Gluten-free Travel

 

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I'm Julia from England, UK.  I was - biopsy-diagnosed with coeliac disease by a GI coeliac specialist in 2011 and adhere rigidly to a gluten-free diet, right down to my lip products and oral hygiene.  

Knowing too well the struggles of maintaining a gluten-free diet when away from home, especially when holidaying overseas, I decided to create this webpage for the benefit of other gluten-intolerant people as it seemed a shame to keep experiences to myself. 

Thankfully, identifying gluten in food products has been a lot easier since the European Commission introduced Gluten-free labelling laws in January 2012 (source). This means that gluten levels have to be stated on all food products.

 

Diagnosing Coeliac Disease

Diagnosing coeliac disease cannot be achieved from blood tests alone; the gold standard test is the endoscopy biopsy - provided that the usual intake of gluten continues up to the time of the test,  and adequate biopsy snips are taken ( approximately eight) as any less can produce false-negative results, as was the case with my first biopsy of only two snips. Genetic testing for specific genes is also helpful because one cannot possibly have coeliac disease without carrying at least one 'coeliac' gene - the  HLA-DQ2 or DQ8 (I carry the DQ2).

Although a small number of non-coeliac people may be intolerant to gluten, they cannot be allergic to it as there is no such thing as a gluten allergy; coeliac disease is an autoimmune response to gluten and one has to have coeliac disease to get that response. Wheat, on the other hand, is a recognized allergy, and many people misinterpret it as gluten.

Without coeliac disease, the problem usually isn't gluten, but other food items such as wheat, yeast, lactose, sulphites and any of the FODMAPs (google it).  We can mistakenly convince ourselves that gluten is the culprit because some of these other ingredients are often found in foods that also contain gluten. I’m telling you this because even I, a biopsy-diagnosed coeliac, can consume buckets-full of gluten (speaking hyperbolically of course!) without a jot of change in symptoms, yet was often far worse for at least 24 hours after any moderate consumption of: the ‘O’ (Oligosaccharides) in FODMAP ; sulphites; fibre (including gluten-free bread which has high fibre content);  and carbohydrates   - all of which are  difficult to digest foods for a digestive system that has suffered trauma.

Thankfully, the damage to my small intestine healed within a few months of being gluten-free (as diagnosed by another endoscopy) and should  remain healthy provided I remain totally gluten-free.  However, despite five years being 100% gluten-free, I continued to suffer the same  digestive issues due to some other undiagnosed damage to my digestive system  caused presumably by coeliac disease. Despite being coeliac, it was not gluten that caused the symptoms, but the aforementioned difficult-to-digest foods, and the only thing that helped was to minimise those foods. For non-coeliac people with similar food intolerances, the paleo diet or the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is helpful for digestive issues, though I'm personally not  prepared to be so restricted as I get by on the restrictions I already make, including gluten of course. Least we can still have chocolate!

So, if you're sure your problem is gluten, then hopefully, this page will help when visiting any of the places listed below.

 

ESSENTIAL HOLIDAY CHECKLIST

Breakfast  - Cereals and bread

Simple rule: take your own! 

Even hospitals and experienced coeliacs don’t always get it right. Recently (April 2015), as a hospital inpatient,  I was offered Rice Krispies as “probably gluten-free”, and another time was told by a 10-year-experienced gluten-free coeliac that Kellogs Corn Flakes are gluten-free.

Not so!

Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes contain barley malt flavouring or malt flavour (which of course contains gluten).  Any products that contain less than  20 parts per million of gluten are permitted by law to be labelled  “gluten-free”. So, if you don’t see the GF label, I’d personally steer clear!

 

Gluten-free Restaurant Card for Coeliacs

 

Carry this card when holidaying and eating out – a separate card for the relevant language you require  depending   on the country you’re visiting.   Get your free printable copies here with thanks from Celiactravel.com.

