Gluten Free Flying: British Airways Milan to London

We reached Milan by train which was one of the most stress-free and enjoyable journeys I’ve ever had the pleasure to take.

On the return to London we decided to fly back on BA. It was a short 1 hour 40 minute hop back to London and BA were serving afternoon tea on board.

The regular meal consisted of sandwiches, a choice of hot quiche, scones with clotted cream and jam. Thank heavens I’d ordered a gluten free meal and it had been loaded!

So what was in store for me?

A prawn salad with some lettuce and what appeared to be an entire cucumber chopped on the side. Anyone who knows me in real life knows I love all veggies, except….cucumber, which I think is the devil’s food.

Perched on the side of the tray was a bread roll, swiped before I took the photo. The stewardess told me she had a Coeliac mother and said I ought to be careful with since it didn’t look gluten free and certainly wasn’t labelled as such. Exactly the same thing happened on our flight back from Istanbul (see post) except this time the outcome was different. Mr D (my personal guinea pig!) tried it and declared this one to be a regular gluten roll. It was just too springy, it didn’t crumble and it certainly smelt just like regular bread. Absolutely no chance of me eating it. Also on the tray was some clotted cream and strawberry jam, which should have gone with the bread, both donated to Mr D.

I decided I was hungry and as the stewardess reached over me to give Mr D extra scones to make up for me not being able to eat them, I resolved to eat it. All of it. Cucumber included.

So how did it taste? I discovered the prawns were in fact quite large, although they’d been tucked under the lettuce so it wasn’t immediately obvious. And how about the cucumber? My first bite nearly blew my head off! The specks of red are in fact fiery fresh red chilli. Normally this might be a problem but since all I could taste was the chilli, and not the grim cucumber, it wasn’t so bad.

As I looked down at my tray of pure health (albeit airline stylee), a single thought struck me. What on earth has happened to me? I eat gluten free and am no longer ill (admittedly a fantastic thing!). My coffee cup is empty since I’ve stopped drinking caffeine. The usual glass, or to be honest several glasses, of wine I usually enjoy on a flight has been replaced by a glass of fruit juice since I’m on the wagon for the next couple of months. It’s even been 8 years since I last smoked. Really….I need some new vices. Any ideas for legal and healthy highs?!

Gluten Free Mrs D

Dining Senza Glutine: Milan

When you think of Italy, your mind automatically conjures up images of delicious looking and smelling pizza, pasta, foccacia, breadsticks, peroni beer…..basically gluten packed food. There are a few things in life I’d wish I’d known earlier (perhaps before my Italian wedding AND honeymoon)….Turns out how easy it is to eat senza glutine in Italy is one of them…

Mr D decided to indulge me for our 1st wedding anniversary and we booked a table at a gluten free pizzeria for our anniversary dinner. I had originally wanted to dine at the Be Bop Cafe and art deco style pizzeria I’d read a lot about before travelling to Milan. Unfortunately, Italy, August, well everything is more or less shut so after a few frantic calls by our hotel concierge, a table was booked at Le Specialita located at Via P. Calvi 29, Milano. In truth the slightly plain restaurant frontage didn’t exactly fill me with warm fuzzy feelings for an anniversary dinner but step inside and – wow – we were almost knocked over by the warmth and hospitality of this friendly family run restaurant. Despite it being a Sunday evening and the restaurant not being centrally located, the place was heaving with local Milanese having a great time. Ours was the last table remaining unoccupied. Good job we booked.

When the hotel made the reservation they must’ve told the restaurant I couldn’t eat gluten because the waiter immediately brought me a menu and instructed me what I could eat. Guess what?? Nearly the WHOLE menu could be made as gluten free. And that included pizza!

The menu was so extensive I needed a drink to get over my shock and help in the selection process. What’s better with a pizza than beer? Gluten free beer, of course!

So, beer in hand I finally selected a pizza with Gorgonzola and a locally produced Prosciutto Crudo. As we sat waiting for our pizzas to arrive, soaking up the buzzy atmosphere I realised Mr D had become transfixed by something over my shoulder. No, not a leggy Italian supermodel, it turns out. But the huge wood fired pizza oven out of which pizzas were emerging steaming hot and freshly baked to have the prosciutto sliced directly on top of the pizzas. My pizza it turned out. Crikey.

So how did it taste? One word. Amazing. Thin crust, baked in the wood fired pizza oven with chunks of intensely flavoured Gorgonzola with truly delicious prosciutto crudo reclining majestically on top.

