Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Taste the Pinca!


In keeping with my obsession for travel, I’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Croatia. The original idea was to enjoy Easter in a spa hotel on the Mediterranean. Buffet breakfast in the morning, lounging about on the rocky shores of Poreč, Croatia until the late afternoon, drinking wine and assuring one another that the weather here is much better than the weather, say, there.

Sauna would follow, followed by more wine and then a twenty-course dinner that would send us and our arteries to an early grave, or at least to an early bed.

The reality turned out to be less sunny. The spa hotel actually charged extra for the use of their wellness facilities. The gym was free, so we worked out every day. The pool was free as well, but, despite the fact that we’d brought our bathing suits, we didn’t make use of it. Why? I’ll tell you why. That’s why I’m here, after all: to go off on tangents.

Tangent:
A few months ago on one of those evening magazine TV shows, I saw a report on chlorine. Did you know that chlorine smells only when it is mixed with urine? According to the German magazine show, it does. And according to the strong smell of chlorine coming from our hotel’s swimming pool, I’d say it was at least 40% kiddie pee.

What is so appealing about urinating in a pool? OK, I’ve done it myself. I admit it. But I was very young then—no older than twenty-six—so it was excusable.
End of tangent.

The buffet was excellent—I’m three kilos heavier and considering a C-section—but Croatia was ill-prepared for my gluten-free hysteria. The first morning, I steered clear of anything that could have had gluten in it, but the second morning, I spotted those dry, tasteless rice pucks that usually have “NATURALLY GLUTEN-FREE” stamped on their cylindrical packaging. They were in a basket and disrobed. There was a label on the counter next to the basket, but it’s only purpose was to confuse. I looked around for help. “But why?” I had to ask myself.

What’s so appealing about eating food that tastes like insulation? OK, I do it all the time. If it says “GLUTEN-FREE” on it, I usually sink my teeth into it, even if it sticks to my teeth for four hours and tastes like construction materials. Butter and honey help.

“Excuse me, do you speak English or German?” I asked, hoping to get the attention of the cook who was scrambling 20,000 eggs.

“A little,” she said.

“Good, so can I ask you something about this label here?”

“Huh?”

“This label says ‘Rice (wheat) cakes.’ See, that doesn’t make too much sense. It’s either rice or wheat. The brackets actually mean that rice is wheat. Ha ha. See? You do see what I mean and don't think I'm an arrogant prick, right?”

“Huh?”

“See here. Rice and wheat . . . oh hell. Can I see the package these tasteless wafers were in?”

“Hachbledschnorkski?!” she said, gesturing to another cook.

“Yes, can I help you?” the other cook asked, approaching us.

I explained the confusing label once again to him, and he promptly and correctly pointed out that some of the wafers in the basket were wheat and some were rice.

“Great, which ones are which?” I asked.

We all stared into the basket for a good, long time.

“I’ll get the packages,” he said.

By this time, another cook was involved, so there were now four of us discussing the possible contents of the most worthless, cylindrical bread-like products ever made. I don’t even like rice cakes. Does anyone like rice cakes? Could it be that people eat them only because other people are eating them, and that none of us likes them?

“Can’t we just read the ingredients?” I suggested.

“Good idea,” they said.

“This one is, how do you say . . . ?”

“Rice?”

“No.”

“Wheat?”

“No.”

“Barley?”

“No. Soy,” he said.

“Soy?”

“No, corn . . . I think.”

“Read me the ingredients on the other one.” I smiled. For future reference, when I start smiling, this means I’m losing my patience and I’m about to slap you.

He read the ingredients. Nothing on the list remotely resembled wheat or barley, so I announced that after careful deliberation I would be partaking of this particular product. Seeming pleased and relieved, they began to disperse.

“Oh, um, just a sec. Could we open that package so I’ll be sure of what I’m getting? The ones in the basket have been . . . touching . . . the wheat products.”

The cook opened the package for me. Honestly, I only wanted one, but, considering the mean look he was giving me, I took three.

When we got back to our room on Easter morning, the cleaning person had left a pinca on our beds. That sounds like she'd done something rather similar to what the kiddies were doing in the swimming pool, I know, but in fact she’d left the traditional Croatian Easter bread. Yes, bread. A fist-sized lump of gluten. The little label on the bread read “Taste the Pinca!” which is the rudest thing I’ve read in weeks.

What is so appealing about bread, anyway? After almost four years of not eating the stuff, I have to say I don’t miss it at all. Hotels, with the exception of our hotel in Croatia, always try to make me happy with gluten-free bread, when their chances would be much greater with gluten-free wine.

I must be off,
Christopher