Magnifier  for Miniscule-sized Ingredients

If you struggle reading ingredients' tiny  print, consider carrying  one of these mini credit card magnifying reading lenses in your purse/wallet. Here is one with a light.   Alternatively, try a phone app such as this

Gluten-free Smartphone Apps

There are various apps out there such as Find Me Gluten Free (for gluten-free friendly restaurants). Go HERE to find many more. 

Download TripAdviser app   for easy access to gluten-free restaurants with maps.

 

EATING OUT GENERALLY 

Before eating out, I always search the web for gluten-free friendly restaurants, and when holiday planning I also print gluten-free-friendly restaurants' contact details and maps before setting off as wifi may not always be available when you need it. 

When eating out, I always stress that I have coeliac disease so the restaurant realise the medical importance of being 100%  gluten-free rather than assuming that I'm merely following a gluten-free fad diet.

 

TRAVEL LOCATIONS

Below, for any chain restaurants, such as Pizza Express, I will specify the ones I have dined at.


Venice (April 2013)

Coeliac disease is common in Italy and according to THIS  report children are screened for it by the age of six.  I was therefore surprised to find gluten-free friendly restaurants very limited in Venice at this time,  especially as the European Commission’s labelling standards has specified that from January 2012  gluten levels should be stated on all food products. Source

Ice-cream - disappointing as most of the Italians selling it hadn't much of a clue about gluten so I had to resist the temptation - very hard considering the wonderful choices! 

Ristorante La Nuova Grotta,  Calle Delle Rasse 4538, Castello Venezia, 30122 Venice. Tel: 0417241018.  I've listed this two years after the event with little memory of it other than a photo, but they must've accommodated my GF need else I wouldn't have eaten there!

Osteria Antico Dolo, Ruga Rialto 778, Venice. Three minute walk from the bridge. Phone 041.5226546. This one I do recall clearly as it was our last night and we found the service (a family-run business) and GF knowledge the best we had experienced in Venice. The couple who owned it were very friendly and accommodating. They even served GF pasta which was something in 2013.  

 

Rome (June 2015)

Bar Ristorante Ritorno Al Passato, Piazza Della Rotonda, 68 - 00186 Roma Tel: 06 69923600, 06 69921755 Located in front of the Pantheon.

Had some gluten-free pasta here for lunch al fresco whilst enjoying the crowds in the piazza. Staff were very helpful informing us that they can provide long or short gluten-free pasta, though not gluten-free lasagne.

La Soffitta Renovatio – Piazza del Risorgimento, 46/A (Angolo Via Crescenzio) 00192 Roma. Located near Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square. Website: www.lasoffittarenovatio.it

Family-run AIC-accredited restaurant serving various gluten-free dishes, including pizzas. I had a pizza with topping of my choice which was delicious.  Very well looked after for gluten-free option advice and the owner Signora Mary gave me some delicious gluten and milk free tozzetti to try that she'd made herself. This happens to be an Italian biscuit that I’ve missed since being coeliac and it was good to taste again. Thank you, Marie!

The only disadvantage with the restaurant is that it's situated in a basement with no option to eat outdoors, though a small price to pay for good gluten-free food served by friendly, courteous staff.

 4 Fiumi, Piazza Navona 38/39, 00186 Rome.Tel: 06 6864028

Liked it here so much that we returned to dine for a second evening, and much to our surprise, the friendly staff showed their appreciation by presenting us each with a free glass of bubbly. The waiter even remembered the ingredients I chose for my gluten-free pizza topping the night before. We dined in the evenings al fresco enjoying the entertainers and crowds in Piazza Navona. Great ambiance and memorable experience! 

Gelateria Tre Fontane Piazza Navona ice cream shop, Piazza Navona 50, 00186 Rome. Located on the north-west side of Piazza Navona.

Bought ice cream from this place a couple of times even though staff weren’t too sure about cross contamination as they use the same spoon to spoon ice cream onto their cones. I took a chance with ice cream in a tub as they looked so good and staff assured me that most of the ice cream was gluten-free.

