To help those of you traveling in Russia while managing gluten free diets and food allergies, I’d like to share with you some tips that successfully kept me safe during my entire 2 week vacation with friends to Russia.
Ever since I was a little girl, I would dream of exploring Moscow and St. Petersburg! Therefore, I did everything in my power before and during my trip to ensure that I was served and ate safe meals each and every time.
I was determined not to be sick in bed for three days due to ingesting any gluten or allergen containing foods. I had waited a long time to visit Russia and was going to experience every moment to its fullest while feeling great! And I did!
However, traveling to Russia with celiac disease (spelled coeliac outside of North America) and food allergies still has been my biggest gluten and allergy free eating challenge to date.
Since the concept of food allergies is not very common in Russia, the level of awareness and understanding about special diets is extremely limited. In the past couple of years, this has been increasing slightly with a few gluten free vendors such as Dr. Schaer and celiac sites such as this one for St. Petersburg now available – even if you need to translate them into English from Russian.
Based on this, I heavily relied on two key resources to help educate restaurant and hotel staff about my gluten free and allergy free requirements as well as give me the confidence I needed to eat safely.
First, my Russian chef translation cards for gluten free and allergy free dining were critical. After hiring a professional translation service and then conducting quality assurance with a native Russian speaker, I knew that these food phrases in Russian were correct. Before my trip, I had our graphic designer create the cards to help throughout my travels and which now can help you!
I downloaded, printed and carried multiple paper copies of the cards with me at all times in case the restaurant staff, chefs or managers wanted to keep them for future reference. These cards are available on our website in PDF format for printing, your iPad or eReader. You can also purchase the Russian Phrase ebook which contains hundreds of gluten and allergy free phrases to help you wherever you are!
Even though I love technology, I personally like the paper copies the best. That way, I can give the paper card to the restaurant professionals and not have to worry about having them handle one of my devices. So don’t leave home without them!
Second, I brought my iPhone loaded with the iEatOut mobile app which works 100% off-line so I didn’t have to pay international rates for the Internet. For those of you without a smartphone, I would recommend the Let’s Eat Out ebook version downloaded to your eReader or the paperback version of Let’s Eat Out Around the World Gluten Free and Allergy Free if that’s easier. These resources are packed with everything you need to know to navigate menus in seven ethnic cuisines regardless of destination!
The vast majority of Russian dishes have gluten as an ingredient or as part of the food preparation. Also, gluten free menus are virtually non-existent. So, due to my multiple food concerns with gluten, dairy, fish and shellfish, I decided that the easiest thing for me to do was to eat at Russian / Italian restaurants and Russian / French restaurants.
I feel very comfortable navigating menus with Italian and French restaurants and referred to my iEatOut app for any additional clarification and questions as needed. In addition, I kept my meals very plain if there was any doubt from the restaurant about my food concerns (examples: no sauce on my steak, no garnishes on the dish, steamed vegetables, etc.). Taking this approach also provided my friends the opportunity to eat authentic Russian food at the same time!
Prior to my arrival, I had informed the various hotels that I was medically required to eat gluten free and dairy free. I also used the translation cards to communicate my needs in the restaurants. For breakfast, I ate fried eggs cooked in oil as well as the fresh vegetables and fruits available to me which were very tasty! I even brought packages of crackers with me from the States to use in place of bread for jam.
Here are a few more trip planning details: I ordered a GFML meal (Gluten Free MeaL) from the airlines and packed enough snacks for the international flight in case there was a mistake with my meals or any delays were incurred. Remember to throw out any fresh foods and non-packaged snacks prior to deplaning due to agricultural regulations.
I also brought packaged snacks to eat as mid-day light meals when we were out sightseeing. If my friends were going to just grab something at a food stand, I knew that I had food with me as a backup. I typically carried a protein bar, protein mix requiring water, piece of fruit, peanuts and something sweet and felt prepared at all times.
In summary, download your Russian translation cards either for gluten free or allergy free meals, arm yourself with knowledge about ethnic cuisines, order plain meals, pack snacks and order your GFML airplane meal. Then safely eat and experience fascinating Russia!