Eating out with food allergiesBanana pancakes

 

About Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell is a journalist and public relations consultant with over fifteen years' experience. She works with small businesses and charities providing PR services.

With a background as a features writer in the media, Jackie has worked on national newspapers, websites, consumer magazines, trade publications and radio stations all over the UK. For some years, she worked abroad - in Australia, Hong Kong and New York. After returning to London, she worked as an account director at several major London agencies.

Find out more at www.jackiem.com and www.jackiemwriting.com.

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January 01st, 2013

Eating out with an allergy in Malta

We were able to have an early morning snack at Eat www.eat.co.uk at Gatwick Airport. After some searching, Ray selected a tuna sandwich without butter. My only choice was a tuna salad even though I would have preferred gluten free toast. Good news that they serve soya milk so we could have some in our tea. We travel with two 100ml plastic bottles www.muji.eu with soya milk as we can’t buy any in the departure lounge – you’d think Alpro would introduce some travel sizes and sell them in one of the many outlets. As a safety measure, we had prepared some ham sandwiches (mine with gluten free Genius bread) in case there was nothing I could eat during the flight.

I’d been alerted that Mrs Crimbles www.mrscrimbles.com sells Giant Choc Macaroon on board easyJet flights. We were delighted to find that this was true – what’s more, there’s no dairy in it either so Ray was able to have one as well. Excellent! No soya milk on board though so we used our bottled supply.

On holiday, unless you’re in a self catering environment, eating out with an allergy is a bit of a lottery as we discovered in Malta, although overall we found a greater awareness in restaurants about gluten free diets than in the UK. Normally we choose self catering, but we wanted to take advantage of a special cheap package to Malta, room including breakfast.

Several restaurants in Malta served special gluten free dishes, but Ray didn’t find the same with dairy free, although they were keen to help and I think the awareness will grow.

On arrival we ate the sandwiches we’d made so didn’t have the pressure of having to find somewhere to eat immediately.

I’d e-mailed the Grand Excelsior Hotel www.excelsior.com.mt in advance and they had arranged for soya milk for us. When we were having tea with our travel rep, soya milk was served along with almond balls, a traditional Maltese dish which are gluten and dairy free!

Breakfast wasn’t a problem as the Grand Excelsior boasted a vast buffet with hot and cold food. Most mornings I chose bacon and eggs and grilled tomatoes followed by fresh fruit (every type of fruit from water melon to strawberry was available). For Ray, who avoids eggs, it was more challenging so mostly he had beans and bacon with toast and honey (he can’t eat jam because of the seeds). Some mornings he brought his own Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cornflakes (small boxes purchased in Valletta at the Wembley Stores) as he couldn’t be sure that the unbranded varieties provided by the hotel didn’t contain milk.

Taking a stroll through Valletta, Malta’s capital, which will be the European City of Culture in 2018, we stopped off to view the plans for the development of the City walls and saw the work underway.

At Wembley Stores, Republic Street, we bought some Alpro (ww.alpro.com.uk) soya milk; we discovered Holland & Barrett is in Valleta in Merchant Street, where Ray bought Cadbury’s dairy free Frys Peppermint Cream. This store is a surprisingly good source of dairy free and gluten free foods.

That evening was a challenge to find somewhere which could not only cater for our special diets, but also affordable. We couldn’t find both and ended up at the expensive Guze, Old Bakery Street, Valletta (www.guze.com.mt). The menu was sophisticated with items like honey glazed quail eggs, but I opted for the sea bass which was delicious. They listened to Ray when he explained his allergies and suggested he had the lamb shanks. It was expensive but we decided to treat ourselves as it was the first night of the hotel – any excuse! Our aim thereafter was to find cheaper alternatives.

The concierge suggested Valletta Waterfront was the place to go for dining out, so we decided to go there the next evening. We remembered this from our previous visit – it is a very long steep walk, but then Ray recalled the short cut through the central car park tunnel which brought us right there. Valletta Waterfront comes alive when a cruise ship arrives in Malta and all the shops and restaurants are geared up for that. As there was no cruise ship that evening, it was virtually deserted and we wondered whether we’d find anything open, let alone able to cater for our dietary requirements.

