India – A Gluten Free Perspective
This wasn’t my first trip outside of Europe. Once all flights and accommodations were sorted out, my next and biggest concern was food. Seeing the many food vlogs about food markets and Indian food, coupled up with the thought of explaining what gluten has worried me. This is why I focused more on the idea of exploring the country and listed food and eating as a lesser issue. Just a week before leaving my hometown Malta, I made sure I packed enough food, snacks and protein bars as possible, just in case eating out was impossible. Planning ahead is always the best thing to do, but in reality you would not know what to expect until you are actually there. Just to put you in the picture, 50% of my backpack was filled with food and the other 50% with all the other essentials I needed for the whole 20 days... and off I go to India.
Before getting there
I made an extensive research in order to find out what to eat and what to not eat in India since some foods like raw vegetables, raw fruits and water may make you sick when consumed. Thus keeping this in my gluten free mind was a challenge... a challenge I wanted to concur.
I had advised the airline I travelled with, to provide me with gluten free meals on board. Knowing, that the trip would take more than 17 hours, meals on board were essential. During my first flight I was served with breakfast and during the second flight I was served with dinner. The food was tasty and above all gluten free! On the Istanbul airport, you may find various restaurants and cafes but none of them specifially cater for gluten free diets.
Mumbai was the first Indian city we visited and the best one I have been to during the whole trip. There are so many things to see and do. We went on tours with local people forming part of an NGO called Reality Tours & Travel which it’s profit is used to improve the lives of those living in slum areas in Mumbai. After visiting the slums and learning many things about the Indian culture, Hinduism and Indian food, we’ve always had the chance to enjoy a lovely dinner. These are some of the spots I would reccomend:
This restaurant offers ‘thali’ which is an all you can eat dish and includes different kinds of indian dishes accompanied with rice and popadums. The management speaks fluent English and I managed to explain what gluten is and how to avoid it. Luckily, the Indian cusine is not based on gluten but rather on corn so many of the dishes are in fact made from non-gluten ingredients. The only thing you need to keep away from is bread, which they call Ciapatti.
- Burma Burma (Burmese Cuisine)
This was my first experience at Burmese Cuisine. Surprisingly, this restaurant offers a whole gluten free menu that you can ask for before ordering food. The food was exceptionally good!
Apart from the passion for food and travelling, I also love chasing sunrises and sunsets. I attempted to capture sunrise near the Gate of India in Mumbai, but to my disappointment, the cloudy skies hid away the sun! Ohh well... the day turned out to be great as I kicked it off with a gluten free dosa from the best hotel in Mumbai, the Taj Hotel. The dosa is made from non-gluten containing ingredients and the chef made sure that no contamination took place. In fact, the chef himself served me my breakfast!
This restaurant offers dishes from different types of cuisines and the management is aware of what gluten is and which dishes were be suitable to me.
Off to our second destination, New Delhi, the capital city of India. This city is exceptionally developed and advanced when compared to the other cities I have visited. I stayed in a very nice hotel that had three restuarants in the same building, all of which offering gluten free options. In the meantime, I have also visited some food markets including the sneezing market that is made of stalls full of chillies – and as the name suggests, once you set foot in this market you will in fact start sneezing!
Here is where my friends and I spent some days volounteering at a children’s house run by Catholic nuns. The children living here are either abandoned at birth by their parents or else they have been found roaming around and lost in the streets. We had the chance to spend some time with the children and seeing them smiling was the most fullfilling feeling I could have experienced. During these days we have stayed at the convent. Together with the sisters we had breakfast, lunch and dinner. The sisters were very helpful and considerate about my restrictive diet so they made sure that everything they prepared was in fact gluten free by double checking every ingredient with me. I am truly so thankful for this.
In between cities I have also managed to visit one of the world’s seven wonder – the Taj Mahal. This has been on my bucket list for so long and I finally made it!
During the ten hour train ride to Varanasi I’ve had the chance to nibble on some Schär snacks I packed all the way from Malta. Although eating was doable, the thought of eating safe 100% gluten free products made me feel safe and at ease. The rest of the dinners and lunches were consumed at the hotel I have stayed in, since there aren’t many restaurants which I relied on for gluten free food. Here I also visited the River Ganges, were dead bodies are burned in the burning ghats as a spiritual rituals and their ashes are then scattered into the river so that the soul can achieve Niravana. This was a very interesting experience, one that I would reccommend to anyone visiting Varanasi.
Our second voluntary experience kicked off in Kolkata where we met the Sister of Mother Theresa and spent some time helping the carers at one of the many childrens’ homes they run.
I was assigned to help out in a home where children with various disabilities are taken care of. This city was also limited as to the gluten free options available. This is where my packed food saved me once again. However, surprisingly enough in Kolkata there is also a Hard Rock Cafe Kolkata which also offers gluten free options.
Travelling back home I made a stop in a tree house in the middles of the woods. This was the moment I could wind down from the different cultural experiences I had encountered in the previous days and the time I had the chance to appreciate more what I have and what I work for. At this moment I only had a few gluten free products left in my backpack but I still got to enjoy Schär’s gluten free Bon Matin!
Travelling to India was one of the best experiences in my life. The culture, the people, the things to see and do and the food is all I can think about when recalling my memories of India. An experience I would reccomend you to do for at least once in your lifetime!
In short, these are some tips I would highly reccommend to keep in mind before and while travelling to India:
- Make sure that the hotels you book are very good. Most of the reviews will indicate this. It is important to stay at a clean hotel where you can rely on their food service.
- Do not consume any tap water or raw food. It is important that only bottled water is consumed. Even when brushing your teeth, make sure to use bottled water.
- See and do as much as you can! The Indian culture may be too much to take in all at once but try to make the best out or your experience. It’s worth it.
- Plan out the trip in detail, day by day.
- Find some time to help others and donate your time, your heart and full ears.