Friday, October 12, 2007

Gluten-free in England and Italy

I've now returned from my 3-week trip in Europe - 1 week in England and 2 weeks in Italy. I thought a little summary post about the trip (with respect to being a Celiac) would be helpful.

So, here are my observations:


England

It seems like London is further ahead in gluten-free options than we are here in Ontario. The grocery stores had plenty of GF options; but more importantly they label so many of their products as gluten free or non-gluten free. Just look for the special gluten-free symbol on the front of the product! Pretty handy.

However - they must have slightly different 'rules' about what ingredients are and aren't allowed in England. I say this because some products that were labeled gluten free had ingredients that I wouldn't dare to eat. For instance, "wheat starch (gluten-free)" seems like an oxymoron to me, but I'm not sure what sort of processing was used (and can't pretend to be an expert). I just stayed away from these products.

Which reminds me, if you fly British Airways, you get food made in Britain. No kidding! But the bun that came with my gluten-free meal had ingredients listed on it...one of which was this same "gluten-free wheat starch". Just be careful.

With all that said, I do think that London at least is further along in terms of gluten-free options. Restaurants - especially 'fast' food chains - seem to have more gluten-free options. For instance, a few of the Starbucks I visited had a gluten-free pastries. Pret a Manger, another popular fast food restaurant had "sandwiches without the bun". I had a shrimp salad which was amazingly fresh and tasted great.

The restaurants we visited were pretty knowledgeable as well, but I guess I was most impressed with the large food chains that had options usually not found here in Ontario.

Oh, and before I forget. I found a gluten-free beer in England! That's two that I know of now (the other one being La Messagère of course). Here's a picture:





Italy

Eating in Italy was both easy and tough for me. It was easy because although many places we visited didn't speak English, the business card-sized note I made up in Italian indicating that I needed gluten-free food was ideal. It worked so well, I almost feel like making one in English so I don't have to explain to my server every time I go out to eat!

It was tough though because my wife (who isn't a Celiac) ate so much great bread and pasta that I was pretty jealous.

But overall, I didn't have a tough time. At our first town (Padua/Padova), we found a natural food store that helped us find gluten-free products. They directed us to the pharmacy - yes that's correct - you buy gluten-free products at pharmacies in Italy.

So we found a pharmacy close by and it had so many gluten-free products. Needless to say I stocked up (see the picture below).


The fresh (not-frozen) Schar products were really the best of the bunch, though everything was very good. The Bon Matin buns were sweet breakfast buns, perfect with a little Nutella on them for breakfasts. I also bought sandwich buns and just purchased sliced meat and cheese from the markets for lunches. Not only was this cost effective, but a quick and delicious lunch. The pharmacy also gave me a handful of free sample products, such as cookies, crackers and savoury snacks!

As an aside: Italy's sliced meats are a lot different than the processed meats we get here in Ontario at grocery stores. They have a lot less preservatives and fillers - in fact, finding ones with gluten is very unlikely. Even salami and sausages that I found were pretty much pork, salt, pepper and spices.

Dinners worked out well - instead of the 'primi' course (which is usually pasta), I enjoyed salads, prosciutto with melon, or cheeses. Often I tried the risotto if it was available, and the servers ensured me that it was cooked without gluten. (The most common problem with risotto is the chicken broth that the rice is cooked in. This chicken stock often contains gluten in store bought products in Canada.) It seemed fine in Italy, but definitely check if you are there and have risotto.

The second course was easy as it's almost always meat or fish. In fact, if you don't order a side dish, sometimes you just get the meat. (A little shocking when you just get a whole fish plopped down in front of you!). Anyway, most of these second courses were just grilled or baked, with not a lot of sauces to worry about. But very tasty indeed!

All in all, it was a great trip, and a lot less troublesome than expected.

Do you have any vacation tips, especially when visiting foreign countries? Please add a comment!

One last picture from Italy:



13 comments:

Gluten Free Hotels Guide said...

If you are looking for hotels in London or Rome that can serve gluten free food, you can visit http://www.glutenfreehotelsguide.com
The site lists hotels all over the world which are able to serve gluten free food.

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