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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