Guten Tag! I recently returned from a trip to Europe – Switzerland, Germany and Austria – it was the trip of a lifetime. If your Facebook friends with me, you’ve already witnessed my hundreds of photos (which was, of course, about a fourth of what I actually took). However, I wanted to focus a blog post entirely on the FOOD from my trip.
As someone with food allergies and digestive issues, a trip to Europe felt daunting. After all, the main staples in the Bavarian diet are meat, bread and cheese. Of those, I only eat meat (thank goodness!), so heading into the trip, I knew it’d be tricky at times, especially with language barriers.
When we arrived at the Zurich Airport, our first stop was a grocery store in the Zurich airport train station. The grocery store had kombucha! I didn’t expect to find this, but figured it was worth a look. I only found this one other time on the trip, in the Munich train station. This first kombucha was called Captain Kombucha, with the flavor “California Raspberry.” The label was all in English, but the kombucha was a product of Portugal. Hmm… clearly this is marketed to Americans. Are we the only ones who drink it? The label said it was not filtered, and it basically exploded when I opened it. Ah, the good old days. Who remembers when GT kombucha did that before anyone had heard of kombucha and before any regulations changed the product? It was incredibly fizzy and I felt a bit tipsy afterward. That’s when you know you have a good, authentic product.
My husband found himself a ginger yerba mate drink in the same grocery store, which made him very happy. We later talked to a couple from London who had never heard of mate, though they drink tea all day long, every day. I found that interesting. (They also didn’t understand the Paleo diet and had never heard of Keto. Whoa.)
Our next food stop was in Interlaken, Switzerland. I had found it online before arriving. It was called Funky Chocolate Club, so again, an English name catered to tourists. Even so, they had no alternative milk option for hot chocolate or fondue. As the trip went on, I found that alternative milks are not at all a thing in Europe. Everyone consumes dairy. Half the breakfast options were dairy, always including milk, yoghurt and cheese. Still, with an English business name, this surprised me. I bought three chocolate bars that were marked VEGAN in big letters. One was milk chocolate with coconut nectar, one was white chocolate with almond nectar, and one was dark chocolate pomegranate with no milk. The brand is Chocolat Stella, a Swiss company, and oh my, is this chocolate incredible! I was never a milk chocolate fan even before I gave up dairy, I love dark chocolate, but the coconut nectar milk chocolate bar is one of the best chocolate bars I’ve ever tasted. I must contact them to see if they ship! These bars got me through the rest of the trip when I needed some chocolate.
As I said, the hotel breakfasts were a little rough, but they always consisted of cold cut meats and fruit, so I always had at least that. Some had bacon, and one even had smoked salmon! To my utter shock, three hotels made me gluten-free bread. I asked if one of the cereals had gluten in it, and that was how I learned that they keep some GF bread in the back for anyone who needs it. Then they baked or toasted it and brought it to me warm. And not just one slice. Oh, no. These Europeans love their bread! I would get up to five different types of bread on a plate, from regular slices, to mini loafs, to specialty breads with nuts and seeds. This was no Udi’s bread. This was authentic European-type breads, only gluten-free. What. A. Treat. What did I put on the breads? Loads of delicious homemade jams, and… Nutella. I first fell in love with this in high school when we ate it in German class, before most of America knew what it was. I gave it up because of sugar content and milk powder. It still has milk in it, so this was one of my cheats.
Outside of the hotels, gluten-free wasn’t much of a thing. If I mentioned it in restaurants, every single restaurant basically told me that nothing was gluten-free and that I shouldn’t eat there. But I often ordered sausage, potatoes and sauerkraut, traditional Bavarian dishes that have no bread, or salads, or soups that aren’t creamy. I knew they didn’t have gluten in them. So why were the restaurants telling me they did? They take the gluten thing very seriously, and they know that their kitchens are laden with gluten, so cross contamination is a sure thing. I appreciated that they took it seriously, as most places here don’t, but I think that’s because they only consider Celiac and don’t understand the ‘gluten intolerance’ or avoidance thing. No one avoids it there if they don’t have to. So, I stopped bothering to mention it and just ate what I deemed safest. However, if you are Celiac and have a severe reaction to cross contamination, I would recommend staying places with a kitchen so you can cook your own food.
Another place I found loads of gluten-free and dairy-free options was at Reformhaus. This is a chain of health food stores. The gluten-free section was extensive, again with a plethora of different kinds of incredible bread options, and treats! I bought these mini cakes covered in chocolate, with a layer of gingerbread, a layer of jam, and a layer of cream inside. These were both gluten-free and vegan, and very German! I see stuff like this at Christkindlmarket all the time and can never enjoy. This was definitely a treat.
I also found non-dairy alternatives here, and also at some grocery stores, but never in any coffee shops or at hotel breakfasts. I bought a coconut yogurt and almond yogurt in Salzburg at a grocery store, and the coconut yogurt was the best I ever had. It was Vega Vita brand. I’ve tried a lot of brands here in Boulder, so that’s saying something. My husband also loved it, we downed the whole thing in one night. I also found almond milk in Baden Baden, Germany, and coconut/almond milk in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. These were nice to bring to breakfast with me for cereal or coffee creamer.
