Eating Out with Food Allergies in Venice
We learnt a great deal while on holiday in Venice and Verona. If you suffer from food allergies and intolerances, avoid busy restaurants because they don’t have the time (or inclination) to listen to your explanation. Their main priority is to get as many customers in and out as possible. In some cases, restaurants have special menus which are useful, but none had symbols on the menus indicating the various allergens. As a result, we found it a struggle.
It helps if you have written down on a piece of paper your allergies. For me “Ho allergica al glutine” (I have an allergy to gluten) and for Ray “Ho allergico al fromaggio, burro, latte” (I have an allergy to cheese, butter, milk” as the waiting staff can read it and digest it (excuse the pun) especially if like us, your Italian accent is rubbish.
As usual, we were prepared for the trip – two small 100ml plastic bottles from Muju www.muji.eu filled with Alpro soya milk www.alpro/com/uk They are 100ml bottles so they pass through airport security. This is invaluable as we can’t buy soya milk in the departure lounge. We also had Nairns oatcakes www.nairns-oatcakes.com and several wheat-free and dairy-free Nak’d bars www.naturalbalancefoods.co.uk/nakd in various flavours and a packet of Hobnobs www.mcvities.co.uk/hobnobs which Ray can eat.
It’s always a good idea to take food with you in case you’re stuck and can’t find anything to eat. Rice cakes are another option.
At the airport we were pleased to find Pret A Manger www.pret.com where I enjoyed a tuna salad, while Ray consumed a tuna mayonnaise baguette. This is a good choice as it doesn’t contain butter and he can easily pick out the cucumber slices (he can’t eat cucumber) without losing much tuna. Our discovery was the dairy free and delicious Almond Milk Shake made with almond milk – definitely worth trying.
On board the EasyJet flight to Venice, www.easyjet.com we found in the Bistro Booklet magazine a useful allergen colour coded guide to the food sold inflight, but nothing Ray and I could eat.
On closer inspection, we found Mrs Crimbles www.mrscrimbles.com dairy free and gluten free chocolate maracoons but it wasn’t listed in the allergen guide. I always make a point of ordering this to encourage EasyJet to keep selling it. As part of the meal deals we noticed there were Nak’d bars and Nature Valley www.naturevalley.co.uk biscuits (which Ray can eat) available but not individually, but again with no allergen information.
Our flight was delayed approaching Venice because the pilot waited for a thunderstorm to move away; this meant we circled round and round for a while until finally he could land the plane. Couldn’t see anything through the window except clouds. Yes the weather was very unsettled and the journey on the water taxi across choppy waters bumpy – although the driver managed to talk on his mobile throughout the journey. Must have a good sense of balance. At one point I felt seasick but managed to fix my eyes on the horizon. Fortunately as we entered Venice, the water taxi was forced to slow down and we could admire the majestic buildings.
Our hotel Locanda Vivaldi www.locandavivaldi.it/en the former dwelling of the composer Antonio Vivaldi which has been transformed into a charming hotel, minutes away from St Mark’s Square with spectacular views of the lagoon. It was so quiet we couldn’t believe we were in the heart of Venice until we stuck out heads out of the window and saw the hordes of tourists amid a sea of coloured umbrellas. For it rained and rained in Venice although we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.
Normally I contact hotels in advance and ask for soya milk and gluten free bread but failed to do so on this occasion, but the hotel said they would buy some for me.
So our first port of call was the supermarket Punto Sma City (New Venice Com, 30122 Venezia Castello 5065, tel: 041-29 60 560) to buy soya milk. Ray was delighted to see individual packets of vanilla Alpro soya milk www.alpro/com/uk . Unlike all the other flavours in England, this flavour has disappeared and oh joy! 250ml sized packets of soya milk and 500ml packs, great for portability and travelling. These 250ml packs negate the need for Ray to decant soya milk into two bottles for travelling. We wish they were available in the UK – plain Alpro soya milk in portable sizes!
That evening we chanced upon a nearby restaurant Trattoria Da Remigo, Venezia Castello 3416 (tel: 04-5230089) where our waiter listened to our various allergies and was able to recommend dishes. As I like fish, I chose sea bass (25 euros) and Ray ordered grilled steak (15 euros). We were astonished by the prices, but gradually realised this was the norm. We noticed there was a mix of locals and tourists. Service was fast and affable. A good start.
The hotel breakfast buffet was limited to say the least – that is if you’re gluten free and dairy free. I helped myself to ham and fruit, fortified with oatcakes I’d brought with me. Ray chose bread, ham and bacon, then some toast and honey. I didn’t fancy the bacon as it was so fatty. Otherwise there was an array of pastries and cereal which we couldn’t eat.
Surprisingly, there was a choice of tea (not the usual Liptons) so we selected Twinings www.twinings.co.uk English Breakfast tea.
The following morning the hotel supplied soya milk as well as gluten free crackers and biscuits.
I had pre-ordered Venice Biennale www.labiennale.org.en tickets so we walked to Giardini where 50% of the exhibition was being held, although you could find art exhibits and installations throughout the city.
