Being gluten-free doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of meals at home. Take a look a these dining out tips for those who have to steer clear of wheat, barley, and rye.
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with celiac (pronounced see-li-ack) disease, a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley.
You might be thinking, “Aw, you poor thing!” or “That is awful, what the heck CAN you eat?” or “I think celiac disease is a crock, but whatever,” (these happen to be the responses I have gotten), I have an answer for each of you.
One, do NOT call me a “poor thing!” I feel better than I ever have in my life. Before I was diagnosed, I thought life for me was just going to mean lots of discomfort and fear of food. Not so! I’m the best I’ve ever been, and I’m eating the best I’ve ever eaten.
Two, I can eat plenty! So, a few aisles in the grocery store are pretty much off limits. But, the truth is, I find that I appreciate food more than ever now. Finally, keep your “It’s a crock” comments to yourself, thank you very much. If you knew me before I cut gluten out of my diet, you would know this was simply the wrong thing to say. You would know that I had been in and out of doctors offices since I was 12 years old, only to be given pain meds and silly diagnoses for things I didn’t have.
One question that I don’t get as often (but has been one of the most complicated things to deal with) is “How do you eat out when you’re gluten-free?” I don’t have it down to a science or anything, but I’ve picked up on a few tips that I will pass on to you…
The most important thing to do is to familiarize yourself with (heck, memorize) the gluten-free diet. This means knowing which grains to avoid and how to protect yourself from cross-contamination. Also, know your restaurant vocabulary. Here’s a list that tells you what terms you’ll see on a menu that you can automatically translate to “gluten.”
Now that celiac disease has made a Hollywood name for itself (thank you very much, Elisabeth Hasselbeck), those of us in bigger cities even have access to celiac-friendly restaurant directories. Whether you’re using a directory or not, it’s smart to familiarize yourself with the menu from the restaurant you want to go to. Try going online to look at their menu, or even call to see if they will fax one to you. If the menu is unclear, call ahead and ask to speak with the chef or manager. If they are unwilling to talk to you, or unable to answer your specific questions, then it’s not a place you want to go.
Once at the restaurant, get your server on your side. I think it’s better to ask the server to come close to you, so that you can quietly explain to him or her that you have a restricted diet due to certain allergies, and it is important for you to know how the food is prepared. Don’t hear me wrong here – I know that celiac disease is not an allergy, but explaining it this way is sometimes a lot simpler.
You can pretty much gauge their gluten awareness right off the bat. “I have a question, do you know what gluten is?” can do the trick for you. You will either get a “Yes, we are all trained here about particular food allergies,” or “Ummm…” and puzzled look.
Here’s something that a friend of mine told me, that I think is really good advice: When needing to make specific requests in a restaurant, we can often be made to feel like we’re such a bother to the servers. Don’t apologize. When you don’t have control over something (and this something just happens to be a disease), it should not have to be preceded with apologies.
If you can, select several dishes that appear to be gluten-free. Double check with the staff before you place your order, remembering to be particular about certain sauces, marinades, dressings, and cooking processes like shared griddles or fryers. Finally, order, sit back, and ENJOY your night out!
Just a little note here… if your food arrives and you just don’t feel quite right about it, don’t eat it. Reorder or leave. Eating something just to be polite could be a decision you will regret for several days, as we celiacs well know.
While dining out gluten-free can be challenging at times, you may end up being pleasantly surprised by the experience. You’ll often end up eating more delicious and more flavorful food because you’re required to think about:
- What is in your food
- Where your food is coming from
- The flavors of the food you can eat
In my opinion, these are pretty good things for all of us to be considering before putting something in to our bodies. Don’t you think?
And while our budget restricts me from eating out as much as I would like to (though, I do accept gift cards, suggestions, and even dates), here’s is a peek at my list of top picks for the Richmond area for gluten-free dining:
- Pizza Fusion (11331 West Broad Street)
You can get any of their pizzas made with their gluten-free crust, my favorite is the four cheese and sun-dried tomato.
- Ellwood’s Coffee (10 S. Thompson Street)
Choose from a variety of Shauna’s gluten-free baked goods – I think the best is the crumb cake! They will also transform any of their sandwiches into a yummy salad. Loose the bread and put the “stuff” on a bed of greens. I recommend the “Green with Envy.”
- Comfort (200 West Broad Street)
I never get the same thing twice. They’re so friendly about gluten-free diners here, that most of the time, I just ask them to surprise me with a gluten-free plate!
- Acacia (2601 West Cary Street)
Their menu changes every night, but this is another very gluten-free friendly environment. Last time, I tried the beet salad and grilled pork with rice
Dish it up, gluten-free!