Other notable products: Lubecker Marzipan, an Alnatura product, which is marzipan as you know it, but super healthy, with very few ingredients. It was just a block of the stuff, with far less sugar than what I buy at Christkindlmarket. So good! Carpe Diem kombucha was the other kombucha I found in Munich. It was tasty, but not too fizzy, and in a plastic bottle. The only gluten-free product I found at a train station was also in Munich, a chocolate brownie with almonds and raspberries on top. Delicious.
Other things to mention: I drank Coca Cola. Advertisements are everywhere in Europe for it, and every restaurant serves it! It usually costs as much as a beer, if not more. But it’s the original recipe, with sugar. No high fructose corn syrup! So I had to try it. Admittedly, I loved it. It tasted so much better than the Coke here, no medicine after taste, and no syrupy feel. But, still plenty of sugar and caffeine, so one was enough. (Okay, two.)
I ate McDonald’s French fries. I had to! In Europe, fast food is so different than it is here, because the majority of chemicals, additives, hormones, antibiotics, pink goo, etc. that is in the food here is not allowed in the food there. So I had to taste the difference. Since I can’t eat a burger with a bun, I just ordered fries in Munich, and my husband and I shared. They were… bland. Not crispy, not salty, just sort of tasted like a potato. We tried to get ketchup to go with them, but they charge 30 cents for it, so we just ate them plain. Moral of the story? The crap they put in our food here makes it tastier, sure, but it’s killing us. A French fry is supposed to taste like potato, that’s what it is, and that’s what these tasted like.
In summary, it was not easy for me to always find food, and I had to miss out on a lot of stuff, but I also found a lot of great stuff I could have, and for that, I am blessed. I am so grateful to Reformhaus and the Altnatura brand and all of the companies that are bringing healthier options to Europe.
I also cheated at times. People kept telling me that I might be fine with gluten or dairy in Europe, because it’s so different. So I had to try, but not too much, in case it didn’t work out. I had a piece of bread with cheese fondue when my husband ordered it in Switzerland. I nibbled cheese a few times at breakfast. I tried a spoonful of yoghurt here and there, and the yoghurt was incredible. I would have swallowed up the whole giant bowl of it if I could have. I had a donut hole at Neuschwanstein castle, because, quite frankly, it was the best damn donut I ever tasted and I couldn’t stop myself once I tasted it. (If you ever go there, get the donuts on the way down!)
My main cheat was milk. I drank one full glass of milk. But it was RAW MILK. In case you’re unaware, that is illegal here in the states. You can still find it at some small farms, if you purchase it directly from them, but the FDA is so weird about it. Apparently it is not illegal in Germany. We found it at Königssee, a gorgeous alpine lake at the Germany/Austria border. To get to the stand that sold milk, we first took a one-hour boat ride across a lake, then hiked to another smaller lake, than hiked up the mountain and around to the other side of the smaller lake, and that is where we found a pasture of cows and a stand selling the milk. No roads go here, you have to take the boat. If these aren’t the purest cows out there, I’d be surprised. So when I saw that they were serving raw milk, I had no hesitation trying it. We ordered a regular milk and a buttermilk, which is very sour. Strangely, I liked the buttermilk more! Regular milk just doesn’t taste good to me anymore. Once they were both half empty, we combined them, and that tasted best. I felt great afterward, thanks to all the probiotics and enzymes found in raw milk.
So, what do Germans do better than us? They stay active. We often hiked on weekdays, when people our age were working, so we found ourselves hiking with other tourists and Germans over the age of 60. They had no problem doing these hard hikes! On the trains, we saw many older people, often over the age of 80 I would guess. The nice thing about the train system is that even if you’re too old to drive, you can still take the trains if you can manage. And they manage. Usually with a pastry in one hand! They regulate their food much better than we do and don’t allow a lot of the horrible additives, chemicals, etc. found in our food. This is the best thing they do. This is why I could eat McDonald’s.
What do we do better? We eat more vegetables. So many times I would skim whole menus and not find a single vegetable-centered dish. The best food of the trip was when we stumbled upon a Bio Fest (organic fest) in Salzburg where they had fresh salad ingredients from a farm! Even if the bread is way better than bread here, and with much more fiber, they still eat too much bread. Every train station, no matter how small, had a little shop with a plethora of sugary pastries. Too much sugar! Too many potatoes, too, not enough vegetables. And they still smoke a lot of cigarettes. I was surprised by how many people smoked. Every train platform or outdoor patio had at least one smoker, usually more. I forgot how much I loathe being around cigarette smoke, because it happens so rarely here anymore.
But even with the things I feel we do better in the U.S., we didn’t see a single overweight person that wasn’t a tourist. The lifespan is longer there. The senior citizens are as active as the younger people. So, what gives? Is it the ingredients that aren’t allowed in Europe but that fill our foods here, without people even knowing it? Is it the activity levels and that people walk way more than drive? I’ll continue to ponder this.
But for now, there you have it. Eating with food allergies in Europe! Feel free to ask me any questions! If you are planning a trip, I would love to help you out. Auf wiedersehen!