The Curse of Traveling Gluten-free

I recently discovered that I’m gluten intolerant. I’ve probably been for a while but only figured it out in August because a horse back rider on tour with me was a dietitian and tested me for it. I’m not a food blogger but food is a huge part of traveling, and gluten is a huge part of food, so being gluten intolerant causes some problems on the road. Personally, its made me crave sugar and sweets much more, so replacing bread with chocolates could slowly turn me fat… or super hyper.

I couldnt eat the khachapuri (bread boat) in Georgia

I couldnt eat the khachapuri (bread boat) in Georgia

Not being able to eat gluten doesnt just mean you have to skip your toast at breakfast – it means you can’t eat hamburgers, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, croissants, donuts or even french toast 😦 Worse than that, you can’t drink beer. Beer is an international social drink, and so many things happen around it, and on a super hot day, having an ice cold, salt-rimmed Corona with a lime in it just isn’t beatable.

Thank God I’m not vegetarian, and only God knows how vegetarians (or worse yet, vegans) survive on the road. But hey, I may as well give up meat too because its so unusual to eat meat without some form of bread (ie. here in the Caucasus you can’t be served meat without some sort of bread accompanying it or wrapped around it like lavash) and eating the meat without the bread means your no longer eating a hamburger, but a piece of meat with some salad.

atleast tomatoes, hummus and wine are still kosher

atleast tomatoes, hummus and wine are still kosher

I would much rather be lactose intolerant (and they have pills for that!), since milk and cheese are foods I’d rather give up than pasta or pizza. Oh pasta, how I crave to eat those mushy little noodles with Bolognese sauce. Or a cheesy tomatoey pepperoni pizza. Sigh. And how will I live without instant noodles, my go-to comfort food, always cheap and sold in every supermarket around the world? Or chicken noodle soup, chow mein or roti? I guess its rice and a lot of potatoes from here on out. And vegetables. But I’m going to have small tears well up in my eyes everytime I pass by a bakery with the smell of freshly baked bread, and the next time I see a sketchy street food seller with all sorts of doughy deep fried things, I’ll have to walk away and find the even more sketchy meat on a stick seller and hope its not dog. I’ve always thought bakers were more trustworthy than butchers, but I’ll just have to get used to getting a little Delhi belly once in a while.

Foodies in Morocco

No trip to Morocco would be complete without Moroccan food, and even though I’d been before to Morocco (mostly searching for Arabian horses and surf), returning to eat more food and learn how to cook some was a great idea. In my company was the best chef in Iceland, so adding his tastebuds and expertise to the mix made things a lot easier and more enjoyable.

the view from Dar Finn, our hotel in Fes

the view from Dar Finn, our hotel in Fes

Our trip started in Marrakesh, which is a majour tourist hub for Europeans to come and eat, take cooking classes, soak in the sun, and overshop for leather and clay at the massive souk. We did all of the above, and our favourite restaurant of the whole trip was hidden within the souk, Latitude 31°, but sadly didn´t serve any wine. A delicious dinner without wine pairing always seems to be missing the cherry on the top.

cooking class at La Maison Arabe

cooking class at La Maison Arabe

 

Nomad was also a great restaurant in Marrakesh, and we took a cooking class at the Maison Arabe, which is highly rated for good reasons – its a major production with live TV screens and multiple chefs and bread makers (and wooden bread oven) and teachers, AND wine pairing to eat all the food you´ve cooked yourself. Once youve had your hands covered in olive oil and nearly burnt a finger off holding the tagine, you get to relax poolside at the Maison Arabe´s country estate, a short drive out of Marrakesh. Its super expensive to stay at the Maison Arabe, but I can suggest Dar Baraka as a sort of boutique hostel alternative.

the finished product of a days cooking

the finished product of a days cooking

We made a circle from Marrakesh to Fez, Meknes, Rabat and Casablanca, always searching out the best restuarants and riads to stay at. In Fez we stayed at Dar Finn, boasting the most beautiful roof top breakfast patio we ate at. We signed up for a private bread making cooking class at the Clock Kitchen which was worth the 40 euros, especially since we got to keep all the 4 types of breads and pastries we made at the end of it. We decided to share it with everyone sitting in the cafe around us, and still ended up with a few coconut macaroons to keep for the road. One restaurant we regretted missing was ‘7’, a locally run place that imports an internationl chef every 2-4 months to cook a new menu with his local expertise with Moroccan products. At the moment there’s a Californian-Asian chef cooking up some mean treats.