After that I decided to have a semifreddo for desert. A chocolate one:

I was well and truly stuffed after all this but then the waiter appeared with a jar full of Amaretti biscuits, well, who would refuse? I’ve later discovered these delicious almond packed biscuits normally don’t contain gluten, which I hadn’t realised.

If you’re looking for a place to eat gluten free in Milan, I thoroughly recommend Le Specialita. The food and atmosphere were both fantastic. Really can’t wait to go back!

Eating senza glutine in Italy is really easy. In Italy, there is a Coeliac screening programme in operation for young children upwards and so help (medical and financial) is delivered to those diagnosed with Coeliac disease. Are you listening NHS? Importantly what this screening programme also means is that there is a great awareness of Coeliac disease amongst the general population. Even with my very limited Italian language skills, I found saying “sono Coeliaco” (pronounced “chee-lee-a-ca”) got the message across absolutely everywhere we ate. Not once did a waiter ask me the equivalent of “You’re WHAT? Silly yak??”. They immediately nodded their understanding and noted which items on the menu would / would not be suitable for me.

Gluten free heaven.

And at least Mr D knows where to take me for our 2nd year anniversary!

Gluten Free Dining: Zurich

Our European train adventure continued on from Paris on the high speed train from Paris to Zurich which takes around 4 hours and 30 minutes. Our prebooked seats turned out to be next to a couple of crazy American niche vodka distillery owners also on their way to Zurich to stay with friends as part of a whistle stop tour of Europe. They’d flown in from Miami overnight into Charles de Gaulle airport and had raced from CdG (located north of Paris) to Gare de l’Est in breakneck speed. As they sat down next to us breathless and red faced from a stressful transfer from the airport followed by a sprint through the station to the train, I thanked my lucky stars we were taking a relaxing train journey all the way from London to Milan. The train sped at almost 200 mph hrough the beautiful French countryside, on through the slightly more industrial Germany, and then we finally arrived in Zurich and bade farewell to our fun travelling companions.

A short taxi ride took us up the hill to our hotel, the Dolder Waldhaus. For some very odd and unfathomable reason I LOVE funicular railways….and this hotel had one going right into it! Awesome. Having checked in we decided a long day of doing nothing but chatting, reading and watched the view speed past us had left us a bit tired so we headed for the hotel’s restaurant. Hopes weren’t particularly high but they had an outside terrace overlooking Zurich and it was a nice evening. As usual I explained my dietary restrictions, the waiter nodded and I thought I heard him say “I’ll get the gluten free bread”. No way, I thought, you must be imagining it. But no, the waiter reappeared and placed some freshly warmed gluten free bread in front of me. What are the chances?

The waiter very helpfully pointed out what options were available on the menu. Their menu was half Swiss, half Thai. Not a combination you would probably find anywhere else in the world but it turned out they had a Thai chef. So, I chose a Thai beef salad for starter:

This was absolutely delicious and all the main key flavours of Thai cooking, spicy, salty, sweet, sour were evident in the dish.

For the main course I had gorgeously ginormous skewered prawns. This dish should have been served with roast potatoes but the waiter – who genuinely took my food intolerance seriously – advised against as they had been dusted with flour before roasting. Instead they served with boiled potatoes and a selection of grilled vegetables.

The following night we ventured into Zurich city centre for dinner. Having spied the beer quarter setting up for what appeared to be a very heavy night with trestle tables and hoses for the morning after (seems like those Swiss bankers wind down at the end of the working week with a LOT of beer) we decided to give that area a miss and went in search of something a bit more romantic for a wedding anniversary trip and less stag-do ish. After a bit of searching we came across the homely but buzzy Rosaly’srestaurant. Again the waitress was extremely helpful and suggested steak was going to be my safest option from their menu. But, I did get to eat that fantastic potato and butter Swiss dish which is naturally gluten free, rosti. Living gluten free is not so bad after all…

One aspect of overseas travel I really enjoy is checking out what the local supermarkets and markets have in store. I enjoy finding new fruit and veggies I can’t find at home or exciting looking cheeses and hams. We visited a few small convenience style supermarkets both in the centre of Zurich and also near to our hotel. In truth, I was a little disappointed in their selection of gluten free goods as we’d been so well looked after at the hotel and in the restaurants we ate in I thought I’d find some great new products to try. We did visit a large supermarket near the train station but all I found in there were some lonely Schar white rolls. I’d heard good reports on the availability of gluten free products in Swiss supermarkets so I was surprised not to find any of note.

