European family vacation… part one, getting there
By Sarah Flanagan
(Accredited Practising Dietitian and Coeliac Mum)
For people with Coeliac Disease, an overseas holiday has an added complication that most people wouldn’t understand. Food.
More specifically safe, gluten free food.
Our family of four (including two teenagers, one with CD), recently travelled from our home in WA and spent a few weeks in France, Italy and Spain. We are also ‘foodies’ and love to experience as much of the local food as possible. So when travelling, part of me likes to do my research and be prepared, but another big part of me likes to ‘go with the flow’ and be spontaneous.
In reality, the quest for safe GF food started months before we left when it came to choosing our airline. I discovered that not all airlines can cater well for people with CD and it is worth doing your research before booking. We ended up booking through Qantas (using points) but would be flying on their partner carrier – Emirates. We requested GF meals but being dubious about all requests like this, I double checked a week before our flights.
It turns out the request you make with Qantas doesn’t always make it to the partner carrier – and Emirates needed to be notified directly. Which we did. Thank goodness, and the food was terrific.
So, my first tip with airline food is to check, check and double check.
Another part of my preparation was to get the Spanish, French and Italian translation cards from Coeliac Australia (you need to be a member to access them). They are fantastic. My high school French and hand gestures got me through many situations, but I did whip of the cards a couple of times and they were an enormous help. Not only is it important to know the word for ‘gluten free’, but also ‘coeliac’. I was surprised to see that using the word for ‘coeliac’ seems much more effective with wait staff than ‘gluten free’. I used them both – just to be sure.
Hotels are another thing that needed research before we left. Spain, Italy and France rely heavily on pastries and bread for breakfast. So grabbing food on the go in the morning isn’t really an easy option. Although it costs more, breakfast in our hotel was an easy way to start our day. I checked with each hotel when booking that they could provide GF food for breakfast, and they were generally pretty good. Otherwise, if you have time and energy to hit to supermarkets, self catering accommodation would work well.
Our first stop was Barcelona. We only had a couple of days here. Before I even thought about strolling up Los Ramblas or admiring Gaudi’s architecture, I was hitting up Google for the location of local supermarkets. I needed to stock up on GF snacks – and let’s face it, I have two teenagers and being a Foodie, I wanted to see what GF delights they have that we don’t.
Honestly, I visited lots of supermarkets in each of these countries and I still prefer most Australian supermarkets. However, I had no problem finding aisles stocked with GF products and familiar brands like Schär – including some Schär products I had not seen in Australia. As European countries allow oats to be in their GF products, I recommend learning the words for ‘oats’ so you can avoid GF products containing oats. Oh… and take your glasses and smart phone, so you can read the ingredient list and then Google translate.
More about Spain, Italy and France in the next edition……