Gluten Free Hangout


Last Updated 25th October 2012

I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease in 2006, after a lifetime of stomach problems. My friend Annette initially suggested I get tested for it, my doctor had no objections, and it came back positive. This means I cannot eat wheat, oats, barley or rye and anything containing those grains.

More info here. Coeliac Association of Australia

As for preparation for the trip? I have not done any more than make sure that I get gluten free meals on all my plane flights. Other than that it is going to be learn as I go and report back here :-)

I have found a really good site for travel information for coeliacs that have restaurant cards in lots of different languages. What  I have done is download the PDFs and put them on my smartphone, rather than printing. The idea being I can bring up the correct PDF and show it directly from my smartphone. I will see how that goes :-)

Celiac Travel Cards

Don´t let food stop you from travelling. With a flexible and realistic attitude you can do quite well. Be polite and not demanding and most people will bend over backwards.

If anyone has any advice or experiences they would like to add then feel free to add a comment. I may even incorporate it in the information below :-)

Experiences in various places and tips
Tips that apply anywhere
  • We generally fill up big at the hotel breakfasts. I have found that the scrambled eggs do not cause me any problems (the normal staple at these brekkies), likewise with the ham and cheese. Then lots of fruit. In Argentina I found these gluten free rice crackers (sized like the thick rice cakes in Australia) so I would take them to breakfast and put jam or honey on them.
  • Due to the initial difficulties when we started in Argentina we have gotten into the habit of only 2 meals per day plus snacks, as it was easier than trying to find gluten free lunches. For instance, fill up big at breakfast and then go to the local supermarket for things like bananas, nuts, rice crackers etc to snack on during the day and then finding an establishment for a big dinner.
  • When we first arrive in a place one of the first things we do is find the nearest supermarket. You can easily have dinner in. For example we often buy tins of tuna, veges and fruit for dinner. No need to go hunting for a gluten free friendly eating establishment. I should point out that we are on a strict budget so as to last the year, so expensive restaurant meals are avoided when possible.
  • Tour Operators and Airlines
    • Make sure to tell tour operators and airlines that you need gluten free. 
    • Most airlines will cater to varying degrees. You need to tell them when you book your ticket, at the airport is normally to late. You will usually get your meal first and it will often be better than the other passengers. Some airlines don´t cater for snacks if it is a short flight. Also we have come across the situation where we were given the normal meal and had to ask for our gluten free meal. They did not come looking for us but left it up to us to ask for it. So don´t assume they have forgotten about you, just tell them you are the gluten free meal they have sitting on the bottom of the trolley.
    • My experience with tour operators so far is good. When we went camping all the meals were supplied by a restaurant at the campgrounds. Because all that was supplied for breakfast was ham, cheese and rolls the proprieter specially made scrambled eggs for us. While everyone else got ham and cheese rolls for lunch we got a bowl of salad, ham, cheese, tuna, lettuce, tomato and boiled eggs. One night for dinner when they served pasta we got freshly cooked salmon with rice. By the end of our trip the rest of the tour group were quite jealous.

Country specific tips

Argentina 


Our first night in Buenos Aires did not go well. We went to a Mexican restaurant and I showed them the gluten free card on my smart phone for Spanish (link above). They indicated the tacos were maize and so I ordered a meal. I got sick that night and the next day we were told that the maize in Argentina (and possibly through a lot of South America) also contains wheat. So avoid maize.

Most of the rest of the time in Argentina we did fine, sticking to the staples. I would show my card and then ask for chicken, rice and salad. I have not had a problem, I have also been to some buffets and just avoided the obvious (bread, pasta etc) and have not had a problem. At a tango dinner show with set meal choices I had chicken filled with mushrooms and vegetables with mashed potatoes and lemon icecream for dessert, very yummy.

Gluten free is not very well known in Argentina and often they will look totally confused so be careful, but if you pick carefully they do not tend to use weird sauces or fillers so I have been quite successful. The labelling is very weak with only a few items indicating their gluten free status in supermarkets.

