A Gluten Free Day out in Brno, Czech Republic

Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic. Although it does have a beautiful castle and historic centre, it doesn’t really rival that of Prague and so it’s slightly off the usual tourist trail. I knew of Brno because when I was in my university year abroad as part of my Russian degree, some of my fellow students in St Petersburg had spent a semester learning Czech in Brno as a subsid to their Russian degrees. Their fond recollections of Brno made a lasting impression on me and I’ve always wanted to visit.

After a 2 hour train journey from Vienna (buy single tickets, the return ticket bought in Brno was approx EUR 10 cheaper than the outward ticket bought in Vienna) we arrived as the heavens opened with big white fluffy flakes.

It was Easter Sunday on the day we visited. We headed to the Tourist Information office and I explained we were in Brno for the day. The lady looked slightly alarmed but pushed a map our way. I asked where would be good for us to go for lunch. “Everything is closed” she informed us. Not the reply we’d been expecting. Further discussion established that there were some places open. After wandering around Brno’s historic centre and climbing up to a freezing cold Špilberk castle, we looked for the open restaurants. It turned out they were KFC and McDonald’s. The former was packed probably because it offered warmth and free wifi which you could sneakily hook up to even standing outside the restaurant.

Having exhausted the town’s tourist attractions, we stumbled upon a Billa supermarket on the main street, Náměsti Svobody. This store had a great selection of gluten free goods. Although there was a special free from area, I noticed as we walked around the supermarket that many of the gluten free goods were on the shelves with the regular versions of the product. I don’t have a particular problem with this (other than with flour, which I wasn’t buying anyway) but personally I like to see the gluten free goods in the same place because it’s easier for me to shop that way.

Note the crossed grain symbol which has been inserted over the price to identify the gluten free goods.

Gluten free beer (bottom right in photo below) sold in single bottles!

We picked up some Dr Schar brown ciabatta rolls. Yep, even in Brno it’s possible to pick up my favourite little gluten free brown ciabatta rolls! We also bought some ham and cheese and made ourselves a picnic on the train back to Vienna.

I fear I may be becoming something of a train geek. The ‘Gustav Klimt’ express train we took on the way to Brno was fast, clean and efficient. After Brno the train sped on to Prague. Power sockets were even provided in 2nd class:

The train from Brno back to Vienna was slightly more retro. I loved the kitch temperature control in our 6 seat compartment:

Billa are a leading Austrian supermarket chain who have supermarkets in 10 countries in central/eastern Europe. If you’re in Austria or Czech Republic, look out for Billa supermarkets. As well as this supermarket in Brno, I also visited several Billa supermarkets in Vienna and found they all carried a selection of gluten free goods.

Gluten Free Vienna: Cake at Kurkonditorei Oberlaa

Having tried a gluten free schnitzel in Vienna, I felt duty bound to try another food item which Vienna is famous for: Cake. Yes, yes, I know, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it…!

Vienna is a city which appears blessed with coffee shops and cafes on almost every corner. Thanks to the very helpful Austrian Coeliac Society, I had a list of those which were able to offer gluten free cakes. I was excited to discover that a number of places in Vienna, including the famous Imperial Cafe, offer gluten free Imperial Torte. Upon further investigation I learnt this cake is made with almonds which sadly meant no Imperial Torte for me.

Nevermind, step forward Kurkonditorei Oberlaa who have nine cafes in Vienna and were able to provide me with both a gluten free and a nut free cake.

I had been sent a German language Coeliac card by the Austrian Coeliac Society to which I had then added some additional text to explaining my nut allergies. I used Google Translate to generate the text on my nut allergies (my GCSE German doesn’t allow me to do much m0re than ask the way to the pedestrianised shopping area…) and this worked well in explaining my dietary restrictions.

The cakes at Kurkonditorei Oberlaa were beautifully displayed in a refrigerated cabinet. I was really impressed with the clear labeling.

I was also impressed that there were gluten free, lactose free and even diabetic options available.


When I showed our waiter my German language Coeliac card he led me to the counter to discuss which of the options did not contain almonds, hazelnuts or chestnuts as well as being gluten free. The result was this bad boy.

Oh. Yes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this magnificent piece of molton chocolate mousse. And I enjoyed it even more when Mr D pronounced it superior to his (non-gluten free) Sachertorte. Love it when that happens.

