Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How do you say "Gluten-free" in French?

The Eiffel Tower is Gluten-free
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I speak very little French. It's a joke among my students that I learn one French word a day: some useless word that I'd never use, like la hérisson (hedgehog). Although I've had a hérisson in my garden before, I rarely talk about him. And, if I decided to talk to him, I'd call him an Igel (a hedgehog in German). Point is: I rarely need to speak French.

But then I found out I had Celiac Disease. I'm a traveler, as you know; and, like most people, I'm an eater. Traveling in a country where people adamantly refuse to speak English--the nerve--can be frustrating for a person with CD, so I asked my students for help--which they gave me. I didn't ask them to laugh at my awful French pronunciation, but they gave me that too. Generous folk. Actually, they're all very sweet and wonderful folks.

Here's a primer for getting along in France with CD:

You can practice and practice the following (any native-speaking French person can correct the spelling if you want; the French sentences below are meant merely to show the pronunciation. Yes, my students can chime in and tell me where my accents and little hatty things are missing):

"Avez vous du pain sans gluten?" Do you have gluten-free bread?
"Ess cu se fer avec du blé?" Is it made with wheat?
"Ess cu se fer avec saulement du poix chiche (pwah sheesh)?" Is it made only with chickpeas?

Chickpeas? you ask, and I'm glad you did. We don't talk enough about chickpeas. If you're in Nice, you'll be happy to know that one of their traditional treats is gluten-free. It's called socca and you can find it in the old town at several places that serve local food. These are typically very informal establishments with outdoor seating. Get in the queue with all the other people from Nice and just say Socca when it's your turn.

Socca is a thin chickpea pancake that you eat with olive oil, pepper and salt. It's simple but tasty. If you're hungry in the middle of the day, socca is a perfect--and filling--snack.

And Socca again . . . and again . . . and again
If you're hungry for something sweet, try a macaroon or a marzipan treat (an almandine?). They're relatively expensive, so practice your numbers 1-5 before the salesperson asks you how many you want. I was nervous, so I ended up asking for eight (the only number I could think of). It was over 10 euros.

I must be off (to practice my French),


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.