By Sarah Platanitis
A recent trip to Philadelphia reminded me of how eating gluten-free while traveling can be discouraging for folks with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerances. Most of us travelers carry gluten-free bars in our bags but what happens when you actually need to eat something substantial this summer?
Here are a few tips to help you find restaurants with servers and chefs ready to lend a hand to make your dining experience a great one. Now get out there this summer to explore and eat!
1. Know your diet. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to explain to a server and protect yourself. Know which grains to avoid but also where they could be hidden…pancake batter makes for fluffy omelets and flour makes for crispy potato skins. Also, if you want the restaurant staff to understand the seriousness your problem, consider “allergy” your word of choice. (Yes, Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance are not allergies BUT it’s a word that servers, managers and chefs understand and don’t take lightly.)
2. Pick the right restaurant. Check out a Celiac-friendly restaurant finder or a menu in advance. If you’re still unsure, make a quick call or pop in the restaurant and to speak with the manager. Traveling outside your home country? glutenfreepassport.com has FREE pocket-sized dining card printables, mobile apps and multi-lingual phrase guides. triumphdining.com is another favorite, even noting on their site that their “products have been battle-tested by tens of thousands of gluten-free consumers, so you can rest assured that each one is designed to make you an educated, confident, and powerful gluten-free consumer.”
3. Don’t order hungry. It might sound silly but eating a snack means that you’ll be less likely to make a mistake or get frustrated when ordering.
4. Talk with your server. Sit closest to where they will stand. Tell them that you have a food allergy and need to know how the food is prepared. A good time to do this is right after the server gives your group a few minutes to decide on the menu and specials. More and more restaurants know about cross-contamination but many still don’t realize the risks when preparing a meal. Remind the server that your food must be prepared on a clean cooking surface with clean utensils. Pans need to be washed and gloves need to be changed.
5. Pick 2-3 dishes and ASK. Sometimes nothing on the menu is safe. Simple dishes without coatings and optional sauces tend to be safer. If you are really sensitive, avoid fried or grilled food. When all else fails, ask if the chef would sauté some chicken or fish in olive oil and steam up some vegetables.
6. Order LAST. The server goes directly to place the order for the kitchen after the final order is placed and they’re less likely to forget what you’ve told them.
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