Cremeria Monteforte, Via Della Rotonda 22, 00186 Rome. Tel: 06 686 7720 Located to the western side of the Pantheon.  Didn’t eat here, but noticed this sign outside stating “gluten free and no milk gelato (ice cream)”

Likewise with the following two outlets - I didn't go in but saw signs offering gluten-free options.  

Blue Ice Gelato, Via di Sant’Agnese in Agone, 20, Navona – Pantheon, 00186 Roma. Tel: 06 68804932 / 3348709180 Website: http://lnx.blueiceitalia.com

Ciro & Mario, Via Delle Quattro Fontane 174/176, Rome.

 

Turkey: Istanbul, Troy, Denizil, Sardes, Laodicea and  Antalya ( April 2015)

Was told by our travel company that gluten-free options would not be a problem throughout  our tour. This, however,  was hardly the case!

The only starch carbs ever offered in all the restaurants and hotels  we frequented (all 5 star) was gluten-filled rice!  It wasn’t until halfway through the week, after being well and truly gluttonised by it,  that I discovered that the yellowish-coloured grains in Turkish rice was orzo (small 'grains' of wheat pasta) or vermicelli! 
 Of all the hotels and restaurants' rice, I don’t recall any that didn’t include  this, yet all were happy to offer it to coeliacs (there were three coeliacs on our holiday) as gluten-free,  which shows just how little they knew about gluten. There were rarely, if any, alternative options, such as plain rice or potatoes, and certainly no gluten-free pastas or pizza bases.

Although some chefs made an effort, at our request, to cook coeliacs  GF chicken (we practically lived on Atkins-style chicken meals!), others didn’t seem to have the time nor understanding, despite showing them our  Turkish  Gluten-Free Restaurant Cards.

If you don’t wish to be restricted to an Atkins-style diet on holiday, Turkey is (or at least was in 2015) a  no-no for coeliacs considering that even the top chefs in 5 star hotels were unsure.  

 

Dublin (August 2015)

Milano (Pizza Express under a different name), 38 Dawson St., Dublin 2.

Like Pizza Express, all pizzas are available on a gluten-free base which tastes as good as the ordinary bases. However, the gluten-free bases are much smaller in size (about 2/3 of the size) which seems very unfair considering we coeliacs are charged the same price price. I wrote complaining soon after the visit, but to no avail.  

Gino’s Homemade Italian Gelato, 34b Grafton Street, Dublin 1. Tel: 01 6336848 (also 53 Grafton Street, Dublin 2 and 41 Henry Street, Dublin 1).

Coeliac-friendly, gluten-free flavours on the menu with the bonus of gluten-free cones! This is a first for me as I've always had to have my ice-creams in a tub. 

Nando’s, 51-52 Mary Street (near O'Connell Street), Dublin 1. Tel: 01 872 0011

Coeliac and all 14 EU Common Food Free options. However, the usual time-consuming faff  of  searching through endless pages of their bumper thick 'Food and Menu Specifications' book (which is tucked away and available on request) to find gluten-free options was extremely off-putting.  By the time I eventually found some options (very limited and nothing I really fancied) I was more inclined to walk out, but we'd already waited 45 minutes.  Maybe we should've walked out as our meals arrived lukewarm and unappetising.

Keogh's Café, 1-2 Trinity Street, Dublin 2. Tel: +353 1 677 8599

Enjoyed a cooked breakfast here which friendly owner Catherine Keogh ensured was gluten-free and served it with a good quality gluten-free bread. It’s a pity that none of the divine-looking cakes and muffins on display weren’t gluten-free considering it were those that tempted me into the café.   Gluten-free biscuits are sometimes available I was told, but not at the time of my visit.  Hopefully more gluten-free options will be available in the future as it is an otherwise excellent cafe.

