It’s the official opening weekend for the Christmas Markets throughout much of Europe. Today at 17h (5pm) with the Winterlights 2015, marks our official opening of the Luxembourg Christmas Markets. It’s a very exciting time, full of festivities, cabins full of gifts ideas, music and of course food and drinks. It’s an incredibly social event as new friends are made while sharing a blazing fire pit and lifting a mug in toast to the season. I look forward to this fun tradition every year as do so many of you. My favorite part is enjoying it with my family and friends.
I have learned some hard lessons about the food and wanted to share a brief highlight related to food allergies. There are several wonderful and incredibly tasty, traditional delights sold in the various cabins. Unfortunately most of them are not gluten free as I learned during our first Christmas season here.
The two big Luxembourgish traditions of Gromperekichelcher, which takes a bit of practice to learn to say correctly, and Mettwurst are the also the two biggest offender foods for those with Celiac disease and a gluten free diet.
Gromperekichelcher, potato cakes for those who are seeing this word for the first time, are one of the most popular treats around the Christmas Markets. Many people like them plain and others dip them in Apfelmus (apple sauce). The flavour and texture vary a bit but the general ingredients are the same with flour being one of them. So, the sad news is this; Gromperekichelcher is off limits to those on a gluten free diet. Check out this website for a list of the ingredients.
Mettwurst and pretty much any sausages, including bratwurst, are also off limits as are the hamburgers. Most of us on a gluten free diet already know the dangers of processed meats and gluten. Years ago I did not know about sausages and because I lacked language skills, I couldn’t ask the right questions. I desperately wanted to try one so I managed to ask for it cut up (couper and a bit of “sign language”) and thought that if I didn’t have the bread then it was probably safe. I was certainly wrong and paid for it.
There is a unique food cabin that has been in Place d’Armes each year that sells potato raclette, a sort of potato au gratin bake. I also tried this and suffered. I later learned that the cheese sauce is not just melted cheese but has flour in it. There are Thai noodle dishes available but that one is quite obvious because of the pasta.
There is one cabin that has a something really amazing to offer and can be found in the market area around the “Golden Lady”, in Place de la Constitution, near the ferris wheel and the Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas pyramid) . I don’t remember the name of this particular cabin but it’s in the middle and you can smell it as you’re approaching. They have full salmon fillets on cedar planks and grill/smoke them right over an open fire as you will see. They make sandwiches but you can also buy just the salmon and voila, you have a gluten free delight.
As for the candy booths, well, you are on your own to figure all of that out. There are just too many to even begin to know how to describe each of them. My best guess is to err on the side of caution since they are all processed and unless they are clearly marked as gluten free, then it’s best to pass. Be careful with things dipped in chocolate as well. The chocolate my be gluten free but inside might not be.
As for drinks, I’ve found most of them to be gluten free except, of course, beer. The one I am not certain about though is hot chocolate. Most of it is made from large commercial sized packages and the labeling is vague at best. I’ve opted to avoid it after all my unexpected gluten encounters thus far. The glühwein/gluhwäin, a mulled wine, flows freely and is quite appropriate for the cold temperatures as well as cold hands desiring to hug a warm mug. The mulling process uses fruits and spices so no worries there.
Another beverage that is quite unique and worth a try for the brave, hearty soul is the Feuerzangenbowle (fire-tongs punch). This is gluhwein that’s been doctored up! It’s got rum and sugar with fire which should pique your interest. I don’t want to spoil the fun so you’ll just have to go check it out for yourself. It’s guaranteed to warm you up fast. In years past, there has only been one cabin offering this in a traditional manner. It’s always been near the “Golden Lady”. When you are looking at her, aim in the general direction of the right, back corner and you’ll find the cabin.
The Luxembourger Wort just published a great, detailed article for experiencing the markets around the country, including dates, times and websites. You’ll really love venturing out into the communities of Luxembourg, they each have a special appeal and quaint feel. For the really adventurous, check out this Christmas Markets in Europe website for lots of details.