Gluten-free in Galicia

Hotel Costa Vella
Breakfast at Hotel Costa Vella, complete with gluten-free bread

Deciding to uproot myself and move to Spain came with its fair share of anxiety. A large part of that anxiety was due, of course, to the uncertainty of what I would be eating for the next year. And since Spain is a hefty player in the culinary world, I wanted to maximize  Surprisingly, though, being gluten-free in Spain was a breeze. Since I lived in Santiago de Compostela, this post specifically addresses going gluten-free in Galicia, though it is largely applicable to Spain as a whole.

At the supermercado

Living on a tight budget, this is where I got most of my grub. Overall, I found that Mercadona, Carrefour, and Familia had the best selection of gluten-free specialty foods – everything from magdalenas (small breakfast muffins) to pasta to cereal to flour. The frozen food section of the Carrefour in Santiago even carries gluten-free frozen empanadas and churros. When looking outside the specialty gluten-free section, scan labels for the words “sin gluten” (gluten-free). Spain does a pretty good job at labeling their products.

My most uncomfortable experience with grocery food was not actually caused by gluten. With many brands, eating a gluten-free loaf of sandwich bread (“pan de molde”) or baguette (“pan rústico”) is like eating a brick of vegetable shortening. Namely because the second ingredient is vegetable shortening. Check ingredients before you buy to avoid digestive displeasure.

Dining out

Behold, I give you the two keys to your eating success:

Soy celíaca.

No puedo comer gluten.

With these two phrases, Galicia became my oyster. The majority of restaurants understood the implications of these phrases (perhaps with some help from “no harina” – no flour). In my experience, Galician cuisine uses straightforward ingredients. What you see is, more than likely, what you get.

Galician cuisine is heavy on seafood. Seafood is often prepared simply, though there are some specialty seafood dishes that use sauces (ex. almejas a la marinera, or clams with marinera sauce) that you should avoid if you cannot ascertain the sauce ingredients. Caldo gallego, a traditional Galician soup, can also be troublesome (but worth investigating because it is scrumptious). Seafood a la plancha (grilled) or al vapor (steamed) is just as common and a safer bet. Food that is cocido has been boiled; potatoes are commonly cooked this way. Spanish tortilla, a simple, savory staple often served as a tapa, is traditionally composed of potato, oil, and egg – also a good go-to item.

The Asociación de Celíacos de Galicia has compiled a PDF of restaurants that have received training in how to safely prepare gluten-free meals for consumers. However, I never used this list even once and was easily accommodated everywhere I dined. Additionally, if you feel less than confident in your Spanish-speaking abilities, Celiac Travel offers a great free Spanish dining card.

On planes and trains

Once upon a time, on a long-haul train from Santiago de IMG_1745Compostela to Madrid, I wandered into the dining car and found that it sold gluten-free pastries. I was elated and ate my calorie bomb in blissful appreciation. In general, however, the dining car is friend to neither your wallet nor your stomach. Be prepared, be prepared. Pack nuts, fruit, and sandwiches to get you through your journey. The same goes for air travel. Once upon a time in the Málaga airport (in Andalucía, not Galicia, mind you) I found two happy oddities: a gluten-free brownie at Starbucks and a gluten-free vending machine (!). Again: exception, not the rule. Airports lean heavily on the sandwich side. Be prepared.

Hope your stomach is as happy as mine!

-MB

Málaga {time for Finnish lessons}

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I spent a lot more time in Málaga than I had initially planned, mostly because I realized on the train halfway to Cádiz that I’d left my trench coat and scarf in the hostel (next to a sign that said, in essence, “Items Left Behind Are Lost Forever”). I immediately stress-ate three plums and resolved to return.

In Málaga, I befriended a clan of Germans with a penchant for shisha; a Finn with a penchant for pre-dawn language lessons; and an American engineering student with a penchant for yoga. With them, and the aforementioned processions, I got to know Andalucía’s second biggest city.

Sights worth the seeing:

  1. Alcazaba – A gorgeous example of Moorish architecture, this fortress is located next to the Roman amphitheater, and is particularly striking near sunset.
  2. Castillo de Gibralfaro – It’s a climb, and there isn’t much left besides the ramparts, but the views of the city and port are breathtaking. 
  3. Catedral de Málaga. Cathedrals are not usually my thing, but for some reason, Málaga’s Cathedral struck me. Unlike the gray, gothic cathedrals I’ve been used to, this cathedral had color accents that set it apart: a mint-green organ with gold accents and an exterior facade with red marble, for example.
  4. Playa Malagueta. Dotted with straw umbrellas and infused with the scent of pescado frito (fried fish), Málaga’s main beach is a refreshing escape and within walking distance from city center.
  5. Pablo Picasso Museum. I’ll admit, this was not initially at the top of my list. I’m not Pablo Picasso’s biggest fan – his work is a little jarring for me. I ended up going to this museum when I realized I could get in for free with my Spanish student I.D. I’m so pleased I did. Picasso’s portfolio of work is way more extensive than I realized, stretching beyond the the cubism I knew him for. My respect for the man skyrocketed. Just as powerful as the artwork was the narration of the museum. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“A good painting – any painting! – ought to bristle with razor blades.” – André Malraux

Playa Malagueta
Playa Malagueta
Alcazaba de Málaga
Alcazaba de Málaga
Catedral de Málaga
Catedral de Málaga

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Climbing to Castillo Gibralfaro
Plaza de Toros
Plaza de Toros & Porto de Málaga

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Málaga {it’s procession time.}

How terrifying are they on a scale of one to crying

Having lived for six months in a Spain of torrential rain, I was thrilled to finally explore Andalucía, the place textbooks are made of. Andalucía became my Semana Santa destination for its sun, beaches, and the uniqueness of its Semana Santa celebrations. First stop? Málaga.