  • For food labelling look for ´Libre De Gluten´ (free of gluten)
  • When looking at labels these are the key words:
  • Trigo (wheat)
  • Avena (oats)
  • Centeno (rye)
  • Cebada (barley)
  • Arroz (rice) if you are looking for those rice crackers.
  • You can try to say ´allairhia ar gluten´ (allergic to gluten) at a restaurant 
  • Recommendation - Veggies Patagonicos in El Calafate.

Brazil - Iguazu Falls, Paraty and Rio De Janeiro


Brazil seems to have better, more useful labelling laws than Australia. Many, if not all, products in the supermarket are marked as either containing or not containing gluten. Dinner one night was a trip to the supermarket buying a couple of cans of gluten free tuna, tomato and capsicum, with our Argentinian rice crackers. Some gluten free cookies and cashew nuts for snacks the next day and some really yummy gluten free yoghurts for dessert. Even salads, water and whisky were labelled.

Our current experience with restaurants is that food is very natural and what you read is what you get. We ordered chicken with rice, mashed potato and vegetables and that was exactly what we got and lots of it. (Meals tend to be priced for 2 so you have to mention specially if you want a one person size, as meals are generally shared.) It rocked. The name of that restaurant - at Iguazu - was Trapiche. I have not had any problems in Brazil at all, I can go to the shop and know exactly if something is safe for me or not, and by picking carefully at restaurants have not had an incident, even eating a variety of foods and at a variety of restaurants. Dinner with a local in Paraty consisted of a wide variety of dishes with beans, chicken, steak, pork, salads, a weird flour called cassava etc. I just avoided the pasta and breads, no problem. Bread with meals does not tend to be a big deal and often not brought out automatically.

  • For food labelling look for ´Nao Contem Gluten´ (does not contain gluten)
  • Avoid foods labelled as ´Contem Gluten´ (contains gluten)

Chile


Chile seems to have even lower labelling laws than Argentina. Had difficulty finding any gluten specific information on products and so made my decisions looking for the spanish keywords for wheat, barley, oats and rye. Our tour guide did find me some cheese rolls called chipas made from manoic flour (cassava), they were very good.
  • When looking at labels these are the key words:
  • Trigo (wheat)
  • Avena (oats)
  • Centeno (rye)
  • Cebada (barley)
  • Arroz (rice) if you are looking for those rice crackers.
  • You can try to say ´allairhia ar gluten´ (allergic to gluten) at a restaurant 

Egypt


We did not find anything marked specifically gluten free in Egypt. Not because there might not be any but because we hardly ever (once) got to a shop in Egypt. Our trip included most meals and a shop was never walking distance from our hotel. They did not seem to be very aware of gluten or even wheat, so in the end the most successful way of getting the message across was to say I was allergic to flour. It was quite difficult as they would say they understood and then you would get a bread roll. I did not have a card for Egypt as they spoke English (and one was not available) but this ended up being a bigger problem than when they did not know. Products I did see all had ingredients in English.

We did get to a supermarket in Alexandria, and all products had ingredients in English.

Peru - Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu


 Was not in Peru for very long but had really good experience in restaurants showing my gluten free cards (link above) and had no problems with my meals. A very large supermarket in Lima had a lot of my regular gluten free products that I can get in Australia, like the rice cakes and corn thins etc.

  • When looking at labels these are the key words:
  • Trigo (wheat)
  • Avena (oats)
  • Centeno (rye)
  • Cebada (barley)
  • Arroz (rice) if you are looking for those rice crackers.
  • You can try to say ´allairhia ar gluten´ (allergic to gluten) at a restaurant

South Africa


Same as Egypt. Most products had ingredients in English so you could just use your labelling reading skills. In restaurants and eating establishments most people understood English but not enough to be very successful getting allergy information understood. Be very patient, insistent and determined, like Egypt they would say they understood when they didn't. You get the impression that allergies are not very big in South Africa as they seemed very confused by the whole concept.

