Sunday, June 26, 2011

Naples. Why Doesn't Italy Love Italy?

(Important! If this post is cut off at the bottom, reload the page. This usually solves the problem.)

Italy remains one of the world’s most loved tourist destinations. And I have to ask myself every time I’m forced to go there...why? If you haven’t read my posts on Florence and Venice, do that and come back. If you’re still interested in what I have to say, read on. I used to love Italy.

That was before I started wondering why ITALY doesn’t love Italy.

 
I visited Naples 13 years ago. Back then it took us five hours to find our hotel (after we were already in Naples). It seemed like every street was named via Don Giovanni. It was pouring with rain and wild, violent traffic. Finally we saw our hotel down a one-way street, which my partner didn’t want to turn into, although everyone else was doing it. My ranting and screaming persuaded him to break the law. I think I might have hit him. We almost broke up that night.


On our recent trip, my partner (the same one) and I were determined not to fight. We got turned around on the motorway at least six times, but we laughed about it. We’ve come a long way.

I wish Naples would take our lead. Have you read about their trash problems? Something about organized crime? Landfill problems? The MONEY to be made from rubbish collection? We thought this was a news story from the past, but when we arrived at our hotel—the Holiday Inn in the middle of the commercial district—we couldn’t overlook the heaps and heaps of trash everywhere. I felt sorry for the prostitutes having to work in such a trashy environment. It’s no wonder Berlusconi calls his own country shit.

My point. Italy is really wonderful when you get out of the big cities. I love Cinque Terre. I love South Tyrol (though I was thrown out of restaurant once in Dorf Tirol. Funny story.). Why doesn’t Italy invest more in their cities? Florence is falling apart. Venice is sinking in sewage and Naples is choking in garbage. Rome? An enormous tourist trap with lots of statues and ruins that smell like cat urine. Why do tourists continually need to see these places?

If you walk or drive around Naples (and I have no idea why you’d want to), you won’t be able to overlook the litter. It’s everywhere. I saw the woman in the car in front of us throw a paper bag out her window. Her hand looked so careless. It was saying, “Screw this city.”

I must be off,
Christopher



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Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Nicest Almost--Thank you, Glimmer Train!

I'm very pleased that my story "The Birds of North Carolina" was a finalist in Glimmer Train's April Family Matters competition. Thank you to the editors for the Honorable Mention. It is indeed a great honor and the nicest almost I've had this year.

I must be off (to revise that story and send it back out),
Christopher

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dinner in London...Gluten-free

Gluten-free dinner in London is easy if you do your homework, and I’m here to help with that. What kind of food do you like? Do you want Fish and Chips? Indian? Thai? Please tell me you don’t want Italian. Italian is so boring. (Shakespeare would never have eaten Italian. Definitely a curry for Will. It is the British national dish, after all.)

Eating gluten-free in restaurants sometimes means eating things you wouldn’t normally eat. Gluten-free pasta is usually rubbish. Gluten-free bread—unless it’s the new Genius Bread—does not taste like food. When you tell your waiter you’re a Coeliac, he leaves all the sauces off, you get a piece of meat with dry vegetables for 16 pounds. You’re a culinary leper basically.

But it doesn’t have to be that way...if you know where to go. I'm going to tell you where to go. That might not sound nice, but it is.

Indian

If you’re visiting London as a tourist, chances are you’ll end up in Soho. Here’s where to go for excellent Indian food:

Imli! Have a look at the menu. They even tell you clearly which dishes are gluten-free. It’s a beautiful restaurant, and the food, as you can see by clicking on their menu, is prepared with love (and mostly without gluten).

The MasalaWorld of restaurants and Masala Zone are also quite good. When you arrive, tell your server that you would like to speak to the manager about their gluten-free menu. The managers are trained to help. 

The dishes you’re most likely to come across:

Pompadum (Everyone spells this word differently, so just look for something that sort of looks like this word.) = paper-thin lentil flour crackers served before the meal and eaten with a variety of sauces: mango chutney, mint raita, and sometimes coconut/curry relish (my favorite). Usually poppadums or pappadums should be completely gluten-free, but Indian restaurants now often buy them premade. The very light ones have wheat flour in them. If they look light and mass-produced, don’t eat them. Always ask the waiter if the poppadoms are all lentil flour. If he doesn’t seem to understand what you mean, don’t eat the pupadoms! And very very important: always ask if they make the sauces themselves. Don’t eat shiny sauces. Mango chutney and lime pickle should be fine, but make sure the waiter knows you can’t eat anything that has been thickened.

Vegetable Fritters called Pakora or Bhajya (also, Pokora or Pakoda). These can be delicious or awful, depending on the restaurant. Deep-fried vegetables in a gram-flour batter. Yum. And crunchy. And gluten-free. Just make sure you confirm first that the restaurant fries them in gram flour.

Main dishes. After reading hundreds of Indian recipes (yes, this is how I spend my time), I’m happy to report that wheat flour is a rare visitor in the list of ingredients. Sauces are thickened with yogurt and butter. They should be fine.

Naan bread. Don’t even think about it. NOT gluten-free.

Gluten-free flours:
Garam (besan or gram) flour = chickpea  
Bajra flour = a form of millet. Also jowar, ragi (finger millet), kheri, kodo & jhungori
Singhara/ shingoda = water chestnut
Moong flour = mung bean
Juar flour = sorghum
Urad dal flour = lentil
Muth flour = pulses
Powa flour = rice
Urid/ Urad Flour = dehusked black gram dal (hordsebean).

NOT Gluten-free flours!
Chapati = atta. Atta flour is made from wheat flour and malted barley.
Maida flour = finely milled wheat flour
Rawa/rava/Suji = semolina


More Info and Restaurant Reviews:

To read more about Indian Cuisine go here.
An excellent review from the Gluten-free Foodie of Namaaste Kitchen in Camden,


Thai

The Blue Elephant on Fulham Broadway is a good Thai restaurant. When you book your table, let them know you require a gluten-free diet. They’ll take care of you. Ask to sit near one of the fountains or ponds. A lot of the restaurant looks like a jungle.

You shouldn’t have a problem ordering something gluten-free at a Thai restaurant in London. The questions you must ask are “Is your fish sauce gluten-free?” or “Can you tell me exactly what is in your fish sauce?” and “Is this dish made with soya sauce?”

Then the noodles. Make sure you ask for rice noodles. The yellow noodles are a no-go.

  

Traditional British

The Mermaids Tail on Leicester Square. I haven’t been to this restaurant, but I have called them to make sure they still offer gluten-free fish and chips, and they do. The next time I’m in London, I’m going there. I’ll update this post when I’ve tried the fish and chips. It will be my first fish and chips in six years, so it had better be good. 


Italian
Cotto Italian restaurant says on their website that they need a heads-up to cater for guests with coeliac disease, but they also publish a gluten-free menu. (020 7928 5535)
  
Hell Pizza offer a gluten-free pizza. Delivery. 


This the last post in my series on gluten-free dining in London. If you missed the previous posts, simply search for "gluten-free" on the site and you'll get them all: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and the pub--all gluten-free in London. Next time we're off to see how difficult it is to eat sans gluten in la Grande Nation

I must be off,
Christopher