I first visited Spain in 2001, and I had no idea where to eat in Barcelona. I also had no clue how to navigate a city that seemed bewilderingly alien. France, where I was based for the year, already struck me as foreign despite being a Montrealer who spoke French. The fact remained that it was my first time away from Canada on my own, and even the little details and the inherent formality in my fellow students stood out as confusing.

Spain was far more casual. Dining hours were shifted, with lunch served late and dinner even later. During my first of several visits to Barcelona, I struck up a conversation with a man at a cafe after he ordered in melodious, smooth Spanish. Amazed, I asked him how he had learned to speak so fluently. It never occurred to me that I could do the same. “Nothing is stopping you!” he said, decades ahead of me in confidence. Me, with my wide eyes and confusion about why eggs were kept out of the fridge, stared at him blankly. “You just decide to learn, and you take the time.” And then, leaning in conspiratorially, “The best way to learn is between the sheets.” My face flushed red. He threw his head back and laughed, hands rising in surrender. “Ok, perhaps not just yet. Start by learning through your tastebuds and your stomach. Food is the key to everything.”

I have no idea what his name was or where he might be, but that one line from an American in Spain stuck with me. During my year in Aix-en-Provence I skipped quite a lot of classes, arms curled protectively around my backpack as I opted instead to take the evening train from Marseille down to Barcelona. I can still hear the clicking of lighters flicking on throughout the night as the cabin filled with smoke until the train spat me out at the Spanish border at dawn. The next leg, the shorter train that took me into Barcelona itself, was my favourite. I would press my face against the window as the light began to glow from behind the hills at the sides of the tracks.

I returned again and again during my year in France, drawn to the joy and expressiveness, an open appreciation for existing that I felt was missing in Aix-en-Provence. But I have not returned since, until I finally made it back to Barcelona earlier this month.

As many of you know, I have celiac disease. While I have to be extremely careful as I travel – even frying foods in oil contaminated with wheat remnants will get me sick – I don’t seek out restaurants that cater specifically to gluten-free eaters. Instead, I choose to research as much as I can, arming myself with information versus relying on a place that claims to know what I can and cannot eat.

The restaurants below were all successful for my stomach. They were delicious, they were reasonably priced, and they were able to feed me without getting me sick. It merits stressing for those with celiac disease that I had to ask each time and for each dish what had flour in sauces or was dredged first; the one time I forgot to ask about a dish it turned out to be lightly battered, so lightly that I only realized it when a few minutes into my meal I started to feel drugged and dizzy, sharp stomach pains following shortly thereafter.