Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Gluten-free feasting in Lyon, France

Gluten-free, not everything-free.

Not a hard concept, but when you dine gluten-free, your food is often free from rather a lot of other things you could happily eat.

This is an economic phenomenon in part. Let's say you invent a tasty wheat-free crispbread, and you sell it to a niche market of wheat-free eaters. Tweak the recipe to be gluten-free, and dairy-free, and entirely new markets open up.

The very lovely Place des Terreaux in Lyon, perfect place for a vin blanc. Image © Anita Isalska
In that vein, many airlines seem to have a general 'free-from' option for their airline meals. I've found that if you tick 'gluten-free', you can also expect to be denied butter, yoghurt or (most heartbreakingly) ice cream. Making one meal option free from an entire group of allergens simplifies things for the airline...even if it did once land me with a tofu pudding while Wheaty ate ice cream. Infuriatingly, the brand of ice cream even said 'gluten-free' right there on the label. But the flight attendants serenely repeated their mantra of 'no ice cream with special meal'. I sulked that day.

So menus that purport to be free from almost everything allergenic instil in me a blend of excitement (ooh gluten-free food!) and trepidation (please oh please don't skimp on the desserts). But, it turns out, with an inventive chef there is nothing to fear.

No shortage of cafes, bars and brasseries in Lyon - much of it gf-friendly. Image © Anita Isalska
My latest and greatest gluten-free find was in Lyon, France. The city is known as a gourmet paradise but with so many wheat-tastic dishes (breaded pig's trotter, anyone?) I wasn't sure how I would fare...

It turns out that Lyon has a pleasing line of health-conscious, organic and gluten-free cuisine. My best find was Mon Histoire Dans L'assiette - its entire menu is without gluten, dairy, peanuts, shellfish and other common allergens. They bake their own springily soft bread in-house (made from a blend of quinoa, rice and chestnut flours) and serve up fresh and flavoursome main courses (carnivorous and veggie options).

Snapped the sweets before they went in my belly - just. Image © Anita Isalska
But the desserts. Oh, the desserts. An all-too-generous spoonful of Wheaty's caramelised apple with citrus sablé was enough to elicit sighs. My own dessert, gingerbread loaf with poached pear in salted caramel with refreshing pear granita, was a joy. When you are served truly fantastic food, nothing is missing.

Oh delicious Lyon, I'll be back. Image © Anita Isalska

And the joy of French food is that very often, it's blissfully gluten-free by sheer purity of its ingredients. When talking to waiting staff in restaurants in France, I hear a lot of 'bien sûr, of course there's no flour in the sauce, it's 80% butter, a smidge of egg yolk and garlic by the clove!' They know what's in their food, and are often delighted to discuss it. Dining out as a free-from eater is a joy, rather than the teeth-pulling negotiation it can be here in the UK.

As if there weren't enough reasons to linger in France...