When moving to Madrid, or any new place for that matter, everyone has a long list of to-do’s once they arrive and a variety of concerns about their new home city. For those of us with specific dietary needs, it can be daunting not knowing what food will be available – especially when the traditional foods clash with our requirements. Coming from New York City where absolutely everything seems available within walking distance at any time of day, I wondered how Madrid would stack up and if indeed its famous hospitality would extend to accommodating people with special diets. Luckily, with very little exploration I found a variety of options with the city center.
I have been gluten free for a year now and packed my carryon with gluten-free crackers for my flight over, but I definitely didn’t have enough to last me long after my arrival. My first trip to the supermercado at Cortes Ingles brought a wave of relief … a large “Sin Gluten” (without gluten) section sat right up front. In fact, Cortes Ingles has a large variety of gluten-free, lactose-free, and health food products. The selection varies based on which store you visit, but both the shops between Callao and Sol metro stops have good sized special foods sections. The shop at Nuevos Ministerios is the largest and most diverse I have found so far. Other supermarket options for celiacs and those with gluten sensitivities are OpenCor, who have a similar but smaller selection than Cortes Ingles, and Mercadona, who have shops all over Spain.
If you’re looking for a more intimate shopping experience, Nature and Clark is a gourmet market located just south of Calle de Fernando VI on Hortaleza (on the border between Malasaña and Chueca). I wandered in recently and was surprised at the variety of dietary needs the small store covers. While the selection of gluten free products is quite small, they also sell Kosher and macrobiotic supplies.
So those should keep you covered for dining at home, but what about eating out? Spanish tapas are world-renowned and tapas restaurants are scattered all over Madrid. Figuring out what tapas dishes you can or cannot eat takes a few questions and some trial and error. If you’re gluten-free, stay away from croquettas (even the filling contains flour), empanadas and the tostas but feel free to dig into tortilla española or tortilla de patatas as it is called in some parts of the country (people have had to re-assure me over and over again that it’s just eggs and potatoes), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), gambas (shrimp), pimientos del padrón (peppers) and of course the jamon (ham)! And if you’re craving a little taste of America, don’t fear … McDonalds has gluten free bread available for their hamburgers!
Having to skip the pan and empanadas is frustrating at times; however, I think our vegetarian friends have a tougher go of it in the land of jamon! Some suggestions for vegetarians can be found in Alison’s post Viva la Vida – Vegetarian Style.
I would love to hear any other great restaurants or shops that you have found. Feel free to share in the comments!