Ireland provides more gluten-free options

There’s no greater joy for someone with a gluten intolerance than this, I thought to myself as shoveled a huge bite of my shepherd’s pie into my mouth.

I’m referring to the joy of entering a random restaurant and discovering that there are more gluten-free options to choose from than merely salad.

There’s even greater joy still when said restaurant has an entire portion of their menu specifically dedicated to those with gluten sensitivities, including gluten-free bread and pastries. Miraculously, I’ve had this experience nearly every time I’ve been out to eat while in Ireland.

Eating out with a gluten intolerance can be a real pain in the behind. Gluten is a substance found in wheat, barley, rye and often oats. A heinously long list of everyday foods contain the pesky substance that gives me a gut-wrenching stomach ache if I accidentally consume it, including bread, pasta, any food fried in flour or other gluten-containing coating and any sort of pie, pastry or baked good.

In a country renowned for its carbs, I wasn’t optimistic about what my food choices would be this week during my class’ trip to Ireland. I was expecting to have to consume my carbs solely in the form of potatoes (obviously an Irish staple). But I have to say I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with the additional options made available to me.

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have provided me with more affordable and tasty gluten-free products than any other place I’ve been to since I stopped eating gluten about a year-and-a-half ago, including Spain and the United States. And apparently, the importance of potatoes in the country’s history has something to do with why that’s the case.

The Irish Times published an article a while back, in 2002, explaining that research states there is a higher prevalence of celiac disease in Irish people because historically, the country relied on naturally gluten-free carbs, such as potatoes, to sustain their diets. This allows gluten-intolerant genetic traits to grow.

And this has only compounded recently, as the industry has exploded in the past 10 years as reported gluten allergies and intolerances are on the rise. There are various theories thrown around as to why that’s the case, but none of them seem to be substantiated. Some say that wheat grain has been altered to create more resilient crops that our stomach aren’t used to, or that people are more vitamin deficient these days, but no one is really sure.

What I can say for sure is that the gluten-free options are much more plentiful and much, much cheaper in Ireland than they are in the U.S.

Just in Ireland alone, I’ve blindly walked into three different restaurants that provided gluten-free bread for sandwiches or gluten-free brownies for dessert. I’ve had gluten free beers that actually taste like beer and aren’t astronomically expensive. I could buy a whole loaf of tasty gluten-free bread here for a few euros or pounds whereas the only loaf I’ve found in the U.S. that tastes better than cardboard costs me nearly $9 — for one small loaf of bread!

Even the hotel we stayed at in Belfast provided gluten free toast and muffins. And the public awareness of the issue of gluten sensitivity seems to be so much higher here. Sometimes if I mention my intolerance at a restaurant in the U.S., the server will look at me like I have horns growing out of my head. Here, whenever I’ve inquired about gluten-free options, serving staff have always jumped immediately to accommodate me.

I am grateful to have spent a week surrounded by people seemingly more willing and able to accommodate my dietary restrictions than my own home country.