the old souk of Rabat nearing sunset

the old souk of Rabat nearing sunset

The souk in Fez was smaller, more intimate, and somehow more authentically local than Marrakesh, so we shopped for some spices and argan oil there. Later we bought a silver tea pot and a yellow dress, a little similar to the ones all the women wear with KKK pointed hoods.

the bread making teacher at Clock Kitchen

the bread making teacher at Clock Kitchen

They say Fez may be the foodie capital of Morocco, others argue its Rabat or Marrakesh, but I can atleast recommend Dar Roumana as one of the best dining experiences in Morocco, located in the Fez medina. The Ruined Garden was a great lunch spot, literally placed within a ruined garden. They also taught cooking classes, but didn´t sell wine.

The Ruined Garden restaurant

The Ruined Garden restaurant

Next stop was Meknes, were the obvious hotel to stay at was Ryad Bahia – atleast according to trip advisor and lonely planet. But then we showed up and seemed to be the only guests in the 8 or 10 bedroom hotel, which wasn´t a problem, but only surprising after having all the other guesthouses and restaurants nearly fully booked. The same happened at our dinner spot – Riad Yacout had a great restaurant reputation, but we were the first and second to last table to eat there.

the colourful medina of Moulay idriss

the colourful medina of Moulay idriss

In Rabat we stayed at Riad Oudaya, and just because of our check-in timing, landed the suite with a built in fireplace while the others who checked in after us were disperesed between the 3 remaining bed rooms. The restaurant Dinarjat was fully booked, with live oud (moroccan guitar) players and dancing waitresses. The setting was a beautifully refurbished riad, complete with marble mosaics and goldfish water ponds, and they had Moroccan wines!

Casablanca

Casablanca

Casablanca was a transient place for us, but we had to try Cafe Sqala for lunch. It had a beautiful patio, a smorgasbord of Moroccan salads, and any type of tagine or pastilla you could dream of. For a more sophisticated meal, we also tried Le Rouget de l’isle, a french inspired restaurant outside of the medina in the backyard of an old mansion.

street food sellers having a ball

street food sellers having a ball

Inbetween the train trips and bus rides, we also hired a taxi for a whole day (which costs 40 euros – the price of a  15 minute taxi in Reykjavik) to visit the Roman ruins at Volubilis and the holy Muslim city of Moulay Idriss. We scampered up and down and around the little hilltop village to find the most photographic old town yet, full of cats and bread makers, and ate a delicious kebab street sandwich (arguably the second best meal of the whole trip). We shared Volubilis with a few busloads of tourists, and experimented with the selfie stick we bought in some souk to try and get our picture infront of the roman pillars and arched city gate.

Volubilis Roman ruins

Volubilis Roman ruins

I think I left Morocco 5 pounds heavier than when I arrived, but don’t regret one meal. I also learned how to bake 3 types of bread and some cookies, tagine, and 2 types of Moroccan salad, and came home with my very own tagine. I I’m slightly addicted to couscous and still can’t understand why its not as popular as rice or pasta around the world, and some Moroccan wines were really, really (surprisingly) good. Now its time to start practicing with my tagine, and figure out where to buy Moroccan rosĂŠ in Iceland.

Photo Highlights: Food and Drink in Ethiopia and Sudan

It’s hard to remember everything I’ve done or where I’ve been, but the food has been a memorable part of this trip. Eating only with your right hand and drinking coffees while being choked out by burning incense has become a daily affair, and the places and people I’ve shared these moments with are just as unforgettable.

the street kids in Hirna, Ethiopia, offer to share their dinner

the street kids in Hirna offer to share their dinner

a local coffee shop in Old Harar, and two of my new travel buddies

a local coffee shop in Old Harar, and two of my new travel buddies

morning coffee in Bahir Dar

morning coffee in Bahir Dar

a typical injera spread

a typical injera spread

sharing some injera and shiro with our hotel cook

sharing some injera and shiro with our hotel cook

a fried fish lunch, fresh from Lake Tana

a fried fish lunch, fresh from Lake Tana

a woman prepares her incense at her open-air coffee 'shop'

a woman prepares her incense at her open-air coffee ‘shop’

