gluten-free Copenhagen!

Copenhagen was our last stop on the month-long journey. This city had been on my personal wish list for almost 2 decades. In a past life I worked in the contract furniture industry and gained serious respect for Danish design, long before the mid-century modern furniture craze hit the masses. 

So - day one, we needed a bank machine. I don't think I ever fully got the hang of the Kroner...it was hard to wrap your mind around such large numbers and I was doing a lot of bad math in my head for a week. 

designer coffee at Bang & Jensen
 I digress. The point of the bank machine was that this was the impetus for stumbling upon Bang & Jensen - which became our "go to" place for the week. Their (badly translated) site can be found HERE.
I note the translation - because I could not believe how well everyone in this city speaks English. Not second language English either. The owner of this cafe spoke so eloquently, that Bill and I were stunned. We suddenly realized that we'd spent weeks speaking such simplified English in an attempt to be understood.

The other reason I bring up English, is that suddenly, I was not anxious about eating out anymore. I could simply have the conversation I would have in Toronto, asking questions like "is it breaded, dredged or coated in anything?" and know that I my questions were clearly comprehended.
waiting for the bus to ferry us across the river
I must apologize that there are no food photos to share here. Despite the loveliness surrounding me, I didn't take my camera out very much. Instead, I found myself soaking up the sights and just "being" in the moment (vs capturing it all for later). 

While I did not partake in any Danish sandwiches, they are worth noting. Danes eat "open" sandwiches - meaning one slice of bread on the bottom. Many could feasibly be ordered without the bread. Bill ordered a "potato" sandwich which was essentially a substantial potato salad with a thin slice of bread at the bottom of the bowl. Think smoked salmon, for example (hold the bread - and if you're inclined, cart your gf Wasa crackers :). 

One night at Bang & Jensen I asked the staff about the (not so healthy) natchos on the menu. When I showed concern about the chip ingredients - she brought me the bag. Ingredients were listed in more than a dozen languages, which was very reassuring. They were ordered again a few days later :).

Our most memorable meal in Copenhagen was a simple one. It's hard to mess up on a simple steak. We ordered steak frites and a salad at Cafe Oscar. A delightful little restaurant just down the street from the Danish Design Museum. If you are lucky enough to travel here, don't miss either spot. 

Finally - the gluten-free highlight of Copenhagen was directly across from our little apartment. Naturbageriet had fresh gluten-free goodies waiting for me in the window every morning. I apologize profusely for not photographing the rumballs, cardamon carrot cake, the date loaf or the banana muffins. They had "regular" baked goods there too (they write about this on their site - see link) but go to every effort to keep the two worlds from colliding. The people who run the place are very knowledgeable about the ingredients and were most reassuring. I ate their goodies every day, and felt healthy - and VERY happy!!

Copenhagen was everything I hoped it would be. Inspirational eye candy everywhere. Extremely walkable. Areas reminiscent of a modern-day Venice. Style, often understated, but certainly painstakingly considered. Gorgeous, present and welcoming. 

We were extremely enamored with this part of the world and will certainly be making another Scandinavian excursion. Like anything in life, the first time is learning the ropes. Our next trip I'm sure that we'll have more exciting culinary adventures. For now I'm happy to report that we ate well - and I came home feeling good and inspired to transform the experience into new creative endeavours.


gluten-free Berlin

 Berlin....was stop number three, and we fell in love instantly. We were lucky enough to have an apartment in Kreuzberg - a fantastic neighborhood that was vibrant, and full of youthful, creative energy. Our block in particular was loaded with young people and hipster families - the kinder were everywhere!! The shops were delightful - plenty of tiny boutiques with unique finds beautifully displayed, including a charming licorice specialty store (yes, there were gluten-free goodies!). We were in Berlin for Halloween - and it was adorable to see how the little ones dress up here, and rather than going from door to door in the residential apartments, they hit the cafes and shops for their treats. 

