Do you wonder what it’s like to be gluten-free outside of Australia? CARA BOATSWAIN spoke with gluten-free diet followers around the world to find out about their experiences.
MEET: Ashley Gismondi from Toronto, Canada.
“I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in my late teens after a few years of low energy, terrible skin and a slew of gastrointestinal issues,” says Ashley. “Initially, my physician thought I only had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but an allergist flagged me for coeliac-related testing.” While Ashley was grateful to be diagnosed, 16 years ago things were quite different. “I was around 18 years old at the time and had a really hard time adjusting to my new coeliac life.”
Q What are the best things about being gluten-free in Toronto?
There are a ton of options, with many dedicated places as well. Toronto is a multicultural city, so you’ll be able to get a lot of gluten-free foods from different cultures, which is quite special.
Q Are people mostly aware of the gluten-free diet in Toronto?
Toronto is a rather large “foodie” city, so there are a ton of wonderful restaurants and bakeries aware of the need to be gluten-free. Many are dedicated as well, which is great for those that may not be comfortable eating at shared establishments.
Q What are the main challenges you face being gluten-free in Toronto?
There are not many as Toronto is a great city for living gluten-free. I would say that sometimes restaurants do try to put everything in one fryer and call items “gluten friendly”, “gluten conscious” or “low gluten”. You really need to have a conversation with staff about what is truly gluten-free and communicate the severity of your coeliac needs.
Q Best places to eat in Toronto?
El Pocho, Impact Kitchen, Riz on St. Clair, On Third Thought Gelato, The Beansprout, Hype Food Co, Butternut Baking Co, The Bread Essentials, Sunshine Market, Almond Butterfly, Bunner, Basil Box, Simple Kitchen & Schiroso. This is not a limited list, but these are the common ones other coeliacs would recommend for those coming to visit for the first time.
ASHLEY’S TIPS FOR VISITING CANADA
Canada is a large, bilingual country. In Toronto specifically, english is spoken so you wouldn’t require a translated card. If however, you find yourself in Quebec, I would suggest getting a card for dining out in French as that is the primary language spoken there.
Also, find local Facebook groups to help you navigate what’s safe and popular. There is the national group/charity: Canadian Celiac Association as well as more local groups like Ontario Celiacs. The Find Me Gluten Free app is always a good choice but I recommend connecting with a local coeliac like myself who can point you in the right direction.
MEET: Dakis Douvletis from Thessaloniki, Greece
“After a decade with relatively mild symptoms (iron deficiency, bloating etc) a burst of gastrointestinal disorders along with skin issues (irritation, itchy blisters etc) led me to visit a specialised doctor for a gastroscopy, biopsy and the appropriate blood exams,” explains Dakis. “I was diagnosed in 2011 with coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis.”
Q What are the best things about being gluten-free in Thessaloniki?
The actions of the gluten-free (uprising) community that bring together restaurant owners/chefs offering new choices in a sustainable manner.
Q Are people mostly aware of the gluten-free diet in Thessaloniki?
No, most people aren’t aware. But in the last decade there has been great efforts being made towards increased awareness of the gluten-free diet.
Q What are the main challenges you face being gluten-free in Thessaloniki?
While there are some restaurants that offer gluten-free menus and adequate choices for coeliacs, the main drawback is that there are not enough places where someone can grab a quick lunch for takeway, or enjoy something in a street food spot for example.
Q Best places to eat in Thessaloniki?
• Youkali (traditional eatery)
• Gatidis Fresh (bakery/patisserie, gluten-free sweet and salty snacks)
• FYC Frozen Yogurt Cafe (waffles, cakes and GF frozen yogurt with toppings)
• Nikiforos (traditional Greek tavern)
• Nea diagonios (meat restaurant)
DAKIS’S TIPS FOR VISITING THESSALONIKI
People visiting Thessaloniki can find adequate places to enjoy Greek delicacies and above all Greek hospitality. Even small taverns and hidden culinary gems can offer gluten-free options with the proper guidance and necessary info in advance. In any case, the combination of people willing to help and the beauty of Thessaloniki, will compensate every visitor.
MEET: Alex Hansen from Kawasaki, Japan
“My mother and her siblings have coeliac disease,” says Alex. “I started having various symptoms while pregnant three and a half years ago. After eliminating gluten I felt much better and have stayed gluten-free since.”
Q What are the main challenges you face being gluten-free in Kawasaki?
There is very little awareness of a gluten-free diet. Also, most foods have soy sauce in Japan, which contains wheat.
Q Best places to eat in Kawasaki?
Falafel Brothers, Biossa Bakery, Streamer Coffee Company.
ALEX’S TIPS FOR VISITING JAPAN
Plan plan plan! Plan your sightseeing around a gluten-free restaurant and bring snacks from home for between meals. Even if gluten-free options are limited, it’s a great place to visit and enjoy adventuring.
MEET: HOLLY LANASOLYLUNA FROM TOKYO, JAPAN
Holly’s gluten-free journey began more than a decade ago. “Eleven years ago I was having digestive issues and insomnia,” she says. “A friend suggested that I get allergy testing, but at the time I lived in Japan alone and I couldn’t find the medical support I needed.” Holly kept a food journal and found that wheat was linked to her health issues. “Later, on a visit home to the United States, I worked with a specialist to get my diagnosis for coeliac disease.”
Q What are the best things about being gluten-free in Tokyo?
A lot of Japanese foods can be adapted to be gluten free (or at least GF-friendly) quite easily, so it is fun learning about new ingredients and how to make Japanese dishes that are coeliac safe.
Q Are people mostly aware of the gluten-free diet in Tokyo?
Unfortunately, no. People ask Alex and I, “How do you say ‘gluten-free’ in Japanese?”, but the truth is that those words will mean very little to most folks you meet in Japan. I must be knowledgeable and proactive because most restaurants will not know what is or isn’t gluten-free.
Q What are the main challenges you face being gluten-free in Toyko?
While many Japanese dishes can be easily modified to gluten-free, most restaurants do not cater to allergies. When they do, most meals are intended for children and are usually only wheat-free. I must be vigilant about reading labels in Japanese, even things marked gluten-free since some products are mislabelled. I live in a non-touristy part of Tokyo and not only are there no gluten-free restaurants nearby, but also finding gluten-free products in grocery stores here is tough. There may be one item in the whole grocery store, and it’s like a treasure hunt to find it.
Q Best places to eat in Toyko?
Bagels at Where is a Dog?, Onden House for yummy to-go breads, Brunch at Blu Jam Café, Ramen at Ramen Kousuke, Okonomiyaki at Teppan Baby.
HOLLY’S TIPS FOR VISITING JAPAN
A lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to communicate and read labels in Japanese and many people will not be able to help you in English. We have seen people have a meltdown getting lost in a train station or arriving at a closed shop (always check their Instagram before getting on the train!). Getting around Japan does usually require a lot of walking around and having safe munchies with you at all times is really important.
The more you prepare before you arrive, the more freedom you’ll have to enjoy your vacation. Things like learning key phrases and ingredients in Japanese and how to use the Google camera translate function will get a lot of mileage on your journey. Our blog has lots of resources and tips for getting started, and if anything isn’t covered, feel free to message us on Instagram.