We did find gluten free pancakes in Dullstrom near Johanessburg and they were really good. Also the Mbotyi lodge were gluten aware and adjusted the set menu to fit my needs such as I got the prawns without the cocktail sauce. I had the full 3 courses and left feeling very full and content.

Uruguay - Colonia and Montevideo


Uruguay is very similar to Argentina but they speak even less English (almost none), so definitely try to learn some basic Spanish before coming to this part of the world. Had a lovely lady in Montevideo bend over backwards when I showed her the gluten free card from my smartphone, and I got a lovely meal of grilled chicken, rice and salad. Same tips and language as outlined for Argentina applies.

Japan


Gluten free in Japan is exceedingly difficult. Firstly you have the language barrier where for an ordinary westerner it becomes impossible to decipher ingredients on supermarket/shop products. So there is no way to know if any product in a package and processed in some way is safe to eat, no matter how safe it looks. You will need to stick to fruit, vegetables and meat only.

Secondly most Japanese dishes include sauces of some type and most restaurant staff (including chefs) don't appear to have any idea what's in the sauce. I must admit I had a lot of difficulty with food. If anyone has had better experiences or has tips and ideas then feel free to leave comments.

Some restaurants did put a lot of effort into meeting my needs, special mention to Caffe Ponte and Tinto Restaurant in Hiroshima, both of which grilled me chicken without sauce. I was also given gluten free bread (fruit loaf and plain) by my son's mother in law which was absolutely delicious. It was especially ordered from Osaka (don't know specifically where).

Turkey


Turkey can be tricky for gluten free as it is such a bread based society. For instance at the first restaurant I tried in Istanbul I showed the gluten free card on my phone in Turkish and assumed he understood. When the meal arrived it came with the chicken on bread and with a slice of bread on top.

Also you can't eat the rice, it comes with little brown bits in it which after some investigation I found were normally vermicelli, a pasta. I tried to get plain rice several times but it seems this is how their rice comes and they consider this plain rice. Generally chips and potato dishes have been fine otherwise it was chicken and salad.

Thanks to the English speaking wife of the hotel owner where we stayed I was able to make a little gluten free card of my own that was successful. The card I created had the following...
Benim Alerjim,var  (I am allergic)
Ekmek YOK   (No bread)
Buday YOK  (No wheat)
Un YOK   (No flour)
Bulgur YOK   (No bulgur)

This simplified version of an allergy card was understandable by most restaurant staff, I may try and get someone to translate the language into similar simplified cards in the future as I have been finding a lot of people getting confused by the amount of detail in the internet cards.


Czech Republic


In the Czech Republic I ate a standard grilled chicken and vegetables with white rice meal, but it came with a lot of spices and did make me sick. Our tour guide in Prague said Czech restaurants are not good at dealing with food allergies or specialised food requirements such as vegetarianism.  Luckily we were staying in a hostel with a kitchen so the rest of our time here we cooked our own meals. Fortunately the shops had a large range of gluten free products including the Schar range so getting muesli and rolls etc was not a problem.

Austria and Hungary


In both Austria and Hungary restaurant staff seemed to be aware of what gluten free meant and would tell me what I could or could not eat. In Sopron in Hungary when the hotel had a buffet dinner the waiter went dish by dish and told me its status. The supermarkets were not as well stocked as Switzerland so I stuck to the basics of nuts and bananas for snacks.

Switzerland


In Switzerland there seems to be a fair amount of awareness but not as much support as in Italy. For instance both hotels we stayed at did not cater for me specifically but knew about it and where I could get products. In Lucerne there was a health shop across from the hotel that they pointed me to. This health shop had a whole wall of gluten free products, from muffins to biscuits, muesli bars and flours.

The supermarkets also had a range of products including the German Schar range, which includes breads, rolls, biscuits etc. I brought some gluten free fruity muesli with me from Switzerland as our first stop in Austria did not include breakfast.

