Category Archives: coeliac

Melbourne melancholy*

I love Melbourne. Great city. It regards itself, justifiably, as the foodie capital of Australia. I’m not going to argue (too much) with that. It’s supposed to be awesome for Coeliacs – they hold a convention there for heaven’s sake. So I didn’t do any homework or research before I visited – I usually don’t bother with Australian cities because they are super easy. I didn’t even bring an emergency nut bar!
My fault then, that I was reminded of the annoyances of being gluten intolerant – ‘first world’ problem, I know, but annoying all the same (because I live in a first world!). I can’t blame Melbourne – I could’ve been anywhere. I could have been home! But I wasn’t, so this is my travel story.
A dinner in Lygon street was fantastic. Breakfast for five days was easy – cinnamon French toast with berries? Oh yes please! Bacon and eggs! Bring ‘em on! Throw some avocado on there while you’re at it. Oh lovely. I love that big smile some wait staff give me when I say I’m Coeliac: ‘We’ve got gluten free bread for you’. It’s like a big warm hug with a little bit of sunshine.
But just about every other meal made me sigh a little.
I tried to pick up sushi down Collins Street. I wandered into a little store, it wasn’t particularly busy and I just asked, innocently, curiously ‘anything gluten free?’ (cue smile). ‘No.’ But not just ‘no’, it was a no that made me feel dirty for asking. Like I had asked whether they sold any black market porn out the back. The counter person couldn’t meet my eye, didn’t give me an apologetic smile. Just a ‘no’ and looked past me. Silence. So I wandered away. Hungry.
The food court of the Crown Casino is the haven of the perpetual gambler. This is a no nonsense feeding station. Eat and then get back in there! There are about eight or so outlets with a variety of cuisines. My friend sits down to her duck and vegetable dinner while I do the rounds. I felt like a homeless person begging for scraps. I approached just about every counter and started off with ‘Do you have anythingat all gluten free?’. The responses were mostly curt ‘No’s (followed by silence). One fellow smiled and said, ‘Yes, you can have tomato and lettuce with no dressing’. When I didn’t look enthusiastic about that he kind of huffed like I was being super fussy. ‘Well, that’s all we have, take it or leave it’. I left it.
Again, forget the sushi. No one could tell me why the usual gluten free options weren’t gluten free, but forget it lady. Shoo. 
I could have gluten free cake. Which is nice – cake is most excellent. But not for dinner. I didn’t feel like it for dinner.
I spied the carvery – roast meat and vegetables. I couldn’t go wrong, surely! In fact, I could. I could have the meat, but the vegetables were covered in toxic chicken salt. How about a vegetarian frittata instead? Yes! Yes, bring me a vegetarian frittata!
I ate that frittata like it was my last meal on earth.
The Sherlock Holmes provided me with the Vitamin C
I needed to keep the scurvy at bay, via G&Ts.
For dinner the next night, we eyed a great looking Chinese place. The smells wafting out the front door were making my mouth water. But before we sat down I did my ‘Twenty Questions’ thing and was reassured there were at least a couple of options in the multi page menu that I could eat. Great! I only need a couple!  
At first they kept trying to sell me the dumplings. Forgive me but I was certain dumplings were lovely little floury bags of goodness. ‘Are they made with rice flour?’. The waitress looked at me as if I was crazy and actually laughed, ‘Er no’. (I could visualise her making that crazy loopy finger around the temple sign). ‘Ok, then maybe I’ll give those a miss.’ This makes me nervous. Very, very nervous.
Over the next 15 minutes, I talk to about three different people before it’s decided that I can have crispy fried chicken (though I confess the idea of this makes me break out into a sweat too), fried rice (minus the soy), and some steamed vegetables. My friend, not accustomed to this hoo-hah, has sat patiently, stoically, in bewilderment, while I do this little dance. I try to smile charmingly and be charismatic (and fail, because really it’s a quality you cannot summon but really have to be). I nod and speak quietly, I reassure everyone that really, anything is ok, it’s perfectly fine. Everyone has to be patient and accommodating. It’s quite exhausting to order a satisfactory meal. But it’s worth it. This meal will be positively memorable.
The waiter returns with some bad news: the crispy chicken has sold out.
I laugh. You have to laugh. It’s inconsequential nonsense. No use getting upset.
I’m offered the chicken san choi bao instead. Perfect. He brings me the duck san choi bao. Perfect.
My biggest challenge, however, was the F1 Grand Prix. Take-away city. Crumbed, doughy, deep fried glutinous goodness everywhere. It was always going to be tricky to find something that wasn’t nestled lovingly inside a bun, wrap, or sliced bread. But Eureka! I found a Cajun chicken outlet that actually had a sign that said ‘Cajun fries – gluten free!’. Oh yeah! I love crunchy hot potatoes. I prepared to eat that for lunch for the next four days. Happily! There were lovely sauces on offer so I asked the cashier if she knew whether the lime chilli mayo was also gluten free? Not sure, she turned to shout to her boss, busy cooking over the hotplate. ‘Hey, is the mayo gluten free?’. ‘Err, no’ he said confidently, ‘there’s no egg in it’. Egg does not contain gluten. At all. Ever.
The cashier actually put her face in her hands and groaned. She looked at me, embarrassed, ‘Sorry about that’. Actually, that did make me laugh. To be on the safe side, I gave it a miss.
Best. Damn. Chips. Ever. Really! They were great and I was very happy. And I did eat those for the next couple of days!
In the end, scrabbling around for snacks at an expensive motor race is a first class, first world problem and I get to talk about food for pleasure, not survival. I’m pretty darn lucky. 
And of course, I’m heading back to Melbourne first opportunity I get. I’m just doing some homework first!


