Nearly four years ago I sat down with an NHS dietician to chat through my new coeliac diagnosis. Along handing over a pile of leaflets she told me that whenever I go on holiday, I needed to stay in an apartment and cook all my own meals at home to avoid eating any gluten. I felt so crushed and sad, as I love experiencing new food when travelling.
Fast forward a couple of years and it doesn’t feel nearly so limiting as it did at first. Whilst it’s not always easy, I’ve found ways to not let coeliac disease ruin exploring the world. And I definitely don’t stay in an apartment and cook all meals on the trip! I have found lots of blogs really useful so wanted to share my own tips for gluten free travelling here! (I realise that this blog post probably doesn’t apply to a lot of my readers, sorry!)
Travelling when coeliac
Gluten free food has transformed massively over the past four years in the UK. This is a good and a bad thing for coeliacs. It’s pretty frustrating when people dip in and out of gluten free fad diets and trivialise this disease. I got judged hard by a café owner for asking about gluten free food the other day, and he was really apologetic when he discovered I was coeliac because he was apparently just really over the GF trend. There is however, way more options for us on menus and in supermarkets, and for that I’m grateful. (I’m also pescatarian so it limits me a little more.)
When you’re coeliac you can’t even cook potatoes in the same oil as onion rings, for instance, so you have to be super careful. Every country I’ve been to has a different level of awareness. The best places to travel when eating gluten free? New Zealand, Australia and surprisingly, Italy. Denmark and Singapore were pretty easy, Spain and Portugal were manageable, and France, SE Asia and southern states of the US were quite tricky to navigate. Here are my tips:
Research the cuisine
This is probably the most vital part of not letting your dietary requirements ruin your holiday. The bigger the language barrier, the easier it is to know a bit about the cuisine before you go. Before I went to South East Asia, I was nervous about what I was going to eat for a month.
In most areas, it was just impossible to communicate that I couldn’t eat wheat, especially as gluten free diets aren’t really prevalent in SE Asia. So it was easier for me to know exactly what I could have, which was Thai green/red curries, rice, and rice noodles. I read that some street food like grilled corn, and banana rice flour pancakes were fine. I also knew that the sneaky ingredient to watch out for was soy sauce (it contains wheat), so that was the question I tried to ask when I wasn’t sure what something contained.
Research specific restaurants
This is especially useful for short city breaks, as I find eating out is such a fun part of exploring a city! It’s not fun at all though when you turn up at a restaurant and can’t eat anything, especially when you’re hungry. So I usually have a short list of ideas where I know I will be able to find something delicious and coeliac friendly.
If you are staying in a hotel, it’s always worth emailing ahead and just letting them know you are coeliac. They sometimes get gluten free bread in for breakfast especially, which is a lovely treat.
Learn the right words
It’s so helpful to learn the common words like flour, wheat, and barley, especially for when you are scanning ingredients on the back of food packets. It helps that allergen ingredients are usually in bold but you’ll want to know whether it’s nuts or dairy that are highlighted instead of wheat.
I always travel with a few cereal bars, which can be really handy for breakfast. Recently I went to Paris and whilst my friends were tucking into fresh croissants, I had a Trek bar to munch on so I didn’t become a hangry, jealous monster.
I have also learnt a few easy snacks/meals on the go. Fruit is always great, and in most places you can pick up plain crisps and nuts. My go-to replacement for bread is rice cakes, which are great with an avocado and tomato for picnics or the beach.Just half of my month’s worth of supplies for Cambodia and Thailand haha ^^ they were actually a lifesaver!
Especially when I’m travelling with other people, I try and go with the flow and accept that maybe this holiday isn’t going to be a culinary experience! There’s nothing more mood-killing than making everyone trek for miles looking for the ‘right’ menu when you’re all hungry.
Also in Cambodia I was trying to avoid gluten so much that I ended up getting food poisoning for a week, and wish I’d just stuck with some plain rice or Trek bars to be on the safe side.
These are so handy for when you just can’t explain verbally. I usually just screenshot them on my phone. They were really useful in Porto when I was trying to find out if the fish was fried in flour or not.
Do a cookery course
This was so much fun to do in Thailand. Not only did I eat so much delicious food (all gluten free, because I made it!), but I also learnt the traditional ingredients for all the classic Thai dishes. I didn’t realise that pad thai didn’t have soy sauce in it until the cookery course. It made it a lot easier to understand the menus after that.
Take your own plane food for long haul
And also book a gluten free meal beforehand. My favourite airlines to fly with for the food are Indian ones because veggie Indian curry on a plane = actually delicious. However recently I’ve been presented with a plain piece of chicken with steamed veg for the gluten free meal, as you can’t book both GF and vegetarian. Pretty gross! For a 24 hour flight (which I did 6 times last year!), I usually pack a homemade quinoa and veg tupperware, snacks, and a supermarket long life meal pot like free-from pasta. You can find them in big supermarkets and they are really handy for meals which you can’t refrigerate, like after 12 hours on a plane.
I hope this helps for gluten free travelling! Let me know if you have any other top tips, or if you want any country specific advice 🙂