Sudanese ful, a fava bean concoction eaten with bread

Sudanese ful, a fava bean concoction eaten with bread

a coffee ceremony in Khartoum after a traditional Sudanese lunch

a coffee ceremony in Khartoum after a traditional Sudanese lunch

Street food in Sudan: fried and sugar coated donuts

Street food in Sudan: fried and sugar coated donuts

my couchsurf host in Khartoum prepared raspberry pancakes and french-pressed Ethiopian coffee

my couchsurf host in Khartoum prepared raspberry pancakes and french-pressed Ethiopian coffee

A Taste of Java

image

Since my mom lives in Vancouver and I in Reykjavik, we decide to meet halfway in Jakarta (it kinda makes sense… if you look at flight routes). Me and my mom have never lived well together, but traveling in south east Asia another story, since we both love spicy, oriental food more than each other (an exaggeration yes, but only slightly). We also appreciate pampering manicures, and indulged in the chance to paint various pictures on our toes and fingernails (mostly cherry blossoms, batik flowers and strawberries).

We were hosted by my mothers trillionaire friends (if you count in Indonesian rupiahs), and got the kind of VIP treatment that only visiting heads-of-state deserve to get. They planned every waking hour of our 12 day visit to boast their beautiful country, an each days schedule revolved around 3 things: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Our very first meal, ordered street side on the closed parking lot of a mechanic shop, started with fermented cassava covered in cheese and chocolate, and ended with a half-boiled egg mixed with pepper and fish sauces served in a drinking glass. It was just a gooey conglomerate of yellow, white and grayish streaks.

We ate like royal queens, barely digesting (not an exaggeration) all sorts of unnameable spices covering the unmentionable parts of animals I had never tried before (feet and heads and the whole nine yards). We ate bat (yes, like batman), fried cow skin, internal organs (“tripe” is the euphemism for guts, stomachs and livers), and a whole bunch of sea food we had to crack open with our teeth and pretty little fingernails.

We visited Bandung, a city famous for outlet shopping malls, since many of the international brand name factories produce their clothes there in excess and sell off the extras at fractions of the price. Apparently people come from all over Australasia and the Middle East to get their cheap Nike and who knows what else (I don’t know my brand names very well), plus there’s the appeal of cheap imitation purses and batik cloth that every tourist (and my shopaholic mother) seemed to love. I mostly loved Kawa Puthi, the steaming volcano crater we visited and the albino horse with pink hair that I rode there. The geothermal spring below if that we bathed in was also a homey place (it was literally like being in an Icelandic pool).

We went during rainy season, which wouldn’t have been a real problem except I hadn’t seen the sun in 2 weeks (I came directly from the arctic), and the rains turned into big floods. We watched the international news coverage playing footage of our eventual demise from inside our Jakarta hotel room, and eventually decided to flee the city and fly to Yogyakarta, a few hundred km east in Java. There we visited some very old Hindu and Buddhist temples that could easily rival Angor Wat, but still it was my first time hearing about them. As elephants walked past me in the gardens around Borobudur, I wondered why we only hear about certain UNESCO world heritage sites (and concluded it’s because Borobudur and Prambanan are both impossible to spell or pronounce).

We didn’t know it then, but a few days after leaving Yogyakarta, a 6.5 Richter scale earthquake struck, so we had successfully fled yet another natural disaster in Indonesia

20140205-162537.jpg

Food and Fun in Senegal

20131119-133613.jpg

I was getting used to eating bread and boiled eggs sold in old Deutch newspaper, and water and soda sold in plastic bags, but then Dakar happened and I’ve even drinking French wine and coffee that isn’t instant NescafĂŠ for the first time since I left Paris. The restaurants and bakeries here are amazing, with fresh caught fish cooked in other ways than just oil-fried. I ate the best mutton stew I’ve ever tried, at my newly adopted female-only family, who also taught me how to cook traditional fish and couscous in the Senegalese way. They used their hands and a dull knife as their cutting board, their fingers to juice the vegetables, and a mortar & pestle to squash the spices. They had an intricate system of water buckets, some filled with clean or dirty water, for cooking with drinking, or washing their hands or the couscous. They had one iron pot and one propane tank, and the entire feat took 3 hours to finish. After it was all ready, we feasted with our hands out of the same steel bowl, as many families are used to eating all their meals from the same big bowl.

Tea-time is another two reoccurring tradition in West Africa. ThĂŠ a la menthe is mint tea they brew very strong with a lot of sugar, and serve it in little glasses that have to get passed around and shared by everyone. The kitchens are usually located outside, nothing more than a few coals burning on a small metal stand, or one pot sitting on a gas tank. They squat over the heat and need only the light of the heat to see everything their doing, and the dusty pavement serves as their counter tops to store the bits and pieces of food needed to go into the pot in a very particular order.

