Gluten Free Bilbao, Spain: Art & Pintxos

After checking into the Hotel Miro, we walked past the Guggenheim museum and Jeffs Koons topiary dog, into the Old Town along waterfront, checking out the signs of Bilbao’s regeneration along the way. Bilbao’s old town (Casco Viejo) is a mix of buildings dating from the 15th to 19th centuries and is situated on the east bank of Bilbao’s river Nervion.

Although San Sebastien, located 60 miles east along the northern Spanish coast, may be better known as a foodie mecca with three (of Spain’s six) 3 star Michelin restaurants, Bilbao takes its gastronomy seriously. Pintxos are the Basque region’s version of tapas, albeit far more elaborate than tapas you’ll find in other regions of Spain. Would we be able to find some gluten free options for me, I wondered? We started at the Plaza Nueva where Gure Toki, the 2011 winner of the annual pintxos completion is located (yes, they really do take pintxos seriously around here!) along with many other pintxos bars. I think this square would be a fantastic place to sit outside and try pintxos like the locals (usually a txikiteo or bar hop between 7 and 9pm before going out for dinner) with a glass of the local Txakoli white wine. But perhaps not in February!

We wandered through the quaint old town streets and stopped at Berton (C/Jardines 11). Could they offer any pintxos sin gluten? No, came the very definite reply. There was nothing on the counter that was gluten free and I wasn’t so hungry as to ask them to make a gluten free alternative sin pan. Nevermind, a good glass of Rioja always helps. As we sat enjoying the wine, a mighty plate of jamón Iberico was delivered to the next table. Now that, that would do nicely.

Salty, sweet, moist and cut thinner than a sheet of paper. I have never tasted ham like this.

We saw these beauties in a store close to Berton and considered over several more glasses of Rioja whether we could bring one home with us.

As the day continued, we saw increasing numbers of people dressed in ever more elaborate costumes. It created a really fun atmosphere as we saw whole families (including tiny babies) dressed as smurfs, clowns and Pirates along with the odd Buzz Lightyear. Spiderman suits must have run out in the region as every 5 year old appeared to be wearing one!

Alien and pirate son.

Send in the clowns!

An entire family of witches. Even the babies in the buggies were dressed up!

We later discovered it was carnival that weekend in Bilbao. We joined what appeared to be the whole city in watching a procession of floats trundle slowly pass us. We felt really lucky to have stumbled upon Bilbao on carnival night.

The Guggenheim museum was the big attraction for us travelling to Bilbao.

I’ve wanted to visit since it opened in 1997 but somehow never made it. We picked up the hugely informative free audio guide which described the building’s construction and the art works it contains. I was amazed to learn that the initial design for the iconic titanium clad building – instantly recognisable to anyone with an interest in art or architecture – was drawn by Frank Gehry on the back of a hotel envelope. The art works on display are mainly mid 20th century onwards and the audio guide provided a truly excellent commentary on the gallery’s art. I particularly enjoyed the Fish Gallery with Richard Serra’s huge participational steel installations.

Sunday morning spent at the Guggenheim was the highlight of our trip and, for me at least, reason alone to return to Bilbao.

 

Gluten Free Bilbao, Spain: Hotel Miró

We booked our trip to Bilbao at the very last minute and managed to find a flight from Heathrow on the Spanish low cost airline, Vueling. I tend to avoid low cost airlines since they generally fly from Stanstead or Luton, neither of which are convenient when you live in south west London. I also think once you’ve added in the cost of surcharges such as seat selection, checked bag and a card fee for the payment, you don’t end up saving much. But the only airlines flying direct to Bilbao from London were Vueling or easyjet. I was quite impressed with Vueling and I’d be happy to fly with them from Heathrow again.

Bilbao airport is quite small and it took no more than 10 minutes to disembark, collect the bag and walk through the controls. Options for taking the 10 minute trip into central Bilbao are either a taxi for EUR 20-25 or the airport bus for the princely sum of EUR 1.30 each. Mr D insisted I left my usual taxi-Queen lifestyle at home and we got the bus. Hmmm.

