My Gluten Free Travel Miracle - A Texan in Italy Blog at - 330072

A Texan in Italy

My Gluten Free Travel Miracle 
Jul. 14, 2014 10:55 am 
Updated: Sep. 29, 2014 7:25 pm
10 days, 3 continents, 8 countries, 1 car, 4 planes, 0 tummy aches!  And I have no idea how I did it.  :-)

The last time I went on a trip with my husband we left a day late because I was in the emergency room finding out that I was indeed celiac and had completely ruined my intestine and would need some medication and a strict no gluten diet.  Thanks and have a nice day.
I had been told by another doctor the week before that "one of the three tests to confirm celiac is negative therefore you are not celiac.  You probably just have a parasite in your intestine from all your travels."  What???  All my travels?  I'd been to Berlin once for two days and that was it.  Welcome to Italian Health sCare

Regardless, I wanted to spend New Year's in Hong Kong with hubby so I went anyway.  I was ill the whole time.  I found out when I got back and started researching that gluten is everywhere and not just in bread and pizza.  That was 2011.

In the last 3 years I've learned a lot.  Eat at home.

School was out in June and the girls were off to grandma's house so hubby and I decided to do his yearly stint in Liege (for work in the office) and then he had a flight LGG-DWC-HKG-DWC-LGG.  That is Liege, (Belgium), Dubai, Hong Kong and back.  We decided to go to Belgium by car.  

I realised that I would have to pack my food.  In fact, I figured my food would be 90% of my suitcase seeing that I was sure it would be impossible to find gluten free meals anywhere.  Sure you can find GF bread and other sundries, but GF meals in a restaurant are risky, very risky and not always available especially at flight level 370.  

I packed some stuff and kept my fingers crossed.  

In Liege we found a self serve restaurant called Exki that had gluten free (fresh but packaged separately) salads, soups and crackers all organic and absolutely delicious.  I ate there twice a day.  The breakfast in the hotel offered gluten free bread on request but it was starchy and horrible when not contaminated.  The food at the buffet was useless to me as people had contaminated everything with either dropping bread crumbs on everything, gross!, or they used the same fork to grab the cucumbers and the salmon.  I'm severely allergic to all fish and shellfish and anything else yummy from the sea.  :-(  I started bringing my own cereal and rolls to breakfast. 

My husband is a pilot for the airline taking me from LGG to the rest of the world so we figured there would be no problem for on board catering.  He passed by the office one day while at work and his colleague told us "no problem, contact Joe Blow in Catering and he'll fix you up!".  Great.  Hmmmm.  When something seems to be too good to be true, it usually is.

Be it known that in airline catering you are allowed only 1 food allergy or intolerance.  I've been in the airline industry my whole life.  My father, brother and sister-in-law all work in aviation.  I work in aviation for Pete's sake.  My husband is in aviation and for the life of me I can not get a gluten free seafood free meal. Not even when I or my husband actually work for the airline.  Out of about 50 flights (long haul because on short/medium haul no one cares about ANY intolerances-if it is a snack then forget it) only once did I get a GF/SF meal.  It was a return flight with a Lufthansa meal that was gluten and seafood free only after I threatened the company with a lawsuit.  I never got to eat it though.  The flight attendant gave it to the wrong pax and I ended up eating a banana from DFW to FRA.  To those who know what I'm talking about now you realise why we people travel with food in our bags!  

I know a chef for Sky Chefs.  I asked what the deal is.  He said the software program allows one special meal type.  If it is a GF meal then it goes to the chef and is handled in its own way.  GF meals typically contain seafood because pasta is out, beef and chicken mostly all use roux based sauces so fish it is.  If you ask for a SF meal you'll get gluten galore.  It's a software issue.  So, I should have married a catering guy and not the pilot?  Evidently.

