“How do you handle it when you’re glutened on vacation?” asked a fellow Celiac blogger.
The answer: questions, lots and lots of questions and a bottle of charcoal tablets to relieve the “food baby” bloating. I have a running list of questions in my head developed over years of traveling that need asking at the three major types of restaurants: fast food and big chains, sports bars, and fine dining.
My husband and I have the travel itch running in our veins. After only six weeks of eating solely at home when I was first diagnosed with Celiac disease, we were going a little stir crazy. I was literally afraid to eat out and to risk getting a gluten reaction: “glutenated, glutenized, glutened,” etc. My husband, bless his heart, thoroughly researched the foods served at a Mother’s Day brunch at a local restaurant, so I could dip my toe gently back into eating out. I was so scared of the eighth month pregnancy bloat and ensuing gas pains from accidentally ingesting a contaminated food that I stuck to cheese and fresh fruit that day with a shockingly okay experience. (Whew! Big milestone!) Since then, I have traveled extensively with him with surprisingly few reactions.
Here are the most basic of basic things I learned, and they work in almost any country:
fast food is nearly always contaminated as a general rule;
bar food and happy hour food is nearly impossible, except for the occasional steamed mussels or plain salad with a plain grilled chicken breast on top;
fine dining with trained chefs is by far the safest way to go, but buckets of money are required.
Other practical coping strategies when eating out are carry a big Mom purse that you can stuff with emergency GF protein bars, GF salad dressing, GF crackers or a crust of GF bread, and those little packages of GF soy sauce. There is nothing worse than being left out of an otherwise safe hors d’oeuvre, because you have forgotten to pack a baggie of a few GF crackers or a bit of GF bread or baguette to dip in that great olive oil in Italy, for example. I also hate eating plain sushi without the soy sauce/wasabi dip. Somehow the joy is sucked right out of that dining experience without it, so bring those GF soy sauce packets.
When you do get stuck at a sports bar, stick with a dressing-less salad with a plain grilled chicken breast. Put the GF salad dressing from your purse on it or ask for lemon wedges you can squeeze over it. Anything else in a sports bar gets me a wild reaction. Can’t quite figure out how they cross contaminate a bun-less plain burger, but they do. Can I tell you how sick I am of 15 years of salad with a flavorless chicken breast on top! Just the thought of this meal makes my whole body want to gag. Those are the times I have to kick my inner self with the thought, “I am here to enjoy the company of my friends/family.” If that doesn’t work, I go to the mantra, “It could be worse. At least I am mobile, have my sight, my hearing, etc.”
Since we live in wine country, eating great food (homemade or from restaurants) and drinking fine wines are hobbies of pretty much…everyone. Luckily, after a few key questions (ok, maybe a lot) at restaurants with trained chefs, who understand where glutens hide in meal preparation, eating out is not a problem.
Yes, my GF diet is expensive, but if I adhere rigorously to these guidelines, I can travel almost anywhere in the world and find something safe to eat. (My husband always jokes that my Celiac foods and my requirement to eat at fine dining restaurants when traveling are the equivalent of a Beamer, Mercedes, or Tesla car payment. Of course, he quickly follows that statement with “but you are worth it.”)
I concede that I do not always get to eat what I would really like, but safety must be the first priority with Celiac disease. I understand, first hand, that “safety must come first” from having Celiac disease damage not only my intestines but my whole immune system. I just don’t go to “the cheat” zone, after crawling slowly back from a nearly non-functioning body.
Just yesterday when discussing with a gluten sensitive person the myriad of questions I ask wait staff and sometimes the actual chef, I heard the plea, “But I don’t KNOW what questions to ask! Could you please list them on your blog?”
So, I will be starting a series of blog posts sharing the running list of restaurant questions I have amassed over the last 15 years of eating out. If I can eat out safely, so can you…with a little attention to detail and a lot of questions!
Dedications and credits:
Today’s entry is dedicated to Karen for her blog post requests, and to Amanda’s post called Glutened on the First Day of Vacation, from her blog, Celiac and Allergy Adventures, celiacandallergyadventrues.wordpress.com. The first quoted sentence and the words “food baby,” ” glutenated, glutenized, and glutened” in this post come from Glutened on the First Day of Vacation.