A few weeks ago, I read a post on my gluten-free/travel RSS feed about a gluten intolerant student named Courtney spending a semester abroad in Prague. I was a bit frustrated at first when I read that this student had a hard time eating gluten-free in Prague since I had such wonderful experiences when I was there last April. When I put a call out for gluten-free traveler guest posts, Courtney happened to email me about the same blog posting. After reading her post and corresponding via email, I soon realized that traveling and eating gluten-free for a week can often be different than actually living in a gluten-filled country. While I had good experiences eating gluten-free for a week, Courtney lived in Prague for five months and have different experiences from me. Read on for Courtney’s experiences in Prague, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Italy and more.
by Courtney of Our Nature Lies in Movement
I am gluten intolerant. Usually, I get the response “oh, that is unfortunate, it seems so hard.” It can be extremely difficult when all I want is to to order a pizza from the joint down the street or a eat a cookie that my friends just baked.
Initially, gluten intolerance and travel do not seem like a good pairing. They can actually seem like a nightmare if you think of all the things you cannot eat. Often times, they require more planning, reading labels, printing out cards in various languages explaining your condition, and attempting to ask the waiter in their native language if there is anything without gluten in their restaurant. However, the more places you travel the better you become at finding options that are satisfying and allow you to experience some of the local flavor.
Some cuisines are better than other. I have to say that in my four months in Prague I was unable to eat about 90 percent of Czech food because they love their wheat flour. I was able to eat most of the meat they prepared and their potatoes. However, most of their sauces were thickened with wheat so I would often have to ask for them to hold the sauce. Their most famous dishes knedliky (bread dumplings), smazeny syr (fried cheese), bramboraky (fried potato pancakes), kolache (sweet fruit pastry) and of course beer are needless to say not gluten intolerant friendly. I struggled in Prague when I went to restaurants. I was able to cook my food fairly easily. The local Billa had gluten free pasta, bread, deserts, chips, etc. I eventually found a gluten free beer and an entirely gluten free restaurant. Plus, my favorite food of all time is Mexican. Mexican is very easy for gluten intolerant people because of good old corn tortillas. I managed to find the one restaurant and it became my favorite place in the city.
Paris was particularly difficult as well because all I wanted to do was grab a baguette at a bakery and smear brie cheese all over it. Every morning I met my friends in Montmartre and they would pick out their pastries, crepes, and croissants. I’ll be honest, it nearly killed me.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, I ate my fair share of frites. They were naturally gluten free as long as they did not use the same oil to fry them and other bread products. I ate a modified version of Wiener Schnitzel in Austria. I had the best spicy goulash in Hungary. In Germany, due to their diversity I had Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese food.
Surprisingly, Italy was the best country for gluten intolerances. Because their diet consists almost exclusively of wheat products, young children are tested for gluten intolerances and celiacs disease. There are tons of restaurants that offer wonderful gluten free options. Rome was my best food location and I felt like I gained 10 pounds in 4 days being there. I visited with my friend studying in Rome who is also gluten intolerant. I had an amazing time eating pasta, pizza, gelato in gluten free cones, cakes, and biscotti. It was gluten free heaven.
Due to my initial struggle in Prague whenever I met an Australian backpacker, I immediately hounded them if they know about gluten intolerances and the accessibility of gluten free food in Australia. I met one girl in Krakow, that was actually gluten free too. Although she was from Perth and not Melbourne, she insisted that it was fairly easy to be gluten free in Australia. Hallelujah!!
When I arrived in Melbourne, I went to the local grocery store, Cole’s, and found half an aisle of gluten free products from brownies to crackers. At least I knew I could cook gluten free foods, but how about the restaurants. Nearly every restaurant has at least one gluten free option. It is fantastic. Even fast food pizza chains Dominos and Pizza Hut have gluten free crust. WIth the exception of one cafe, I have been able to eat anywhere my friends wanted to go.
I reently got back from a road trip in the countryside. I stopped a a tiny local grocery store, not expecting to find anything. Much to my surprise, they had a tiny but mighty gluten free section. Australia is wonderful for individuals with gluten intolerances.
With that being said, being gluten free is not cheap. While there are many options here, restaurants usually charge anywhere from 3 to 6 dollars extra for the meal to be gluten free. Thus, on a student budget I opt to cook the majority of my food at home. Even in stores the products can be a bit of steep. I was craving brownies last week so I purchased a mix for a whopping 6 dollars. It really killed me to buy it, but I had such a chocolate craving, I caved. I made them and while at home I have made many GF mixes, the final product was awful. Not only was my chocolate craving not satisfied but I was irritated that I had spend a bloody fortune on them. I complained for about a minute before I googled the company online and sent them a email politely notifying them of their less than stellar product. Now, I am not usually a complainer, but what can I say? Do not mess with me and chocolate. I received a prompt email asking for my home address and within 2 days I had a package of gluten free products to make up for my dissatisfaction. Lesson learned: do not be afraid to give the company feedback on their product. They will send you more free things to keep you satisfied and happy.
I made a quick list of the countries that were good/bad/ok for people with gluten intolerances. These are just based on my opinions and experiences so some people may have different ideas and disagree.
Fantastic: Australia, Italy
Good: Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany (Schar is a German Gluten Free company that sells their products all across Europe), Spain
Just All right (had some difficulty with traditional dishes): France, Austria, Croatia, Montenegro,Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary
Poor: Czech Republic, Poland (hard when eating out, ok in stores), Slovakia
To all of my fellow GF travelers: I wish you the best of luck. Happy eating!!
Originally from Milwaukee, Courtney is a student at Loyola Univerisity Chicago. Her fall semester was spent in Prague, Czech Republic and in Melbourne, Australia for the spring. Courtney has dreamed of spending a year abroad since she was 3 years old. She’s feisty, passionate, opinionated, a little too hopeful, politically astute, and overall an individual who fights for what she believes in and loves life. Her blog “Our Nature Lies in Movement” captures her thoughts, hopes, experiences, reflections and photographs.