We visited Kurkonditorei Oberlaa at both the interesting Naschmarkt and also at Landstraßer Hauptstraße. The latter location is 1 minute’s walk from Wien Mitte station where the airport shuttle departs from meaning you could have one last gluten free cake fix before heading to the airport for your journey home.

Kurkonditorei Oberlaa

1. Landstraßer Hauptstraße 1, 1030 Vienna Tel. +41-1-715-2740

Opening hours: Daily 8.00 to 19.00

2. Naschmarkt 175m, 1040 Vienna Tel. +41-1-587-4633

Opening hours: Mon – Sat 09.30 to 19.00

Other locations can be made on the Kurkonditorei Oberlaa website

Cost: Under EUR 15 for 2 cakes, a coffee and tea

Rating: 9/10 – What’s not to love about gluten free and nut free chocolate cake?

Gluten Free Vienna: Schnitzel

***********AS OF 2013 THIS GLUTEN FREE RESTAURANT IS REPORTED TO BE COMPLETELY CLOSED.******************

If you like me you grew up in the 1980s, Vienna will mean one thing; a song by Ultravox. Who could possibly forget Midge Ure’s performance of this haunting song at Live Aid in 1985? Wow. And if you’re too young to remember Live Aid a) lucky you and b) watch it on YouTube!

In researching our trip to Vienna I contacted the Austrian Coeliac Society for assistance on recommended places to eat. They very kindly sent me a list running to numerous pages of Vienna’s cafes, coffee houses and restaurants all offering gluten free options. At the top of this list was Cafe Sinfonia offering another Viennese classic, (gluten free) schnitzel.

Cafe Sinfonia is located at Schubertring, 4 on the edge of the old town (Innere Stadt). It was easy to find thanks to this sign. Surely a sign to warm the heart of any coeliac/gluten intolerant?

Cafe Sinfonia is a very friendly cafe with an interesting 1960s decor.

We had a seat in the window which afforded us a great view of the retro style trams whizzing passed us on the boulevard.

Mr D and I both fancied the schnitzel but unfortunately they only had one portion left so Mr D gallantly agreed I could have it. Probably fortunate, I’m not sure he would have enjoyed his afternoon otherwise!

How did it taste? The meat was thin, the coating crispy and well seasoned. I genuinely don’t know if you could tell the difference between this gluten free schnitzel and the regular one, the batter tasted so good. I was glad the schnitzel came with a lightly dressed green salad which made it the perfect lunchtime meal.

Address:

Cafe SINFONIA, Schubertring 4, 1010 Vienna (Wien), Austria

Telephone: +43-1-512-6713

Cost: Under EUR 35 for lunch for 2 with soft drinks

Rating: 8/10 – Cafe Sinfonia is a must visit for any Coeliac / gluten intolerant visiting Vienna to try the gluten free schnitzel.

Opening hours:

Mon / Tues / Weds – 08:00 to 22:00

Thurs / Fri – 08:00 to 24:00

Saturday – 13:00 to 21:00

Closed on Sundays and public holidays

Please notify Cafe Sinfonia in advance if you require gluten free food in order that preparations can be made in the kitchen for strict separate preparation of food.

The Free From Food Awards – The Winners

On Tuesday night I was very lucky to attend the annual Free From Awards party where this year’s winners were finally announced. The Free From Food Awards are now in their fifth very successful year. The Awards shortlist included a very impressive 300 products in 17 different categories which are all free from gluten, wheat, dairy (cow’s milk) and in addition some entries are also free from other major allergens including nuts and eggs. I was delighted to have been invited to join the judging panel this year and you can read my post on being a judge for the awards here. The prizes were presented by chef Anthony Worrall Thompson who has supported the Free From Food Awards from the start.

The invitation only awards ceremony was held in the Museum of London in the Docklands. This year we only had the DLR to contend with, unlike last year when a fatality on the over ground train line to the awards party location in Kew meant I was stuck at Clapham Junction until Caroline Aherne of Sugargrain (who’d I’d never met before!) very kindly came to my rescue!

Gluten free beer! I tried the Cornish Stinger’s Nettle Beer. (Verdict? Would be great with ice and mint on a summer’s evening)

The Awards ceremony/party gave me the opportunity to meet with many people I’ve chatted to via Twitter and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting up with old friends and new. When I started writing this blog, I really had no idea of the friendly gluten free community I would become part of and I think it’s amazing.

A winning trio! Mairead Maher of Lavida Foods, Caroline Aherne of Sugargrain and Stevan Taylor of the Foodamentalists.

