Monday, July 2, 2012

On the tapas trail in Moorish Spain

Eating out overseas is much easier when the local coeliac society lists gluten-free-(GF) friendly restaurants on their website like the Italians do. But if they don’t the next best thing is when restaurant staff have a good understanding of the gluten-free diet.

Fortunately this was what we experienced when travelling through the AndalucĂ­a region in southern Spain last year. In most of the restaurants we dined the staff knew what GF meant and could advise what was suitable on the menu.

Logging on to the Federation of Celiac Spain (FACE) was also useful although its listing of GF restaurants is limited to hotel and restaurant chains. At the same time it is a good source of information on supermarkets selling GF products and on explaining your GF requirements when eating out. It also provides links to coeliac organisations in other regions of Spain including Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

One of the nicest meals I had during our time in southern Spain was at Citron in Malaga, our first stop before heading on to explore Moorish Andalucia. Here I was served warm GF bread topped with olive and anchovy paste followed by beef medallions perfectly cooked medium-rare with yellow and red capsicum, onion and cherry tomatoes and chips made in-house.

I also thought I was enjoying a GF beer, however on closer examination I found that the Estrella Damm Daura GF beer was actually not 100 per cent GF. Made from barley it contains a small amount of gluten so it is low-GF rather than GF-free. Consequently it was my last beer in Spain.

The staff at the Hotel Tryp where we were staying in Malaga were very helpful in finding a GF restaurant in the Costa de Sol city and recommended Citron. Tryp Hotels are a good option for coeliacs as they offer GF meals in their dining rooms.

Another hotel chain that is coeliac-friendly is the Parador group, but they are significantly more expensive than Tryp hotels. In Granada we traipsed up the hill to the Parador near the Alhambra so that I could dine gluten-free. While the dinner was nice, it was quite expensive and we would rather have eaten in a more traditional Granada restaurant with more atmosphere than this rather formal hotel dining room.

In Seville we stayed at a Tryp Hotel in the Macarena area and so started each day with a GF breakfast in the dining room.

In Granada and Cordoba, we visited the same cafe each morning where the staff were more than happy to heat up my GF croissant or bread roll bought at the local supermarket.  They would serve it with jam and butter, our daily fresh orange juice followed by a cafe con leche.

During our four days in these two fascinating cities we returned to the same cafe each day for our breakfast ritual and almost felt like locals. One tip I would suggest is when you see GF supplies at a supermarket stock up as you may not find them at your next destination.

In the Las Alpujarras (white villages) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains there was not quite the same knowledge of the GF diet but people were helpful in trying to understand what I couldn’t eat. Learning the Spanish words for wheat, barley, rye and oats and flour was useful, as was carrying the Spanish translation card explaining coeliac disease and the GF diet.

With tapas considered an Andalusian speciality I was keen to join in this culinary tradition. While I couldn’t eat everything on the tapas menus in restaurants and bars throughout AndalucĂ­a, there were usually at least four options I could choose from.

At Taberna Tofe in Granada we had too much tapas!  The food was nothing extraordinary at this traditional restaurant but the woman serving us was extremely helpful in ensuring my selections were GF including pork with shredded cabbage and paprika and a salad with lettuce, tuna, fetta, sultanas and apples.

We also enjoyed some delicious tapas at Casa Rubio Bar after exploring Cordoba’s colourful patios full of geraniums and other potted plants.

Grilled fish and salad at El Rincon de Carmen in Cordoba’s Jewish quarter was a nice way to finish the day after visiting the spectacular garden at Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. Perhaps our best tapas was at Aljibe restaurant in Seville, which had interesting combinations to choose from.

After visiting Cordoba’s mosque-cathedral Mezquita, we dropped into the always busy Bar Santos for one of their famous tortilla de patatas. We ate the filling potato omelette on the steps of the Mezquita washed down with a freshly squeezed orange juice – one of the daily delights of travelling in this region.

And of course the sangria was GF so I could enjoy a glass or two at a bar opposite Granada's spectacular Alhambra and take in the historic and beautiful view. Muchas gracios Andalucia!

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