Dinner by the Danube

Travel writers are supposed to avoid tourist traps. Our job is to help travelers discover the heart of a place (though those recent tell-all books by travel journalists Chuck Thompson and Thomas Kohnstamm make you wonder), and a tourist trap offers the opposite of the authentic experience most people want. I follow some basic guidelines for identifying a tourist trap. The first is by location: is the restaurant located in the main tourist thoroughfare of a city, or alongside a major attraction? Possibly a tourist trap. Another giveaway is the menu: is it available in four or more languages? Tourist trap. Is anyone eating at the restaurant a local? If not… it’s a tourist trap. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but they’re reliable.

I normally try to sample local dishes wherever I go, but in Budapest this was almost impossible. Traditional Hungarian cuisine — including goulash (a stew to which many restaurants add starch), galuska (wheat-based dumplings), and töltött káposzta (cabbage rolls filled with barley) — seems designed to taunt the gluten-intolerant. So I turned to other cuisines. One Greek restaurant I found, Taverna Dionysos, fit my description of a tourist trap. It was on the edge of the Danube, with a prime view of the Buda hills and the lights that cover Budapest’s bridges and give the river a glittering sheen every evening till midnight. The menu was printed in multiple languages, and no one eating there seemed to be a local.

That should have been three strikes, but Taverna Dionysos wasn’t out by a long shot. The white-painted space was open and airy, and the staff was warm and friendly. I had a card describing celiac disease in Hungarian, but found that a couple of servers spoke English, so describing what I needed wasn’t hard. My meal was standard fare — a Greek salad with black olives and feta, followed by roasted chicken, rice, and grilled peppers — but the food was delicious and satisfying. And the spectacular view of the Danube was hard to resist (in warmer weather, Taverna Dionysos has alfresco tables, for which it’s absolutely necessary to make a reservation).

One note: there is a Hungarian Celiac Society, but its pages are only in Hungarian, which Google doesn’t translate. Any Hungarian speakers out there?

Taverna Dionysos [address] District V, Belgrad Rakpart 16, Budapest, Hungary [tel] 01 318-1222

Celiac Disease in Translation

In the four years since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I’ve traveled to six countries where I didn’t speak the language. Asking the right questions about food preparation when you, your server and your chef all speak the same tongue can be challenging. When you’re dealing with translation issues, it makes the entire process that much tougher. Eating at a restaurant is always an exercise in trust; for the gluten-intolerant, it feels especially risky. I plan ahead by printing celiac disease translation cards before leaving home. Here’s how to do it — for free.

  1. Start by checking for free celiac information cards from national or regional associations. Both the Czech Coeliac Society and the Swiss Celiac Society offer such cards online. For other countries, take a look at the “International Celiac Societies” listed on the Resources page at Celiac Handbook. Only a few of them provide a card, but hopefully the number will increase. Print several copies so you won’t mind if a card gets damaged in a restaurant kitchen.
  2. The Celiac Travel website provides an impressive selection of cards in many languages (currently there are 38, including Arabic, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Urdu). I’ve used both the Hungarian and Spanish cards from this site and found that they worked extremely well. Given that several companies are charging money for celiac translation cards, I have to tip my hat to Roger and Lyndsay, who run this site, because they’re providing these detailed cards for free (a small donation is requested but not required).
  3. Gluten-Free Passport provides free cards online in French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. I like these because you have the English and the translated language side by side, though of course that makes these cards larger to print.
  4. There are several sites, including Clan Thompson’s Celiac Site and the Finnish Celiac Society, that provide or link to free information about celiac disease in different languages. These descriptions aren’t detailed, but they certainly get the point across in languages including Polish and Thai.
  5. If possible, learn a few words or phrases in the local language before you go on your trip. Knowing how to say “Tengo la enfermedad celiaca; No puedo comer harina o trigo” (I have celiac disease; I can’t eat flour or wheat) made my travels to Spain and Chile easier, because awareness of celiac disease was widespread. But I have to admit that I never managed this in Hungarian.

Has anyone bought the celiac translation cards from Triumph Dining, or paid for gluten intolerance or food allergy translation at Allergy Translation? I haven’t tried either of these options, but I’d love to hear your comments about them.