It’s always exciting to discover gluten free eateries or at least restaurants and cafes that serve gluten free options when travelling. They make us happy and add to the cultural experience of travelling. There are gluten free wonders awaiting us, the gluten free travellers, in all corners of the globe but unfortunately these places are not limitless.
Some countries and locations are better than others in catering for gluten free visitors but no matter where we choose to explore there will almost certainly come a time, especially on longer trips, when you want to cook your own meal. For six months of 2010, John and I lived and travelled in South America, through Argentina, Chile andUruguay. As we travelled down through Patagonia to Tierra Del Fuego and back up through Chile to the Atacama Desert we stayed in hostels and prepared at least one meal in the hostel kitchen every day. Sometimes it was stressful but these tips saved me from going hungry or glutenating myself.
When ready made gluten free food is impossible to find and no restaurant has coeliac friendly options, preparing your own meals in the hostel is the safest option, not to mention by far the cheapest. Choosing naturally gluten free products will keep your costs down too. Bases like rice, potatoes and polenta are going to be much cheaper than specially produced gluten free pasta or spaghetti (and much easier to find). When combined with simple, low cost and naturally gluten free ingredients such as eggs, tomato paste, yoghurt and various fruits, vegetables and spices, fast, simple and delicious meals can be made.
From my experience of hostelling around the world, almost every hostel has a kitchen in which travellers can prepare their own food. These hostels come in various sizes, various levels of cleanliness and with various utensils. The problem with this however is that everyone in the hostel wants to save money by cooking there too and this is where the gluten free traveller can run into some problems. The cheapest and easiest foods for travellers to buy and prepare are pasta and bread, which are probably the last two things you want to be surrounded by when making your dinner so you always have to be cautious.
My top tips for gluten free cooking in hostels:
- Do your research to ensure that your accommodation has a kitchen that you can use. If you plan to do a lot of your own cooking staying at a hostel or guest house is probably your best bet.
- Bring your own bowl/utensils on the trip. This will prevent you from worrying whether the knife you’re using is completely crumb free or waiting for someone to clean their bowl so that you can do it over again another 2 or 3 times just to be certain that all traces of pasta are gone.
- Find a good, clean pot in each hostel and make it your own. The kitchen won’t miss one pot (unless they only have one) and once you’ve scrubbed it once, if you keep it in your room for the duration of your stay, you know it’s not going to be recontaminated.
- Buy yourself a cutting board. Cutting boards can be one of the worst sources of cross contamination, not only because they are so often used for cutting bread but also because they are difficult to get completely clean. If you buy your own little personal cutting board before any trip, you won’t have to worry
- Cook at quiet times. This can be difficult when almost everyone in the hostel has been out excursioning for the day and returns hungry at the same time but if you can help it try to avoid the dinner rush by getting in early of snacking on a gf bar or piece of fruit until the rush is over. This will lessen the risk of contamination and of you having a panic attack watching as someones pasta overflows right next to your rice.
- Tell your fellow hostellers that you are Coeliac. If people know what being coeliac means and how serious contamination can be, most of them will be understanding and much more likely to be careful when cooking around you.
- Pack your favourite spice. Hostel cooking doesn’t tend to be the most diverse and exciting. Unless you are planning to stay in the same place for a while. moving from place to place makes it difficult to buy certain ingredients. You probably don’t want to spend a lot of money on ingredients that you only plan to use once or twice so having your favourite chilli powder or cinnamon to add to dishes can make the difference between bland and delicious.
- Use the hostel to prepare meals for on the road. Whether travelling by bus, train or plane, finding ready to eat gluten free food on the road is always very difficult. By having a tupperware of rice, spicy potatoes or a few boiled eggs, you can avoid this hastle.
- Offer to cook for the group. If you’re staying at a hostel with a bunch of other travellers, get everyone to put some money in and make a big gluten free meal for the group. This is a great way to meet fellow travellers as well as to avoid any cross contamination issues as you are the only one cooking. It’s also a great way to raise coeliac awareness and to show people how tasty eating gluten free can be!
- Use anything you can in the hostel. Most hostels have breakfast included and whilst this is normally lots of glutenous variations of bread, there are normally one of two naturally gluten free foods on offer. Most hostels provide milk as part of breakfast for example so I use this with my own cereal and if they have yoghurt, jam or honey, as long as I can check that it’s safe, I eat this with my own crackers or rice cakes.