In particular I was looking forward to finally meeting, Stevan Taylor who owns Yorkshire based Foodamentalists. I was so pleased for him that his gluten, wheat and dairy free frangipane mince pies won the dairy/gluten free Christmas foods category. Sadly I won’t be able to eat these amazing mince this year due to my almond allergy. However Stevan very generously developed some gluten, wheat, dairy and nut free chocolate brownies which he gave to me on the night. In addition to winning the Christmas foods category, Stevan also won a Highly Commended and two Commended awards for his fantastic products.

I was really pleased that Fria won the gluten free bread and bread mixes category with their very tasty Grova sliced loaf and also won a Highly Commended for their Grov minibaguettes. This Swedish bread company produces fantastic gluten free and dairy free bread with interesting flavours and a lower fat / higher fibre content to many of the gluten free breads on the market. They also sell some mighty sweet treats such as the Kanelbulle I’d tried in Stockholm and the seriously delicious Kladdkaka which proved such a hit at last year’s allergy show and which won a Commended this year in the gluten free cakes FFF Awards category. I hope that by winning awards in both the Bread and Cake categories, the profile of Fria’s products will be raised and attract the interest of UK major supermarkets in stocking Fria’s fantastic quality products thus making them more widely available.

The evening gave the attendees a fantastic opportunity to network and chat with both large and small scale producers, such as the lovely Russ and Yvette who are the husband and wife team behind Incognito Cakes. Incognito Cakes won a Highly Commended for their Choc Fudge Cake in the very competitive cakes and cake mixes category. The evening provided a great example that if you have the desire and passion to do something you love (whatever the size of your operation) then you can be successful.

Russ and Yvette, Incognito Cakes

One of the interesting products that I tried as part of the judging panel were gluten free spring rolls from Butterfly Snacks. Gluten free Chinese food is extremely difficult to find due to the abundance of soya and other gluten containing sauces in most dishes and this is one world cuisine which is almost exclusively necessary to cook from scratch at home. Unfortunately this product didn’t win an award this year but I’m glad Butterfly Snacks are producing spring rolls which certainly fill a gap in the gluten free market.

A full list of the winners of the Free From Food Awards 2012 is here. Please do take a few minutes to read through the full list. I found lots of interesting sounding products which I’d like to try and had not been aware of before, as well as many of my favourites.

A few picks from the winners from me:

· Gluten-free pasta and pizza bases/mixes: Winner Farabella Acini di Pepe/Pasta Grains A new product for me which I’m keen to try as a substitute for couscous as the summer salad months approach.
· Gluten-free savoury biscuits and snacks WinnerDarling Spuds Tomato, Green Olive and Oregano crisps and Highly Commended Sour Cream with a hint of Mexican Chilli Coeliacs rejoice! Finally, a truly gluten free crisp. The packets even carry the crossed grain symbol. I’ve bought these from Ocado and the flavours are fantastic. The owners of Darling Spuds couldn’t attend the Awards ceremony as they were hosting two children from Chernobyl, which makes me love this company even more.
· Free From Ingredients Joint WinnerBob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour I really like the mix of beans in this flour mix and use it for baking cakes, including the recent Orange & Polenta cake. It’s more expensive than other gluten free flours but it gives an interesting texture and great flavour to cakes.
· Pies, Flans, pizzas, one pot meals Highly CommendedDietary Specials Bonta d’Italia Marherita Pizza This pizza was genuinely fantastic. I liked the fact you could add your own toppings to this thin crispy pizza if you wanted to. I hope DS get this stocked more widely than at Asda, where I’m not a customer.
· Raw Food WinnerInSpiral’s Raw Dehydrated Kale Chips Cheesie Purple Corn Lots of rave reviews amongst those who’ve tried these kale chips mean they are a must try. I’m interested to find out how cheesie they taste when they are vegan don’t contain any cheese.

The winners line up with Anthony Worral Thompson and Michelle Berriedale-Johnson

A huge congratulations to all of the winners in this year’s awards. Many thanks to Cresssida and Michelle for inviting me to join the judging panel and for all their hard work in making the awards the success it is.

Gluten Free Pizza in Florence, Italy: Ciro & Sons

No trip to Italy could possibly be complete without a pizza. Specifically, a gluten free pizza. Regular readers of this blog will know that to date I’ve had quite a quest for the most crispy pizza Italy can offer the gluten intolerant traveller. A pizza that tastes so good it’s impossible to believe it has been made without gluten. This mission has taken me on various trips up and down the long boot of Italy and its islands from Milan via Rome to Palermo in Sicily and many places in between, with varied results.