I went to a local nightclub called D Yengoulene where the crowd was majority men, but that didn’t stop them from dancing together. They grouped together for some synchronized dancing, and the better shakers faced eachother in intense dance offs. It looked like a big music video audition for Jay-Z or something, since each and every guy on the dance floor was as captivating to watch as the next, all of their movements totally fluid and in rhythm. When a girl got into the mix, the show quickly turned into a porno-film rehearsal, since the men took the girl into as many different sexual positions as he could think of and dry humped her as fast as he could. I wouldn’t know if I call it dancing, but I knew it was dangerous to dance anywhere near them, since dancing with them would have put me face first on the floor.

We went to an open-air DJ concert in some random industrial area, and the vibe was like any summery music festival in Europe. There were two guys doing tricks on roller blades, dancing to the music while navigating a course of small pylons. The place was full of white hippies and hipsters, and I ran into the designer of an African handmade tshirt I was wearing.

There have been a lot of other memorable, funny moments. I saw a paralyzed hedgehog falling asleep on his tiresome journey across the hotel grounds in Lac Rose. And Lac Rose wasn’t even a pink or purply lake, it was more like a greenish flooded salty pond. You didn’t really float without swimming either, but swimming in the pools and beaches has always been fun for a few different reasons. One is the waves, who crash ontop of you as warm, clean water with a sandy bottom to always get back up on. The other is the locals who can’t swim, and many are just plain old scared of the waves. I tried to teach my fiend Dawda to swim in Senegambia, but he just ended up sinking under water every time he lifted his feet of the ground and snorting a lot of salt water up his nose.

“Wow” means yes in Wolof, and I keep mistaking people to be in awe every time they shake their heads and slowly say “wow” when I ask a question. I learned a few other phrases in Wolof, but those who don’t speak French are usually quite difficult to communicate with. Even place names have a local name, so trying to get a bus to St. Louis meant we had to listen for a guy driving by screaming “Luganda”. Many taxi drivers are illiterate, so writing something down or even showing them a map just ends up in them staring blankly at the screen and saying “wow”, even though they have no idea where they’re going. A taxi driver will always shake his head yes when you ask him if he knows where a place his, and in the same movement say a price. Once you’ve agreed on a price and he’s gotten you in the car, then it’s always fun to slowly realize that he has no idea where he’s going or how far it is. Then he starts to complain about how little your paying as he starts to ask every block where the place you’re going is… Until he eventually finds it (which is almost always).

20131119-133709.jpg

French Gastronomy and Bocuse in Lyon

Lyon is an amazing city for gastronomy, with more than 20 Michelin stars given to its local restaurants. Food experts and lovers alike have even come up with a special term to refer to a traditional Lyonnais restaurant, a ´bouchon.´ I ate at Leon de Lyon, but not being a fan of pork, mustard or foie gras, it was hard to choose a traditional plate. My favourite restaurant was Au 14 Fevrier, a Valentine´s day themed restaurant where even the bread and butter are heart shaped.

the French are really good at making cute little coffees

Lyon native Paul Bocuse first became a legend in France with his innovatie nouvelle cuisine, changing traditional French cuisine into something fresher and healthier. He is one of the most awarded and famous chefs in the world, and the Culinary Institute of America named him the Chef of the century. His namesake restaurant, Paul Bocuse, has fully booked reservations each night months in advance. There you can try his famous truffle soup, probably the tastiest but most expensive soup you could ever try. He also established the Paul Bocuse Institute, a prestigious culinary school where 10 other cooperative universities around the world send their most promising chefs to study.

Siggi, 2013 Icelandic candidate, and Þráinn, his coach and 2011 candidate

The Bocuse d’Or is a culinary competition, kind of like the Chef Olympics, held every other year in Lyon since 1987. It gets more and more popular each year, and the competition itself has grown to include chefs from every continent. There is a regional Bocuse comptetition held every opposite year to decide who the qualifying chefs will be (from Europe, Asia, and the Americas)  to compete for the Bocuse d’Or, and specially invited countries participate too (like Australia and Morocco).

sporting a chef hat at Sirha

The competition happens concurrently with the Sirha exhibition, a rendez-vous of all things restaurant related. Local chocolatiers and champagne makers offered free samples at their booths, and patisseries and cheese makers from all over Europe come too. We sampled our way through all the most delicious booths while 24 countries competed for the Bocuse d´or, until finally 2 days later, France was declared the winner.