We did art galleries (artists Kathe Kollwitz and Emil Nolde each have their own, and are to be seen!) museums, markets, checkpoint charlie, the wall... and we explored some off the beaten track neighborhoods as well. As the wall has only been down for 20 years - things are really moving here. Gorgeous urban parks are being constructed. Modern architectural wonders are tucked between lovely older buildings. You really get the sense that the place is reinventing itself and the energy is quite intoxicating.

We incorporated a long daily walk along the tree lined canal that runs through the area. Late night walks were a favourite activity - looking inside at the stylish apartments through lit windows... the high ceilings... the light fixtures! This was typically followed by a stop in a cozy local candlelit bar for a glass of wine.

I know I'm repeating myself, but it has to be said. We did not travel to northern Europe for the cuisine. Also: Berlin is not optimal for gluten-free grub. This was our third week on the road, and I was tiring of my daily fix of trail mix and gf Wasa crackers. I found myself up at night scouring the web for some advice. What I found was this fantastic blog: Glutenfrei Berlin and here, my suspicions were confirmed. There are a number of gluten free options - but they are spread far and wide in a pretty big city. None of them offered anything extensive or appeared worth a significant trek. If you are staying for one week, you don't want to spend it tracking down sustenance.

I was in luck, however, with two spots she'd reviewed within the very block where we were living: Popsy's Hamburger Heaven (the cooks working the night we went were a couple of charming young fellas, a Canadian and an American). Here I could have a frank conversation about food & gluten contamination. They got it. They made the food to order. I had a gf bun-less burger and AWESOME hand cut fries the first visit. On the second visit two days later, I had a grilled steak and repeat on the fries (I'm on vacation after all!). 

tiny Berlin kitchen produced some yummy dinners!

The rest of the week we had dinner at home. Our little rental was lovely and bright and came with a tiny, but well equipped kitchen. We wanted for nothing!

The second lead was a very well stocked little shop called Anderskorn. Here the owner had pulled together an impressive offering of gluten free goods that ran beyond the standard Schar I'd been finding to date. I had been carrying my little restaurant card around with me which had all of the German words for gluten. It sure was nice to be able to pick up foods that weren't necessarily "marked" gluten-free and have the shop keeper validate that they stocked said item because it was safe. I picked up some thin gf pumpernickel style bread that came in a little box, cookies, crackers, cubes for stock, pasta sauce and a bag of pasta. The rest of our goods came from the local grocer. One night we made a pasta dish. Another night we made lentil soup and gf grilled cheese sandwiches. Perfect dinners after long days of seriously trekking. Breakfast typically consisted of fruit with yogurt and gf toast so I'd be well fueled for all day outings where the trail mix and cheese and crackers in my purse might hold me until dinner. 

I know I haven't painted the best gluten-free picture here, but that was how I saw it. I'd also say that I'd go back in a heartbeat, and would love to rent an apartment for a month next time. Consider that an endorsement for Berlin! If you plan to go... check out the Glutenfrei Berlin site. She has done an incredible job of rounding up the best options and can give you way more useful advice than I can in one blog post.

Next stop - my favourite of the adventure... Copenhagen!



gluten-free Prague

Prague was our next stop on the northern European adventure. Gorgeous. So many people I'd spoken to when we were planning our trip gushed about this place, or shared a desire to get there. It has to be said, that while enchanting in many ways, its popularity has also made it the most touristic of the four cities we visited. Our best days were spent way off of the beaten track. We did do all of the major sites (in one day) and then Bill had us searching off the grid for some rare cubist-style architecture.  

As for the food... this was our first stop with our own apartment. It was wonderful to walk down the street, get our groceries and make a safe meal at home with a nice glass of wine after a day of walking the cobblestone streets. 

our kitchen at Residence Elema
gluten-free savoury Czech pancakes!

Schar products could be found in the grocery stores, along with a couple of other products that were clearly defined as gluten free. One of our finds were these amazing pancakes which we served with a hearty salad for dinner one night. One egg, some milk and this mix which was largely based of chickpea and corn flour and a unique blend of herbs made a very delicious and satisfying meal... but I'm taking too long to tell you about the BEST find in Prague.... 