 

Prague (May 2016)

K & K Hotel Central, Hybernska 10, Prague 11000.  We stayed here for B & B, but there was no gluten-free cereal or edible gluten-free bread available.  As you can see from the picture, their supply to me of gluten-free ‘bread’ each morning was generous.  However, the only one (the white one) that resembled ‘proper’ bread, always arrived rock hard, and for me inedible!  The darker coloured ones tasted nothing like bread and were just awful!  The cakes, on the other hand, were delicious … but not what I wanted for breakfast, despite my sweet tooth.    

 

Restaurant Uno,   Palladium, nám. Republiky 1078/1, 110 00 Praha. Good Italian food and pizza.  All pasta (and pizza) dishes available gluten-free, though pasta limited only to penne. Polite and helpful waiters but slow service, even though we dined on a Tuesday evening.  

TGI Fridays, Na Příkopě 27, Prague 1.   Provides an allergen booklet listing gluten-free foods. Because the choices are limited,  I settled for steak with mashed potatoes and coleslaw, which was fine. Fast, friendly service.

 

Germany (June 2016)

Aachen

Cafe Extrablatt, Markt 45–47, 52062 Aachen   Provides an allergen booklet listing gluten-free foods. A classy eatery. Popped in for lunch and had jacket potato with cheese and German sausage.

Cologne

Kunibert der Fiese, Weinhaus anno 1234, 50667 Köln.  Chose this for the pretty location on the Rhine promenade. However, they didn’t seem to have a clue about gluten, despite showing them my gluten-free restaurant card which explains. The restaurateur  seemed to think gluten was related to milk!  They managed, however, to eventually understand (I think) and I settled for a mundane steak and boiled potatoes with salad as the only safe option.   

Schleiden

Rewe supermarket,  An der Olef 64, 53937 Schleiden. Delighted to find a wide range of excellent gluten-free products in the 'free-from' section.

 

Luxembourg (June 2016)

Chocolate House Nathalie Bonn, 20 rue du Marché-aux-Herbes, 1728 Luxembourg. This place had a sign outside stating gluten-free options … but I was good and resisted!

Fred Olsen's Braemar Cruise  (August 2016)  

Good choice of gluten-free options and exceptionally helpful catering staff.  Passengers with special dietary needs are invited early in the cruise to meet with the chef which I found very helpful. I was also impressed that head waiters in various restaurants remembered my dietary needs from Day 1 without a reminder - gluten-free breakfast toast brought to me and  even gluten-free sausages for breakfast on request. There were times, however, when they were busy, that the bread arrived too late for breakfast or for soup, but when it did arrive, it was excellent quality. I forgot to check if bread was toasted separately to avoid contamination, however, so be sure to check for yourself.  Breakfasts were generally good, but it was a shame that  the only gluten-free breakfast cereal available was muesli as I would’ve preferred  a lighter cereal. They did offer gluten-free ‘porridge’ but it wasn’t porridge at all, but rice and seeds - hardly the thing one wants for breakfast!  Cannot understand why they can’t provide gluten-free porridge considering it is ready available in leading supermarkets. On the whole though, the best gluten-free holiday experience ever!  Was spoilt for choice with gluten-free main meals, including chips, and there was always a choice of gluten-free desserts too - usually two types of cake and invariably fruit salad and jellies.  A highly recommended company!

 

UK

The Lime TreeDidsbury (2013)  - Wheat and GF options on menu. Excellent food and service.

Albert’sDidsbury  (2014) -  Don’t recall a GF menu, but no problem providing GF options.

Grand Central Hotel Glasgow (2015) 99 Gordon St, Glasgow City, G1 3SF. Tel: 0141 240 3700.  Staff more than happy to assist in advising on their gluten-free options, both at dinner and breakfast.  For breakfast  gluten-free cereal and bread was available.

Frederick's Ice Cream  (2014) Manchester, Chorley, Lancashire and Wigan - high quality ice cream with many GF options.

Giraffe, Manchester Trafford Centre and  Spinningfields (2014) - GF options on menu.