Hubby works for a cargo airline therefore once on the plane we're free to do what we like.  We must also fend for ourselves for catering.  I immediately checked the food and all my food was GF but all of it was seafood.  At 4:00 a.m. no one cared and I ate my cereal the whole way to Dubai.  The first officer was kind and said that I could eat his chicken but it was covered in a sauce which he kindly scraped off for me.  I tried to explain that it would make me ill all the same but he didn't get it.  I stuck to my guns and felt like a raging beach but didn't want to get ill.  I'd somehow made it through Switzerland, Germany and France to spend three days in Liege and not felt bad once.  I didn't want to break my streak.  Hubby explained to him later how sensitive I am to gluten and apologised and finally FO nice guy got the idea when he opened his fish dinner and I almost passed out.  :-(  Even the smell of fish makes me ill.  Just crazy.

Anyhoo, in Dubai at the hotel we talked to the restaurant and explained my issues.  Breakfast was ok as they offered an entire buffet island full of GF treats.  I should have taken a photo it was so nice.  Cereals, handmade-fresh breads, sweets and muffins; the works.  Evrything was individually wrapped for protection.  My food comes in a condom!  

We were at the Ibn Battuta Movenpick.  Dinner was a bit different.  Buffets are hard for me. They are usually full of fish so I steer clear and they don't offer anything GF and SF so that's out.  I had to order off the menu and they took a year to clean the kitchen just for me before even cooking my food.  It was nice of them.  I ordered the easiest thing I could think of but we decided to do something different the next day because it was too much for me and them.

There was a restaurant called "Sicilia" in the hotel.  Typically we don't go to Italian restaurants when traveling because the food is not traditional Italian.  There are usually international versions of "Italian" foods like pasta alfredo and pizza with sauce that has seasonings or pasta with meats in them, etc.  Food that we don't typically eat.  We looked at the menu anyway thinking I could eat a steak or some cheese.  There was something that interested us both:  la caponata con la burrata.  YUM.  Just like I make at home.  In the evening we eat a minestrone or soup then have deli meats and cheese with a side dish of veggies.  This would be perfect.  We talked with the chef that, if you can believe it, went to grade school where I live now.  I live in Podunk Italy.  It is so small that on a map it says PSP because if they wrote the whole name it would take up all the Italian boot.  The city is tiny.  That is like someone from Grand Prairie, TX finding a chef in Dubai that went to Roquemore Elementary.  Nutty.

He made sure we had everything we needed.  He even warmed their GF bread rolls for me. Everything was great-he even gave me the recipe which I have in my recipe book for anyone interested.  

Day 5 and still ok.  Imagine that.

The trip to HKG was better.  My meal was GF and SF.  No problems.  They even put some sandwiches onboard for me.  The bread was disgusting but it was food and I could eat it.  

In HKG the hotel made me personalised veggie rice and anything else I wanted.  They told me that I could find GF bread on the buffet near the regular bread.  Near is an understatement.  It was milling with the regular bread.  The lady who was serving bread used the same knife to cut my bread and then attempted to put it in the toaster that everyone used.  I told her that I couldn't eat it and she thought I was just being difficult so I took the bread and then sat it on my table and it sat there until I left.  They went through all that trouble to make GF bread, why don't you want that we can actually eat it too?  
For lunch we went to Outback Steaks where we had gone back in 2011.  Way back then, when I ordered a salad and a steak my steak had been seasoned with gluten and my salad had croutons (even though I'd asked for it to be w/o).  Then, I'd eaten it anyway having not known that the steak was seasoned with gluten and thinking it was ok just picking out the croutons.  This time I knew better.  I ordered my steak and told them I needed it GF and they admitted that the seasoning had gluten this time.  I also ordered cole slaw that I had written the company about months earlier to find out that it is indeed GF.  

It seems though that chef's and the cook staff have been briefed in most restaurants but not the wait staff.  From Berlin to Hong Kong the wait staff either puts bread on my plate or mixes my bread with that of my hubbies.  In Liege at the hotel the waitress went through all the trouble of ordering GF bread for me only to bring it out in a basket mixed with my hubbies toast.  Bummer.