*What is Coeliac disease?

In people with Coeliac disease the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened. This is referred to as villous atrophy. The surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced which can lead to various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms.

This extract has been sourced directly from the Coeliac Australia website (

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Filed under celiac, coeliac, Formula 1 Grand Prix, gluten free, gluten intolerant, Melbourne

A Coeliac* in Hong Kong

Challenging. It was definitely challenging. You couldn’t go to Hong Kong as a shy and conservative Coeliac. You have to go in there hard with your translation card and winning smile at the ready. I’ve already noted how rare a disease gluten-intolerance is in Asia (see A Coeliac in Singapore) so I had braced myself for some interesting encounters and conversations.

The translation card

The little scrap of paper with the crucial explanatory text in English and Mandarin was more important to me than my mangy old passport. This was the golden ticket to dinner. It explained what I could and couldn’t eat. I researched a few before I found one that was straightforward and tactful. Someone online had made their own which was quite alarmist. Something along the lines of: ‘Please don’t hurt me. Please have a detoxification shower before preparing my food. Please don’t hurt me. And by the way, I can’t eat wheat.’

The reactions

My favourite reaction was a wonderful waitress in a tiny side street diner who read through my translation card, smiled broadly and nodded and then said to me in English, ‘A-ha! You’re one of those! I’ve heard about you’. My niece and I had the best rice noodles with pork, scrambled eggs (with toast for my niece) and a cup of lemon tea for the grand sum of AUS$4. I wanted tea with milk but after re-reading my translation card the waitress decided that no, she would not risk it – tea with lemon or plain hot water. Who was I to argue!

(As an aside, my niece would continue to proclaim joyfully and randomly throughout our trip: ‘$4!!!’ I even received a text recently, weeks after our holiday, reminding me that it was sooooo great to have breakfast, with coffee/tea, for just $4. Particularly as she had just paid AUS$12 for two coffees in Melbourne!)

The production number – bring out the dancing girls!

Every time I whipped out my translation card I carefully watched the face of the reader. There was inevitably a frown, a twitching of the mouth, a polite retreat, a conversation with someone more authoritative, some discreet finger pointing and more frowning and shaking heads. These beautiful folks seemed anxious about feeding me something that would consequently make me sick and so were super cautious. Rarely would I get turned away – more often than not the chef would be dragged out to have a chat and three people would be gathered round discussing what on earth I could eat. Hence the need to be confident and expressive – otherwise, I wouldn’t have eaten anything in Hong Kong. And it was so very worth the production number. There was always one little dish I could eat that brought satisfaction to all involved, particularly me.

Helpful folks

I really wanted my niece to try dumplings. (She really wanted to try them too!) There was no conceivable way I was going to find anything to eat in this heavenly floury place but I noticed some rice noodles on the menu and thought I might be able to wrangle a soup. Well, this was the only place that really couldn’t seem to accommodate me, but not for lack of trying. Again, a plethora of people were dragged in to nut out some options. No, nothing. I was completely happy with that, no problem, please don’t bother, it’s all ok – my niece is happy. Not content with that, the waitress wandered over to a regular who was with a Western looking fellow and pointed at me, slightly distraught. He smiled and said hello to me across the crowded café and shouted gently ‘what seems to be the problem?’. No problem at all I said. I’m gluten intolerant, I thought I might get some rice noodle soup but no luck. He laughed good naturedly, ‘Lady, you are in the wrong place to eat!’. All good. The waitress continued to eye me sadly and shake her head now and then so I made a super effort to smile and laugh and not salivate impolitely and desperately over my niece’s heaped steaming plate of dumplings. I always carry a nut bar for such occasions.
Worth another visit? Hell, yes!

Hong Kong was a tricky but delicious place to eat. I scoffed lobster at Jumbo, had the most exquisite meal of my life at Amber (see Two girls and a two star Michelin restaurant), and still sigh fondly about that memorable $4 pork and noodle dish. I shunned all Western outlets (except for a brief fling with a Hard Rock Cafe in Macau) and tried as many local options as possible. It’s a little like Russian roulette with potential cross-contamination issues, but hell yes, I’d play again!


