Eating out and travelling come hand and in hand and can be a minefield and one of the trickiest things for Coeliacs.
Luckily I didn’t have to travel a lot straight after being diagnosed so I had a chance to get my head around eating out in London and the UK first. The UK in general is quite good when it comes to gluten free friendly places. Being able to go out, sometimes without proper planning, made me confident enough and I wasn’t really stressed about travelling when it finally came to that.
Eating out in general changed after being diagnosed. Before being diagnosed I had a quick look online to see if a place had fish or seafood (I’m pescatarian), now I have a look to see if they have anything gluten free and sometimes I have to put my pescatarian “needs” aside. I made peace with that. It would be pretty difficult to make it all work if I always stuck to fish or seafood. Also, there are times when convenience is just as important as quality of food and since being pescatarian is a preference, that’s what I can and will sacrifice at times.
Outside work I normally don’t really plan things. I don’t have the time, plus I don’t want to over think/complicate trips. Also if I travel on my own it’s usually for work and although I have some spare time, I don’t necessarily want to spend it with trekking around big cities trying to find the top 10 gluten free places. There are of course exceptions and finding gluten free cake while travelling is always a must!
I found that no matter where I go, there will always be something to eat. There are some destinations where food is just as important as sightseeing BUT it doesn’t have to ruin the trip.
I spent a week in NY and had steak twice. I wanted to enjoy the city without worrying about food. Big chains in the US are generally safe and have gluten free options or can adapt meals. But mixed with other dietary requirements and preferences it gets tricky. I became a part time pescatarian since being diagnosed. I want to take my diet seriously but being gluten free comes first. That’s why I ended up eating a cold In n Out burger one morning in California. Or picked a steak place for a night out in New York. The US can also be difficult because not every place takes cross contamination seriously – thanks people who are gluten free because that’s so much fun!
I spent 10 days in Paris last year and I managed to find gluten free crepes and cakes, but I couldn’t find a croissant. I was of course a tad disappointed but I went there to enjoy the city and have some time off and for myself. Food was not the main thing. I made other things more important. And I found other things to enjoy.
I’ve been to France before being diagnosed and since I didn’t have to explain anything back then, people not speaking English didn’t really bother me. Now on the other hand it was tricky. Even if I checked where I’ll eat in advance and saw that it will be safe for me, explaining it has to be 100% gluten free proved difficult a few times. Even in upscale restaurants and bars.
I was a bit more organised for Japan as I knew it would be tricky due to the language barrier and the risk of cross contamination – soy sauce everywhere.
I have to admit I was a bit nervous because I used to really love Japanese food and in the past year that has been limited to sushi so I set off (sort of) well prepared. Japanese gluten free card, knowing about a few 100% gluten free places and accepted that food might be tricky and I might end up living on fruit and vegetables. Then I was in for a pleasant surprise. From the hotel breakfast to a random restaurant where everything was cooked in front of us, Japan was very gluten free friendly and food was amazing. There was one time where we walked out of a restaurant because it said on the menu that there is absolutely nothing that is gluten free. Then we were in for a really amazing experience and dinner.
But then there was the time when we stumbled upon a restaurant in a small village, where no one spoke any English and ended up having a great lunch and I ate a sea snail because, as the motto of that trip says, it would be rude not to…
I saw people complaining about the UK because certain countries are much better. That’s true but there are also countries, not too far from the UK, that are terrible.
In Romania and Hungary most things are a may contain and labelling isn’t as strict as it is in the UK so hidden gluten is a thing. Also most people don’t know what gluten is or think it’s only bread and pasta. And then of course there is the cross contamination issue, most people still think a little bit won’t be harmful.
All in all, travelling and eating out are pretty doable. It just requires a different approach and maybe having different priorities than before. If you’re willing to adapt wants and needs, you can have a pretty good experience whenever and wherever you want to…