Sweden: Gluten Free Train Travel

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m quite a fan of train travel. It’s relaxing, easy and I can read, all of which are not the case when travelling by car.

In searching for a return flight from Stockholm using our BA frequent flyer miles, our only option on the day we wanted, was to fly back from Copenhagen. Perhaps some people would be deterred from going to Sweden in the first place. Not us! This meant we could get the train from Stockholm to Lund, a city in south west Sweden less than 30 minutes from Copenhagen airport. Lund is very close to Malmo but as we’ve already been to Malmo for a weekend, we wanted to travel somewhere new. The train journey from Stockholm to Lund was about 4 and a half hours of speeding along on a modern tilting train through snowy birch forests. Supremely relaxing.

Since we were leaving Stockholm in the late morning on New Year’s Day we booked a meal to eat on the train. I decided that since this option was available, I’d book it rather than taking my chances with the buffet car. As well as gluten free meals, SJ Swedish railways also offered other at seat dining options including dairy free and vegetarian meals.

This was my gluten free meal:

Special mention has to go to the gluten free bread:

And also this fantastic fruit salad:

Please note the at seat dining service is only available when travelling in 1st class on high speed trains. In the interests of research I did go for a wander down the dining car (not easy on the Swedish tilting high speed trains) and can report there were gluten free salads onboard. However, given the amazing availability of gluten free products in Swedish supermarkets, I would advise buying items from a supermarket to make your own picnic onboard. Click here for some ideas on where to shop in Stockholm.

The train tickets were amazingly easy to book. I booked them online while in London using the Swedish railway’s website (in English) and printing off the tickets at home. We presented this home-printed ticket onboard and the conductor scanned the bar code. Easy.

Booking the gluten free meal was slightly more tricky. Although I’d ordered and paid for the meal online at the same time as booking our tickets, the website didn’t allow me to select the gluten free special meal at the same time as booking the tickets. I noted the phone number given by the Swedish rail website to book special meals and called them the week before we travelled. If you didn’t want to call Sweden to organise this, you could either ask your hotel to call Swedish rail on your behalf or visit the Swedish rail office in the central station to arrange. They require 24 hours notice.

Stockholm: Gluten Free Supermarket Shopping

One of the things I love about travel overseas is exploring foreign supermarkets. Wherever in the world you are, there’s always something very exciting to be found.

Here’s what I discovered in Stockholm.

ALL of the supermarkets I visited in Central Stockholm carried gluten free goods. I found the excellent Swedish produced Fria gluten free bread in the freezer in every shop I visited, along with other gluten free treats.

I found these in a COOP the size of a small Tesco Local store in Gamla Stan:

We found many products from the Finnish brand Semper on sale in this supermarket as well as the other supermarkets we visited.
This was the freezer section in an ICA in Sodermalm:

And THIS is the gluten free section in the basement (lowest level) of the Åhléns City department store. Feast on this, people!:

This is a really big food hall in the Åhléns City department store. At the time I visited the gluten free section was located near aisle number 1 but ask staff if you can’t find, although the ‘Glutenfritt‘ sign was clearly visible from some way distance! From the photos you can see they have an amazing and extensive selection of gluten free goods. These included breads, bread mixes (which are in handy for storage tetra-pack type cartons in the photo above), sweet and savoury biscuits, traditional Swedish crispbreads and interesting looking flours. The freezer contained a large selection of gluten free breads, bread rolls, cinnamon buns (kanelbulle), apple muffins, chocolate brownie cake (kladdkaka), pizza bases and more. Many of these were from the Fria gluten free range.

Somewhat hilariously as I was standing there taking photos, a Swedish couple approached the section and let out the same whelp of delight at the extensive gluten free goods as I had 5 minutes before them. I think the shriek of excitement sounded better in Swedish though!

Essential details:

Details for the stores I visited and found a great selection of gluten free goods.

Åhléns City: Department store located at Klarabergsgatan 50, 111 21 Stockholm. Closest station, T-Centralen

Coop: Branches all over Sweden. Photo above taken in Coop Järntorget 80, 11129 Stockholm. Nearest station, Gamla Stan.

ICA supermarkets. Nationwide chain selling many gluten free lines including Fria gluten free bread.

Finally, no trip to Sweden would be complete without a couple of Plopps:

Have you visited Sweden? Are there any supermarkets or stores you can recommend for a good selection of gluten free goods?

Sweden: Gluten Free McDonalds

I’m loving it. Because I can.

I have a slightly strange relationship with McDonalds because despite eating there extremely rarely, it seems to have been part of some of the most pivotal moments of my life. I first went to Russia on a school trip just after the Berlin Wall had fallen but while Russia was still part of the USSR (just). The winds of change were most definitely blowing through Russia like a bad Scorpion song: A McDonalds had recently opened up in central Moscow. As naïve school kids we stared in astonishment at the enormous queue of people standing in Pushkin Square. Who would queue like that, for McDonalds? Later when I studied Russian at University I came to understand what drove those people to queue. And I became one myself.

