Gluten-Free Travel to Georgia

As Celiac Awareness Month 2023 comes to a close, I wanted to share a travel story by my friend Sian, aka Gluten Free Mrs. D., who actually sent this post to me a while back. Sian and I “met” through our blogs many years ago. She is one of the original celiac travel bloggers and someone that I have always admired and lived vicariously through her online travels. She has celiac disease and a nut allergy, lives in London with her family, and travels extensively throughout Europe and beyond.

Over the years, Sian and I have kept in touch via emails and social media. We have shared stories of gluten-free travels, faraway lands, and eventually motherhood. While we still never met in person, Gluten Free Mrs. D is one of my favorite gluten-free travel bloggers. Her love of travel, authenticity, and great food recommendations are a reason you should follow her. Plus, Sian never lets her celiac disease stop her from seeing the world. My kind of person!

In this guest post, Gluten Free Mrs. D shares one of her travel memories from visiting Georgia, the country not the US state! Keep in mind, that Gluten Free Mrs. D traveled to Georgia pre-pandemic so be sure to check any recommendations prior to traveling.

Find Gluten Free Mrs. D on Instagram and at her blog.

Gluten-Free in Georgia

By Gluten Free Mrs. D

When Erin asked me to share a gluten free travel memory an photo, it was a tough call to narrow it down.

I’ve been very lucky to visit 55 countries in 5 continents since I was diagnosed with Coeliac disease 10 years ago.

Many memories sprung to mind from the amazing gluten free choices found even in tiny towns all over Italy, to the abundance of gluten free options in Australia and the challenges of visiting Japan as a coeliac. All three are countries I’ve been lucky to travel to both before and after diagnosis.

I truly believe that coeliacs should – and can – travel, once the corona virus crisis is over. Domestic travel in your own country can help build confidence when taking first trips as a gluten free traveller. For a first international trip, visiting Italy or Spain where coeliac disease is well understood and there are extensive gluten free menu and supermarket food options make these countries safe choices for gluten free travellers. But what if you’re  like to travel to travel to countries off the beaten track, is it still possible?

Travelling to the former Soviet republic of Georgia (not the US state!) was in many ways one of the biggest challenges I’ve undertaken as a coeliac. From my pre-trip research (essential for all gluten free travel), I knew that knowledge of coeliac disease would be non-existent in Georgia. A coeliac association (usually a great source of information for local eating/shopping options) does not exist in Georgia. Similarly, I knew there was no allergen labelling in restaurants/packaging. 

Adding to the situation with gluten, is the fact that I’m allergic a couple of types of tree nut and walnuts are found in many Georgian dishes.

Sadly the kinkali (stuffed dumplings) and the amazing khatchapuri (a cheesy bread) would be off limits. However, the dolmas (stuffed vine leaves) mtsvadi (grilled pork skewers) adjika (chilli paste) and a multitude of salads would be suitable options, so long as they did not contain gluten/nuts and were safely prepared.     

As part of my pre-trip planning, I looked into Coeliac travel cards to help make sure I could make my dietary needs clear in restaurants. These are essential if you are travelling to a country where you feel language skills may be a challenge or where you think the understanding of “gluten” and where it may be found/used could present a problem. Unfortunately I could not find a card suitable for both gluten and nuts in thee Georgia language so I had a bespoke card translated for me. This was an excellent investment and helped more to explain in restaurants than any card I’ve used before.

Translation card in Georgian

For the trip I packed plenty of gluten free supplies such as gluten free bread and crackers which I could tuck in my bag, along with some tasty nut free/gluten free flapjacks for some energy after all the walking around the fascinating capital city, Tbilisi, I planned to do!

Georgia is thought to be the birthplace of wine and wine production. It would therefore be a travesty not to visit a vineyard on our trip! We hired a driver to take us out for the day to the eastern part of Georgia, first to the amazing David Gareja monastery complex founded in the 6th century. Then on to the stunning town of Sighnaghi, situated in a stunning position with the Caucasus mountains behind.

So the photo and travel memory I’d like to share is this image, taken at Pheasant’s Tears of my Georgian language translation card. Isn’t the Georgian script beautiful?

Here in Sighnaghi, at Pheasants Tears, we had one of the most fresh, simple and flavoursome meals I’ve had in a long time. On arrival we met the owner/chef. He gladly read the translation card explaining my dietary needs and confirmed he would safely prepare food for me. There is no menu here as such, you eat what the chef prepares, using the freshest ingredients you can imagine.

For my part, this set up involved a great deal degree of trust that my food could be prepared safely. The translation card really helped however the chef/owner spoke perfect English and had spent time working in London. For the latter this meant that whilst Georgia as a country was not well versed in catering to people with dietary restrictions, it was something this chef was well aware of and, through clear dialogue between us, I was confident my needs could be safely met.

Translation cards are often an essential part of travelling as a coeliac, but so is the confidence to leave a restaurant if you don’t feel you can be catered for safely. Luckily, we settled in with the expectation of a spectacular meal and we were not to be disappointed. Soon, colourful, rustic bowls of delicious gluten and nut free food began to appear.

All, of course, paired with the vineyard’s wines.

I loved this day so much. Grateful to have the opportunity to travel anywhere (a feeling I think of often in the current situation) but especially grateful to have the opportunity to travel to Georgia and experience a wonderful country despite the extra pre-trip planning that was required for a successful trip as a gluten free traveller. No Georgian coeliac association, no allergen labelling, certainly no 100% gluten free restaurants. Thank goodness for the Georgian translation card which helped me feel confident in eating out.    

A huge thank you to Erin for including me in this gluten free travel series, celebrating stories of celiacs who love to travel. We may not be able to explore the world right now, but we can all – even as coeliacs – dream and plan for trips once we are through the current corona virus pandemic.  (Editor note: this story was written during the pandemic.)

Gluten-free food and wine in Georgia

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