Italy


Italy has been a lot easier at finding places to eat and especially for breakfast in hotels. Most people seem to know what I am talking about and awareness seems to be a lot higher than anywhere else I have been thus far. For instance virtually all the hotels (even 2 star) have understood my request and have provided gluten free extras for breakfast. This has ranged from actual gluten free bread, to extra fruit and yoghurt at continental breakfasts, corn and rice crackers and biscuits.



yum 
Restaurants have understood me and provided plain food without gravy or spices and been able to advise confidently. I found a gluten free pizza place in Florence (ate there 2 nights in a row) that also had gluten free beer available and desserts specifically for gluten allergies. In Venice I was advised which desserts were gluten free after a scrumptious grilled chicken, salad and chips meal.


Supermarkets have gluten free products available such as corn and rice crackers, biscuits, muffins and the like. As such it was nearly as relaxed as going out at home in Australia, where awareness is quite high.

As a card to give to restaurants the first hotel wrote the following out for me:
Cliente Non Tollerante il Glutine
No Pane, No Pasta

But in my experience just saying no glutine (phonetically say it as gluteenay) worked fine.

Britain



Great Britain is great for gluten free. I would put it second in my experience after Australia. The main supermarkets such as Tesco and ASDA carry large gluten free lines although I have not found the freezer range that I get in Australia.

They do have a large range of gluten free oats products. I particularly loved the gluten free oats muesli that had a softness that you don't get in the other gluten free types. I also saw the gluten free beer from Italy (Daura) in the supermarkets as well as a large range of breads (even crumpets) & snack bars.

More specific examples: A caravan on the South Downs on Saddlescombe Farm that sold healthy food including gluten free bread alternatives and a range of cakes. In Oxford there was a lunch bar that sold gluten free cakes and rolls, and an Indian restaurant called The First Floor that did a sumptuous Indian buffet where nearly all the food was gluten free. In Southampton we went to a typical British pub called 'The Cowherds' for lunch and found that they had a separate gluten free menu. The food was superb and I had a feast of chicken breast with bacon, cheese and bbq sauce accompanied by chips and peas.
































Canada


I had much more luck on the western side of Canada than on the East. Montreal had some gluten free stuff in the supermarkets I visited but mainly cereals, I did not find any bread. In Banff and Vancouver I found a lot of stuff in the supermarkets including cereals, bread, meusli bars, muffins, and much more. Specifically Nesters Market on Nelson St in downtown Vancouver had a huge array of stuff, clearly labelled on the shelf with a liitle gluten free marker to make them easy to spot.

Irish pub menu

Vancouver gluten free restaurant
Restaurant wise I found an irish pub in Banff called 'St James's Grill Olde Irish Pub' that had a specific gluten free menu, including an amazing gluten free cheesecake for desert and beer. In Vancouver I found a restaurant called 'The Wallflower' that was mainly gluten free (including 2 different brands of beer) with only a few things on the menu I could not eat.

United States

Good GF food in US - cereals, muesli bars, microwave meals etc. Basically similar to Australia. Restaurant wise everybody is fairly gluten free aware, just talk to the staff. Also found speciality health cafes that made gluten free lunch and cake food.

Australia

Great GF dessert called Lemon Posset at Barefoot restaurant on Magnetic Island (Horseshoe Bay) in Queensland. Tasted like a lemon cheesecake without the base. GF options at Thai Smile restaurant in Hervey Bay Qld. Great GF food at Cascades restaurant in Thredbo NSW. Gluten free cafe/bakery Cafe Strada in Melbourne (Ivanhoe). Thai House restaurant in Apollo Bay Vic has mostly gluten free menu, in fact it had a gluten free curry, which in my experience most Thai curry's are not gluten free.

So basically you all know how well we are catered for in Australia, plenty of supermarket choices and a lot of restaurants have gluten free choices and virtually all are gluten free aware.