We stayed at the Hotel Miró on Alameda Mazarredo, 77 which is opposite the Guggenheim museum and within easy walking distance of Bilbao’s shops, restaurants and the Old Town. We got off at the first stop on the airport bus and walked around the corner to the hotel. This hotel is part of the Design Hotels group which are a group of independent boutique hotels. We’ve stayed in a few of their hotels around the world including the excellent Hotel Urban in Madrid and I’ve not been disappointed. Hotel Miro is a stylish, modern hotel which offers free wifi both in your room and throughout the hotel (I am so over paying up to EUR 25 each per day for us to connect our iPhones) and even a free bar to guests. Which seemed like a very dangerous proposition, for the hotel at least!

In advance of our trip, I’d contacted the hotel about gluten free dining options. They confirmed they would have gluten free food available at breakfast for me. When I arrived at breakfast I spoke to waitress and she brought me this gluten free baguette, freshly warmed.

It tasted absolutely amazing with its crispy outside and light bread texture inside. It was especially delicious with some jamon serrano. So good in fact it was hard to believe it really was gluten free. Perhaps I wasn’t the first to wonder this since I was presented the gluten free bread in its packaging!

 

Details

Hotel Miró, Alameda Mazarredo, 77, Bilbao, Spain

Rooms cost from EUR 110 per night

Free From Food Awards 2012: The Shortlist

The shortlist has been published today for the annual Free From Food Awards which are are now in their 5th year. A very impressive 300 free from products were entered into 17 different categories which ranged from breakfast cereals, breads, cakes to gluten free beer and even a new category of raw and superfood.

FFFM_logo

I was really thrilled to be invited to join the judging panel. My fellow judges included journalists, nutritionists, food manufacturers, supermarket recipe development consultants, foodies as well as other Coeliacs and gluten free bloggers. The judging panel included people who do not need to eat gluten free foods and I thought this approach was good because it also meant the products were judged against their regular, gluten containing counterparts. As a consumer of gluten free food, it was fascinating for me to hear the views of the products being tasted by people who do not ordinarily need to eat them.

What surprised me about the judging was how animated the debates became as judges argued passionately (both for and against) about the merits of some of the products being tasted. Michelle did a tremendous job in chairing the discussions and encouraging the judging panel to reach a decision. I was also amazed at the level of organisation which is required just to hold the judging sessions. Cressida managed wonderfully with preparing the products to be tasted and within the allotted judging session time.

The shortlist has many companies and products that I’m familiar with as well as others which are new to me and that I look forward to trying soon. I encourage you to click on this link to view the full shortlist and see the wonderfully diverse range of products entered into the awards this year. Some highlights for me from the shortlist are:

Bob’s Red Mill – Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour which I use to bake with. It’s more expensive than Dove’s gluten free plain flour but I really like the texture and taste of the bean flours in this mix. I made a fantastic gluten free banana bread with dark chocolate chunks using this flour.

Crazy Bakers – Half Pipes Swedish Crispbreads: I brought a packet of these back with me from Sweden. They’re huge!

Darling Spuds – Fire Roasted Jalapeno Crisps / Sour Cream with a hint of Mexican Chilli / Tomato, Olive & Oregano: I recently tried and really enjoyed these crisps which are labelled ‘suitable for Coeliacs’ with interesting flavours. Since the change in EU gluten free labelling law change last month, great tasting flavoured crisps suitable for Coeliacs are hard to find.

Foodamentalists – Frangipane Mince Pies which were a big hit in the D household before Christmas. Fantastic to see Foodamentalists have a number of other products short listed this year.

Fria – Shortlisted in the bread category for their tasty Grova dark sliced loaf and Grova mini baguettes which are perfect for lunch boxes. Fria have also been short listed in the cake category for their Kladdkaka Chocolate Brownie Cake. I’m hungry for this rich chocolate Swedish brownie cake even typing the word ‘kladdkaka’.

A huge congratulations and well done to all the short listed companies!

The Free From Food Awards ceremony will be held on 17th April where the winners will be announced.