For the first time ever, Japan won a medal with 3rd place. Iceland placed 8th, which is an incredible feat if you consider the fact that from a country with a population of only 320,000, we have the 8th best chef in the world. In 2011, my friend Þráinn from Iceland placed 7th, so we´re pretty consistent.

Holiday Feasting and Dysfunctional Families

My parents had 3 daughters together, all of us born in Iceland, but raised most of our lives by our mother in Canada. Though we kept many of our Icelandic traditions and some Icelandic culture, we lost the language and became more Canadian. My mother is Guyanese, and imparted much of her British Guyanese influence onto us as well, so we grew up in quite the international, multi-cultural home. She dated an Italian, a Brit, most recently a Chinese guy, and married and divorced an Indian Guyanese guy during the time we lived in Canada. But we never really had a man around the house, since my grandmother helped raise us and we were barely allowed to keep male company without being chastised.

I went through a tomboy phase in my teenage hood, had only male friends, dreamed of having a brother, and wished I had a father. When I graduated university, I decided to move back to Iceland and be with my dad back home. Since then, I had the dilemma every year to decide whether I should spend the holiday season in Canada or Iceland, and always hoped the family could have just one more Christmas together.

my family feast on Christmas Eve

This Christmas and New Years was the first I spent in Iceland together with my entire family since 1992. My mom, dad, sisters and I had Christmas together in Canada in 1994, but it didnt turn out so great since my parents had just recently divorced and my mom had emigrated us all to Canada without telling my dad. I guess time does heal all, so 17 years later, they talked about things other than custody or money, and us sisters all grown up appreciated having both our parents in the same room to contribute to another happy family memory.

It was quite the dysfunctional occasion though. My parents get a long okay when we’re around, but they couldn’t be left alone since my dad has no patience for my mom and my mom didn’t think it was appropriate to stay at his house. They both know they’re excellent cooks and want to parent us, but now we’re all grown up and scolded them more than they scolded us. My youngest sister is engaged to be married and somehow acts like she can’t wait to start her own (more normal) family. My eldest sister wanted everything to go smoothly but is an unspoken, passive aggressivist, and I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to keep everyone busy and entertained… which wasn´t easy with record snow falls keeping us on the verge of getting stuck every time we had to go anywhere or park the car. But we only had a week and couldn´t let weather get in the way of or plans, so I was still the 24/7 driver, tourist guide, daily planner and phone secretary. However, I never minded since I was royally awarded with food feasts centered around family time every day they were here.

the first seconds of 2012

My mom has a sister in Iceland who married an Icelandic man and started a family here. My mom stayed with her and we visited our Aunty and cousins often for breakfasts, lunches and dinners prepared large enough for an entire army. We ate traditional smoked lamb with fixings, grilled leg of lamb with Icelandic mushroom gravy, lamb saddle and sheep head. On Christmas night we had lamb curry and roti, and Christmas morning we had Pepperpot, a delicious Guyanese dish made of oxtail and lamb

adding oxtail to the pepperpot

neck that takes days to cook. My friend Þráinn, one of the top chefs in Europe, came over and cooked some fine-dining langoustine for us one night. We tried every Christmas beer brewed in Iceland, and stuffed our bellies full of cookies and chocolate after every meal.

We visited our half brother, our old neighbours, and met many of my friends, including 3 hunters who fed us reindeer steak and reindeer carpaccio. We made it through the days with coffee and tea, leftover dinners, and hot dogs from hot dog stands. We rang in the new year with sparkling wine and almost got blown up by a wayward firecracker my cousin Svanur lit up too close to the balcony. We tried to make it to Vestmann Islands to visit our relatives from Dad´s side, but the weather wouldn´t allow it, or else we would have gotten to try some puffin and dried sea weed.

After a week of stuffing our faces and functioning like a family unit once again, we all had a great time secured by hundreds of photos to keep every moment of the holiday  memorable. I like watching Modern Family to remind myself we´re just one of many dysfunctional families, with an ever-evolving definition of family unit. I appeciate how unique my family is – growing up apart, getting divorced, getting engaged, living in different countries – and learnt that it doesn´t affect our family ties, since these are just the things that make us normal. I guess all families have some dirt under the carpet, with some weird element going on, so we’d be abnormal if we weren’t a little dysfunctional.