If you love (and I mean, LOVE) fresh bread, red wine, cured sausage, seafood and cheese, you will hole up in your AirBNB apartment in Spain and never leave. You will slice into your chorizo and lap up all the spice and grease happily with a chunk of warm bread. You will worship at the altar of the mollusk and you will eat cheese into the gloaming. Or until you pass out, whichever comes first.
However, if you don’t drink, can’t consume gluten or dairy for fear of a full-body hive blitzkrieg, and the idea of fondling a crustacean gives you vertigo, Spain can be challenging. While I was away I didn’t bother with a food diary because you people didn’t even want to know the amount of sausage and patatas bravas I managed to Dyson in one sitting. You don’t want to know that my meals were a rinse, lather, repeat, because everything, everything, contains gluten. That fried eggplant with drizzled honey? Flash-fried with flour. Ah, that’s why I broke out in hives! The salad that I thought would satiate arrives on a childlike plate, and the greens are actually nearly white because cruciferous greens are not as abundant in Spain. While it was easy to stockpile food in Barcelona (and La Boqueria provided ample offerings in terms of vegetables), Granada was a real challenge. I’m sure eating gluten + dairy free can be done, however, it requires research and preparation. You can’t just walk around, fancy-free, without analyzing the menu, without alerting your server that you have an allergy to gluten and dairy, and inquiring, este tiene gluten?
Because EVERYTHING CONTAINS GLUTEN.
The other day I was reading Twitter and a woman upbraided a group of women who inquired whether there was gluten in a dip. The woman tweeted about rolling her eyes, and perhaps a few months ago I would have done the same, however, now I know what it’s like (unfortunately so) to treat every meal like it’s a miniature inquisition because gluten isn’t just about BREAD, it’s a thickener, a binder; gluten delivers perfect texture and heft to a sauce, marinade or dip. Plus, it’s cheaper. And while wheat processing in the EU is markedly different than the Food, Inc. of the U.S. (wheat in the EU is a smaller protein, less abrasive to your system), it still creates an inflammation for someone like me who can’t chow down on roasted bread slathered with Spanish olive oil and crushed tomato (a breakfast staple in Spain, one which made me weep with all my bread-adoring envy). Gluten is in soy sauces, ketchups, beef stocks, off-the-shelf salad dressings, even in gluten-free rolled oats, and you’ve got to be a food-label sleuth in ensuring that your meal won’t make you sick to the point where you feel as if your appendix might burst, which is how I used to feel when I overdosed on gluten and dairy on the regular.
Lucky for me, I love pork, most vegetables, potatoes and rice, but after two weeks of a restricted diet, I started to actually crave vegetables. Since veg constitutes about 80% of my daily diet, I actually ached for cruciferous greens. I didn’t want pasta or pizza or bread–I actually desired brussels sprouts and roasted cauliflower. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s this:
1. Do your research: Before you leave, make a list of restaurants that specialize in gf/df or vegan/vegetarian food. I didn’t do this in advance and I’m a moron because of it. Even though I can’t have gluten or dairy for another seven months, for the rest of my life I have to be cognizant of my intake. I can’t ever go back to how I used to eat, so I’ve decided to make my life easier and live gluten/df 95% of the time. Going forward, I’m making it a point to consult travel magazines, blogs, WIKI pages and other resources so I have a handful of restaurants/food markets that will keep me sane during my trip. Next month I’m going to Thailand, and while everything thinks that this is easy, breezy, I have two words in response: soy sauce.
2. Rent an AirBNB, if you can: Having the ability to make breakfast (eggs every day, friends!) and dinner in an apartment saved a lot on my budget and gave me some sanity in terms of meal balance. Most supermarkets in the EU will show items that are gluten-free or dairy-free, which is awesome. Food shopping was a cinch, and I found that nut milks were pretty abundant in Spain. In advance of my trip, I asked my hosts if they could provide me with a blender so I can make my morning smoothies and protein shakes to offset the egg situation.
3. Learn how to talk about your allergies in the country in which you plan to visit: My Spanish is pretty decent, but I made sure that I learned how to correctly address my allergies in the Spanish. Most countries in the EU know about food allergies, although I didn’t even bother saying that I have a sensitivity, which would create a host of confusing questions. When in doubt, I went extreme and said I had celiac because most people in the food industry know what that means. Not only did I explain my situation up-front, but I asked about the ingredients (and how the meal is prepared) in my dish, even if I didn’t think they had gluten or dairy based on the description. I mean, do those eggplant slices look like they touched flour? Clearly I was wrong, assumed that they were safe, and paid for it in hives later than evening. Thank god I’m not celiac.
4. Bring back-up snacks: While I fervently believe that you should always eat local food, I’m finding that it’s easier to bring a bunch of bars and pre-made snacks, especially when traveling to smaller airports. I know it doesn’t seem right, but I need to plan for everything.
Now I’m back, chowing on all the veg a woman can get her hands on, and I have exciting news to report: my itch is nearly GONE and I’m at the twenty-pound weight loss mark. I couldn’t be more thrilled, humbled and excited for this marked shift in the way that I eat.