Stir Fry from Mahon's Hotel Irvinestown, Northern Ireland
I recently spent two weeks traveling around both Northern and Southern Ireland. I have been there several times as I have friends and family that live there. However, I have only traveled there one other time with Celiac.
I have a few thoughts I wanted to share about the differences between the U.S. and Ireland when it comes to gluten-free.
Labeling-Food labels in Ireland do not always specifically say if a product is gluten-free. However, they must call out any allergen in BOLD on the ingredient list. This made it easier to quickly scan items and see if they were safe. In the United States, we often have ingredients such as "natural flavorings." You never know what that really means or what might be in "natural flavorings." In Ireland, they would have to list if there was gluten in the product.
Restaurants & allergens-At the bottom of each menu is a listing of the 14 top allergens. Number 1, is "cereals containing gluten." Next to every item on the menu, there is a number indicating which allergens are in that dish! This is WONDERFUL! Restaurants are much more aware of allergens and what food would be safe to eat. If the server wasn't sure they would go back to the kitchen and come out with a clear answer as to what we could or could not eat. This is NOT generally my experience in the U.S. Often, I feel that many people who work in restaurants do not know what gluten is. I believe the 14 top allergens are required to be called out by the European Union. Why are we not doing this in the United States?
Restaurants & options-every place I went to in Ireland, even the very small towns, had some gluten-free options. Now, I am picky and sometimes they were options that would not be my first choice but they were OPTIONS! Here in the U.S. if I'm not sure I try to order plain meat and a potato and vegetables. In Ireland, often their gluten-free dishes were curry dishes or stir fry. This was very surprising to me. It was so nice to have options that were not just plain food. Most restaurants we visited also had a dedicated gluten-free fryer. Some servers seemed genuinely surprised I asked and was concerned about it. It made me feel so much better to have people who knew what I could and could not eat safely. I never got sick the entire time I was in Ireland. We ate everywhere!
Grocery Stores-In the grocery store you could find a "free from" section that would have lots of gluten-free options. I do feel like Wegmans in the U.S. does an excellent job with the number of gluten-free options it has in stock. There were of course different brands available that we do not have here in the U.S. I was surprised, however, at how many more Schar products they had! Also, the baked goods available there tasted so much more like baked goods made with gluten. Their bread and cakes are SO much better than ours. I wonder why this is. Is it because it is a small country, so they are fresh and do not need to have as many preservatives?
Overall-Ireland was easier to navigate eating gluten-free than traveling in the United States. It was so nice to be able to eat out and not worry so much about gluten-free options.
e stir fry, pizza, curry, chicken, and chips (fries) all gluten-free! I can only hope the United States follows suit with the European Union's allergen labeling requirements. How nice would it be for everyone with a food allergy or Celiac to be able to eat more safely?