We were in Torrox, Spain and needed to know the keywords for "wheat" and "dairy" so we could communicate our intolerances when eating out. We knew the following words - "leche" is milk, "mantequille" is butter and "queso" is cheese and "sin" is "without", but we had to ask people for the following - wheat is "trigo" while "gluten" is the same word in Spanish." Armed with these words, we could point at items on the menu and say "sin trigo" or "sin leche" as needed.
One woman told us there was no Spanish word meaning "dairy". The nearest equivalent was "lactosa" meaning "lactose".
Torrox is a stunning white traditional Spanish village, built by the Moors, 40 minutes' drive from Malaga. We haven't been here for eight years, so have already noticed several changes, mainly the closure of many small shops in favour of a supermarket in the high street. Sound familiar?
We are here staying in our friends' beautiful house with sensational views of typical Spanish terrain peppered with white buildings, giant cacti, green trees and steep roads.
One morning we heard the clomping of horses' hooves so we looked down from the terrace and to our astonishment saw a horse and rider emerge, managing to manoeuvre up the steep, curving narrow roads. Incredible.
Our charges are four cats - Michael the ginger cat who smiles a a lot; Minnie, a tortoiseshell with a curly tail, Heidi another tortoiseshell (you'd think they were sisters only they dislike each other!). The fourth cat Thomas is black and beautiful. We're reliably informed he has no claws, but dare not check this. He always arrives late for food and you can almost hear a fanfare as he runs in. It's obvious none of the others like him, so he waits his turn to feed. Occasionally he follows us home late at night for a snack. We feed them fish from the freezer, defrosted in the microwave - mind you in these blistering temperatures of 30 degrees and more, I expect it would thaw very quickly. When feeding the cats, you have to be careful not to leave any food on the floor, as tiny ants are on it in seconds.
It was trial and error finding a cat food they liked - the one that won is Brekkies from Eroski supermarket www.eroski.es at the shopping mall at Velez Malaga, 15 minutes drive from Torrox. Michael the ginger cat likes to eat the cardboard box in the kitchen. At first I thought he must be hungry but even after feeding him he returned to gnawing the box. Must be a form of recreation.
Our first quest was to buy soya milk, so we thought if we drove to Nerja there was more chance of finding it as it is an enclave for Brits in Spain.
On the road to Nerja we found Lidyl, not much good for "free from" foods, but we did buy our favourite apple juice, herbal tea bags and chocolate covered rice cakes (which we never see in the UK).
Lunch was in our favourite cafe, amazingly still there after eight years, Anahi, Puerta del Mar 6, 29780 Nerja, tel: 95 252 1457 with fabulous views of the beach and ocean if you dine outside and it has a bilingual menu. There's a mouthwatering selection of salads so I opted for number 20 on the menu, Ensalada Especial (6 euros) - special salad, an enormous plateful of lettuce, eggs, grated carrot, peppers and tomatoes which melted in the mouth (compared to UK tomatoes). Always ask about salad dressings as this comes with a cocktail sauce which I declined, choosing olive oil instead.
When Ray asked whether the tuna sandwich contained "leche", "mantequille" or "queso", she reassured him it didn't have these ingredients. He ordered it with no tomato (as sadly he is intolerant to them), 2.80 euros, with chips and salad on the side, 1 euro. Excellent helpful service. You can tell Nerja is a magnet for Brits as there is even a shop called "WH Smiffs" selling books and cards.
At the supermarket Supersol www.supersolsupermercados.es on the outskirts of Nerja, we easily found Alpro soya milk (1.40 euros). There doesn't seem to be "free from" section in Spanish supermarkets. The nearest thing to it is the health food section where we could only find different varieties of rice cakes. We did chance upon some savoury crackers Crispie de Arroz www.keyfoods.es which were labelled "sin gluten". These are thin crunchy crackers, ideal for cheese.
Despite being intolerant to dairy, Ray can eat goats' cheese but disappointingly we could only find one variety Queso De Cabr - cabr meaning goat. Perhaps goats' cheese isn't as popular in Spain as it is in France.
I'd brought Doves Farm gluten free cornflakes with me www.dovesfarm.co.uk but we managed to rustle up ham and eggs and bacon and eggs for breakfast on a couple of mornings.
That evening, we walked into the centre of Torrox via very steep and winding narrow streets. You can see why there are hand rails for some of the streets. Mind you it keeps you fit - no need for the gym here.
We are so unfit that we stopped off for a drink at Cafeteria Central where the proprietor was not pleased to see us, in fact they were downright unfriendly, thinking we thought it was a restaurant. Our command of the Spanish language is not too good! After the misunderstanding they served us a water and Coke for 2 euros - a bargain price when you think we were sitting in a bar outside in the middle of town.
Our friends had recommended El Figon restaurant. It did look impressive, but after one woman handed us the menu to look at, her colleague announced, "We're full". It was comical as only two tables were occupied.
We walked into the picturesque town square of Torrox with its selection of eateries, and after deliberation, we chose Café Bar Paco, Plaza de la Constitution, 605-874-643, a tapas bar. Sitting in the town square is a treat as this is where the locals parade up and down every evening in their best clothes, only the ritual has changed somewhat. It now includes riding round the square by car waving to your friends. All sorts of cars here including 4x4s, a strange choice given the narrowness of the streets, but ideal I would imagine in the mountainous terrain. There's also the occasional serious biker in black leather and crash helmet, even in hot temperatures of 30 degrees plus.
After explaining our allergies to our waiter, he told us that many dishes such as aubergine and sardines were fried in batter and the batter had wheat flour and milk in it, so we selected the following: anchovies with oil and garlic (6 euros), pork fillet with chips (5 euros), mixed salad (4 euros) and Spanish omelette (4 euros).
After a trip to Torre del Mar, we arrived back late and decided to find somewhere to eat in Torrox. On our way down all the winding streets (our calf muscles are slowly firming up) we found Meson la Terrazza, Calle Baja 80, Torrox, 691894805/651068403 run by an English couple, Rick and Helen Bolt (open everyday except Wednesdays; kitchen closed 4.30pm to 7.30pm), situated on the side of a steep valley. Although it was 10pm and a Saturday night, we were welcomed inside (without a reservation!). As they are English, there was no problem describing our intolerances and we were informed any sauces on the menu were made with cream. Ray ordered a gammon steak with pineapple, chips and peas (he can't eat courgettes) while I opted for the salmon steak (without sauce) and salad. We sat on the terrace watching the headlamps of cars driving up the blackened hill in the distance and the flicker of a far away TV set. Even though it was so late, it was still hot and sticky.
And so we returned to Nerja the next evening when the heat had died down a little to browse in the shops and walk on the beach. We found a sweetshop run by an English woman. This was where Ray made his big discovery that contrary to his belief that all chocolate bars are covered in milk chocolate and therefore out of bounds, by chance he read the label on a Frys chocolate cream bar and was astonished to see there was no dairy product in it. Nirvana! Ray will now be consuming them in great quantities. This has sparked an enthusiasm for reading the ingredients of chocolate bars.
We returned to Anahi café where we managed to get a table outside with the fabulous view of the beach and ocean. Even at 8pm it was sweltering and clammy - will it ever get colder we wondered? We showed the waitress our magic words and then asked for pork steak, eggs and French fries (7.20 euros) which she confirmed had no dairy ingredients. I chose the grilled sole and salad (11 euros) which was enormous - far bigger than served in England.
You don't have to catsit to come to Torrox. Amazingly the village boasts two hotels - La Casa www.hotellacasatorrox.com and Alandalus hotel www.hotel-alandalus.com