Thursday, 15 November 2012

New To The Gluten Free Diet - Eating Out

It's tough enough in the beginning to eat safely at home on a gluten free diet so eating out poses a new challenge. You know what you can eat and how to avoid cross contamination when prepping and cooking food but what about when you aren't in control of the situation?

The problem here is that you are putting your well being into someone else's hands. Can you trust that they will be aware enough to understand not only what gluten is but also how to avoid cross contamination? It's a huge thing to put your trust in someone like this.

Here's a personal perspective; When I found out that I needed to be gluten free the idea of eating at a restaurant didn't even enter my head. I found it hard enough to grasp the complexities of being gluten free so needing to trust someone else with the same awareness to cook for me just wasn't a realistic option.

I no longer ate anything when I visited my parents, my mum has never been a fan of cooking and therefore never been interested in learning about ingredients and cooking methods. I couldn't trust her to safely prepare food for me. If I couldn't trust my own mum to keep me safe then how could I trust a stranger?

With time and a lot of conversations on Twitter with fellow gluten free people, eating at a restaurant seemed more possible. Others were doing it, recommending places to go with gluten free options and they were fine. I did tons of research for restaurants with gluten free menu options, I'd then look for comments from people who had eaten there to see what kind of experiences they had.

The first time that I ate out was at Las Iguanas. I was terrified but I just wanted to feel normal, do something normal. I'd read a lot of positive comments from people who had eaten gluten free at various branches, it seemed workable. The meal was a huge success, the chef a superstar. I was very, very well looked after and had a delicious meal of XinXim (which I've since replicated).

The next time I ate out was at Brasserie Blanc. This didn't get off to a great start when I saw that the dedicated gluten free menu said "Cannot guarantee 100% gluten free". The majority of me wanted to walk out but I just kept thinking that other gluten free people are eating at at Brasserie Blancs and raving about it, what's wrong with me?

After what felt like a 100 questions reeled off to our waiter he assured us that it would be fine, that no one had ever been glutened. I ended up with shell on (seemed like the safest bet) King Prawns in Garlic Butter with a side of New Potatoes. It was a nice meal but these days I can do better myself.

What I should point out here is something you won't know unless you're a regular reader. Not only can I not eat gluten but I'm also allergic to pepper, the spice. If any pepper goes near my food I have the same reaction as I do to gluten, the symptoms last for hours rather than days though.

So not only do I have to specify gluten free, I also have to make sure that it's pepper free too. With hindsight I can't believe that I ever attempted to eat out.

I have one last positive gluten free eating out experience and then from there it turns into gluten free nightmares.

We spent a lovely day in Brighton and having done a huge amount of research decided on lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho. You can read about it here, a truly lovely meal where I felt totally safe and looked after.

The next three experiences were just c*ap. The forth, utter hell. First was a trip back to Las Iguanas, gone was the accommodating service, the kitchen were unhelpful and I got served a dish that a Junior Masterchef contestant would have been ashamed of. Next was a different Las Iguanas a would be lunch, except there was nothing on the menu that they could offer me except dessert. Not due to gluten, due to everything having pepper in it.

The next attempt was at a London branch of Pho. It was an utter farce from start to finish and I came so close to being glutened that I am forever thankful for my spot on intuition. You can read about that beyond diabolical evening here.

The very next day we went back (f**k knows why) to the original Las Iguanas for lunch and that's the last time I ate out. There was pepper in my Xinxim, I don't need to explain what followed. You can read about that experience and the other Las Iguanas visits here.

I got fed up feeling like a freak, seeing all these tweets about dining out and how wonderful it was. That's part of the reason I left Twitter. Why was I the only one having these awful experiences? Why was being gluten free out and about so blooming easy for some? I got so tired of the "you'll be fine", "try it", I truly felt like I was being seen as overreacting.

But I knew I wasn't, this is about my health. Good for you all the people who can eat out gluten free and have wonderful experiences, but don't preach to me about how I'm not being adventurous enough.

The other night it struck me. Comments on Reddit in the gluten free section about avoiding cross contamination:

No one being fluffy and "it'll be ok" here. I'm with these guys except for the comment about accepting it, it's never acceptable to expect to be glutened. The reality of being gluten free is that food has the ability to do considerable damage to your body if it isn't gluten free and void of cross contamination. If you are willing to trust someone to make you food it's your choice. In terms of family and friends, do they have the awareness to safely prepare food for you and in the instance of eating at a restaurant, do they have the awareness and also, do they care?

The only meaning that eating out has for me now is a picnic with food that I have prepared myself or that my very clued up and aware OH has. I tried to do the normality of eating out gluten free and it just didn't work out. I don't find this to be a negative, I love cooking, it's not a chore for me. I don't need the ambience of a restaurant to have great conversation or romance and I'm not paying over the odds for wine.

Eating out gluten free may one day be easy, for now the awareness just simply isn't there. Your body, your call, I personally won't be risking it again anytime soon.

Tomorrow we talk potatoes :)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, that is a great point. I wish people would understand how much of a struggle it can be being coeliac and I think there should be more restaraunts/cafes in the world dedicated to gluten free ONLY foods


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