Gluten-free in Galicia

Hotel Costa Vella

Breakfast at Hotel Costa Vella, complete with gluten-free bread

Deciding to uproot myself and move to Spain came with its fair share of anxiety. A large part of that anxiety was due, of course, to the uncertainty of what I would be eating for the next year. And since Spain is a hefty player in the culinary world, I wanted to maximize  Surprisingly, though, being gluten-free in Spain was a breeze. Since I lived in Santiago de Compostela, this post specifically addresses going gluten-free in Galicia, though it is largely applicable to Spain as a whole.

At the supermercado

Living on a tight budget, this is where I got most of my grub. Overall, I found that Mercadona, Carrefour, and Familia had the best selection of gluten-free specialty foods – everything from magdalenas (small breakfast muffins) to pasta to cereal to flour. The frozen food section of the Carrefour in Santiago even carries gluten-free frozen empanadas and churros. When looking outside the specialty gluten-free section, scan labels for the words “sin gluten” (gluten-free). Spain does a pretty good job at labeling their products.

My most uncomfortable experience with grocery food was not actually caused by gluten. With many brands, eating a gluten-free loaf of sandwich bread (“pan de molde”) or baguette (“pan rústico”) is like eating a brick of vegetable shortening. Namely because the second ingredient is vegetable shortening. Check ingredients before you buy to avoid digestive displeasure.

Dining out

Behold, I give you the two keys to your eating success:

Soy celíaca.

No puedo comer gluten.

With these two phrases, Galicia became my oyster. The majority of restaurants understood the implications of these phrases (perhaps with some help from “no harina” – no flour). In my experience, Galician cuisine uses straightforward ingredients. What you see is, more than likely, what you get.

Galician cuisine is heavy on seafood. Seafood is often prepared simply, though there are some specialty seafood dishes that use sauces (ex. almejas a la marinera, or clams with marinera sauce) that you should avoid if you cannot ascertain the sauce ingredients. Caldo gallego, a traditional Galician soup, can also be troublesome (but worth investigating because it is scrumptious). Seafood a la plancha (grilled) or al vapor (steamed) is just as common and a safer bet. Food that is cocido has been boiled; potatoes are commonly cooked this way. Spanish tortilla, a simple, savory staple often served as a tapa, is traditionally composed of potato, oil, and egg – also a good go-to item.

The Asociación de Celíacos de Galicia has compiled a PDF of restaurants that have received training in how to safely prepare gluten-free meals for consumers. However, I never used this list even once and was easily accommodated everywhere I dined. Additionally, if you feel less than confident in your Spanish-speaking abilities, Celiac Travel offers a great free Spanish dining card.

On planes and trains

Once upon a time, on a long-haul train from Santiago de IMG_1745Compostela to Madrid, I wandered into the dining car and found that it sold gluten-free pastries. I was elated and ate my calorie bomb in blissful appreciation. In general, however, the dining car is friend to neither your wallet nor your stomach. Be prepared, be prepared. Pack nuts, fruit, and sandwiches to get you through your journey. The same goes for air travel. Once upon a time in the Málaga airport (in Andalucía, not Galicia, mind you) I found two happy oddities: a gluten-free brownie at Starbucks and a gluten-free vending machine (!). Again: exception, not the rule. Airports lean heavily on the sandwich side. Be prepared.

Hope your stomach is as happy as mine!

-MB

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Carnaval comida

Now that Carnaval has been over for a solid month, I figured I’d talk about it. So much of Galician culture is expressed through food, and Carnaval is no exception. Due to some enormous generosity, even my gluten-free stomach got to partake in the festivities. There are two recurring elements in Galician Carnaval cookery: pigs and anis (a liquor made mostly in southern Europe). So without further ado, here are three staples of Carnaval cuisine in Galicia. Warning: staple two contains graphic images for vegetarians.

1. Orejas

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My ever-lovely carpool chauffeur shared this tradition with me. “Orejas” means “ears” in Spanish, and these pastries are so called because they are shaped like pig ears. The dough is fried in pork grease, which gives it its distinctive flavor. The taste of these light, crumpled triangles is accented with sprinkled sugar. Doing orejas gluten-free, however, was quite the challenge (to the surprise of everyone except me). In typical gluten-less style, my dough clung to the rolling pin like a toddler to his mom’s leg. When triangles were finally cut and stretched, they promptly broke in half. “Es otro mundo!” (It’s another world!) was the refrain of the day. As a result, my gluten-free orejas were a good deal thicker (and more troublesome to fry) than their toxic, wheaty counterparts, but I still managed to pack them away.

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2. Cocido

Once upon a time, I ate pig face. This act of barbarianism is a keynote of cocido, the Galician tradition of boiling and then eating all parts of the pig. Like every single part – ribs, ears, shoulders, etc. I experienced this tradition thanks to the professors of my school, who planned cocido as the “comida de entroido.” The meal was accompanied by boiled potatoes, grelos, chickpeas, and chicken. There was so much salt that I was dehydrated for a full two days after.