Anyway, the flight back from HKG to DWC was a flop.  The catering company wrote a note saying that the fridge on this particular aircraft was broken and food was to be embarked by a local catering service using dry ice.  They had done their best to make sure it was GF and SF.  I got food from Cathay Pacific's catering service which was GF as a main dish but they had used the same tray as everyone else.  

If you don't know how airline catering works the tray has a side dish, salad and/or fruit and a desert.  These are pre-prepared and then on day of flight the tray gets a main dish that was made in a different facility.  For our flight, which was extra-ordinary-or a one time deal- my tray was like everyone else's and evidently one of the Chinese guys was told to grab a "special" meal and grabbed one out of the trash or toilet because it had something in it that smelled like dung.  I left it and ate my cereal.  :-)

Dubai again for two days.  For people who work at UAE airports outside on the tarmac or apron, their contracts state that if the temperature is at or above 50°C they don't have to work outside. Oddly, there is never 50+ degrees celsius registered at the airport.  Hmmmm...  interesting fact. Because when we got to the hotel just 30 minutes after, the hotel's thermometer registered a whopping 52°C.  Ouch.  It hurt to breathe.

We drank smoothies and ate dates that day.  Nothing else.  Too darn hot.  But that that night we ate again at our Sicilia restaurant and Chef Stefano who had gone to Ponte San Pietro's elementary school made me some GF pasta alla Sorrentino.  One of my favourites.  I have the recipe on my personal recipes if anyone is interested.  It is delicious.  Fresh cherry tomatoes, basil mozzarella and some sautéed onion.  

The flight back to LGG was ok.  It was SF and GF but all curry and Indian flare which I don't like so I kept my mouth shut and rejoiced that I had made it that far without contaminating myself.  

In Liege, at a different hotel this time, I ate my own food (during my travels we stopped at every grocery store known to man and bought anything and everything GF:  finally got some rice chex!).  The next morning I took my cereal to the restaurant and ate that.  They trip home by car I pretty much just ate whatever was in the car.  In France, hubby stopped at a Carrefour Express and took some sandwiches for him.  We bought some fresh veggies and drank a couple of smoothies and I was good.  

On a general note I don't care for European foods.  Most French food is smothered in some sort of sauce.  Germans put sausage in everything and add too many spices to literally everything. Belgians fry everything or throw mussels on top and side it with beer.  I don't get what the Swiss eat.  I've never understood English food.   Do the Irish eat or just drink their food?   I like Spanish foods though.  I prefer to eat simple.  Italian food is that.  But when travelling I enjoy seeing what other cultures eat.  I would like to taste them and I actually suffer for this.  I'm not into Indian food because of the spices but isn't it beautiful to look at?  So colourful and rich.  I know I'm missing out on a world of yum.  My loss.

I digress.  Anyway, travelling when on a restricted diet is offensive to others, bothersome as well I dare say.  People who don't have these issues don't understand even though some are sympathetic and empathetic to us.  But if I am ill, can't think straight, nor can I walk something's gotta give.  This trip I preferred to seem unreasonable or inflexible than to suffer and it paid off.

Summer is here.  If you are planning to travel my suggestion is to talk to the cook staff directly. This is serious stuff.  Talk to them about the wait staff's handling of the food they worked on so diligently.  Explain calmly to those who think you are being picky or capricious that these issues are trying for them but also for you and they are health related not taste related.  
Bring your own food.  Attempt to carry with you foods that contain vitamins, minerals and proteins so you can replace entire meals if necessary.  Don't let people try to convince you to eat just a bite or scrape off the offending product.  You know what you can and can't eat.  

I also owe this to my husband who went out of his way to find places for me.  He was tired. When we flew into HKG we had been flying into headwinds (add 1.3 hours to the flight!), through a turbulent sky over India and China where the airplane was bouncing up and down.  We landed in a hail storm, the runway was full of water, the temperature and the dew point were the same.  :-0 He had flown the night before into DWC where the temp was 43 and the dew point was 4.  The aircraft seemed to float.  As heavy as we were, and as slow as we were physics say we should have been dropping like a stone, yet there we were floating like a ship on water.  Nonetheless he walked around a hot city looking for a place for me to eat and feel well too.  Can't beat that!