As luck would have it, we found Bistro 316 www.bistro516malta.com which, contrary to our expectation, was rather busy. Ray said he would have a pizza (without cheese) and I could have a salad. Imagine my surprise when I opened the menu and there was a heading “Gluten Free Menu – please ask the manager in charge of our gluten free dishes” – so I chose gluten free Spaghetti Bolognese, while Ray ordered chicken vegetable kebabs, after having checked there was no dairy in the dish. I haven’t had spag bol for years (since the gluten and wheat free problem), partly because I don’t like the taste of gluten free spaghetti available in the UK. This dish was a real treat including the experience of rolling up the spaghetti on the fork. The portion was large and I am ashamed to say I ate it all! This was one of our most successful meals.

Taking the ferry from Valletta to Sliema is a great opportunity to view both cities from the water, as well as being quick and inexpensive (1.50 euro per person) and a good way to avoid traffic jams.

In Sliema, we decided to revisit Basilico restaurant at The Waterfront Hotel www.waterfronthotelmalta.com as on our last visit, it served gluten free pizzas. On the menu there was nothing which indicated this was the case, but when I asked I was told that all the pizzas were gluten free. So why didn’t they put it on the menu? I opted for the Quattro Stagioni – tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, boiled egg, mushrooms, olives and capers (7 euros). Although virtually impossible to cut with a knife, I enjoyed the pleasure of eating pizza even though I had to leave parts of the crust as it was so hard.

Marsaxlokk should always be on the agenda. We remember it as a quiet picturesque fishing village, but on Sunday, when we visited, the quay had an extensive market selling everything including items such as tablecloths, socks, as well as food and drink. Unfortunately the road through the market was clogged with traffic, which spoiled the atmosphere. We took the opportunity to visit one of the fish restaurants. The sea bream served at ir-Rizzu Restaurant www.ir-rizzu.com was flavoursome and twice the size of a fish you’d be served in the UK. Ray, who doesn’t like fish, ordered pork medallions, but unfortunately he didn’t enjoy it much, as the meat was too tough. Strictly a fish restaurant.

Malta Aviation Museum www.maltaaviationmuseum.com at Ta'Qali, near Mdina, is one of the island’s best kept secrets. It’s well worth a visit even if you’re not an aircraft fan and boasts a collection of aircraft related to Malta’s aviation history. This includes World War 2 aircraft such as a Spitfire and Hurricane. Incredibly, the museum is entirely run by volunteers who not only run the museum, but also carry out restoration work on the aircraft.

The museum is in the Ta’Qali area where you’ll also find a host of arts, crafts and jewellery shops. We discovered Exquisite Jewellery in Hut 66 where you can watch filigree jewellery being made.

For most of the holiday, we used Malta’s excellent bus service – 2.60 euros will buy you a day ticket which means you can use it on all services throughout the day. Malta has a “hop on, hop off” tourist bus service as well, which we decided not to pursue this as we’d visited the island several times before. This would be excellent for a first time visitor.

While out exploring Mellieha Bay, we couldn’t find anywhere suitable to dine out, so decided to drive to Radisson Blu Resort Golden Sands www.radissonblue.co.uk, where we enjoyed lunch alfresco with views over the sandy beach. As at the Basilico restaurant, there was no indication there were gluten free dishes available on the menu, but when I asked the waiter pointed out the gluten free pasta dishes. Yes you guessed it, I had gluten free Rigatoni Bolognese! Ray chose the “small Italian dish” expecting a small portion. He was amazed to receive a large plateful – a 12 in focaccia with capers, olives and ham. Our bill was 18.85 euros – very reasonable for a five star hotel. Afterwards we retired to the upstairs terrace for tea where we watched hang gliders soaring over a nearby hillside.

If you were self-catering, there are several supermarkets which offer gluten free foods in Malta. For example, in the basement of The Point shopping mall in Sliema, The Chain Foodstore sells an extensive range. We also discovered gluten free foods in The Albion Stores, Merchant Street, Valletta although curiously the shop advertises ‘souvenirs and decorations’. So don’t let that put you off!

Towards the end of our stay in Malta, we were getting weary of eating out not because we didn’t enjoy it, but because we were finding it difficult to find menus which would cater to our dietary needs, so I think next time we would definitely go self catering. 

 





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