If you don’t already know, Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) is the week preceding Easter Sunday. Spain has a deep religious history, and Andalucía in particular celebrates Semana Santa with unbridled enthusiasm. Processions go on all hours of the day and night, and are composed of floats and float-bearers, marching bands, and nazarenos.

The processions were impossible miss, clogging every key street in the old town. Nazarenos, the dudes with the pointy caps, gave an eerie vibe to the proceedings. Apparently their faces are covered out of penitence (read more here), but let’s be real, they look like the KKK. That’s enough to set anyone on edge. There’s no connection between the nazerenos and the KKK, but it was disorienting to see wives and kids hugging nazerenos just as you would any other performer in a parade.

For the me, the novelty of the processions lasted all of two days. You’ve got to have a hearty tolerance of crowds and swaying to survive during Semana Santa. If you don’t, you will melt into a helpless puddle of rage. I was in good company, though. A lot of Andalucians flee their region during Semana Santa because it is such a hot mess. I was glad I went, though, because it is truly a remarkable sight.

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Not having itDSC_1408

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Bird’s-eye view of processions from my hostel (Patio 19).
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Incense.
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Different brotherhoods from the city carried intricate floats depicting scenes from Jesus’ ministry for hours on end.

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Four o’clock in the morning, from the hostel window. Four. O. Clock.



Honey, I’m home.

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Yesterday I went to Athens. For a variety of reasons, it was much stranger coming back to my college town than to my hometown, where I have been (in denial) for three weeks.

I was visiting a pair of dear old friends. It’s a good thing that they are both “dear” and “old” because, for reasons I attribute to exhaustion, culture shock, and crushing aimlessness, my communication these days has been little more than wordless gurgling.

There is a reason, though, that it was good to see these friends. During the past couple of weeks, I have slowly crawled out of my hermit shell and begun to catch up with various people, with mixed results. With some, time had graciously stood still while we were apart. Laughter was easy and understanding effortless. We simply filled in factual gaps. With these friends, my thoughts and conduct were in harmony with my conscience and personality. In other instances, I experienced a disturbing inner dissonance – like I wasn’t fully comfortable with or supportive of what came out of my mouth, or, for that matter, others’ mouths. Having been away from everyone for eight months, it was strikingly easy to compare my interactions.

When I came to Athens, Athens Friend One (we best call him Vladimir, Vlad for short) wisely reminded me that the best people to be around are those around whom you feel you are the best version of yourself. People who push you to think and act in the way you are proud to think and act, who make you feel curious and passionate and excited and positive about the world you’re in.

It’s really quite true.

 

Fountain at Herty Field (Athens, GA)

On the Run [Race Day Edition]: El Medio Maratón Gran Bahía Vig-Bay

Porto de Panxón
Porto de Panxón (Port of Panxón)

Running is one of the best ways to see a new place, if for no other reason than for the sheer amount of ground you can cover. With organized races, though, you gain a new advantage: you, the runner, rule the roads cars once did.

Last month, I did some ruling of my own in the Vig-Bay Half-Marathon. This was my fourth half-marathon overall and my second one abroad. The first one, the Royal Parks Half-Marathon in London, England, left some big shoes to fill. It looped through Hyde Park, the banks of the Thames, and Trafalgar Square, to name a few of the sights. The Vig-Bay, located in Galicia and smaller in scale, was a different animal.

The race route connected Vigo to nearby Bayona, hugging the coast and including views of the gorgeous Islas Cíes. Though the weather was a half-hearted drizzle, it’s hard to complain when you’re running right next to the ocean. I was thoroughly distracted the entire time, gaping around every bend. There was even a Celtic band, complete with bagpipes, churning out just the screeching/heart-pumping tunes you need in a half-marathon.

As I have picked up on, though, running has not really taken off among the chicas here in Spain. The proportion of girls running was drastically lower than in any other race I’ve done – roughly ten percent of all participants (!). Let’s be real, though…that just made me feel like a badass. Especially when I made my personal best time (cue fist pump).

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Noncommittally drizzly weather, true to Galician form
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Runners soothed their muscles at the beach at the finish line (Baiona/Bayona)
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Flan, the recovery food of champions (Restaurante O Peirao, Panxón)
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A post-race visit to Vigo

Lace up those sneaks, folks!
MB

In pursuit of a roost: a practical guide to finding housing in Spain

As an Auxiliar de Conversación, finding an apartment (piso) is the most panic-inducing endeavor you will take on when you move to Spain. At least it was for me. In college, I made friends with type-A people who painstakingly screened and selected our housing, while I nodded enthusiastically. So when I moved to Galicia, not only was I finding my own housing for the first time, but I was finding it in another language. Gulp. Needless to say, and I made some mistakes. Here are some keys to getting a roof over your head Continue reading