Brazil: A Gluten Free Trip Report

Having viewed Iguazu falls from the Argentine side (less crowded and better walkways) we moved on to Brazil. The falls from the Brazilian side were hugely impressive – and if you go to Iguazu you have to do both – but for me the Brazilian side did have a touch of the Disney about it. A couple of photos, although it really is impossible to capture in a photo the true scale of Iguazu, the deafening sound of the water or the seriously high humidity. My advice? Take a towel and some dry clothes to change into after viewing from the Brazilian side!

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Brazil. Land of football, tiny bikinis and….more meat. I mean the animal kind. Oh yes, after Argentina this was another carnivore’s dream.

Luckily I was still in the mood for steak so that meant dining in the ubiquitous Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouses. These were a great option to dine gluten free. They offered salad bars with many different options such as salad ingredients (lettuce, tomatoes, corn, olives etc), rice salads, shellfish……You can help yourself to whatever you like. There were also some prepared dishes (seemed to be curries etc) but I didn’t want to take any chances and anyway, the meat was enough for me! The churrascarias we visited offered an all in price for the meat and salad bar.

The meat is served by passadores who come to your table with great skewers of meat which have been cooked on the barbecue and slice off chunks onto your plate. I was told the meat was prepared with a rub of salt. We lost count of the different types of meat but beef, pork, chicken, lamb were offered. Sausages also did the rounds but I avoided them just in case they contained gluten.

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As well as the meat, a variety of chips, cassava and banana (!) accompanied the meal. I didn’t try the latter by the way.

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Now Brazil presented me with something of a conundrum. Every item of food and drink was labelled to state whether it did / did not contain gluten. CONTÉM GLÚTEN or NÃO CONTÉM GLÚTEN was written in nice big, clear writing on absolutely everything in Brazil. Such as on this bottle of mineral water….

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You would think this comprehensive labeling would ensure the population would have some understanding of coeliac disease, right?  Wrong. Almost no one knew what gluten was and why it was labelled on their food and drink! Even with my Coeliac Travel cards, I felt the wait staff didn’t understand at all what I was asking. On most occasions the cards were taken into the chef to see if he knew what it all meant. In one restaurant in Buzios, the waitress spoke perfect English but admitted she had no clue whatsoever what gluten was and when I showed her the note on the water bottle she said she’d never thought about what it meant. It was quite astonishing. Why bother going to such lengths of labeling food and drink if no one knows what it means?

Perhaps I had a series of bad experiences but I would recommend that if you travel to Brazil you take the Coeliac Travel cards and are cautious in what you eat. I wasn’t confident that any menu items would be accurately adjusted to be gluten free as they could be at home. I wasn’t ill while I was away but I stuck to naturally occurring gluten free food items such as grilled meat, fish and salads.

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10 Comments

  1. April 9, 2011 / 12:13 am

    What gorgeous photos. How amazing that everything is labelled and that no one knew what it meant. Well, on thinking about it, I guess I am not surprised.
    I am traveling to Washington, New York and Vegas later in the year to stay with friends who live in Washington. She is going to do lots of gluten free checking out of restaurants, etc, before we go.

    • April 9, 2011 / 8:56 am

      Thanks, Brazil was a beautiful country. Your US trip sounds very exciting! I will be looking forward to hearing how about the places you visit and recommendations, especially for New York. I’m hoping to go out to NYC in the next few months to see a good friend. I can’t wait to try BabyCakes!

  2. August 27, 2012 / 3:25 pm

    Hi Mrs D ,
    You get around to some lovely places.
    My brother lives in Rio.I found the product labelling helpful.
    The manjoica chips are a welcome sight if you like a chip sensation.They also do tapioca pancake ish street snacks .With cheese,coconut.Its an aquired taste.If you hungry, best when hot.or they are very very chewy.
    Being a vegetarian ,I had a lot of omelettes and salads.Fruit smoothie shops are popular .
    There is a chain of shops that sell gluten free products.Horto Frutos ?
    http://www.happycow.net/south_america/brazil/rio_de_janeiro/ has a list of restaurants.
    I tried Bio carioca which was not bad.
    The chain of queso snacks shops which are everywhere.Did not guarantee the flour was just 100% gluten free .So I did not risk it.
    Happy travelling
    Jane

  3. February 16, 2013 / 1:19 pm

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad I wasn’t alone in finding it strange the mineral water is labelled “gluten free” yet no one understands what gluten is!

    Great tips in your article, thanks for linking to that. We also went to Buzios after Rio and found it quite tricky to eat safely there.

  4. Liana
    May 31, 2013 / 6:52 pm

    Hi there,
    I’m Brazilian and I have to say: it’s soooo difficult to find gluten free food around here…just like you said, most people dont know what the hell gluten is, so that labeling saves lives! hehe
    I was amazed to see that in Europe ‘gluten’ is kind of a common word!
    These days there’re more products available in Brazil, a bit pricey but it’s an option.
    A funny thing is that gluten sounds similar to glúteos, which are butt in Portuguese, so people sometimes think I’m asking if the food is ‘butt’ free…! :O
    Anyway, nice post!! I ended up here looking for gluten free food in Iguazu but it was totally worth reading this one about Brazil! I’ll share it with my gluten free friends!

  5. Angélica
    December 3, 2013 / 11:37 pm

    I’m Brazilian and I totally agree with you. When it comes to gluten-free we’re doomed. People around here don’t know the disease and when you explain they don’t accept that as a disease. About the “pão de queijo” it’s naturally gluten-free but when you add regular flour it gets cheaper, so flour is everywhere.

  6. May 19, 2016 / 6:57 pm

    Certainly, the problems with gluten has grown every day and it is very difficult to find a place to eat that receive this type of public. The steak are delicious and great for those who can not eat it.

    • May 19, 2016 / 7:54 pm

      Thanks for the comment Marcela! I agree – the steaks are truly fantastic in Brazil.

  7. August 11, 2016 / 9:43 pm

    It really is very difficult to find a property that worry people who have any allergies or dietary restrictions. Brazilian cuisine has much to offer us!

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