Mike has a severe peanut allergy, which can honestly be a huge pain in the butt when it comes to eating out. Before we left on our trip to France, we did a bit of googling and found out that although peanuts aren’t used too commonly in French cooking and baking, they do use peanut oil in everything from pizza dough to salad dressings. Eeeek! I knew that peanut butter wasn’t really eaten there, so I’d mistakenly assumed that it would be easier to find peanut-free options there, rather than harder! Boy, was I wrong. Peanuts and peanut oil are everywhere!
While evidence shows that the refining process removes the allergens from peanut oil, we weren’t taking any chances while we were on vacation and didn’t want to eat anywhere that wasn’t absolutely certain that their products were peanut-free. And it was really tough! Compared to North America, it seemed like peanuts were everywhere. I know Mike ended up eating way more burgers and pizza than he’d ever hoped to on a French vacation due to his peanut allergy.
Fortunately, despite the peanut allergy, we did manage to make it safely through our vacation and we were able to track down all the French specialties that Mike had his heart set on trying. So much of French culture centers around food, so I’m so glad we were able to find peanut-free options (croissants, French onion soup, socca and all).
I compiled the following tips to help anyone else who might be facing the same challenges.
What to know about peanut allergy in France?
Peanuts everywhere. Nearly every bar will have bowls of peanuts. You’ll see bowls of peanuts at cafés, too. Even if you’re just going for a drink, inform the staff of the peanut allergy to ensure there’s no cross-contamination. If you or your child are very sensitive then you’ll need to be extra careful. We ate at a restaurant where the chef assured us that the kitchen was entirely peanut-free, but sure enough, when I walked past the bar I saw heaping bowls of peanuts. Even if you don’t think a dish would contain peanuts, ask! Sauces are thickened with peanut butter and dressings might be made with peanut oil.
Less awareness. In France, there is so much less awareness regarding peanut allergies. When we go to restaurants here in Toronto, servers are almost always able to immediately tell us whether or not their restaurants use peanuts, even though they’ll rarely make a 100% peanut-free guarantee. In France, when we informed them of Mike’s peanut allergy, only a couple front of house staff had the answer, and sometimes even the cooks didn’t know! A couple explained that they receive their oil is huge vats and they can’t be sure what’s in it. A whole bunch of times we encountered hosts and servers that preferred to just tell us that we probably shouldn’t eat there without even checking with the kitchen. That was pretty frustrating when we’d already struck out at a few restaurants already, but we felt it was much better to be safe than sorry.
Parisian waitstaff are grumpy. Restaurant servers are notoriously grumpy in Paris, but don’t let it phase you. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it discourage you from emphasizing the seriousness of the peanut allergy.
In case of emergency. Make sure you know the local emergency numbers. For emergency numbers in France, click HERE.
What to say?
Make sure you emphasize the severity of the peanut allergy and make sure you clearly communicate that it’s a matter of life and death, not just a food preference. Clarify that it’s important that not just the particular meal be peanut-free, but that no peanuts are used in the kitchen at all. We were told at least once that there were no peanuts before being told, “Ah, yes, actually we use peanut oil for the fries!”
Je suis très allergique aux arachides/cacahuètes – I am very allergic to peanuts
J’ai une allergie analphylactique aux arachides/cacahuètes – I have an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts
Je suis gravement allergique aux cacahuètes et à l’huile d’arachide – I am seriously allergic to peanuts and peanut oil
Important note: Do not just ask if the food contains noix. This word for nut is used to refer specifically to walnuts, and misleadingly doesn’t encompass all nuts.
What to do?
Even in the most touristy, English-speaking places we visited, hardly anyone understood the word ‘peanut’, so make sure you know all the different terms used to refer to peanuts and peanut oils. Don’t assume that what is safe at home is safe abroad.
Be prepared. If you have a severe peanut allergy, always have an Epipen and make sure it’s labelled and carry a prescription for airline screeners. Make sure your travel companions know how to use it.
Write it out. Unfortunately the French don’t make it easy, and there are a few different words that are used to refer to peanuts. We made sure to use them all. Mike doesn’t speak very much French, but he memorized a few key phrases and carried them around written on a paper card to be sure. If you’re unsure of your pronunciation or if the restaurant staff seem even the least bit unsure, show them your card.
Check labels. Allergens are pretty well labeled on packaged goods, so we bought a lot of our food at grocery stores. We stayed in apartments with kitchens, so we were able to prepare our own food, which saved us money and grief. We always tried to have some peanut-free snacks on hand, so that when it took us ages to find a peanut-free restaurant, Mike wasn’t left completely ravenous.
On labels, look for:
Cacahuètes – peanuts (most commonly used in France)
Arachides – peanuts (most commonly used in Quebec, but also used in France)
Huile d’arachides – peanut oil
Beurre de cacahuètes/arachides – peanut butter
Fruit à coque – translated as “fruits in shells”, this term is used as a catch-all for nuts, and is used on lots of labels
Watch out. if peanuts are an ingredient in a product, they won’t necessarily be included in the list of “may contain” ingredients, so read everything carefully!
Clarify. Even if the host told us we were ok, we also made sure to ask the server, and also asked them to double-check with the kitchen. We emphasized the severity of the peanut allergy, and told them he would DIE. Honestly, it was a hassle and Mike hated the fuss, but I reminded him that it was way less fuss than a trip to the ER.
Where to go?
In both Nice and Paris, I tried searching online for peanut-free restaurants and bakeries, and didn’t find anything at all. So here’s a list of a few of the spots we found that were able to assure us that they didn’t use any peanuts or peanut oils. If you’re looking for peanut-free food while in France, check these places out as a starting point, but please, please make sure to always ask because things might have changed. I need to track down the names of some other restaurants we ate at, so I’ll update this list.
Nice: La Claire Fontaine (lunch/dinner), Boulangerie de L’Olivier (bakery)
Eze: Le Pinocchio (lunch/dinner)
Vence: Brasselie la Victoire (no peanuts in the kitchen, but served at the bar) (lunch/dinner)
Paris: Arena Cafe (breakfast/lunch/dinner), Hippopotamus (lunch/dinner), Poilâne (bakery), Cafe Pinson (breakfast/lunch/dinner – organic/veg/raw)