Sunday, 23 March 2014

I had my first Burger King in five years. Here's what happened...

Looking back, I never thought of myself as a fan of fast food.

Sure, there was the odd snatched drive-through McDonald's happy meal when I was a kid, a sneaky KFC during stressful weeks at university, or a Burger King to line my stomach before a heavy night out. Fast food by its nature is easy, accessible, and (for me at least) it had the whiff of wicked.

It wasn't something you should eat, but something you occasionally ate anyway. So I chomped through burgers from time to time, but swore off certain brands when I learned more about how they mass-produced their meat.

It changed forever when I discovered that I had to eat gluten-free. With a doctor staring you down and telling you your health is at risk if you keep eating gluten, omitting fast food was an obvious step. McDonald's, KFC, Burger King and their bread-heavy battered ilk were all off the menu for good.

Gluten-free Burger King in Norway. Note to coeliacs, some chains will advise against the
fries as they may be contaminated by the frying of other wheaty goods, so check first.
Image © Anita Isalska
Until I travelled to Scandinavia recently. For this part of the world, gluten-free comes as second nature. Plenty of bakeries had gluten-free goodies, brands like Fria keep supermarket aisles well stocked with everything from pizzas to cinnamony kanelbulle, and the predominance of naturally wheatless delicacies like fish and game make it coeliac heaven.

And interestingly enough, the gluten-free-friendliness also applies to fast food.

The Wheaty Eater looms over a gluten-free fast food feast in Trondheim, Norway.
Image © Anita Isalska
I had heard that McDonald's and Burger King had gluten-free options in Scandinavian countries, but couldn't quite believe it. I scoped out a McDonald's menu in Trondheim and saw nothing. There was no trace of gluten-free on the BK menu either, but I asked outright.

And I was surprised when the server said that yes, they could easily do a burger - gluten-free bun and all. How could I resist the novelty? It had been perhaps five years since I last sampled a meal from Burger King.

No sesame seeds on the bun, but otherwise a queasily familiar sight.
Image © Anita Isalska
When it arrived, the box was accented with a little 'glutenfri' sticker, and the bun was a little paler than the wheat ones, and free from sesame seeds (maybe they're avoiding another potential allergen there?)

But otherwise, it all looked and smelled very familiar. Springy bread surrounding a juicy meat patty, a square of luminous orange cheese congealing into the bun, wilted slivers of lettuce and an ooze of tangy sauce. Almost too big to fit into your mouth, necessitating seven or eight bleached napkins to mop the greasy run-off from my face. And of course, a mega-sized Sprite to wash it all down.

Never quite looks as good as the photo... half-way through a burger.
Image © Anita Isalska
The surprising part is how I felt afterwards. Yes, there was the familiar hit of yum-protein-salty-sugary-wowza-energy! I remembered the taste from years ago, and it was novel to be trying it again (in a northern Norwegian town on a winter's afternoon, no less).

But soon after that, I felt... ill. My heart was racing from the volume of sugary soft drink (I don't tend to drink them much). After the initial buzz, I started to feel overly full and very, very thirsty again (the salt, I'm guessing). Above all I felt thoroughly un-nourished by what I had eaten - not exactly headline news, but the startling part was how foreign these feelings were.

During years of eating greased-up carb-tastic salty fast food washed down with a gallon of syrupy fizz, I'd never felt so hyped up and strange. And that's because I had trained my body to cope with mammoth portions of salt and sugar and meat.

But after a break from fast food, the levels of salt and sugar hit my system like a freight train.

The aftermath...Madame Free-From clutches her stomach after a gluten-free BK meal
proves a little too much.
Image © Anita Isalska
I walked it off, and felt better in a couple of hours. A chapter had thoroughly closed. There was no reason to covet the ease of a fast food meal ever again.

Wheaty or gluten-free, junk food is still junk.