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Our gluten free holiday in Greece and its islands

How I managed to get gluten free when travelling on vacation in Greece and the Greek islands.

Firstly, thank you to Celiac Travel for your invaluable resources. I wouldn’t know what to do without your restaurant cards!

At first I thought travelling with celiac disease was a major hurdle and scoured the internet for stories and tips on how others in a similar boat managed to stay healthy while holidaying away from home and the safety of their own kitchens. That led me to you, so I thought I would share my own story of gluten free eating on my recent trip to Athens and the Greek Islands of Crete and Santorini.

Armed with my Celiac Travel restaurant card in Greek, my husband and I landed late at night on the lovely island of Crete. We were greeted by a friend whose family lives locally and had very kindly invited us to stay a couple of nights before we made our own way around the islands. After awaking our first morning to the aroma of gorgeous hazelnut brewed coffee, I was offered a large bowl of creamy Greek yoghurt, smothered in local honey a true gluten free delicacy that I had many times over the following weeks both for breakfasts and desserts.

Gluten free feast!

That night our friend s father prepared a sumptuous feast for the family and us consisting of freshly grilled fish, hand cut chips with grated cheese a lovely salad made from home-grown veggies, dressed in nothing else but home-pressed olive oil and vinegar. Our friend s father had also prepared a vegetable dish of artichokes and peas which he warned me he had thickened with wheat flour, but there was plenty else on the table to keep me well sated. Followed up with some Greek feta and homemade ice cream from their local shop, I was very well satisfied and impressed by their hospitality and kindness.

Sumptious seafood

The following day after a dip in the ocean at beautiful Matala, the three of us sat down to a lunch of freshly grilled sardines, octopus, chips and big Greek salad at a local seafood restaurant selected by my friend. This was my first restaurant meal since arriving but I was impressed that as soon as I produced my card and inquired about catering for me, the wait staff invited me to meet the chef who turned out to be a friendly Australian and I could discuss my requirements in depth.

Naturally gluten free Greek salads

As I ate out more I found that the lovely Greek salads with chunks of feta, olives, sometimes anchovies, and fresh vegetables were a reliable lunch or dinner staple, as yoghurt and honey was for breakfast or dessert. Dressings were always on the side and always olive oil and vinegar. Bread was nearly always served straight away on the table, often before I d had a chance to talk to the waiter, but could be easily returned or scoffed by my non-coeliac husband. Olives were a nice gluten free appetiser.

Chips even fried gluten free!

Grilled seafood was on the menu at almost every restaurant on the islands, and even in Athens, which for a foodie like me was a dream. I chomped my way through mountains of grilled squid, octopus, fish and prawns. Lamb chops and pork chops, also grilled, made a safe and delicious alternative. I was also surprised to find that chips were safe for me to eat, as they often aren t in other countries. It seems that the Greeks love their fried potatoes and almost everywhere I went they were hand cut and fried in their own dedicated oil, avoiding any nasty contamination issues. Vegetable stews (with the exception of the artichoke and pea dish that my friend s father made and I saw repeated on menus) and stuffed tomatoes or peppers were other options. At a restaurant in the mountains of Crete my friend ordered an impressive stew of goat for me, which is a regional specialty. Here I also had dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) and a delicious tzadiki (Greek yoghurt and cucumber dip).

On the islands I happily supped on grilled fish and seafood, chips and Greek salads, but when in Athens I had a slightly different selection of dishes that were safe for me to eat, which included a prawn, feta and ouzo (the local spirit) stew and a dish made from large butter beans in a tomato sauce (like a big British baked bean).

Unfortunately traditional Greek favourites like Moussaka (the bechamel sauce is made with wheat flour) and Spanokopita (cheese and spinach pie) are off the menu for celiacs, but with many other delicious options they wont be missed.

Stay safe with authentic food

Awareness of ingredients and quality of food in general is very high in Greece and I found travelling around and eating safely at restaurants relatively easy. As is my habit now when travelling, I tended to eat at reasonably or more expensively priced restaurants avoiding the overly touristy or unauthentic looking places. After producing my restaurant card the waiter would often speak to the chef and then go through the menu dish by dish explaining what I could and couldn t eat and I was very happy and healthy with the results.

I hope all celiacs will enjoy this beautiful part of the world as much as I did!

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