For most students, one of the things that they look forward to the most about study abroad is trying new foods and experiencing the culture of another country through its cuisine. Unfortunately, for me this was actually one of my biggest concerns. When I was 11 years old I found out I had celiac disease, meaning that I am allergic to gluten. At home I have been able to adjust my lifestyle so that my allergy does not influence me at all, however it can be difficult for me to find gluten-free options while traveling. But I was not about to let that stop me from studying abroad and having the greatest experience.
Thankfully, AIFS was able to work with me to find a homestay that would accommodate my gluten allergy. My host mom, Marta, is the sweetest lady and she has gone out of her way to provide me with gluten-free options. Instead of the usual toast or pastries for breakfast, she bought me rice cakes and gluten-free cereal. She has even started making homemade gluten-free bread so that I can have toast when I want it!
Dinner might possibly be my favorite part of the day, as Marta constantly goes out of her way to provide me with gluten-free versions of all of the traditional Argentine meals. From tartas to millonasa to empanadas, I have been able to experience all of Argentina’s favorite foods despite the fact that they are traditionally full of gluten. Additionally, Marta always double-checks with me about things that she is unsure about, giving me the chance to practice my Spanish vocabulary that relates to food and cooking, and giving Marta and I a unique way to bond as we work together to find gluten-free alternatives.
Eating out is also far easier than I had imagined it would be. The Argentine government started an initiative a few years ago requiring restaurants to provide gluten-free menus to their guests and waiters here often understand my requests for food “libre de gluten,” “sin TACC,” or “para celiacos” better than waiters in the United States do.
Additionally, due to the fact that Buenos Aires is such a big city, there are many restaurants that cater especially to celiacs. There is a bakery a few blocks from my apartment where I go every week to get empanadas, pastas and sweets for the week. The lady who owns the cafe is so sweet and every time I stop by she asks me about my classes, helps me with my Spanish and asks about my experience finding gluten-free options. There is also a restaurant in a nearby neighborhood with a full gluten-free menu and one of the best gluten-free pastas I have ever tasted.
The normal diet in Buenos Aires in full of bread, pastry and pasta due to their Italian roots. However, the people here are so accommodating and there are so many different options that I have never struggled to find something that I can eat. I also have several friends here who are vegetarians or vegans and were afraid that there would be a lack of options due to the traditional gaucho dependence on meat. Just like me, they have been surprised by the vast array of vegetarian options and the extent to which their host families and the people in Buenos Aires will go to in order to accommodate them and make them feel at home. I am so glad that I did not let my food allergy prevent my decision to study abroad and am so grateful for the ways in which people here have gone out of their way to provide me with food that is delicious and gluten-free. My allergies have not hindered my study abroad experience at all. In fact, if anything they have made the situation better as they have revealed to me just how amazing and welcoming the people of Buenos Aires are.