Eating out with Food Allergies in Croatia
Early morning flights are never a good idea, but often you have no choice. Such was our experience when we arrived at Gatwick Airport at 5am bleary-eyed. In the departure lounge, we headed for Eat www.eat.co.uk to buy something to take on the plane. Although it was rammed, Ray managed to find a seat. I was surprised to see a wider choice of vegetarian and vegan options than on previous occasions, although there was nothing specifically labelled gluten free or dairy free, but at least all the ingredients are listed so you can see at a glance whether you can eat it. We bought takeaway food and enjoyed a reviving cup of tea with soya milk.
Ray opted for his usual at Eat – duck hoi sin wrap (from which he removed the spinach as he can’t eat it.) My choice was the vegan Indian Mezze Salad, delicious.
On board the Thomson Airways www.thomson.co.uk flight, we were pleased we had bought food to eat as there is nothing we could have eaten except chips, Proper Corn www.propercorn.com popcorn or Tyrrells crisps www.tyrrellscrisps.co.uk .
Other possibilities for Ray, who is dairy free, were the Mediterranean Snack Box, comprising hummus, green pitted olives and crackers, but he couldn’t have had baklava (included in the box) as it contains butter.
There were no ‘free from’ choices marked on the menu and only two vegetarian offerings – Egg and Slow Roasted Tomato Roll or Mornflake Top Porridge, marked with Vegetarian Society logos. Not much use to us as it doesn’t indicate the presence of gluten or dairy products.
We were returning to the Valamar Crystal Hotel www.valamar.com/Porec/Hotel-Crystal in Porec, Croatia – a short distance from Pula Airport. We’d stayed there last April when I was on tour with Elmbridge Ladies Choir www.surreymusic.org and Ray joined me with all the other spouses and other groupies. We liked it so much we returned with Thomson Holidays www.thomson.co.uk (we did look at travelling independently but it was cheaper with a tour operator).
On our last visit, the hotel’s ability to cater for our dietary requirements (gluten free and dairy free) was exceptional, so this time we opted for half board (breakfast and dinner).
Although Croatia is part of the EU, the currency is “kuna”, about 7 to £1 at the time of writing.
What we hadn’t bargained for was the high temperatures – on average it was 32 degrees C – too hot for us, so this is something to bear in mind should you be planning a trip there.
Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we enjoyed lunch at the Pool Bar, well shaded from the intense heat. Curiously house martins flew in and out of the restaurant into alcoves. From our last visit, we had the following typed out in Croatian which we showed waiting staff: “Molim Vas Bez Glutena” (I am gluten intolerant) and “Ja sam netolerantan na mlijeÄne proizvode” (I am intolerant to dairy products. )
The menu at the Pool Bar offered a good choice of food we could both eat; we enjoyed the experience so much that we ate here most days. I chose the salads such as Tuna & Vegetable or Caesar Salad (minus the croutons). Ray’s favourites were spaghetti Bolognese (no cheese on the top) and grilled chicken fillets and chips.
As you can imagine, we were still shell-shocked from our early morning flight, so as soon as the room was ready, we had an afternoon siesta.
Dinner was served buffet-style in a vast dining room. As you enter, there was a notice from Pamela PavietiÄ, executive chef, asking people with food allergies to consult staff.
I have to say the staff went out of their way to accommodate our dietary requirements. Vesna, one of the dining room supervisors, ensured that we were able to find food we could eat.
The buffet was vast offering an extensive array of different foods – meat, fish, salads, pasta, pizza, as well as an Istrian corner with local produce such as parma ham and melon.
When Ray gave a member of the serving staff his piece of paper, he was served tender beef slices and shown which vegetables he could eat (that didn’t have butter in them). Every night he would ask the staff what he could eat that didn’t contain dairy. They got to know him so well that when he pitched up, they immediately pointed to what he could have. This included roast chicken, turkey, Wiener Schnitzel and crucially they indicated which vegetables and accompaniments didn’t have any butter in them. Unfortunately the potatoes usually had butter in them, but not the chips!