If you’re after some suggestions (ie. restaurant names/ addresses) please feel free to email me at 

*What is Coeliac disease?

In people with coeliac disease the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage. The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened. This is referred to as villous atrophy. The surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced which can lead to various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms.

This extract has been sourced directly from the Coeliac Australia website (




Filed under celiac, coeliac, gluten intolerant, Hong Kong, Singapore, translation card

Two girls and a two-star Michelin restaurant

Lunch at Amber, Landmark Hotel, Hong Kong

Travelling and trying new food go hand in hand. In Hong Kong you could head out for some fantastic street food or experience some of the exceptional regional cuisine. Or you could head to a two-star Michelin French restaurant in an exclusive hotel one Sunday afternoon and settle in for a long session of eating and drinking.

My niece and I were looking forward to this. We even traded in our sneakers and hoodies for high heels and make-up. Amber was suitably yellow. The long narrow room was sparse and quiet. It was very quiet. And sparse. It was formal. Very formal.

Even the cutlery is charming. 

But then our hostess wandered over and made a reasonably loud fuss over us, went through my tedious dietary requirements and generally spoke in a normal tone and not one reserved for art galleries. I was at ease after that.

amuse bouches

A duck pate lollipop, a cherry tomato with caviar and a clear mushroom soup. Keep in mind this lovely opening number consisted of exactly three bites of food but was accompanied by a reasonably full glass of champagne. Thank you! All I had eaten for breakfast was crackers with peanut butter. All my niece had eaten was nothing. It took about five minutes for the room to become pleasantly warm.

starter – another variation of duck pate for me and langoustine for my niece

There’s something exquisite about the tiny leaves and petals and half fork-fulls of food arranged on my plate. I’m trying not to eat everything in one bite. But it’s hard!

Ah that wine is lovely. French you say? Thank you! Mmmm…. (Apologies to wine lovers – I took not one single note of what I was drinking. It had bubbles, it was white and then it was red. I’m sorry. Sacrilege, I know. We did turn down a Coonawarra red (for us a ‘local’ wine) and opted for a French number.   

entree – tasmanian salmon confit

It seemed wrong for two Australians to order Tasmanian salmon but I was restricted in my choices and frankly, it just very much appealed to both of us! It was worth it because our dishes were brought out by two separate waiters who, without fanfare but with so much panache, placed them in front of us, took off the glass, smoke-filled domes covering our salmon and then quietly wandered away. ‘Thank you!’ I told their retreating backs. Smoked salmon.

‘Oh my!’ I said when the sommelier came around with the next wine. ‘It’s not a race,’ he said kindly. But the service is too quick for me to keep up! And I already had a line of half full wine glasses…. Thank you!

main – iberian pork ‘pluma’

Feel free to educate me about ‘pluma’

No, I still don’t know what ‘pluma’ is. I think I even asked. It was truly delicious.

If I was giggling by the first course, I was completely loose by the second. I’ll just slip to the Ladies for a moment of composure – the door is right next to our table. But the waiter is there in a flash, ‘Oh sorry madam, someone is using that bathroom, I’ll show you to another one’. I blink at the charming young waiter and take a deep breath. Ok, steady now. He leads the way and at the restaurant entrance hands me over to another waitress who then hands me over to the maitre d` who then shows me down a long corridor and around a corner and finally to the Ladies. Oh dear. Three people to show me the way there but no one to show me the way back.  Did I mention I was drunk?

French farm cheese

I opted for the cheese platter. I’m vaguely lactose intolerant as well as gluten intolerant, it’s a platter for two and my niece doesn’t like cheese. I eat my gooey and sublime French cheese with a blueberry compote and sigh with deep happiness. Who needs crackers? I an starting to feel a little sick.

dessert one, two and three

This is a restaurant that has its priorities right. Three savoury dishes, three sweet dishes. Just as it should be. Thank you!

It’s time to sober up and I work my way through cassis sorbet, chestnut spaghetti and ice-cream, chocolate tart and salted caramel popcorn with the help of three short black coffees.

My niece decides that she simply cannot say thank you again. It was getting ridiculous, trying to acknowledge the quiet army of waiters, hostesses, sommeliers and general helpers each time they whisked away a plate or de-crumbed the table.

One more wafer-thin mint…

petits fours

Finally lunch comes to a close with petit fours, presented in a long cylindrical dish which opens up in tiers to reveal exquisite little sweets. As I contemplate and fiddle with my last little cellophane wrapped toffee, feeling very much like the character from Monty Python’s The meaning of life, encouraged to eat one last wafer-thin mint, the waiter steps up discreetly and tells me the cellophane is edible. I should just pop it all into my mouth.

Just one more – thank you. A surfeit of thank yous. And good night!


Filed under Amber, coeliac, eating out, gluten intolerant, Hong Kong, lactose intolerant, michelin