Gluten-Free Italy

Long before Ken and I got married, we ranked Italy as a dream destination to definitely visit once we were married.  So it made perfect sense one beautiful spring evening in the Dubai Marina, while indulging ourselves in an Italian dinner, that we decided Italy would be the perfect spot to celebrate our first anniversary.

I was excited.  However, I must admit, I was a little apprehensive.  Not because I didn’t want to go – I was REALLY excited about Italy.  But Italy is known for its cuisine…pasta, pizza, bread, and all things GLUTEN-filled!  In my normal life, when friends inquire the best dining options for my allergy, I usually remark “I can find anything anywhere…except Italian!  Please no Italian restaurants!”  I was dying to drink Italian wine and eat Italian olives – but such does not a dinner make.

You might think all you’re going to be eating is gelato, wine, and prosciutto…

I was PLEASANTLY surprised, then, to discover that Italy is amazingly full of gluten-free options.  And I don’t just mean in large tourist areas in Rome.  Ken and I began our journey in Rome, but ventured up into Tuscany, and throughout the small villages down to the southern shores.  Whether we were in a city or the rural countryside, I was always pleasantly surprised to discover so many gluten-free treats.

My very first meal, I had cheese-crusted asparagus, a beautiful pasta carbonara, and we shared strawberry panna cotta for dessert!  I was so excited that my first night in Rome could be GF yet so deliciously pasta-induced!

“Senza glutine” is Italian for “gluten free”.  Look for these words as you venture through grocery stores and mini marts.  I’d suggest bringing a few gluten free snacks when on road trips in case you do run into the odd grocery store that doesn’t have what you need.  In smaller towns, stores close between 1 and 4 for siesta.  The one store or restaurant that remains open may not have anything for you, so always have something on hand!

Whether you’re grabbing some gelato (middle) or visiting a grocery store to make a delicious snack at your hotel (right), you’re guaranteed to find appropriate gluten-free snacks.  The picture on the left shows beautiful barrels of balsamic vinegar!  Balsamic and olive oil make a beautiful snack for dipping bread, cheese, or vegetables! Easy to replicate at your hotel.  Or you can always grab a takeaway gluten free pizza, buy some vino, and enjoy an at-home meal in the beautiful Italian (here Tuscan) sun:

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Make sure you call/email your hotel ahead to let them know you’re coming.  All B&Bs and hotels that we visited were happy to provide gluten free options, but needed the heads up to appropriate prepare.  Same goes for wine tastings!  I was able to enjoy a beautiful selection of meats and cheeses with GF bread…but they need the time to make these available!

My amazing meal accompanying the wine tasting.  On the right is my GF biscotti, perfect for ending a meal with dessert wine.

Especially if you’re coeliac, rest peacefully in the fact that cuisine is such a large part of Italian culture.  Every restaurant I visited had no problem with me going to view the kitchen and ensure that GF truly meant GF.  Ask in a friendly manner and they have no problem!

L –> R: a pizza in rural Tuscany; a crepe in Florence; pasta in Sorrento. In all 3 cases, I discussed with the chef about the true GF-ness of these products and even ventured into the kitchens to observe!  Each had their own GF-only station!

Explore!  Ask!  I was surprised by how many places had GF options, even without being advertised.  In fact, when I asked if they had GF options most places had the reaction – “of course”.  So just ask!

Simple exploring gave me these delicious meals: grilled veg, caprese salad with GF bread, and the ever-faithful, always gluten free, eggplant parmesan (unless they add breadcrumbs – always ask!)

A great activity while in Italy is a cooking class.  Especially if you’re GF, you can learn the ins and outs of GF pasta-making.  To be honest, I didn’t love our B&B’s cooking class offering – I’d suggest doing your homework ahead of time and finding a class that’s rated well online!  Nonetheless, we did learn some tips, have fun, and enjoy a great meal!

Ken was WAAAAY better at making the pasta than me!  He’s on pasta-maker duty at home now!

Hopefully this has shed your fears and excited you about your gluten-free trip to Italy!  And remember, even if you find nothing to eat…there’s always drinking…

Gluten-Free Ghana

Ghana is one of those wonderful places where the cuisine is naturally gluten-free!  From banku to waakye to fufu, your  main staples are going to be edible!  Sadly, the bread and omelette stations that make for the perfect breakfast, or the guy honking his bicycle horn carrying baked goods (see picture), is not going to be useful to you.  Luckily, however, there isn’t a lot of guesswork in Ghanaian cuisine.  Basically, if it looks glutenous (read: bread) then it is!  Otherwise, you’re safe 🙂  Not much hidden gluten here!

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FanMilk is a popular brand selling ice creams and yoghurts.  At the back of the bike note the glass box – you’ve got banana bread or other glutenous baked goods inside for sale!  Photo courtesy http://www.projects-abroad.co.uk

The only place where gluten might be hidden is in the stock used to make soups, which are always served with kenkey, omo tuo, and fufu.  MAGGI is the usual brand.  To my last check, MAGGI sold in West Africa was gluten-free.  However, the ingredients change by region so do your homework before you leave!  A quick visit to the Nestle website (the corporation owning Maggi) will help you out here.

