European Festivals: Gluten Free Survival Guide


When you go to a festival, let’s face it, you’re not going for the food. You’re going for the music.

Perhaps if you’re hitting Glastonbury, you’ll probably experience far better food than your average greasy burger van, but when you choose a European festival and you’ve got a gluten intolerance, suddenly it all become a bit difficult. I was off to Rock Werchter in Belgium, a favoruite I’d been to a few years before, back when wheat was on the menu.

What’s ‘gluten free’ is a question I hear constantly. One landlord in a local pub told me I couldn’t possible eat crisps. “There’s loads of gluten in potatoes, mate!” I think you’ll find not. If we couldn’t eat potatoes, we’d be screwed. I was not looking forward trying to convey this in another language, but I was ready to give it a good stab.

Here’s some tips on how I survived five days, before I ironically found a huge organic gluten free section in the Eurostar supermarket en route back to London… Typical.

1. Pack snacks

I’m a massive snacker, but coming prepared is a must. Stock up on cereal bars, biscuits and crackers, or make your own in advance. Dry foods will keep if they’re wrapped tightly, so have a baking day before you head off. Just snack on them gradually and not on the train/flight over… My homemade gluten free biscotti didn’t make it past St. John’s station in Brockley… 

2. Ready Made Oats Are Your Friend

I was sent some instant oats from Provena a few months ago but had yet to try them. I’ll always make porridge with fresh oats, but suddenly had a brainwave to take them with me to Belgium. All they need is 100ml boiling water added to the oats. Just stir and leave for one minute before tucking in. Pop to a hot drinks van and just ask for some hot water. If they question it, you can always offer to pay, or ask for a cup of tea but with the teabag separately, at least that way you’ve got a hearty breakfast before your day of music. 

3. Download a GF App

People in the UK struggle to understand what a gluten intolerance is, so trying to explain it in another language is almost impossible. Thank GOD for smart phones and apps. When travelling to Thailand last year, I downloaded a similar app – this one titles, ‘GF Card’. Instead of trying to convey what you can and can’t eat, the app does the job for you. Just select the language on the drop down menu and show the server/chef. Luckily the chefs were really helpful, and although most stalls were a no go, there were some that tried really hard to find alternatives.

4. Be prepared to eat lots of chips 

On the first day I really struggled. Wandering the festival for what seemed like hours, darting from stall to stall in hope that someone would have something I could eat, but not wanting to miss my favourite bands was difficult, and in the end I settled for chips, chips and more chips. I did still check with the chef, as some chips can be rolled in flour, but thankfully these were fine. As much as I felt like a chip by the end of the weekend, I was thankful there was something I could have as a back up should I need a quick boost.

5. Find something you like and eat lots of it

Hooray for Paella! The smile on my face when I found this stall and they confirmed they were indeed gluten free. I’ve never enjoyed a plate of food so much! I ended up returning on a number of occasions to the same stall. You can’t go wrong with some trusty rice! 

I was also lucky to find Thai Green Curry with rice, also gluten free, eggs and bacon for breakfast at camp, and managed to wangle kebab meat and salad, served in some tin foil instead of a bun!

6. Embrace Fruit

Luckily for me there were lots of fresh fruit stalls at Rock Werchter. Smoothies, fruit salads, fresh strawberries and even freshly cut watermelon. These are ideal for breakfast or a snack on the go between acts. We even had a stall at our campsite.

7. Get creative

After a wander into the small town of Werchter, we came across a bakery. A beautiful bakery. Heaven to everyone except me, because of course there’s was nothing I could eat. HOWEVER! In one small corner, they had a fresh deli with various different meats and cheeses. Remembering I had some trusty crackers with me, I bought a few slices of ham and cheese to make something that resembled Dairylea lunchables, but tasted far far better. 

8. Take alcohol supplies

Most festivals you’ll take alcohol supplies anyway, but some you’ll rely on nearby off-licences and supermarkets. In Werchter there’s one small corner shop which sells beer and one choice of wine. Within the festival itself, it’s all about beer, beer and more beer, with the odd Jacob’s Creek tent. Of course, beer is a no-go, and there’s only so much wine you can drink throughout a full-on baking hot day. Luckily I took vodka with me, which I carried in a trusty badger water bottle, but next time I’d definitely take a crate of cider on a trolly. When you’re drinking all day, sometimes you just fancy a crisp bevvy that isn’t another glass of wine.

Have you been to any festivals as someone who has to follow a strict diet? How did you find the options?

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