Restaurace Na Zlaté křižovatce which translates to "At Golden Crossing". A completely gluten-free restaurant. Not kidding. It was unbelievable (and the celiacs were pouring in from everywhere!). 

front page of menu put you at ease!
Bill said that he had never seen me so relaxed in a restaurant. My biggest challenge was deciding what to have when you can have everything... (is this what "normal" people feel when they go out to dinner?!). I opted for the chicken breast stuffed with pancetta, spinach and some kind of cheese served with rapini (my favourite veggie!) and polenta. Bill had the wild boar stew with gf dumplings. Both were fantastic. 

And then... I had the first apple strudel of my life. 
gluten free apple strudel - I hated having to choose only ONE dessert from the extensive menu!
We got our Visa bill today. This meal for two complete with drinks, dessert and a tip came to $60 Canadian. If you go to Prague - go here. Go every night. Oh, and you must make a reservation. Many disappointed people were turned away. You'll find a link to gluten-free heaven right HERE where you can reserve via email :). I have to thank Erin at Gluten-free Globetrotter for posting about this place...check out her site to see more about all of the other places she's visited!


gluten-free Vienna

We have just returned from an incredible month of travel. Vienna, Prague, Berlin & Copenhagen in that order. I'm now going to give you the good, the bad and the ugly on each of these cities from the celiac perspective over the next couple of weeks. I'll start where we started... in Vienna. 

Unlike the other cities, here we were staying with our friends Andrew and Renu. This meant we had hosts who cooked, and knew the best places to shop, and dine when we ventured out for grub.

Viennese cafe food offers little for the gluten intolerant. Good coffee and wine though!
I hope you like eggs. Sometimes that was the best option on the menu as so many Viennese items are breaded (read: schnitzel)... that contamination (and disinterested wait staff) made me a bit skittish. 

I didn't suffer... we ate out at an international grocery store with an Indian meal counter called Prosi . If you haven't eaten a masala dosa - you are missing out hugely. Essentially a Dosa is an over-sized super thin crepe made of lentil and rice flour and stuffed with curried potatoes. I'll write more about these one day when I'm not talking about Vienna :).... the Viennese diet is not made for the likes of us. In this part of the world the diet revolves around breaded things and processed meat products.

We did have a terrific dinner out at a restaurant in the heart of Vienna. It was a beautiful venue, essentially an enormous greenhouse overlooking gorgeous gardens and historical buildings. I would certainly recommend Palmenhaus. Check out the link to see what I mean. I had a lovely salmon dinner with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Renu had a mixed grill seafood platter that was equally delicious and safe as our food was either grilled or roasted and very simply seasoned with oil and herbs.  Our server was gracious, patient and validated that my choice was a safe one.

what's with the wheat sheaf pattern on the box??!
You may be surprised to learn that my favourite find was the humble Wasa cracker. I did find it a little ironic that the graphic on the box is that of WHEAT FIELDS. However, they were a much enjoyed staple. I carted them in a sandwich bag (I packed these - very handy!) to eat on the road. These crackers are light and hardy. They went well with the omlettes :). I also never left the house without my sandwich bag full of trail mix and a couple of little wrapped cheeses that kept well in my bag.

no shortage of carbs to be found in the grocery store
Finally, fear not. Schar products are available in a number of the major super market chains (we were mainly in the chain called  BILLA). Somehow I found my self restraint and didn't go overboard on this stuff. I knew that I had a long trip ahead of me that would be full of temptation and I was determined not to overindulge in products that I can find on my home turf in Toronto. The Naschmarkt is a great outdoor market where you can to shop for fresh produce, fish, cheese olives and the like.  

In summary, you can most certainly eat safely and well here - with a little patience, preparation and some realistically set expectations. Go for the art, the architecture, the history and the cafes (which are gorgeous - and don't seem to mind if you lounge with your book all day!). We saw so many inspirational works. We walked more than 10km every day and made up for passing the gorgeous bakeries by celebrating the end of each day with a good (and cheap!) bottle of vino. Don't go to Vienna for the gluten-free grub... but certainly do go. Next stop Prague... where I'll tell you all about an amazing gluten-free restaurant :)