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For those with restrictive food allergies or intolerances, traveling often comes with some extra mental baggage. It’s that monkey on your back, that nagging thought in your mind — ‘what am I going to eat?’. When it comes to gluten, much of the world is either indifferent (as only some demographics are truly affected), or lack the diverse ingredients required to get by. Luckily, South America boasts a culinary culture receptive to those who can’t go stuffing their faces with pounds of sourdough. With staples like rice, corn, yucca, plantains, potatoes, and beans, it’s possible to get your starch fix without too much hassle. Considering everything from packaging and labeling laws to the convenience of gluten-free restaurants, here’s our list of the best gluten-free cities in South America.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Celiacs rejoice! The last time we checked, sizzling South American steak that cleaves at the nudge of a fork and melts in your mouth is certifiably gluten-free. Buenos Aires is a city where the humble meal of meat and potatoes is mixed, matched, spiced, seasoned, fused and interpreted in a myriad of ways, creating delicious and inventive new takes on dishes that are safe and healthy.
Some naturally gluten-free Argentinian food includes fainá, a kind of flatbread made from chickpea flour, provoleta, a barbecued cheese dish, humitas, which are similar to Peruvian tamales, and ice cream for dessert. Ohsawa is a great spot offering gluten-free bread and pastries if you’re feeling a little meat heavy. Sintaxis is an entire restaurant dedicated to serving gluten-free plates. And finally, Tea Connection is your go-to spot for healthy salads, stews, and smoothies. With that said, if you go a week eating solely red meat, no one is going to judge you.
Lima is a city quickly becoming a hub for foodies around the world, and celiacs have reason to celebrate as well. Although the famous lomo saltado usually contains gluten, the plethora of fish-based options and dishes with quinoa and corn make Lima an attractive destination for gluten-free travel.
Ceviche. It doesn’t matter if you’re allergic to gluten, slightly sensitive, a pro-gluten wheat-lover or even unsure what gluten really is — ceviche is delicious for everyone. There’s beauty in simplicity, and when you pair fresh fish with citrus flavors, everyone is going to have a good time. Also popular in Lima are tamales, carapulcra (pork and potatoes in a peanut sauce), and rocoto relleno (veggie dish of stuffed fiery peppers). Quinoa will be your friendliest and most abundant go-to starch, so feel free to shovel it down. As far as restaurants go, check out Twins Cafe GF, Cala, and Amaz. The wait staff at these establishments know their stuff when it comes to special requests and cross-contamination, so no need to worry.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brazil recently passed a law requiring all packaged foods to say “contén glúten” or “não contén glúten,” so scrolling through the aisles of supermarkets in Rio is less of a headache for celiacs than it was previously.
The options for dining out in Rio are also very accommodating for those traveling with a gluten sensitivity. Moqueca is a fish stew that is naturally gluten-free, cooked in coconut milk, palm oil, parsley, garlic, tomato paste, and peppers. Feijoada is another African-influenced Brazilian dish with beans, pork, salad, and rice. For a snack, Brazil’s most delicious and least glutinous staple is pão de queijo — delicious little stuffed cheese balls made from tapioca flour as opposed to wheat flour, so they’re naturally gluten-free. While in Rio, be sure to try tapioca crepes for breakfast and cassava or yucca fries as a filling snack.
Medellin isn’t a city particularly known for its expertise in the culinary department, and Colombians are known to favor quantity over quality when it comes to dining out. That being said, the gastronomic vices in Medellin are more in the realm of sugary sweets rather than any wheat-covered plate that could harm a celiac.
The classic menu del día consists of a dollop of rice, a little salad, a soup, and a whopping portion of meat — it’s what you would expect to be served by a proud college sophomore who just learned to put three food groups on one plate. Many times there will be other gluten-free staples like potatoes, plantains, beans, and avocado. Medellin is also the proud home of the arepa, a buttery, savory corn-based snack usually topped with cheese and other ingredients. For the best collection of gluten-free ingredients in the city, head over to Salud Pan for everything from gluten-free bread and desserts to quinoa snacks and healthy harmless cereals.
Ecuadorian cuisines are the product of a diverse geography and centuries of indigenous tradition. Today, Quito revels in the Andean traditions of yucca, plantains, and rice, so surviving here is more than doable. While in Quito, local fare usually has more gluten-free options than tourist traps (as they pile on the pizzas and pasta), so be wary of chifa restaurants, or Asian-fusion restaurants that use soy sauce and are often not cognizant of cross-contamination.
Pan de yuca is a delicious little cheese bread made from yuca starch that is safe for all celiacs and super delicious. Be sure to try chifle, a type of dried plantain, and encebollado, which is often considered the national dish of Ecuador with cassava and tons of veggies.