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3. Filloas

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Gluten-free filloas & rosquillas (another typical pastry made with anis)

Filloas are similar to crepes – sweet, soft, floppy, and round. They are served plain or with powdered sugar, honey, or a dash of chocolate syrup. The madre of one of my celiac fifth-years was kindhearted enough to make me a box of these, gluten-free style. We’re talking light-speed consumption, people.

The music teacher’s filloa

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A tent in Plaza Roja housed some serious filloa production during Carnaval (Santiago de Compostela)

Gluten-free in Charleston

Charleston is a foodie’s paradise. Until a few years ago, that description would have held little appeal to me. As a longtime celiac, I gamble with my intestinal welfare whenever I eat in unfamiliar territory. This is rather irritating, since food is such an integral part of travel and culture.

Within the past five years, however, restaurant awareness has skyrocketed, and I was pleased to discover that Charleston can be a paradise for the gluten-free as well. When I went to Charleston back in March I blathered about how much food I ate, but I had barely scratched the surface. This time, with my family along for the ride, the surface was thoroughly pummeled. Here are places making it easy to be gluten-free in Charleston, followed by a list of those we heard about but didn’t get a chance to check out.

You know the drill though – things change all the time, so check with your server for the latest.

Magnolia’s – Whenever I told people I was visiting Charleston, Magnolia’s was the place they raved about. To my happy surprise, the restaurant had an extensive, mouthwatering gluten-free menu. Magnolia’s Shellfish Over Grits – so Charleston – is one of them, and oh so scrumptious. Gluten-free menu available.

Southend Brewery – Southend Brewery mixes the Charleston lowcountry food with traditional American fare. The restaurant carries gluten-free pizza crusts for build-your-own pizzas. I have also had their seasonal berry salad and shrimp and grits, both of which are tasty. Gluten-free pizza crust available.

Hominy Grill – Can you say gluten-free pancakes? Hominy Grill was easily my favorite breakfast stop in Charleston, and not just because of the delectable, cloud-like pancakes. The waitstaff went the extra mile to make sure my food was cooked in a contaminate-free environment. And those pancakes, y’all…those pancakes. Good food, good people. Gluten-free menu available.

Bull Street Gourmet – Bull Street Gourmet can best be classified as “elegant deli.” Both the chef at our hotel and wonderful manager of the Nathaniel Russell House recommended Bull Street Gourmet. Now I do too. Gluten-free bread was available upon request. True to southern style, I ordered a BBQ and coleslaw sandwich. Bull Street is also a great place to pick up munchies for the road. Gluten-free bread available.

Five Loaves – I had the pleasure of experiencing Five Loaves last time I came to Charleston, and it merited a return trip. Five Loaves is a gluten-free hotspot – most of their soups, sandwiches, and salads are gluten-free. To my delight, I was able to try she-crab soup for the first time (soup thickeners have always been an issue for the gluten-free). The reuben and roasted turkey (with cranberry spread and herb cream cheese) sandwiches are gold. Polish it all off with their flourless chocolate cake or Nutella torte. Gluten-free marked on menu. Gluten-free bread available.

Brown Dog Deli – Located on Broad Street, Brown Dog Deli is a quirky, casual restaurant. I ordered the Apple “Butter” Jeans sandwich (brie cheese, apple slices, apple butter, arugula, smoked turkey, honey ham, and prosciutto) and was blown away. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. The family and I ate our brown-bag dinner at Waterfront Park and watched the sun set. Gluten-free bread and wraps available.

Barbadoes Room in Mills House Hotel – I include this because nothing is more convenient than wandering down to the hotel lobby in your morning stupor to get breakfast. When I was there, the Barbadoes Room offered gluten-free toast, doughnuts, and muffins, though it may be advisable to contact them ahead of time to check availability. On a side note, Mills House Hotel has a great location if you need lodging. Gluten-free baked goods available.

Poogan’s Porch – Steps away from the Mills House, we hit Poogan’s Porch for our final brunch before leaving Charleston. Named for a stray dog who lived at the house during the seventies, Poogan’s Porch has a delightfully Southern atmosphere, and the delightful ability to cater to gluten-free diners. I ordered the Grilled Vegetable Omelet, along with a side of positively savory cheese grits. Familiar with gluten-free requests.

SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) – To SNOB I will give the honor of being my favorite dinner in Charleston. The Queen and I split the Grilled South Carolina Peach Salad. I ordered Pan-Seared Duck Breast with blueberry compote and Charleston golden rice. Both were perfect – and not too heavy (as Charleston fare is wont to be). Gluten-free menu available, online as well.

82 Queen Street – Beautiful outdoor dining, complete with string lights and a gazebo. I ordered jambalaya for the first time. Familiar with gluten-free requests.