One final note. In the hotel when I went for breakfast, the waiters remembered me and more warm gluten free bread was produced for me to have with…….Nutella!! Well,it would be wrong not to eat chocolate in Switzerland, right?

Gluten Free Lunch in Paris

I’ve been in Paris a couple of times in the last few months, most recently on our way from London to Italy via Switzerland. I’m often on the look out for somewhere to have a light lunch, knowing that I will be treated to a gastronomic feast in the evening!

So what’s a good gluten free salad choice in Paris? First up, Salade Nicoise. There’s something the French do with Salade Nicoise that makes it taste very unique and it seems impossible to recreate the taste outside of la belle France. Even in the worst tourist trap, it still tastes good.

After a busy morning wandering around the fabulous Musee D’Orsay where the building is almost as beautiful as the art work it contains, we wandered along Boulevard Saint Martin in search of a late lunch. If I were ever lucky enough to live in Paris, this is the area where I’d live.

Basic salade nicoise, served all over France like this.

Simple but satisfyingly tasty. Must admit the carafe of rose wine and ample people watching possibilities from our wonderful vantage point on the sunny boulevard probably added to the positive memory of this salad!

Salade Nicoise part deux: This Salade Nicoise was served at Carmine cafe, not far from the Eiffel Tower. Definitely a culinary step up with fresh tuna steak, it was also extremely filling.

A Sunday lunch strolling along the hip Canal St Martin with our friends N & E called for a tasty lunch before heading back to London on an afternoon Eurostar. They took us to this small cafe.

I chose this prawn and rice dish. Simple but absolutely delicious. Especially loved the deeply flavoured tomato sauce the prawns were nestled on.

So I find myself back in Paris, albeit briefly, as we travel by train from London to Milan via Paris and a couple of nights in Zurich.

We arrive on the Eurostar from London into Gare du Nord and have just under 2 hours to switch to Gare de l’Est. It’s only a 10 minute walk between the two stations so we decide to walk over and find somewhere to have lunch. Gare de l’Est turns out to be full of baguette shops. Sacre Bleu! Eventually we spot a Brasserie Flo and go in search of salad.

Although the French waiter speaks perfect English, I decide not to take my chances on his understanding and pull out my Coeliac Travel cards. Good job I did, the griddled vegetable salad I’d selected contained an ingredient not listed on the menu: Couscous. Fortunately the Coeliac Travel cards have saved me again. The waiter instructs the chef to make the salad sans cousous. Disaster averted. The salad turned out to completely fabulous, big fresh griddled veggies, various lettuces and a great dressing.

I’ve found eating gluten free in Paris relatively easy. Make sure you pack your Coeliac Travel cards to double check ingredients with waiters but almost every menu will contain something suitable.

And finally, no meal in France would be complete without…………..a glass of Orangina!

Bon appetit!

TruFree Chocolate Fingers

Today I have a guest columnist –  my “long suffering” husband (his description, not mine) Mr D. He is currently in my bad books as I will let him explain.
A review by Non Gluten Free Mr D
I’m in trouble.  The kind of wife trouble that lingers and no matter what is done you know will take a couple of days. My sin; I polished off both packets of chocolate fingers that were in the cupboard. I know, now.
Apparently they were sent to Mrs D by the nice people at TruFree and they were gluten free. 
To be honest I have a high degree of suspicion about gluten free products that are normally made with gluten. There must be a reason why somebody wishes to make a product with gluten and surely its usually because it tastes better.
My sin has educated me. I had no idea that these chocolate fingers were gluten free. There are some products that you just look at the picture on the packet and that’s it, job done. Chocolate figures are a prime example. For me there is no need to look at the small print as fortunately I do not have any food allergies. Just open the packet and take one. Follow that by a handful, and another and now you see why I am in trouble.
Those clever people at TruFree have done what I had thought would be impossible. They have produced a product that is actually better gluten free. I remember childhood treats of chocolate fingers, now reminisced only on occasions in meetings where the increasingly rare biscuit plate is passed around.
The soft luxurious chocolate that thickly coats each finger provides a limited period of holding before mouth action is required to prevent your fingers becoming chocolately. The first few I crunched but then I discovered that left in the mouth the chocolate melts and the biscuit then follows in a kind of Malteser type of way. That is the way it should be.
I have discovered that there are some excellent gluten free treats out there and these clever people at TruFree have done a brilliant job at beating the standard product. There goes another preconceived idea.
Fortunately I was allowed to buy another pack as Mrs D said that she needed a photo to go with my review.  Naughty me.
 Mr D