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Gluten-Free Bread in Europe

I will have your gluten-free bread to your table in a few minutes.”

How many times do you hear that in a restaurant? And, then it arrives piping hot from the oven! And absolutely delectable!

French Bread with Tomato Pesto

Gluten-free bread with tomato pesto

I just returned from two weeks in Europe, including Iceland?where this incredible experience happened at breakfast and dinner on my first day in the city of Reykjavik. And it happened again in two cities in Switzerland: Interlacken and Zermatt (near the Matterhorn).

Gluten-Free Bread in Restaurants

But first, Iceland. The restaurant was in our hotel, the Hotel Reykjavik Marina downtown (in case you ever visit). They not only provided bread, but pulled open a 3-foot wide drawer stocked with boxes of gluten-free crackers, cookies, etc. for me to choose from?anything I wanted, right there in the restaurant. Fabulous!

Gluten-free rolls in Swiss hotel

Gluten-free rolls in Swiss hotel

But my focus was on the bread. It was the size of a small French bread. Did I mention that I had my choice of two kinds: white and whole grain! At dinner, it was served with tomato pesto that was also delicious. In Switzerland, one restaurant (Hotel Hermitage in Lucerne) also provided French baguettes. And, then in Zermatt both our hotel and its sister hotel (Hotel Daniela and Romantik Hotel Julen) provided crusty rolls that were picture-perfect and delicious for both breakfast and dinner. Again, piping hot from the oven.

It appears that the hotels (at least those in Switzerland) buy the bread from local bakeries and then keep them frozen until needed. In each case, it took about 20 minutes for the bread to arrive at my table because?as one waiter explained in halting English?it took that long to defrost and heat the loaf. When I couldn’t finish all the bread (they were very generous with their servings), I placed it in a plastic ziploc bags that I carried in my purse so I could eat it all day. What a treat!

Sadly, I have no way of obtaining the ingredient list of these marvelous breads because I would love to know how they were made. As you can see from the picture, they sprinkled lots of seeds (poppy seed, pumpkin, and sesame) on the breads and this not only tasted good but really made the breads looks so enticing. An easy thing for us to do with our homemade breads.

Gluten-free rolls in Swiss hotel

Gluten-free rolls in Swiss hotel

The meals served at these restaurants were superb, and the English-speaking waitstaff seemed to have a good understanding of gluten-free needs. In the less-expensive, casual restaurants that wasn’t true and I had to rely on my dining cards to communicate my needs. Sometimes I had to settle for ordering a lettuce salad and always had some bread (see next section) and Justin’s peanut butter packets with me, to tide me over until the next meal.

Gluten-Free Bread in Stores

It wasn’t just the restaurants that had gluten-free bread. I was never close to a health food store in Reykjavik, but found gluten-free bread in several stores in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. In Germany and Switzerland, I found a chain called Reformhaus that carried multi-grain bread with amaranth by a company called Schnitzer. (Interestingly, the back of the bread container featured an ad for the company’s gluten-free premium lager and shandy, which is beer mixed with lemonade or soda).

In Interlacken, Switzerland, I also found a Reformhaus but had lots of gluten-free bread choices at a Swiss-based store called Migros, with locations in several cities. I chose a Pane Rustico (Italian Peasant bread) that was pre-sliced and shaped like the loaves we buy in the U.S. It was made primarily of rice flour, cornstarch, flaxseed, sesame seed, molasses, psyllium, and sunflower seeds. I saw partially-baked bread loaves and rolls that were meant to be baked at home but I had no way of baking them so didn’t buy any. I had heard about another chain of stores called Coop, but didn’t get a chance to go to one.

In Austria, I found a store called EuroSpar by a Netherlands-based company called Spar. These stores varied in size across Europe, but I found a larger one in Bregenz that carried a line of foods called “Free-From.” One of their gluten-free breads was called Brot Mix, pre-sliced, packaged in two-slice cellophane bags that were perfect for traveling. The slices were very thin, rectangular (2×4-inch), and not at all like what we buy here in the U.S.

But I loved this heavy, moist, hearty bread and carried it with me every day so I could make peanut-butter sandwiches or toast it for breakfast (with my toast-it bag). This bread was made primarily of rice flour, buckwheat, corn, lupine flour (a legume), and sunflower seeds, so it had a nice wholesome texture.

By the way, all of these European breads were also lactose-free so the gluten-free community in Europe understands better than many U.S. companies that lactose-intolerance often accompanies the gluten-free condition. All in all, I relished the chance to enjoy bread with my meal and applaud all these stores and restaurants for making it possible!

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