My Gluten Free Holiday Wishlist

I've been doing some research for a trip I'm taking in September. I'm doing the usual gluten dodger's trick of researching all the suitable food before I go. What restaurants have GF on their menu, what local foods are naturally gluten free and where I can buy supplies of bread rolls and almond milk. To be honest, my holiday destination isn’t known for its knowledge of the gluten free diet. I’ve done a bit of research over the years and I’ve got a little wish list of places I want to visit because I know I’ll eat well with relativity little effort on my part. And the fact that they are beautiful, historically interesting and full of friendly folk has also helped to stick these 3 destinations firmly onto my travel bucket list.

1. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

 

(Photos above used with permission from Pixabay.com)

 
The home of Pho! Need I go on? Anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with noodles. Whenever I’m home alone, I make a big steaming broth, add rice noodles, anything else I can find (sausage, green beans, sweetcorn, leftover roast chicken) and all the chilli. I reckon the comforting feeling and face melting combined make it a bit addictive.
 
I’m a huge fan of American chef Anthony Bourdain and it was his visits to Vietnam on his programme No Reservations that pushed this amazing country to the top of my list. He spends a lot of time convincing the viewer of its virtues. I guess Americans needs a bit more persuading, what will the history and all, but I was sold instantly. He said if he could move anywhere in the world, he would move there. For someone who has travelled so extensively to say it is "one of my favourite places on earth" is a strong recommendation!
 
It’s the people, the food, the landscape and the vibe that appeals and the street food in Vietnam has to be some of the best in the world. As Tony explains, "All of the things I need for happiness: Low plastic stool, check. Tiny little plastic table, check. Something delicious in a bowl, check." Tony actually filmed 6 separate shows on Vietnam, 2 for ‘A Cook’s Tour’ (first aired 2001), 3 for ‘No Reservations’ (first aired 2005) and 1 for ‘Parts Unknown’ (first aired 2013). Here’s an interview with Anthony Bourdain about Ho Chi Minh City on The Guardian website.
 
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) looks to be the best bet for gluten free dining. This blog explains that there is less of an outside influence here. Food is simple and traditional and they use rice noodles and fresh spices and vegetables rather than wheat noodles and soy sauce. (Although the local soy sauce doesn't have wheat listed as an ingredient. But if you don't want to chance it and soy sauce is offered, it is easy enough to turn down). A popular breakfast dish is Bún thịt nướng or bún thịt nướng chả giò which includes rice vermicelli, grilled pork, Vietnamese pickles, scallions and a fish sauce dressing. (I’m boarding a plane, in my mind!) Rice paper is also used in a lot of Vietnamese cuisine, the spring rolls are made with it and you will also find salads made with softened leftover rice paper pieces. Another famous dish Com Tam uses up broken or 'imperfect' rice and comes topped with pork, pork fat and surrounded with delicious vegetables and a dipping sauce. Other local snacks include quail fried in butter, grilled pork skewers and delicious fried crab and tofu dishes.
 
I’d also love to wander around the famous food markets such as Cho Ben Thanh, located in District 1 or Cho Lon, a huge Chinese market. I’d check out the museums and religious sites (I do love a good pagoda), try a bit of karaoke and drink some great coffee. I imagine it would be tough to say goodbye.
 
2. Portland, U.S.A
 
(Photo above used with permission from Pixabay.com)
 
 
(Photo used with Petunia's Permission)

The more I read about Portland, the more it sounds like a bigger Bristol. Bushy beards, fancy beer, a few hippies and a thriving art and music scene. And plenty of interesting and hip places to eat. Eating out gluten free is pretty tricky (try egg free and dairy free too…) so in an ideal world there wouldn’t be a language barrier between you and your next meal. Imagine a gluten free food tour of America or Australia, heaven! You would think that the top spots for gluten free eating would be LA or New York but as this map reveals, the best GF hot spots have popped up in some surprising places.

I took a Buzzfeed quiz recently called something like ‘Which City In The World Should You Live In?’ and I got Portland. At that time, I knew little about it. After a bit of research, Portland was soaring to the top of my travel wish list. Firstly, everyone says great things about the people. They’re a bit cooler than cool, but know how to have a great time. It seems like everyone has a great social life in Portland, it has a temperate climate and large areas have been locked off from development, providing large green spaces. It has won awards for being ‘the greenest city in America’ and even ‘the greenest city in the world’.

