How to survive Oktoberfest as a gluten-intolerant

Written by David/Photos by Michelle & David

Imagine you’re all set up for your first genuine and worldwide famous Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Yeah yeah yeah, I know, there are more than 3000 Oktoberfest venues around the world, including Australia, USA, Canada and China among other countries. But the one in Munich is the original and you should definitely experience the real deal.

So, you just booked your flight tickets to Munich (the one in Bavaria, Germany, not in North Dakota, USA), check!,

You secured a place to crash overnight or during the day (you know, because of the hangover and everything), check!

You have even decided to buy the right outfit to fit in or stand out (that’s your choice 🙂 ), check!

But hey, wait… Your gluten intolerance might get in the way of you and your new experience… 

For those unfamiliar with it, gluten intolerance is a condition in which the gluten protein of ingested grains such as wheat, barley and rye is not fully digested, hangs out in your intestine and is treated by your immune system as a threat, irritating the gut and limiting your capacity to absorb nutrients. Depending on its severity (between a gluten sensitivity to a full-blown celiac disease), symptoms can include stomach issues, fatigue, headaches, foggy mind, depression, nutrient deficits and more.  There, the science lecture of the day.

Anyway, that’s a bummer, isn’t it?

Now what? Does it mean you’re banned from the Wiesn, with all that gluten-loaded beer, backed goods and flour-based sauces?

Of course not! Even if the Oktoberfest is mainly about beer, it is also much more than that and you surely can enjoy it as a gluten intolerant or even as a celiac if you’re super careful.

As a gluten intolerant myself I’ve some pieces of advice that will surely help you get the most out of the feast and go back home with an intact gut.

#1 Stay away from beer and drink wine instead

What the…?! No beer in the Oktoberfest?!. Nope, you better stay away from it.

For a long time, German beer has been produced from only hops, malt, yeast and water and thanks to the old German Beer Purity Law or Reinheitsgebot (in place in Bavaria since 1516) and the conservative character of German brewers, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

That means no gluten-free beer in the traditional Oktoberfest any time soon. That’s also the reason why you’ll never find Germany-produced fruit or honey beer like in Belgium, or any other type of craft beer at all.

Schützen tent Oktoberfest 2015

Schützen tent, Oktoberfest 2015

But fear not, many Festzelte or tents nowadays offer red, white and sparkling wine options or even mixed drinks.That’s the case of the Schützen-Festzelt, which offers just a few wine options, or the Kufflers Weinzelt with a full wine menu. All of them very recommendable!

Another option is that you stock up and take your own favorite wine from home in a drinking bottle. However be aware that in some tents that’s not accepted. There are random checks quite often and your wine might get confiscated. Just research in advance ;-).

#2 No gigantic brezn for you

This German bread specialty is widely available at Oktoberfest in huge sizes from the baskets of itinerant sellers at the tents or basically from every snack stand in the venue.

Of course, brezn (pretzels) are produced with white wheat flour and are definitely a no go for us gluten-intolerants out there. And the same goes for basically any bread or breaded produce that you can find around.

A brezen with Obatzda

A brezen with Obatzda

From the tables around you, you’ll see that brezn are traditionally eaten together with Obatzda, a spread with a mix of cream cheeses, onion, paprika powder and beer. Yes, beer… That’s bad news for us, avoid Obatzda too if you’re very sensitive…

Does that mean there is nothing I can eat at Oktoberfest?… Not at all, there are options. Just keep reading.

#3 Meat anyone? Yes please, without sauce for me

If you are a meat-lover, Oktoberfest is your chance to devour protein for the rest of the year. Pork, veal, chicken, duck, you name it. But in any case make sure that what you order do not come with any sauces, which are normally thickened with some sort of flour.

Half a grilled chicken (Halbes Wiesn-Hendln)

Half a grilled chicken (Halbes Wiesn-Hendln)

If you want to play safe, try half a grilled chicken (halbes Wiesn-Hendln in German, my personal favourite), a roasted ham hock (Schweinshaxe) or some roasted duck (gebratene Ente) with a side of green salad (Krautsalat), potato salad (Kartoffelsalat) or boiled potatoes with parsley or rosemary.

Sounds tasty eh!?

In any case, you want to avoid potato or bread dumplings (Knödln) and sausages (Würstall together as you never know what sort of additives they use, wheat flour could be one of them.

#4 Fish at Oktoberfest? Really?

Or maybe you want to go for something a little bit lighter for a change? Oktoberfest does not only cater for meat-eaters. You can easily find Bavarian traditional fish dishes in some of the tents that will make you consider your meat appetite.

Smoked fish on a stick

Smoked fish on a stick

In that case you should go and try the tent of Fischer-Vroni, where the menu includes a selection of smocked “fish on a stick” (steckerlfisch), grilled fish and seafood and even two or three prawn coconut curry types.

You wouldn’t expect that, would you?

#5 Fancy some sweetness afterwards?

After a belly full of Bavarian low-gluten delicacies, don’t even think of a desert in any of the big tents at the Wiesen. They are definitely not for us gluten sensitive people…

Sugar and cinnamon coated nuts

Sugar and cinnamon coated nuts

However, as in many other fairs around the world, you can always find stands offering sugar-and-cinammon coated nuts and sugar cotton all around. Even chocolate-covered fresh fruits are available everywhere and safe to eat.

Not too bad after all, right?. It probably looks a bit better than you thought, doesn’t it?.

One more advice. You should always check the menu online of the tent you plan to go to. By law all dishes in the menu are required to be labeled according to their content of potential food allergens, and gluten is one of them.

Also, just use your common sense and avoid putting stuff in your mouth when in doubt. You can always ask the waiters serving you, but there is a very high probability that they do not know and you might be risking it unnecessarily. Of course, it all depends on your level of sensitivity to gluten and you know your body better than anybody else.

And remember, a day at Oktoberfest can get crazy very quickly so whatever you drink, drink responsibly.

Well gluten-intolerant fellows out there, I hope that after reading this post you will look at Okoberfest with different eyes.

Do you have any other hint yourself or questions that you would like to ask? Drop us a line in the comments section and let’s talk!

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