As I love fish, I always chose the freshly cooked fish on one of the stations. It was a wonderful way of discovering new types of fish I hadn’t tried. Every night it was something different such as John Dory, trout, grouper, tuna, swordfish, sea bass and sea bream. The fish was always so beautifully tender and tasted more succulent than UK supermarket fish. So I made the most of it.
As you would expect, there was a vast selection of cakes – all manner of strudels, cupcakes, eclairs, sponges, cheesecakes and ice cream. We gazed longingly at them and to our surprise, Pamela, the executive chef came over and asked if we would like soya ice cream, gluten free and dairy free cakes. Well I think you can imagine the response “Yes please!” The soya ice cream, served in knickerbocker glory-style glasses, was totally awesome – it was so creamy, it literally melted in your mouth. To our astonishment when we asked where it came from, we were shown the lid and it comes from Spar Supermarket. If only UK Spar stores sell it – or maybe they do? I will look into it.
The gluten free chocolate muffin was moist and chewy while the gluten free and dairy free warmed apple crumble cake was sheer bliss! We couldn’t believe it and ordered the ice cream most nights. (We occasionally enjoyed the cakes, but we were conscious of our waistlines!)
Every evening when the heat dropped we walked into Porec and revisited the places we saw with the choir such as the main square where we sang in the rain.
For those who don’t wish to walk, there’s a tourist “noddy” train, a shuttle that transports you from the hotel to Porec town centre.
In Porec, the Spar supermarket www.spar.hr has a good selection of “free from” food and this is where we bought Alpro www.alpro.com/uk soya milk. Next door at Müller, http://www.mueller.hr/pocetna-stranica.html there’s also ‘free from’ foods as well as cosmetics, toiletries and toys.
We enjoyed wandering through the Old Town and one evening chanced upon a guitar playing duo singing English jazz songs. Very entertaining.
As you first enter the Old Town, there is a wealth of market stalls, all selling similar products as such belts, handbags, sunglasses and so on.
For breakfast at the Valamar Crystal Hotel, another sumptuous buffet was spread out in front of us serving all manner of food such as omelettes, cereals, salads, cold meats, bacon, beans and son on.
It was difficult to choose from. We both started off with Schar gluten free and dairy free muesli, sprinkled with seeds. We noticed later in the week, a whole selection of dairy free milks were on the buffet including rice, soya, almond and lactose free.
As we had asked the hotel beforehand, soya milk and gluten free bread was supplied. Vesna checked we had everything we needed. We were touched by their attention, as we’re used to being ignored in many restaurants, left to take pot luck or fend for ourselves.
The fresh fruit counter comprised a wide range of fruit – for example, water melon, peaches, pineapple, pears, plums and apples.
Ray enjoyed bacons and beans and made an interesting discovery - a vegan dairy free Mediterranean gourmet tuna pate. He chose rye bread from the extensive choice, which he toasted in their machine. I also toasted the gluten free bread; sheets of paper were available to put either side of the bread to avoid contamination.
Another highlight was the collection of jams – everything from apple marmalade, sour cherry preserve to mixed fruit. Ray avoided the jams and opted for honey. This was dispensed from an unusual pumping machine we hadn’t seen before.
One evening there was a storm but it was a relief as it cooled down the environment. Our English blue plastic ponchos came into their own, although we attracted a few astonished glances. In Porec, one waiter standing outside the restaurant greeted Ray in English. Ray said “How did you know I was English?” to which he replied “You’re well prepared for the rain.”
One of the locals was so impressed with our stylish attire, she asked us where we got them and where she should buy them. We believe we’re carrying British haute couture abroad.
We sheltered in a café and as we drank our cup of tea, we saw a beautiful rainbow. After the rain came some stunning sunsets.
Most mornings we would go for a long walk about 6ish before the heat became unbearable. The Valamar Crystal offers a cornucopia of activities – everything from Pilates, dancing, tabletennis, tennis, badminton as well as children’s activities. These include trampolining and a daredevil activity involving a grand trampoline aided by bungee cords that enabled the trampolinist to jump very high indeed. We thought it was rather dangerous, but seemed popular among young children, watched by their mothers.