For the first semester of my University year abroad I lived in Yaroslavl’, a city the size of Liverpool which is located 5 hours north of Moscow by train. It’s hard to understand if you hadn’t seen it, but for most of the time there was little food in the supermarkets during that autumn and winter in the early 1990s. Generally we could find bread, some tvorog and chocolate bars but fresh meat, fruit or vegetables were harder to come by. Truly, it’s hard to believe this now when our supermarkets are overflowing with imported fresh produce flown in from every corner of the world. One day in Yaroslavl’ I saw an enormous queue of people standing in the snow with the line snaking its way towards a large lorry with its back doors open. I decided to make like the locals and joined the queue. It seemed popular, whatever was being sold. I asked the people in front what was for sale from the back of the lorry. They didn’t know. And neither did the people in front of them. I just hoped I wasn’t standing in the freezing cold for plastic toy dolls or some other useless item. As I got closer to the front of the queue I could see what it was: cheese! For 2 months the city didn’t have any cheese. I bought an enormous 2 kilo Edam-like round of the cheese and lugged it home to share out with my fellow students.

Due to this general lack of food, we regularly travelled to Moscow for the weekends. To eat. Mainly in McDonalds. The Golden Arches was cheap (at least for us foreigners), had consistent food standards and a menu of food items you could actually buy to eat – all things which could not be said of many Russian restaurants at the time. We’d see small families in there for whom McDonalds was a huge treat, excitedly tucking into their first “Биг Мак”. Sometimes a family of 3 or 4 would be sharing a single portion of French fries between them as this was all they could afford but they desperately wanted a taste of Western capitalism. So McDonalds always feels like a treat place to me. Somewhere which can be relied on when you’re starving and it’s minus 25C outside.

McDonalds was also the first place I ate meat (the irony!) after many years of being a vegetarian. I’d suffered throughout my 20s with increasingly severe bouts of anaemia and my GP had told me that I was going to have to eat red meat to get enough iron in my diet. I no longer believe that my anaemia was caused by being vegetarian, but at the time I didn’t know any better.

So it was with this backdrop of my personal history that we wandered into a McDonalds in Stockholm.

I’d heard through the gluten free community that McDonalds in Stockholm offered gluten free buns. I asked the server if she had any “of course”, she replied as if it were the most normal request in the world. I ordered a Big Mac for old time’s sake. The server told me it wouldn’t be quite like a normal Big Mac as it would only have the top and bottom of the gluten free bun, and not the 3rd slice of bread in the middle. Perfect with me! She then said something which pleasantly surprised me; if I wanted ketchup I could either take it from the regular ketchup pump or I could have individual sachets. She said many Coeliacs preferred to take the individual sachets. I was impressed with this level of understanding but I can’t help thinking this would not happen in the UK, even if gluten free buns were available.

So how did the Swedish gluten free Big Mac taste?

Once I’d got over the sheer joy of being able to have something which has been off limits for many years, I decided that the gluten free bun was tasty. However after eating two-thirds of the bun it became too sweet for me. This isn’t very surprising as I’m not normally a fan of white bread. The good thing was that the bun held its shape well and didn’t crumble. Apart from the gluten free bun, the Big Mac tasted just as I remembered.

The French fries are safe to eat because they are cooked in clean oil and not with gluten containing food items, thus avoiding cross contamination.

McDonalds may not be the height of gastronomy but sometimes it’s good to do things, just because you can.

Sweden’s Gluten Free Bakery: Friends of Adam

Sometimes I think Mr D deserves a medal. You go on holiday with your wife to beautiful Stockholm and what does she want to do? Go in search of gluten free finds. In this case, a gluten free bakery.

The Friends of Adam bakery is located in Stockholm, in the Södermalm area. Their mission is to produce bread which is naturally gluten free. They use various flours including rice, teff, coconut and buckwheat, instead of wheat starch and use real (not powdered) eggs and real butter. In this way they seek to produce bread which is not only naturally gluten free but is also high in fibre and nutritious. They use two ovens (one of which is a stone oven) to bake their breads and undertake a lot of experimentation to come up with the best possible results.

An extensive list of the stores Friends of Adam supplies both within Stockholm and throughout Sweden is available on the website here. Non-Swedish speakers can use Google translate. On chatting to the lovely lady in the bakery, she advised that Friends of Adam have just started supplying their gluten free bread to the Espresso House, a Swedish chain of coffee houses which seemed to be everywhere.

It was a tough choice to decide which crackers to buy to bring home because the various flavour combinations were all so interesting but the samples on the counter helped us narrow down our selection. The crackers were thin and very crunchy. They tasted delicious; light and not at all fatty. Finally we decided on the following:

– Natural

– Onion & Dill

– Honey & Mustard

Apologies to Mr D for dragging him on yet another gluten free mission, but the Friends of Adam bakery is a real gem and I urge you to visit if you’re in Stockholm.

Essential details:

Friends of Adam website here

Location: Hornstulls Strand 13, Södermalm. Nearest underground station is Hornstull

Opening hours: 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm Saturdays. Closed on Sundays. Double check website just in case opening hours change.

If you’re hungry after visiting the bakery, Kafé Copacabana is located at Hornstulls Strand 3 (next to a cool looking cinema) and is 2 minutes walk from the Friends of Adam bakery. They sell gluten free sandwiches using the Friends of Adam bread. I also noticed a lactose free latte (laktosfri latte) on the over counter menu.