The Giardini consisted of huge pavilions representing various countries. The buildings were huge and splendid and some resembled palaces. The area was so extensive we only managed to visit a few pavilions.
We ate in the café at the exhibition which was like an art work itself with jazzy black and white striped décor. It lacked basic signage to indicate how to order food and after much confusion, realised there was a counter service and a table service area.
At the counter the ingredients of the snacks were clearly labelled, although Ray did check with the member of staff. He ordered a prosciutto baguette, while I had a salad. Our area was short of seats but we managed to find a couple.
We felt it was our duty to visit the British Pavilion to see Sarah Lucas’ work. This comprised of giant phalluses, droopy boobs and scrotum in bright yellow plastic. Or there were mannequin-like body parts (casts of her friends?) with Camel cigarettes stuck in various orifices. The cigarettes were unlit which was probably a good idea. An acquired taste.
Happy to report that not all the art work was like that. We found Usrula Von Rydingsvard’s outdoor tree-like sculptures strangely beautiful.
Elsewhere in Venice we found Yahon Chang’s “The Question of Beings” - an entire room painted with psychedelic drawings – not only the walls and ceiling, but the floor as well. One had to wear shoe covers to enter it.
Fellow blogger Gluten Free Mrs D www.glutenfreemrsd.com had told me that while she and her husband toured round Italy, she’d found gluten free pasta dishes served in restaurants. Was this a myth? I decided to put this to the test and asked our hotel concierge if he could recommend any restaurants which served gluten free pasta. He suggested Trattoria al Giardinetto www.algiardinetto.it and showed us the location on the map. After a circuitous long-winded route in the rain, we found the restaurant with a nearby magic shop which pleased Ray.
As we entered the trattoria, the New Zealanders in front reassured us it was a good place to eat. We were shown into the huge outdoor terrace covered with canvas (good idea with the constant rain!) covered with criss-crossing vines and greenery so the overall effect was sitting in a garden (hence the name!) I was given a gluten free menu (menu senza glutine). Astonishingly there were seven types of gluten free pasta, not just one so I opted for Spaghetti Bolognese a dish I hadn’t eaten for over 15 years (the gluten free spaghetti on sale in the UK tends to taste like cardboard so I’ve always bought other types of pasta).
Ray chose the same dish – it was cooked to perfection, al dente. A real treat.
Sightseeing in incessant rain can become tiring and damp so after our tour of the narrow passageways of Venice and admiring St Mark’s Square, we found by accident Dok Dall’ava www.dallava.com described as a “proscuitterie” – yes you’ve guessed it selling predominantly prosciutto. Ray ordered a regular plate of prosciutto (8.50 earos) served on a bed of lettuce with bread and bread sticks.
I enjoyed Venezia salad comprising lettuce, rocket, cabbage, runa, lightly smoked trout and red onions (12 euros).
That Saturday night, our last in Venice, we made the mistake of returning to Trattoria Giardinetto. The garden was closed off to a private party and the restaurant was rammed with people. Luckily (or unluckily) we had make a reservation. People were queuing at the door for a table (I suppose tables are scarce in Venice on a Saturday night). The noise levels were high and there was a certain tension in the air. Our waiter barked at us rather than spoke. As he spoke English, Ray explained in English he was allergic to dairy and immediately this guy rattled off in Italian a list of dishes. He thought Ray had requested a certain dish. I tried to intervene and eventually he appeared to understand. This time I chose sea bass while Ray had grilled steak.
We knew he was under stress and in a hurry because the restaurant was so busy. Even so, he could have been a bit more patient. His movements were jerky and uncoordinated. We wondered if he was going to have a nervous breakdown at any moment. There was an uneasy atmosphere in stark contrast to the previous evening. Perhaps this was the penalty of dining out in Venice on a Saturday night?
We tried not to let this affect us. My fish was burnt and Ray’s steak was mediocre; I decided not to make a fuss. When I asked to see the gluten free menu again to see what desserts there were, this waiter shouted at me “Crème Caramel! That’s all! Crème Caramel!” Having looked at the menu previously, I knew there were more options but with his rudeness and shouting, I lost my appetite.
He was also obstructive; I had problems getting past him to the toilet and returning to the table as he stood in front of me. At the end of the meal, Ray left the table easily but I was virtually barricaded by this waiter. I yelled out “Ray I can’t get out!” at which point he stepped aside.
When we got outside, we were exhausted. It was one of the worst dining experiences I’ve ever had, with or without allergies.
Sadly later that evening Ray had what we call the “blue plaque moment”. This is when the meal has upset your stomach and you have to run for the nearest loo. Fortunately this moment occurred in time for him to go inside a restaurant near the hotel. Strange thing was he’d eaten no dairy.
Sunshine greeted us the next morning when we were leaving but we did see the regatta – a colourful display of boats filled the lagoon. A wondrous sight.
It softened the blow of having to pay 27 euros city tax. This was introduced three years ago – 4.50 euros per person per day (even if you didn’t like it).
Next instalment: Verona