Nando’sManchester city centre and Fallowfield (2014) - gluten-free friendly though limited choices and such a faff searching through their endless pages of 'Food and Menu Specifications' book, which is tucked away and available on request, similar to the  McDonald's system.

Pizza Express (June 2016) Didsbury and Manchester city centre - good having the freedom to choose exactly what I want on gluten-free bases.  See  menu page which includes a reassuring notice about measures taken to avoid gluten contamination. However, gluten-free pizza bases are markedly smaller than usual ones, which I resent considering the prices are the same. An email I sent complaining of this proved futile.      

Expo Lounge, Didsbury   (March 2015) - Has a special GF menu with wide choices, which makes ordering a pleasure. Good to have the option of burgers again!

Fosters Fish & Chips (March2016), 812 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, M20 6UH. Tel: 0161 445 4430  Gluten-free fish and chips  available every Sunday. Tried them for the first time after five years’ fish and chips deprivation and they were perfect! They even provide gluten-free vinegar. Was good chatting to other gluten intolerant customers too.  Was told that chips and sausages are always gluten-free as they’re fried separately, so they can be enjoyed any day of the week; only foods fried in batter (i.e. fish) are limited to Sundays.

Olive Garden Southfields - Authentic Italian cuisine (June 2016), 42 Replingham Road, South Fields, SW18 5LR . Gluten-free pasta and pizza available as well as an allergen information menu.

Olivers on the Mount Cafe & Bar (July 2016)   Olivers Mount, Scarborough, North Yorkshire,  YO11 2UG.  Tel: 01723 361702
Excellent for coeliacs as they provide gluten-free baps that can be filled with gluten-free foods of one’s choice, including veggie burgers. I had ‘Olivers Chicken Club’ which was delicious.

Scalby Manor Hotel (July 2016), Buriston Road, Scarborough, YO13 0DA. Tel: 01723 503452
Had a carvery here which was fine, apart from the typically awful gravy which is the same at all 'Crown Carveries' I’ve ever dined at, but I always decide that awful gravy is better than a dry roast!  I really can’t understand why 'Crown Carveries' continue serving this poor excuse for gravy when there are so many other gluten-free gravies that could be used instead.

Mi & Pho  Vietnamese Restaurant (August 2016), 384 Palatine Road, Northenden, Manchester, M22 4FZ.
Dined here for lunch. Excellent, fresh authentic Vietnamese food with many gluten-free options - our choices being: beef and aubergine; summer rolls with prawn and pork; special pho with chicken and two kinds of beef; Vietnamese pancake with chicken; and grilled pork and chicken with rice noodle salad. Delicious! Fast service too served by friendly, knowledgeable staff.
My only criticism is that they don't stock gluten-free soy sauce for dishes that require soy sauce. I was told that I could bring my own, but I can't see why they can't stock it considering it can be purchased at most leading supermarkets nowadays.   

Croma Independent Gourmet Pizzeria (September 2016),  651a Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 6QZ. Similar to Pizza Express, there's the freedom to choose one's preferred toppings for gluten-free bases. Was pleased to find the pizzas a tad tastier than Pizza Express's as well as more generous in size. Pizza Express gluten-free pizzas are markedly smaller than their regular pizzas, which seems unfair considering they cost the same, but to be fair, my partner didn't have pizza at Croma, so I have no idea if Croma's regular pizzas are larger. But at least their gluten-free ones are a fair size, unlike Pizza Express's.      

Conwy, North Wales (July 2014)

Conwy’s Seafood Bistro,  2 High Street, Conwy, LL32 8DB - There was a sign in the window of  stating: "Coeliac? We are probably as friendly as it gets! Over 90% of the menu is gluten free. The chef is coeliac. We only serve gluten free flours."

Beaumaris, North Wales (April 2016)

Pier House Cafe and Bistro,   The Seafront, Beaumaris,  LL58 8BS. GF options on the menu. GF cake options included brownies and carrot cake. I had the latter which was yummy! 

 

 

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Website designed and built by Julia Maine -  last updated Sept 2016