As mentioned, most meals are naturally gluten-free.  Your major challenge will be breakfast, as bread is often what is available and/or served to expats.  Waakye, a rice and beans dish, is popular for breakfast in the north and definitely gluten-free.  All of the porridge is gluten-free, including rice porridge and koko (made of cornmeal).  However, all of these breakfast goods take time to prepare, so be sure to find a place where you know you can purchase, or plan the night before.

And every once in a while you WILL get lucky with gluten-free snacks.  Believe it or not, Ken and I were riding along a dirt road in the Northern Region, passing villages and small towns, when we stopped at a small side-of-the-road shop for water.  Imagine what I found…

On the left is the shop where these gluten free cookies were purchased.  On the right are, that’s right, my beautiful gluten free cookies.  So in Ghana you CAN get lucky!  Of course, visiting Shoprite in major cities (Accra, Kumasi, Tamale…) will also heighten your probabilities…but finding these cookies in this obscure shop felt like a goldmine (and in the country that used to be called the Gold Coast no less!!!!  coincidence?! I think not!)

If you’re going to Ghana, you’ll be fine being gluten free.  Just make sure you stock up on all the beautiful fresh fruit that you can get and really do think through your breakfast options!  If you’re anything like me, you wake up quite hungry, and having to wait 40 minutes for someone to make you porridge just won’t cut it!  But in a country where potatoes, plantains, fruit, rice, and yams are plentiful, I’d be very surprised if anybody had a problem!

EXTRA WARNING:  If you do get invited into a Ghanaian’s home, it is very likely that they will cook for your traditional food.  However, in the off chance that they assume that you, the foreigner, would prefer noodles, bread, or cake for dessert, it is wise to give your host a heads up as soon as you receive the invite that you’re allergic to wheat!

The above makes my mouth water. On the left is fufu (mashed flour, often cassava or maize, NEVER wheat) with groundnut soup and goat meat.  On the top right we have kenkey (a base of corn flour – compared to sourdough taste – rolled in either a maize husk or banana leaf) with talapia.  And the bottom right is a pot of waakye simmering.

Ghana is a fabulous country to visit!  If you’re gluten-free, your dietary restrictions won’t hold you back!!!!

Gluten-Free Australia

Australia is gluten-free paradise!  From options at restaurants, to supermarkets exploding with gluten free products, to ciders on tap, you will not go hungry on your gluten-free Australia vacation!

Australia protects its environment by not allowing much food stuffs into the country.  Trust me – you won’t need to bring in anything!  Whether you’re coeliac or have an allergy, you will be able to eat, and eat well, in Australia.

GF options at restaurants are abundant (including the obscurest of places).  In addition, there are so many picnic places and free outdoor BBQs available that shopping at the grocery store for products and making your own food is a very economical, and beautiful outdoorsy, option.  I also recommend this because restaurants in Australia are expensive, often quizzically so (for example, $10 for literally just 2 poaches eggs and 2 pieces of bread!)

Read below for photo evidence of Australia, the GF Paradise!

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Sushi rolls bought at little shops along the street make a great snack!  Most places offer GF soy sauce!
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The waiter at this Greek restaurant pointed out what food options were my “friends” and which were certainly not!  The great thing about Australia is that all wait staff are aware of the need for GF separation and are very knowledgeable about what food you can, and cannot, eat.  If you’re coeliac, kitchens are very friendly and would most definitely welcome you in to verify your meal!
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My favourite meat – lamb – with beautiful fresh toppings.
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At a CIDER tasting.  That’s right!!!! A CIDER TASTING!!!!  Ciders are FREQUENTLY available on tap, including at breweries (so you can go on brewery tours and not feel like the odd woman out with your red wine!)  Every. Single. Place. I went had cider options.  And not just one regular:  an assortment of flavours and brands!
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With a large population of Asian immigrants, Australia is also home to many Asian restaurants, including Vietnamese, Malaysian (pictured above), Japanese, and Chinese, to name a few.  Resulting, there are restaurants which are NATURALLY gluten free.  Just watch out for the soy sauce (but you can simply request the GF, which they probably have!
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Me with fresh BBQ-ed prawns and cider (that was on tap!) at a food festival along the Great Ocean Road.
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See this sign?!  This is the NORM here, people!!!!!
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Despite the ridiculously expensive Australian restaurant scene, eating gluten free won’t break the bank (more than their restaurants already do! 🙂 )
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Enjoying my GF burger at Jimmy’s – we arrived in Cairns and ended up at this restaurant on their opening night.  I hope they do well because this bun was delicious and STAYED TOGETHER for the whole meal!
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Kopparberg Fruit on tap.  This pub also had THREE other cider options available, including 1 pear (my fav!)
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Grocery shopping at the end: with aisles and aisles of gluten free goodness from which to choose!

The options are so plentiful that Ken and I went GF grocery shopping before we left to bring home.  If you’re GF like me, I HIGHLY recommend Australia for a safe, foodie dream vacation!

Happy gluten free paradise in Australia!!!!