433, Ciudad de Buenos Aires [tel] 54-11 4312-9333 [email] zonanatural@uolsinectis.com.ar