There was always a street food scene in Portland but it gained momentum after the recession of 2008 when it was more difficult for chefs to open restaurants. This had a huge effect on the quality of the street food available and you can now find ‘pods’ of street food ‘carts’ all over the city. There’s a cart for everyone in Portland; if you’re on a gluten free, vegan, paleo or raw diet you won’t go hungry.

If you search for things to do in Portland, most of the suggestions are for parks, forests, arboretums and Japanese gardens. I’ve got visions of me with my takeout box of gluten free Reuben Sandwich and a cold gluten free beer and sitting in the sunshine, taking in the surroundings and the spectacular view of Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens in the distance.

When I’m done with my ultimate picnic, I’ll head to Petunia’s – a completely gluten free bakery on 12th Avenue. The owner, Lisa Clark has many food intolerances and she creates the most amazing looking pastries, cookies, cheesecakes, you name it. Everything produced on the premises is gluten free. And they do cocktails, lunch and dinner! Would you ever leave? Feast your eyes on this menu.

This list of restaurants, carts, cafes, stalls and bakeries offering gluten free in Portland is something to behold. You will even find Portland’s answer to Bristol's The Burger Joint – Dick’s Kitchen who offer a wide choice of meat, vegetarian and vegan burgers, with the gluten free option coming with a Udi’s bun.

I’d finish the night in Groundbreaker Brewery’s gastro pub. They are a dedicated gluten free and vegan brewery and their offering includes a year round dark ale, pale ale, 2 IPAs and seasonal beers that include a squash ale for autumn and a coffee ale for spring!

3. Stockholm, Sweden

 
(Photos above used with permission from Pixabay.com)
 
 
Alexander Skarsgård, meatballs and the Ikea mothership.
 
Oh, OK… I’ll add more details.
 
Sweden always seems to come top in studies on general happiness, living wage, green credentials, low crime and alcoholism, education, the gender gap – it seems so…perfect. Geographically it is stunning and the seasons are very distinct; hot summers with many hours of daylight (up to 16 in Stockholm!) and freezing winters with just 6 hours of daylight in some places. Stockholm is the largest city in Sweden with a population of 1.3 million. It is spread across 14 islands and the bridges joining them are a distinctive feature. The city bike scheme seems like an easy and inexpensive way to get around; in my mind I’m pedalling around the historical streets with my backpack full of Chockladbollar (chocolate and coconut treats) and Sarah Bernhardts (chocolate and almond treats).
 
Gluten free food is ridiculously easy to get hold of. I’ve read that most places use corn or potato flour as a thickener and that many of the chains have a gluten free option – Gluten free buns are available at McDonals, Burger King and Max Burger and Pizza Hut do a gluten free base! There is also a dedicated gluten free bakery in Stockholm called Friends of Adam.

Swedes are into healthy living and fitness and whilst many won’t know the word coeliac, they’ll understand ‘gluten fritt’ or gluten intolerance and are happy to accommodate. That said, it seems that the best place to find gluten free food is in the hotels. Many of the bigger hotels provide a large gluten free buffet (or Smörgåsbord) with a range of breads, crackers, cheese and meats. See this blog for more details. (I die...)
 
I was surprised to find that there is a big coffee culture in Sweden and they partake in strong coffee and pastries a lot like the Italians. They even have a word for a coffee break with friends ‘Fika’. So that explains all those pap pics of Alexander sitting outside coffee shops in LA! Many cafés offer gluten free sweet snacks and I think I could easily while away a few hours people watching with a bun and a coffee. The GF options in supermarkets are also excellent – just look at the freezer section on the above blog post! The famous Almondy dessert is also widely available.
 
When I’m fuelled up on coffee and crispbreads, I’d definitely skip the ABBA Museum and do a Viking tour - get to know more about the history of Sweden and our potential ancestors!
I’d also love to visit the Junibacken Museum – it describes itself as a ‘house of fantasy play’ but looks like it’s strictly above board! It’s apparently where ‘Children play themselves wise’ and they’ve got a world of Moomins and other Astrid Lindgren characters to explore.

According to this fantastic blog post, they have a café offering loads of GF options, including gluten free Swedish meatballs! The website says ‘We can offer dairy and gluten free pancakes , milk and äggfria pancakes and eggs dairy and gluten-free meatballs. Although the kakbordet (no idea…) are cookies without milk , egg and gluten. Ask the staff!’
 
 
And then after that, I think I'll have a small nap!
 
 
 
* This post is my entry to the Transun Blog Competition www.transun.co.uk #TransunLights *
 




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