Before our trip to Florence I researched gluten free pizza options in Florence online. I found two restaurants in the city which seemed to be highly recommended and not too touristy. The first was Pizza Man. Perhaps a slightly clumsy name for English speakers but my research determined the owner appeared to be the king of pizzas in Florence. I contacted them to find out which of their 8 branches were able to offer gluten free pizza. Unfortunately their restaurant located at via Sansovino, 191 which can cater for gluten free diets was not very convenient for where we were staying. Pizza Man even do a gluten free lunch which doesn’t just offer gluten free pizza but also gnocchi, Italian fried seafood and more. How fantastic! Reservations and advice notice of gluten free dining are required. Definitely worth considering if you’ll be in that part of town.

The second restaurant I found offering gluten free pizza in Florence was Ciro & Sons. It’s located in the historical centre, just behind the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Ciro & Sons website even states they can offer gluten free food. Thankfully I’d booked a table in advance because the restaurant was packed on the Saturday night we visited. I’d also notified the restaurant in advance that I’d like to order a gluten free pizza. They request that you do this so that the gluten free base can be prepared.

The restaurant has two rooms. I preferred the downstairs Renaissance style room with its high ceiling and Murano-esque chandelier. The whole restaurant had a very homely atmosphere and I have never seen so many family photos in a restaurant before. All the staff were very friendly and spoke excellent English.

Even though we’d booked, we still had to wait a short time for our table. Our standing spot was just inside the door and right in front of the guys making pizza in the open wood burning oven. It was fascinating watching the chefs pick out the pre-prepared dough from a tub using an implement that looked like a chisel, roll and shape the dough into a round, add the toppings and then slide the pizza onto a specially shaped wooden paddle, stretch it and finally sliding it in to the oven. Despite my interest in watching the activity in front of me, I stood there wondering how they would prepare a gluten free pizza in there without the risk of cross contamination? And then I saw another chef appear from a separate kitchen carrying a separate paddle with a pizza ready for the wood fired pizza oven on top.

When our ringside seat for the pizza action was interrupted to take our table, I asked the waiter about the gluten free pizza. I’d mentally prepared myself for steak and salad if I didn’t think it would be safe enough. The waiter explained they take precautions to avoid cross contamination and that although the pizzas do go into the same wood fired oven with the regular pizzas, a separate paddle is used and the gluten free pizzas are placed on an aluminium base to protect them from any stray flour which they might come in contact. Whilst we were watching the pizzas be prepared we saw one of the chefs singe his hand from the fierce heat of the oven while standing 4 ft away from it. The pizza oven was seriously hot and I doubt much survives long in there. The waiter told me Ciro & Sons been making gluten free pizzas there for 10 years and that many Coeliacs safely eat with them. Just after I ordered I overheard the Italian lady on the table next to me saying “lo sono celiaca” (I am Coeliac) so I guess the waiter was right. She also ordered a gluten free pizza.

After ordering drinks, a second waiter brought us some bread. He initially put it next to me (am I alone in hearing the music from the film “Psycho” when this happens?!) but then immediately moved it across the table to Mr D. He apologised saying he’d be back with something gluten free for me. I always feel comforted when a waiter with whom I have not placed my order with knows my dietary restrictions because it shows communication in the kitchen. He returned with some round rice crackers for me which I thought was a nice touch.

The pizza arrived and – oh wow – was it good!

The tomato base was fresh and tasted like a Tuscan summer. The pizza base was thin and wonderfully crispy from being baked in the wood burning pizza oven. Delicious. Mr D thought thought the pizzas could have had more topping. Perhaps looking at this photo now I agree with him but at the time I just enjoyed eating such a crispy pizza.

I didn’t have room for dessert but the menu did have three gluten free options including a cheesecake.

I’d recommend Ciro & Sons for a deliciously crispy gluten free pizza. Providing an alternative to bread with our drinks before the meal scored highly with me as did the long established precautions they take to prevent cross contamination.

Address: Ciro & Sons, via del Giglio, 28r, Florence, Italy

Cost: Under EUR 50 for 2 pizzas and a bottle of wine

Rating: 8/10 (pizza base was perfectly crispy, more topping would have resulted in higher score)

Reservations recommended and if you would like gluten free pizza, this should be ordered at least 24 hours in advance