Other rumored gluten-free establishments:

  • Patat Spot – According to their site, Patat Spot serves gluten-free falafel and even has gluten-free cookies available for dessert. Located near College of Charleston.
  • Basil Thai Restaurant – Named Best Thai/Vietnamese by the Charleston City Paper – three years running! Basil Thai marked their gluten-free options directly on their menu.
  • Cupcake – Located on King Street, the bake shop rolls out gluten-free cupcakes on Saturdays and Tuesdays (take note: they are not made in a gluten-free environment).
  • Fat Hen – On their menu, gluten-free items are marked with an asterisk. And there are quite a few.
  • Queen Street Grocery – Can you say gluten-free crepes?
  • Crave – Located in Mt. Pleasant (a 10 minute drive from downtown Charleston), Crave has a gluten-free and paleo-friendly menu that includes a layered coconut cake for dessert.
  • Burton’s Grill – Gluten-free treasure trove. Not only are they gluten-free certified (see menu), but they also carry gluten-free pasta and bread. You heard me.
  • Charleston Crab House – The bottom of their online menu says they have a gluten-free menu.
  • Purée Café – Also located in Mt. Pleasant, Purée is an organic café that makes good gluten-free and vegetarian grub a priority. Their extensive breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus say it all.

Enjoy Charleston!

Do the Charleston

During the first weekend of spring break back in March, eight of my friends and I drove up to South Carolina to explore Charleston. Nine girls in a one bedroom, one bathroom unit was quite the experience. But free accommodations in Charleston? On my college budget, I’d’ve take any inch of carpet I could get.

The inch of carpet I did get was in a condo right on the beach and a 20-minute drive from Charleston. The movie Dear John used the pier just outside our condo for filming. That’s right, plop a dollop of cool on top.

Speaking of dollops, let’s talk food. Let’s be real, eating is half the reason anyone travels. Charleston, however, is a food mecca. I would readily admit to eating my way through the city.

My favorite meal of the trip was at Five Loaves Cafe, a sandwich-soup restaurant with mason jars as glasses, baskets as lamp sconces, and food quotes pencilled on the table. And to top it off? Gluten-free bread for their scrumptious sandwiches. The menu was so gluten-free friendly that my stomach did a jig of joy.

Eli’s Table in downtown Charleston ran a close second, first for its bottomless mimosas and second for indulging my inner history nerd. Their dishes are named after famous historical figures – my salad was the Martha Washington.

One delicacy that missed my camera (but not my mouth) was the famous Charleston shrimp and grits. You can find them at just about any restaurant in Charleston, but you must give them a shot when you’re in town – you will not regret it.

But enough about food. Just take a stroll through Charleston and you’ll see why it’s a must-visit city of the South.

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Though we were only in Charleston for a weekend, I daresay it was a successful (and gluttonous) one!

Cheers,

MB

A Stop Byward Market

DSC_0767One of the most useful lessons I learned from backpacking through Europe is that the best feast for the eyes, ears, mouth, and wallet is to be found in the marketplace. With that in mind, we headed to Ottawa’s Byward Market.

Since we arrived in Byward in the late afternoon, time was extremely limited. We ate at an open-air pub just off the square and, as we ate, were spoiled by the classical guitar stylings of Tom Ward on the street below. Though I had never heard Tom, as a semi-finalist in Australia’s Got Talent, he actually has a bit of fame to his name. I daresay he is one of the most talented musicians (and the most talent street musician) I have ever seen. The fact that his guitar was riddled with holes made his music all the more riveting.

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Back on the street, we lost ourselves in Mr. Ward’s music for another twenty minutes before snapping to attention and exploring more of the market. The streets surrounding Byward have every type of store imaginable, including some excellent independent clothing and jewelry boutiques that my sisters and I dragged our parents to.

But when all was said and done, the clan just couldn’t stay away from food. We drifted back to the center of Byward Market as the produce vendors were starting to close up shop. Needless to say, we helped out by taking some berries off their hands.

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A few steps away from that divine berry supply was Aux Delices Bakery, which caught our eye with three small words: “Gluten Free Cookies.” As a long-time gluten-free eater, I was ecstatic about being able to eat cookies and brownies from a legitimate bakery. Aux Delices Bakery bakes gluten-free goods first thing in the morning to minimize the possibility of contamination. It’s the little things, folks.

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We were tipped off by our new amigo Karl (our favorite waiter at Chateau Laurier) that we could not leave Ottawa without trying their doughy specialty: the beavertail. Beavertails, essentially doughnuts in slab form, come in many varieties, including chocolate-banana, maple, and cinammon-sugar. Sibling Two flew cinnamon-sugar style. We passed back through Byward Market on our way out of Ottawa to try one.

With that, our car left Ottawa eighty pounds heavier.

Happy nomming!

-MB