A recent trip long-haul flight from London to Singapore reminded me to prepare in advance for travel. Although a gluten-free meal had been ordered, very little that was safely gluten-free made it onto the plane. Only the constructive thinking of one of the stewards left me less hungry than I would otherwise have been at the end of a fourteen hour flight. Nearing the end of the journey he rustled up scrambled eggs, which he made from scratch. Given that he started from a low base of knowledge – ‘does milk contain’ gluten?’ – his concern that there was next to nothing on board, and his efforts to find something safe for me to eat, were admirable.
Any criticism should be directed not at the staff, but to the airline: Singapore Airlines in this case, who really need to add awareness of food intolerances to their training courses and manuals, and ensure meals ordered in advance and needed for medical reasons actually board the plane. Given the consequences of either being glutened, or being left starving when those around are eating, this is a dereliction of responsibility. That said, we are all responsible for our own health, I also need to polish my tarnished girl guide badge to ‘be prepared’ for such eventualities when travelling.
Inevitably, when I have thought well enough in advance, I choose to take relatively high-density minimally-processed foods. Dried fruits are high on the list. City Super in Hong Kong stock a great brand of Turkish organic unsulphered tree ripened apricots processed by company ‘Made in Nature,’ enviably located in Colorado and California.
As far as I am concerned, this company does nearly everything right. Although its products don’t carry a gluten free logo, the front of their packets are clearly marked ‘no gluten’. Incidentally, they are also nut, sugar, sulphur and gmo free. For someone who doesn’t want to spend their life in a supermarket aisle peering shortsightedly at minuscule writing, that is a gift. Whilst we normally reach for the apricots, this company produces a wide range of dried fruits that includes dried mangoes (a close run second to the apricots) cranberries, pineapples, raisins, figs and apples packaged in practical re-sealable packets .
I must admit I am not a fan of anything stored in reusable plastic containers, lovely fresh fruit in particular seems to suffocate in that environment: even washed grapes struggle. Packing bananas has never worked for me either. Given the palaver of removing laptops and cosmetics from overfilled carry-on bags, any stray banana soon comes out in bruises that render it less than appealing.
A small plastic box – those that have flip down wings – might be useful to contain little portions of cheese and gluten- free oatcakes or something similar, but this would only work in colder climes. It doesn’t take long in the tropics for cheese encased in this way to break out into an unappealing sweat. For that reason, it isn’t something that we have so far done.
An alternative is to take small boxes of raisins (useful for school lunch boxes) also by ‘Made in Nature’.
Another ‘go to’ is Spanish turron, something I had eaten only occasionally until recent years. Years ago I tried what must have been an over-sweetened slightly chewy pastiche of the real thing. The one we buy in Hong Kong isn’t in the least like that, in fact it is all satisfying crunch and the turron is a conveyor of whole almonds rather than being a bar of almond tasting sugar. The brand we buy, Pablo Garrigos Ibanez, is also easily recognizable as being gluten-free as it carries the European crossed grain logo. However, the company produces several varieties; beware of the chocolate variety and that including inulin, unless it is something you choose to eat . The one we prefer, and which is a traditional variety is pictured belowThe one containing chicory root inulin is in a white package with a blue ribband whereas the traditional has light coloured turron against a dark brown background. To be sure you have the right one it might be worth checking the companies website, www.pablogarrigos.com and looking out for the crossed grain logo. Their products are available in England as well as in Hong Kong and other parts of the world.
There are other Spanish companies making good quality gluten-free turron available in Europe and Asia. One of these is the company All-natural whose 1880 Torta Turron de Alicante is made with 68% Marcona Almonds. Helpfully the front of this companies package is clearly labelled “Sin Gluten Free”.
Another good alternative to pack when travelling includes packaged nuts and berries. Those produced by the venerable German company Seeberger, whose products are consistently of the highest quality. Seeberger’s website notes that only their products containing ‘natural’ gluten which includes their spelt, barley, green corn and sesame (which may suffer cross-contamination need to be avoided – all the rest of their products are gluten-free. Their website also confirms that their soft fruits have been processed ‘naturally,’ using steam by a method which they term ‘protective processing.’ This confirms that Seeberger don’t use any artificial flavourings in their dried fruits; something that can be a source of problems for the gluten-free community.
Products from this company are readily available in City Super and Great in Hong Kong. We have also seen them throughout France. A suggestion for improvements in their packaging that would be particularly helpful for nomads or those on the move would be resealable packaging such as that used by Made in Nature. Until then , if you are ultra-organised, it might be worth packing small bulldog clips (available from stationers and from Muji – an outlet of which is in Hong Kong airport) and medium sized clear resealable plastic bags . It is another thing to think of before you travel but could avoid the problem of nuts or fruits escaping into your carry on bag – definitely not something you want to have to deal with while you are getting over jet lag at the other end of your journey.
Although there are plenty out there, I must admit I am still looking for the perfect gluten-free cereal bar. Eat Natural’s rice based brazil, apricot, cranberry, sultana, pumpkin seed, shredded coconut and chocolate bar is one of the better ones I have found so far, although it could be improved with a lighter hand on the glucose syrup.
Although I don’t think of myself as a sugar fiend – chocolate exempted -we have found a brand of hard organic sweets made by an American company, appropriately enough in this context, called Go Naturally. These would be a perfect to pack for our next Asian photographic expedition where we are likely to find ourselves on long car journeys in search of the perfect photograph. We have so far tried the Cherry and Honey and Lemon (which might be useful if you are suffering from a cold) . These are only two varieties out of a very extensive range. Others include Ginger, Pomegranate, Blood Orange and Iced Mint Mango. They are made from cane juice, brown rice syrup, citric acid and natural flavourings, avoiding high fructose corn syrup, additives or the artificial flavourings that may be contained in similar offerings from other companies.
Thinking ahead does take a bit of time and effort but, in our experience, it only takes a single experience of a flight being cancelled, or a gluten-free meal that has been ordered not to make the flight to realise it is well worth it. Not least as you can’t rely on being able to buy anything that is safely gluten-free in a far-flung airport.
Photograph by Hotch Chang