This has turned out to be a long, long post but I feel triumphant that I was able to go to all those places without feeling bad once.

On a stupid note, I got home, kids came back and I made some pasta for them.  Didn't I forget and use their spoon to grab something for me and spend all day in bed yesterday?  Bugger!!  I'm more careful when out and about than at home.  

Best to all you who took the time to read this long post.  God bless.  
Jul. 14, 2014 11:56 am
great blog- i felt as though i was there with you- you are so kind- next time- when i do go with you- i will at least step on their toes when they don't take care of you-- funny how we feel "o.k." in our own homes- and forget and let things slide- hope you are up and about now- do take care- glad the trip was ill-free:-)-judy
Jul. 14, 2014 11:59 am
Melanie, the things we (you) do to eat so you don't get sick! I know what you mean about people not getting that you can't eat certain things because of gluten or lactose intolerance. I face the dairy thing every day. When i travel by plane i bring my own food, i don't like being sick either.At least you were at home and able to be in your own bed when you got sick, not much help am i?:) I will take a peek in your RB, thank you. Feel better soon!!!
Jul. 14, 2014 12:00 pm
I love your posts and thought I will comment on this one. I feel your pain. DH is coeliac & Lactose intolerant... Happily he does eat fish - if it has no bones.... No problem at home, but recently we flew from Dublin via Abu Dhabi (23 hr flight)to Melbourne...First leg of flight (even though ordered) no GF meal. He got offered fish from first class menue, lovely! Except full of bones and a buttery lemon sauce. Happily he always travels with GF Oat cakes. Second leg they had warned the airline and he was catered for (both his allergies). In hotels we have similar experiences to you! We always travel with various GF staples and are known to bring own breakfast for DH into hotels. Better safe than sorry!
Jul. 14, 2014 12:32 pm
Thanks Nanny (Judy). Next time you come we'll cook! That would be the easiest route. It's true. So vigilant out in unchartered territory and then at home you let your guard down and knock yourself out. Oh well.
Jul. 14, 2014 12:35 pm
Thanks to you too Manella. True about being sick at home instead of out. Also right about traveling with your own, safe, foods. It's less a burden on others too.
Jul. 14, 2014 12:39 pm
Love to cook thanks for your input. I imagine I know which airline you flew with by looking at the route. Good to know they tried to fix the problem. You see, they didn't realise there was butter and bones. If you don't live it it's hard to understand. Also glad to know that they were able to fix it for the return flight home. I have some friends who work for them and they have excellent customer care or else they get fired! :-)
Jul. 15, 2014 3:09 pm
Wow. This post was eye opening for me. I had no idea of the sensitivities and I doubt most people who don't live with them do realize. For example, just using the same utensil or the same toaster Thanks for the education. I am sorry you have to deal with this problem. Do you have any idea why some people are so sensitive and how long there have been such allergies? Is this a new thing for humans, or have people throught out history had this problem?
Jul. 15, 2014 7:32 pm
All excellent questions IP. I do know there has been an alarming increase in food allergies and intolerances. I learned on this forum about severe peanut allergies. Anaphalactic (sp?) shock from breathing peanut fumes! Seriously!! It's nothing to fool with! Good blog! Enjoyed reading it.
Jul. 15, 2014 7:35 pm
Great blog Melanie! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!
Jul. 16, 2014 3:43 am
Hi IP. Thanks for stopping by. Not everyone is so sensitive. My mom can eat wheat every 4 days and she feels ok. She doesn't have much problem with barley or malt either which I can't eat anything that even contains trace amounts of the stuff. Everyone is different. I watched a tv program called "Noodle Road" and it says the first reported doctor to tell someone to stop eating wheat was in the 1800's in Tuscany. I immediately thought "the first celiac diagnosis"! :-) I don't think it is new but more that we are understanding more so it seems like a boom. Some people also think it's a fad diet. I blame it on genetically modified foods, additives (natural and non) as well as bakers adding super gluten to breads and other products. We need to grow and eat more naturally-the way things are naturally is the way we should eat them. Giving animals drugs doesn't help anyone either. Thanks again.
Jul. 16, 2014 3:44 am
Hi lady Sparkle. Thanks to you for your input too. If I stand in vicinity of the fish counter I get woozy, break out, my tongue starts to swell and my lips tingle. I get the peanut thing, thankfully I can eat all nut except chestnuts. :-)
Jul. 16, 2014 3:45 am
Thanks to you Lobster. :-)
Cindy Emmerson 
Jul. 18, 2014 3:36 pm
Awesome post - thank you for sharing your experiences. Travelling can be a pain, but with some planning it is worth it.
Jul. 19, 2014 4:53 pm
I think if I were you, I wouldn't trust anyone to prepare - or claim to prepare - my GF food! It's too easy to make one little "slip", like you did at home, and you're super vigilant! Of all the things in life I'm thankful for, I guess not having food allergies should be at the top of my list, yet I'd never really thought about it...Thanks for an interesting blog and the "heads up" on how serious this can be. You, and everyone else, have my sympathies!!
Sep. 29, 2014 7:25 pm
I am allergic to sulfites and Mushrooms and I avoid shellfish And I also am allergic to bees wasps and hornets so that can be a problem when I go out. For 2 months I was like trapped in my home by a big wasp nest until my grocery guy brought the spray and shot them wasps dead with it and scraped the nest down for me. I mostly do my meals at home.
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Buckwheat Queen

