Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Gluten Free in Italee

Well there I was off to pasta/pizza-loving Italee only to be diagnosed as a Coeliac just before I left. Anything containing flour was a no no. So there was to be no pasta, pizza, cakes and divine biscuit treats on this trip - unless they were 'gluten free'. Knowing the symptoms of the disease 'intimately' I knew I couldn't risk either ignoring or cheating on the diagnosis. The consequences in an unknown city did not bear thinking about. 

As we were leaving just after this 'wonderful news' I hadn't really come to grips with what I could and couldn't have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Suffice to say I did what turned out to be the most sensible thing I have ever done - I carried 4 packets of Corn Thins - just in case. Well 'just in case' turned out to be my saviour. I would have starved to death without them! Still I headed off confident that an egg and perhaps some ham and cheese for breakfast would suffice, a salad with ham, proscuitto, chicken, tuna and perhaps a minestrone for lunch (sans the crunchy bread) - the choices would be limited but available. And of course for dinner there would be vegetables, meat, fish etc - all would be well. Well, well it wasn't!
Corn thins, corn thins, corn thins I love you!
On arrival in Venice I asked the the manager of our hotel where we could eat as I couldn't eat pasta - unless it was gluten free. He looked at me as if I had three heads and said "But this is Italy!" Yes I knew we were in Italy - I'd just flown for nearly 30 hours to get there! I just hoped for a different response. And that set the pattern for our two weeks in Italee. 

We struggled through breakfast at the hotel - with me gazing longingly at the pastries. At least in Venice we were provided with a selection of (one) cheese, perhaps some ham and rubbery overcooked scrambled egg. Not a boiled egg in sight. After our Venice sojourn the hotel breakfasts were a disaster. Not an egg, slice of ham or a slice of cheese was sighted. 

Lunch proved just as challenging. Now I must admit that we didn't work hard on long lunches due to the fact that it was dark at 4.30 - 5.00 each evening (in summer a long lunch wouldn't be a problem). We didn't want to waste the day when there was so much to see. Now a 'normal' tourist would stop for a slice of pizza, perhaps a quick pasta, or a panini on the go. No such luck for me. A panini lunch for my friend had me scrambling for a soup (never found one!) or a salad (forget it!). It was really bizarre. Thank heavens for the corn thins. They were diminishing at an alarming rate!

Dinner was another problem. After a day traipsing the sights we were in need of an early dinner. No such luck. On many a night two Aussies could be seen noses pressed to a restaurant window pleading with those inside to let us in before 7.30 - 8.00 pm. We were always greeted with 'ignore those tourists' (I thought we were their bread - well corn thins - and butter!) and never acknowledged. It was extraordinary. So many a night found us having a 'picnic' on our beds. Corn thins and cheese and ham if we happened upon it in our travels.

There's only so much drinking that can be done between sunset at 5.00 and dinner at 7.30. If we'd partaken of a drink or three or four to fill in the hours then dinner would have been a 'write-off'. I felt so sorry for my friend who would loved to have enjoyed a pizza or a pasta and a wine. Instead she gallantly joined in the search for a restaurant serving anything else. Now I'm a risotto fan and had - as it turned out - foolishly thought that it would be my savior. No such luck. Risotto was never served for one - even when I pleaded - it was always a dish for two.
A Venetian bed-picnic - my friend enjoying her slice of pizza while I drool! (sorry Pammy!)
In Bologna we struck gold. But it was gold through good luck and not planned management. We had rented an apartment. On our first night we walked the streets, pressing our noses to closed restaurants (open at 7.30!) until in desperation I espied a mini supermarket. We fell in the door and almost cleared the shelves. Fish, chicken, eggs, wonderful sliced meats, vegetatbles, salad mixes - we thought we were in paradise! (I can assure you this was not a paradise location but who cared). And so we trundled back to our apartment and 'cooked up a storm'. We ate our supplies for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Bologna. 
The Vicenza 'farmers market' - but no sliced salami here - just obscenely large salamis (!) to take away
On our final night in Italy we returned to our favourite Venice restaurant. And there on the menu was risotto - for one - but my heart sank - it was black ink risotto and if there is one thing I can't abide it's black ink! But one of the reasons we loved this restaurant was the owner (yes he was charmingly Italian!) He produced - just for me - gluten free pasta with pippis - a Venetian staple (well not the gluten free bit). I could have kissed him (well I could have anyway - but you know what I mean!) And so our farewell dinner in Italy was just as I had imagined so many Italian meals that I would have savoured in the past. 

Gluten free Pippi Paradise in Venice
So if you need to eat gluten free then be prepared in Italee. Travel in summer when you can enjoy a leisurely restaurant lunch or stop for a salad or alternatively rent an apartment where you can cook up a storm (or even a boiled egg!). 

And so my new gluten free motto is 
"Have corn thins will travel"

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