Glorious Grecian Gluten

I wanted to scratch my skin off to make the itching stop. Even prescription meds couldn’t calm my rash. When I finally got in to see the dermatologist, she could offer only a list of possible allergens. Eliminating the allergens did nothing to help. After years of suffering, a friend suggested that I go gluten free. I bit the bullet and found blessed relief.

Photo by Joan Gilomen

This Santorini Gyro platter — with pita — may be the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Before I learned how to avoid the pitfalls, I learned that taking chances wasn’t worth the indulgence. The rash from even a small serving of glutenous food can bring a month of misery. So, when a couple of gluten free women told me that they were able to eat wheat in Europe without a problem, I wasn’t tempted to try it myself. With the help of a dining staff member, I navigated a three-week eastern European river cruise without so much as sniffing a strudel.
On a recent trip though, I bemoaned the pastries and pizzas I’d snubbed in Italy, and our tour guide told me about a Canadian client with celiacs. He gave in to temptation by trying just a tiny sample of each of the delicacies he’d so craved. When he had no reaction, he went whole hog the rest of the trip. He thought he was cured, but when he returned to Canada, he found that he wasn’t.
I weighed the possibilities and finally tried a morsel of bread at our next meal. No rash. At breakfast, I ate a small pastry without consequence. Woo hoo, I was free! I ate a sandwich on a lovely, fresh bakery bun in Athens, gyros, spanakopita, and baklava in Santorini–even European cookies on the flight home. And all the time I wondered; how can this be?
An internet search showed that this miracle is no secret, but I found no convincing explanations. Yes, Europe does use a softer wheat with less gluten, but I’ve gotten a rash from a mite of gluten in a smallish pill. One “expert” claimed that American gluten problems are caused by preservatives, and Europe has no problems because everything there is fresh. Sounds good, but I ate packaged cookies and baklava without a hint of a hive.

I also read that some people do have trouble with European wheat, so, if you’re gluten free, nibble before you leap.
The final burning question: how soon can I get back to Europe?

About breathtakebyways

Ann Williams’ travel articles have appeared in publications all over the country including The Washington Post, Roads to Adventure, and Jack and Jill. Between researching and writing books, she specializes in creative lectures.