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Dallas, Texas, USA

Member Since
Oct. 2005

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Baking, Italian, Mediterranean, Healthy, Quick & Easy

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About Me
American living in Italy for the last 18 years and now beginning to commute between Italy and Belgium for work. I'm married to an Italian and I am a mom to three Italian/American girls - all teenagers with bottomless pits for stomachs. I worked in restaurants up until I moved away from the States, but my real love for cooking came while living in Italy. I spent most of my time with people from Sicily and even stayed there for a spell. I was introduced to a Mediterranean diet and still prefer it to any other. Over the last 18 years I have lived in and travelled through Italy for my non-food profession, but have always tried to learn the local cuisine that makes each region in Italy so unique. I'm also a celiac sufferer and allergic to seafood, which is a huge bummer. I don't know which I like more, airplanes or food, but can say I don't care for airplane food!
My favorite things to cook
I get in a rut, even in Italy. My family likes specific flavours and over the years I have stuck to them. I am trying to branch out but my favourites are still soups and pasta. Not much of a meat eater, I try to use alternative proteins to nourish my family and enjoy learning new ways to offer these to them. We use many of the local cheeses that are always in abundance in Italy. I like to try new sweet and savoury whatevers, doesn't mean that my creations are always appetizing. I like trying to adapt gluten recipes with non gluten alternatives. I prefer to use ingredients from their raw state or as least processed as possible. Mixing different types of GF ingredients is very interesting for learning their qualities. Most of the things I flub up get turned into pie crusts, coatings for baked chicken or bases for other dishes. I usually experiment on myself first.
My favorite family cooking traditions
Burning bread. My mom started it. I am doing my best to continue the tradition. o_0 My dad used to make one of us stand in front of the oven to watch the bread, if you moved from your assigned position, he yelled at you to get back! :-) Dad runs a tight ship (ex-Navy) and doesn't like burnt bread!
My cooking triumphs
If I can keep my three teenagers full and still have enough money to pay the light bill, it's a triumph!!
My cooking tragedies
When I was about 15, I made a pumpkin pie using the recipe off the can of condensed milk. I forgot to add the milk in the can. :-( I got a puddle in a pie crust and have been ribbed by my siblings every Thanksgiving since. And most recently, I can't seem to make a decent gluten free pizza crust from scratch. Grump, grump.
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