30 Days of Indie Travel Project: Feast

The theme for Day 11 of the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project is Feast.

For some of us, food isn’t just a part of our travels, it’s the reason why we travel. Whether you travel the globe to try new foods and use food to form a deeper connection with the culture or just eat to live, food plays a big part in the travel experience. Share a food-related story from your travels or describe your best meal.

I used to love food when traveling. I couldn’t get enough of croissants in France or pretzels in Germany and I drooled over the possibilities for dining out in Italy. The best meal I can ever recall having was in Budapest – roasted duck over spinach pasta in an apple and honey sauce, followed by crepe-like pancakes stuffed with pureed nuts, raisins, chocolate sauce and powdered sugar.

All of that changed nearly two years ago when I learned I am gluten-intolerant – I can no longer eat anything containing or prepared with any form of wheat, rye or barley. This significantly changed the way I look at food when I travel. Instead of being something I eagerly anticipate, eating out when traveling is now something I almost dread. I have to plan ahead what or where I will eat because I know there is a chance I may end up somewhere where nothing is an option for me.

It certainly has not been easy in Russia, where someone offers me blini (Russian pancakes) or pelmeni (dumplings) at every turn.  No one here really knows what gluten is and most don’t seem to appreciate the idea of not being able to eat a certain food. Even though I speak some Russian (and can read slightly more) shopping in the markets can be difficult as they don’t always clearly include things like wheat or rye as ingredients. I have seen several instances where a package lists something as general as “crisp wafer” – which I know is almost certainly off-limits but if I was looking only for the Russian words for wheat, rye or barley, I would never catch it.

Trying to come up with food to pack for my recent three-day Trans-Siberian journey was a challenge as well. In the past, I would have packed a few sandwiches, a bag of cereal and some crackers for snacks. With all of those things off-limits, my “meal plan” ended up consisting of apples, bananas (not a good choice – they spoiled fast!), salami, trail mix, potato chips, orange juice and some corn puff things that I was confident did not contain any gluten. Not exactly the model of nutrition.

Traveling gluten-free hasn’t been all bad. In many countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia, gluten-intolerance is relatively common and understood by the general population. In London, just about every restaurant I visited indicated gluten-free items on the menu and when they didn’t, the servers still understood my needs (much more so than in the United States).

On my current trip, I enjoyed a scrumptious gluten-free raspberry torte in Helsinki, as well as gluten-free pizza and pasta at a restaurant chain in Tallinn. And I was in heaven  when I discovered that McDonald’s in Helsinki offers gluten-free hamburger buns and serves french fries without wheat in the coating (why they can’t do this in the US, I don’t know).

I hope that some day I will get to the point where I don’t even think about being gluten-free when I travel – that I won’t think about what I am missing. But in the meantime, I am longing for the day when I can find gluten-free pretzels, croissants and blini everywhere I go.

*Throughout the month of November, BootsnAll is inviting bloggers from around the world to join them in a daily blogging effort – the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project –  designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.

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