Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gluten-Free Adventures in Portugal

Gluten-Free Adventures in Portugal 

I'm afraid that Portugal was the least Celiac friendly place I've visited. The people were wonderful; they honestly tried to be helpful. But for the most part they had no clue, or real interest. I had my Portuguese Restaurant Card so that helped a bit. We actually had one place kindly ask us to leave. Grocery shopping was equally difficult. Although they DO clearly mark allergens, reading ingredients was tough unless you speak the language. And very few items were marked Gluten-Free. On the positive side...REAL ingredients abounded!! In restaurants and grocery stores...they used REAL food :-) So I did quite well. I resorted to an anti-diarrheal only 3 times...something I use ONLY on vacation when traveling. And the accompanying muscle/bone aches were easy to handle with my normal pain meds. So I actually only missed out on two days of my
two week vacation and my travel mates were happy to leave my grandchildren with me while they went off to explore and spend some adult time.  And I loved the chance to spend the day with my girls. But if you’re sensitive, then Portugal may not be the place to visit.  

Coffee, coffee…all I wanted was a simple cup of coffee!  Apparently the Portuguese take their coffee drinking very seriously.  The most popular coffee is an espresso, and there are many different ways of ordering it!  Carioca’ ‘Pingo’ ‘Pingado’ ‘Italiano’ ‘Garoto’ ‘Cortado’ ‘Cimbalinho’ ‘Café’ ‘Café Duplo’ ‘Bica’ ‘Abatanado’ ‘Tres- Quartas’ ‘Não Quente’ ‘Cheia’…you name it!  But no matter what words you use, no two cups of coffee will ever be identical.  I thought I might be safe ordering ‘Café Americano’ until I
learned that would get me an instant coffee…YUCK! It took me almost two weeks to figure out I wanted ‘Galão’.  That’s a cup of hot espresso served in a tall glass and is about ¾ milk. I added a packet of sugar and was very happy with this! Traditionally a Galão is made with a second passing of coffee from the machine and is very weak. It’s also known as Nanna’s Coffee, but I didn’t care…it was coffee I could drink! 

Have you ever heard of the Tardis Effect?  It’s when something looks small from the outside but is much larger inside.  Well, I think the Portuguese invented the Tardis Effect!  The first time we encountered it was when we were looking for some place to eat for dinner. 
Everywhere around us there were just tiny little Café’s…2 or 3 small tables outside of a very small store front.  Exactly what you would expect in a small village, but not truly what we were looking for.  We wanted a restaurant that offered real, local food. On one locals enthusiastic referral we decided to settle for a Café. When we all stepped inside we discovered not only a small sandwich shop, but a full bar! And once the owner discovered we were there for dinner he led us to the back and revealed a full restaurant dining room!  It was the
same over and over again as we traveled…tiny little store fronts that hid some amazing big surprises inside.
  One little jewelry shop in a small strip mall actually had a full shopping mall in back! So don’t be deceived by appearances…step inside and be prepared to be impressed.

Remember that talk about toilets that we had? (Let's Talk
Toilets) Well in Portugal it certainly applied :-)  There was great debate among my travel mates whether to flush or not to flush.  They all felt that I was mistaken…and I knew that I had done my homework.  So once we arrived at the house we politely asked our hostess.  In Portugal you do not flush the toilet paper…instead you use the little buckets provided in every, single bathroom or stall. It took us all a day or two to
get into the habit, but we managed. And we all referred to them affectionately as the ‘Poopy Buckets” for the remainder of our stay.

Restrooms were pretty easy to find in populated areas…learn how to ask ‘casa de banho? Or watch for WC (water closet) signs.  You’ll see signs for Buondi Café’s, small Café’s and Pastelaria’s on just about every street corner, even in the
smaller villages…just look for the tables & chairs outside…and they all have Restrooms available.  The Portuguese are some of the friendliest people alive so chances are you will never be turned away, but it is considered courteous to purchase something before leaving.  My travel mates always thought it was funny when they saw me walking towards them with some sort of carefully wrapped glutenous goodie held at arm’s
length in front of me.
 And the bathrooms are clean, clean, clean…in fact, they have the reputation of being the cleanest in the world.  They may not always provide paper…so be prepared…but they are clean.  Out on the roads it’s a bit more challenging to find Rest Stops. On single lane roads you can drive an hour or two between villages with nothing but beautiful countryside and mountain views to appreciate. On double lane, well-traveled roads it’s much easier to find Rest Stops.  My favorites were the Tangerina’s…gas station, quick stop shop & cafeteria with local foods all rolled into one with clean restrooms.

Carolanne LeBlanc

Meeting:  4th Saturday of every month except December

               Imperial Palms, East Clubhouse

               101 Imperial Palm Drive

               Largo, Florida  33771