• “The taste is amazing. I love the denseness of the gluten-free pita. I have it sometimes instead of the usual souvlaki.” (Supplied )Source: Supplied
Because everyone deserves to eat warm Greek souvlaki, regardless of whether or not you have coeliac disease.
By
Yasmin Noone

27 May 2019 - 3:46 PM  UPDATED 28 May 2019 - 8:39 AM

If there’s one thing that an authentic, tasty and warm Greek souvlaki should always be, it’s inclusive.

Managing director of Melbourne’s Stalactites and Hella Good restaurants, Nicole Papasavas, believes the almighty souvlaki should always unite people – not divide them on the basis of their health condition or food allergy.

“More and more customers were identifying as having coeliac disease and being gluten intolerant in our restaurants,” Papasavas tells SBS. “They hated not being able to eat wrapped souvlaki.

“It’s like having friends over for dinner and a few of them can’t eat your food. [As a restaurateur] you can’t say to your customers, ‘you’ve got a food allergy or intolerance so you can’t eat here’. It’s a bit unfair.”

“It’s like having friends over for dinner and a few of them can’t eat your food." 

According to Coeliac Australia, coeliac disease affects one in every 70 Australians. Symptoms occur in people with the illness when the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten causing small bowel damage.

People with coeliac disease are typically advised to avoid eating gluten at all times. So Papasavas decided that the only way to guarantee that everyone could access souvlaki was to get both restaurants certified as gluten-free with Coeliac Australia.

Last month, the Melbourne food institutions gained their accreditations.

“I wanted to make sure everyone can enjoy the food at Stalactites and Hella Good and wanted to offer them a product they would feel safe to eat.”

Stalactites and Hella Good, owned by the same family, are now the first and only Greek restaurants in Australia to be fully gluten-free and offer souvlaki with certified gluten-free pita bread that’s also vegan-friendly, dairy-free and egg-free. 

The souvlaki comes filled with juicy grilled meats or a gluten-free vegetarian fritter. It’s topped with tzatziki, tomato, onion, and crispy lettuce.

“The taste is amazing. I love the denseness of the gluten-free pita. I have it sometimes instead of the usual souvlaki.”

“Greek food is mostly naturally gluten-free, as we use a lot of fresh produce and ingredients."

Papasavas says the menu at Stalactites – a 40-year-old Greek restaurant that stays open 24/7 – and Hella Good - a takeaway souvlaki stop - didn’t have to change their food offerings a great deal in order to be accredited.

Most of the menus have remained the same but now there are more gluten-free additions like gluten-free souvlaki, chips, baked potatoes and meatballs. The kitchen is also working on developing a new gluten-free moussaka. Only certified suppliers are now used to provide the herbs and spices used throughout the venues.

“Greek food is mostly naturally gluten-free, as we use a lot of fresh produce and ingredients. So I feel it is possibly easier to go gluten-free with Greek food compared to other cuisines.” 

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However, in order to be accredited by Coeliac Australia as truly gluten-free, the kitchen’s methods had to be reworked to eliminate any risk of cross-contamination or traces of gluten throughout the storage, preparation, cooking and meal delivery processes.

Over 60 staff across the two venues were trained about coeliac disease and food allergies. A gluten-free and food allergy manual, detailing each ingredient in every dish on the menu, has also been introduced for staff and customers to access at any time.

"We want people who have issues with their health to feel comfortable.”

Papasavas says all the hard work behind-the-scenes was worth it. She now encourages other Greek restaurant owners to do what they can to make their menu as inclusive as possible for people with coeliac disease.

“Perhaps some people are quite fixed and say ‘this is how we eat souvlaki in Greece so this is how you must eat it in Melbourne’,” she says. “But that’s not very inclusive in my opinion.

“You have to tailor tastes to the Melbourne palette and be flexible to keep your customers happy. We want people who have issues with their health to feel comfortable and safe.”

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