September 16, 2011

Eating Allergy Free in West Cork: Glengarriff, Bantry & Castletownbere

If you have food allergies you probably know how much planning is needed to have a smooth trip away from home...research, supplies, planning, suitable accommodation, pre-made snacks, possibly even language skills depending on your location...but sometimes trips can be spontaneous and there is very little time to prepare which can make your break-away a bit more of an adventure than you might want.

F announced with only a couple days notice that he booked four days off and that we were going to go camping somewhere on the West coast, the somewhere yet to be confirmed. So, with one day left before heading out he decided on Glengarriff, west county Cork. F. arranged the trains and buses and camping site while I planned possible lunch options and packed up my camping gear. The trip was not to be hard-core camping, so restaurants were allowed which made it easier or maybe harder, I haven’t decided yet! ;)

My findings:
First, despite Ireland being a small island, I have to comment on far away from Dublin Glengarriff is: a 3 hour train journey followed by a 2.5 hour bus journey and a 2km walk to our campsite with a couple of hours in layovers in Cork and Bantry reminds you just how remote west cork can be, but it’s always worth it! The West is my favourite part of Ireland and west cork is no exception. Everything is so beautiful and the people are so lovely. It’s hard to not imagine that you are in a film as you roam across the rugged landscape or tuck into a cozy pub to hide from a rain shower! ...But with all of this remote wild life comes the downer: eating allergy free is not always a walk in the park... but it was manageable!

Glengarriff is a small fishing village of about 800 people located on Bantry Bay. Although I didn’t indulge in any of the local seafood it is meant to be fresh and tasty and straight from Bantry Bay. The village does a big tourist trade so there is no scarcity of restaurants, hotels and B&B’s. On whole, milk definitely seemed to be a problem ingredient, as per usual, with the irish tendency to slip it into everything and vegetarian options were mildly uninspiring but gluten free diets had a bit more of a presence.

The best bet for coeliac/gluten free diets was definitely The Glen Chinese Restaurant located on the main street. More than half of the menu was marked as coeliac friendly (note: the menu asks you to notify the staff if you require one of the gluten free options) but obviously soy allergies would be a major problem here. Apart from the sauces, there are large pieces of tofu in many dishes. As expected, there are also numerous vegetarian options. The Glen Restaurant also offer takeaway (tel: 027 63947).
The only other place I saw that labelled their menu with a Coeliac/Gluten Free option was The Park Bistro (part of the Glengarriff Park Hotel) which offered the Soup of the Day and the Chicken & Vegetable Stir Fry as Coeliac/Gluten Free. The food looked fabulous and tasted a cut above the rest. However, many of the fried vegetables at The Park Bistro were done in butter but the kitchen was able to accommodate my Dairy Free needs with little hassle albeit a bit of prompting.

I had a hard time staying Dairy Free at the Rainbow restaurant because all of their sauces had some form of milk powder so I would be extra weary here, despite the staff being very helpful. I ended up with a vegetable stir fry which was quite large but uninteresting.

I didn’t get out to the stately Eccles hotel so I can’t advise on the options there.

Our bus had a stop-over in Bantry which is a sizable town of 3,000 people. It is a good place to pick up a few essentials before delving further into the village life of the west.

Briggs Supervalu, located nearby the Bus Eireann stop was a sizable general grocery shop with a small allergy free section carrying popular items such as Dairy Free milks and Gluten Free products, etc. My saving grace for breakfasts was actually a box of Australian made Carman’s Fruit-Free Muesli (also Sugar Free, apart from honey) and a 3 pack of rice milk lunchable sized cartons found in Briggs. I also got some lovely dried figs which tasted great with the jar of cashew nut butter that I threw into my rucksack as I was leaving the house!

The thing about the West is that the opening hours, holidays and general operation of businesses are completely unpredictable. I love this part, and hate it at the same time! It can force you to take life a little bit easier, helping to follow suit, relax and slow down, but it can also cause you to miss out when you are on a time schedule based on buses and public transport!

Also in Bantry was a shop I would have loved to get into called Organico (web: but I didn’t find it immediately and the rest is history. It seems to be an organic vegetable store with health foods, a café and a bakery which specialises in spelt bread.

F and I fell prey to the famous Glengarriff question of: ‘Is there a cash machine here?’ To which the answer is a big fat, but apologetic, 'No'! Our solution (being car-less) was to rent bikes with our last euros (€35 for 2 bikes for one day at The Black Cat) and cycle the coast to Castletownbere.
Bantry was a closer option but we were told that Castletownbere was only 22.5km away. A long enough distance but somewhat do-able. I was encouraged after having read an advert for a health food store at the end of the line and the promising coastline views... Most important to note is that the distance was NOT 22.5km. It was, in fact, 35km!!! (a big difference). There was a WICKED hill leaving Glengarriff which made for a sailing decent at the end of the journey but this cycle (there and back totalling 70km over 6 hours) was definitely not for the weak! At the top of the very last hill I whimpered to F to ask for a break where my legs literally almost gave out from under me!
But what did we find? The beauty of west cork definitely unveiled itself with stunning views and amazing weather but what is more important, there were two health shops in Castletownbere! The population is only about 800 but there definitely seemed to be a good bustling vibe in the town.
The first shop/healthy takeaway Taste Food & Wine Shop (tel: 027 71943) was closed due to holidays (?!) but seemed to have some healthier options inside and offered pre-made takeaway foods such as Hummus and Beetroot Wraps with Harissa paste, salad leaves and sun blush tomatoes or freshly baked Spelt, Apple, Almond & Cinnamon muffins. They seem to sell a lot organic produce with an organic vegetable market on Thursday afternoon. I can’t guarantee allergy-free foods but I would hazard a guess that it’s a good place to try for some.
Also in Castletownbere is Loop de Loop (tel: 027 70770), more of a traditional health food shop. Loop de Loop stocks a great selection of Dairy Free milks, Gluten Free flours, Swedish Glacé Dairy Free and Gluten Free ice creams, a range of cereals, Le pain des fleurs crackersbreads, Dairy Free margarines, tempeh, tofu, a Sugar Free Vegetarian pre-made jelly (Jellivita, sweetened with apple juice) that I hadn't seen before and many other allergy friendly options.
I also noted some cookie mixes by Angel Foods, some of which were Wheat Free, Gluten Free and possibly Dairy Free adaptable. There wasn’t much in the way of Sugar Free sweet foods but Loop de Loop was still a great centre with a small café, juice bar and fair trade gifts.

Needless to say, my legs were aching like CRAZY yesterday after our previous 70km cycle but I was glad for our spontaneous camping trip and I think that everybody should jump at the chance to visit the west coast of Ireland!

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