Saturday, January 3, 2009

Adventures in London & Ireland

Dietary speaking, London was a bit trickier than I expected. I have to say that I was glad I packed a snack in my bag (almonds) because they came in handy more than once. Keeping things on the cheap and having access to labels meant a lot of time was spent in grocery stores.
Many things I took for granted - like candy bars made by Hershey's being gluten-free in the States are not in other countries. (Barley malt was the biggest problem)
In many ways it felt like being recently diagnosed again: reading every label, asking extra questions, not knowing what if anything was "safe." But those things didn't stop me from having an amazing time!

In London, one of the larger chains, Tescos was really good. I didn't see any gluten-free alternatives, but they had plenty of nuts and snack items that worked for in between meals.

Indian food one night near Paddington Station was pretty disappointing, but at least was a bit easier to negotiate than pub food, most of which seemed to have a gravy. Even the curries were thickened with wheat flour - something I hadn't really thought about ahead of time.

Another night out walking around Covet Gardens, left us hungry and searching for something that might be a safe food option. Manorom Too Thai Restaurant was not only good, but the service was pretty quick.

A burger without the bun, and chips (or fries) became a more of a staple than I expected. I even forwent my usual will-not-eat-fries-fried-in-oil-where-battered-things-are-fried just out of the simple fact that it was impossible to find. If there were fries, or chips on the menu, so was battered fish.

I had pretty high hopes for Ireland. I had heard that has the highest rate of diagnosed Celiacs, I was excited to see what I had for options. I was surprised at the number of rice cakes. Chocolate covered rice cakes, yogurt covered rice cakes, rice cakes are a scone alternative on a menu. (That was at Arabica in Galway) Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against rice cakes, I just had no idea how many I was going to end up eating!

The biggest disappointment was the fact that most of the gluten-free alternative foods in Ireland are made with "gluten free wheat starch." While the packages read that they were safe for persons with Coeliac, I just didn't feel comfortable taking a risk while traveling.

Not all contained wheat starch, and I found a gluten-free bread that did not (rice and tapioca based) and used it to make stuffing for Chrismas day. Kelkin company offered a bunch of products, their gluten free muesli has surpassed all other faux oatmeal alternatives and I shall be on the hunt for it in the US!

Going out for breakfast was pretty simple, no black or white puddings or toast and the Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausages was not what a cardiologist would deem as safe, but I found it lovely.

Tea was a very big part of the trip; even now I find myself wanting a cup or two after lunch. Being such a large part of society, not just food culture, tea is served far more often than coffee -it was nearly impossible to find drip coffee, all of it was espresso. Tea being so important, many places only had instant coffee, which often contains gluten. This was another duh-why-didn't-I-think-of-that! ahead of time things, but I had to kick my 3-4 cup-a-day coffee habit pretty fast because often it wasn't an option.

With the exception of the giant Valu grocery store in Carrigaline, and the bacon and cabbage dish I had in a pub in Kinsale, Galway might have been my favorite place for food. Sheridans Cheesemongers offered up a nice selection of gourmet foods and had an impressive cheese counter. Generous samples were offered up and I took home a 2-year old cheddar and a sheeps milk cheese from Corsica.

I fell in love with a pizza shop in downtown Galway. Mustard offered a gluten free pizza base and was really good about reviewing ingredients. The food was so good we ate there three nights in a row!

The last morning in Galway a bunch of people wanted to stop at Zatzuma crepiere on Shoppe St. I had packed a snack and was fine with just grabbing some coffee - their espresso was the best I had the entire trip - but low and behold they had a gluten free crepe alternative made out of buckwheat! It was thicker, denser and not at delicate as the gluten-variety, but was very delicious and sustained me through the train ride to Dublin.

This time, last year, I never thought I would be able to travel or travel comfortably and be able to feel safe eating. While it was not the easiest thing, and did require some extra work, I was able to eat stay gluten free and healthy for 2 1/2 weeks in foreign lands. Yes, my potato consumption was nearing epic proportions, but the potatoes in Ireland taste different and are much more flavorful. I thought it was an exaggeration, but the potatoes were truly amazing.

While most restaurants I still had to go through the explain-what-gluten-is-spiel, I did notice that the prescription plan in Ireland covers gluten free replacement foods like bread, cereal and pastas. (I stopped to ask for directions at a pharmacy and noticed some gluten free bread behind the desk and found out that a certain quantity of food items are covered.) I did not expect that Ireland would be a gluten free island, I guess I had some unrealistic ideas that dining out would be a bit easier.

But this does not take one bit away from the fact that the trip was overwhelmingly fantastic! I was very fortunate to be able to see and partake in Christmas and New Years in two very different places and the hospitality and generosity I experienced was amazing. 2009 is starting off far superior to 2008 and I plan to keep it going!

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