Europe, Russia

Gluten-Free in Russia

My gluten-free friend, Kathleen Davis, recently traveled to Russia with her husband. I asked her if she wanted to contribute some feedback about her trip to this site and she was excited at the opportunity. I love learning about how other people prepare for their gluten-free travels. It was also interesting to see that in Russia, as I experienced in the Czech Republic, people eat vegetables for breakfast. Maybe Americans should follow in their worldly neighbors’ friendly footsteps. Please enjoy Kathleen’s contribution about her travels in Russia. 

без клейковины = Gluten-Free

Russia – beautiful, sparse, opulent, speaks a different sounding language from many other countries we traveled. Russia is part Asia, part Europe. Could I eat safely in Russia as a celiac who has “issues,” I wondered? YES. Gluten-free is only another aspect of travel, the way we look at it.

May 2011, my husband and I traveled with Trafalgar Tours to Saint Petersburg, Novgorod and Moscow, 3 of the 10 largest cities in Russia. We have enjoyed many European countries and cities in our previous adventures. Russia seemed a bit more foreign, exotic, and more different than Asia or Europe for some reason. Perhaps my apprehension was due to its cold history, tales of poverty, severe conditions, and safety. I was not familiar with this country spanning 11 time zones. I know only a few people who have been to Russia and I was not very familiar with its food, language or customs. Like all our trips, once we commit, we plan to fully appreciate the entire adventure. Russia would be no different.

Ground rules issues – A few health concerns are that I am:

1 – Celiac; my husband is not. Holidays do not mean skipping on diet as I feel and function so much better when I don’t intake poison. That’s my take on gluten. nails diet as “a particular selection of food, especially as designed or prescribed to improve a person’s physical condition or to prevent or treat a disease.” Diet is health empowerment, not a deprivation. Gluten-free allows me to put the fuel in my body needed to perform best. Maintaining an ardent gluten-free diet is essential to well-being.

2 – Lactose intolerant. A lactase pill works when needed.

3 – Vigilant to avoid foods causing GERD – gastoesophageal reflux disease. No fried foods, fatty foods, onions, garlic, acidic or citrus, caffeine, alcohol, mints, heavy spicy (this does not mean no herbs nor spices), carbonated beverages, or chocolate. Shyly I disclose I have been known to indulge in an occasional really good dark chocolate bar.

4 – Vegetarian. I simply feel my best not eating meat but I will have a small amount of fish or chicken protein if no choices are available and I would go without food otherwise.

I researched online the cities where we stay for celiac groups – Saint Petersburg, Novgorod, and Moscow. Saint Petersburg support group’s site was reassuring, loaded with information – I emailed Irena Romanovskaya, president of Saint-Petersburg coeliac society – irena.romanovska (at) gmail (dot) com. Erin Smith’s Gluten-Free Globetrotter lists Saint Petersburg’s site for Russia. In Russia, I learned, they interpret a few food terms differently than in the US, such as pasta, and meatless. Irena’s site was most helpful, knowing this upfront. This site has Russian and English gluten-free explanations to hand out to explain gluten-free needs to servers. Gluten-free is expressed as not including “… «mooka, psheneetsa, khleb, sukharee» which means «wheat, bread and flour» in Russian.”

I used translation sites and our Trafalgar guide Alla wrote out Russian words for vegetables and other terms I needed to explain my diet. This was easy. Simply put, I put under YES/DA what I wanted and under NO/NET what I didn’t. I said Thank you very much/Spaseebo balshoye often

I printed my own version diet cards so all concerns were on one compact form. There are a number of excellent online gluten-free (and others) handouts that are most useful and easy to locate by searching for gluten-free cards or your avoidance of choice.

When traveling, I pack individual envelopes of water packed tuna, some energy bars, granola (which doubles for breakfast and snacks), nuts, decaffeinated teas and grits. I carry 2 protein, teabags and 2 snacks each day to augment meals on the go. One never knows what might be available to eat or drink when or where the tour coach stops, when you’re hungry, in the air, or airport, or anywhere in between. I made a small dent in my travel stash as food was abundant and with my primitive art ability (or lack thereof), communication was even easier.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Moskovskye Vorota in St. Petersburg. The breakfast buffet was lovely and copious. Show the GF card always. Having emailed the 3 hotels prior to our arrival, I wasn’t expecting much as their responses said they don’t have “gluten-free stations.” Holiday Inn emailed reply said I would have a choice of vegetables and that they offered nothing [noted as] gluten-free or lactose free. Veggies for breakfast? Yes, and a huge variety of the prettiest vegetables and fruits anyone could expect. Carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, capers, olives, a selection of greens, peppers of all kinds and yards of fresh foods, cabbages, onions, cheeses, meats, eggs prepared to order, oatmeal, cereals, breads, prunes, apricots, raisins, sliced fresh fruits, juices and more. I indulged in a vegetarian breakfast, avoiding gluten and left fully satisfied each day.

Novgorod’s Park Inn was sparser but adequate. I chose carefully from their buffet after showing my cards to the dining host and receiving the okay that I could dine safely. Moscow’s Marriott Tverskaya, on the central thoroughfare Tverskaya Ulitsa, in town up from the Kremlin and Red Square, treated me like a Russian empress. Marriott was indeed grand style, spoiling me for breakfasts with gluten-free cakes, breads, cookies, cereal, decaffeinated teas and coffees, fruits, cheeses, and crisp vegetables. Gluten-free at dinner was beautiful and tasteful. They impressed us and were most pleased to hear our compliments on how well each one did. We’d be safe dining here again with pleasure.

These Russian cities and those along our travel route overall did not seem to be familiar with gluten-free preparation, serving, and procedures but they were willing to serve vegetarian. In several places they shrugged their shoulders indicating they could not oblige. These were the minority fortunately. Armed with my dining cards, a smile, a charming positive attitude and the tour guide’s upfront intervention to explain my diet when we dined en masse, I fared as well as everyone else, maybe even better. Mostly, when places we visited learned I was gluten intolerant and vegetarian, they offered to serve only rice with the minutest smattering of vegetables, or potato. It took a bit of effort to enhance the plate but it was worth the effort. For a few meals on our own, we selected foods at the nearby market, tapas style. Delicious. Market servers and supervisors appeared most curious to help us with our selections. They nodded approval, checked contents and smiled as we pointed out our choices and showed the card. The risotto at a small restaurant near our hotel in Saint Petersburg was generous and the best I’ve had. Gum’s department store in Moscow has a fabulous cafeteria at very reasonable prices and with great variety. Neither of us was disappointed.

Advice? Don’t be afraid to be creative. In my small notebook I drew pictures at one restaurant in order to have mushrooms and cheese added. I found if you don’t expect bread, gluten-free selections are abundant. In all cases, I showed my diet cards to the head person and to our servers and asked questions until I was satisfied. Each time, they cleared the procedure with serving staff and chef before seating us. Isn’t Life fun when you get what you want and need?

We’re booked for Iceland next year. That should be fun!

Kathleen Davis©
“Diagnosed October 2006 and living all the better for it”