To mark Coeliac UK Awareness Week (8–14 May 2017) we’re looking at the ins and outs of eating out if you’re Coeliac with the help of Alex Gazzola.
You can’t always eat food prepared in your newly safe Gluten Free kitchen. There will come a time when you will want or need to consume food prepared by people you don’t know at restaurants and other outlets – or indeed order meals for home delivery.
Dining out is one of life’s great pleasures, and you shouldn’t deny yourself. For many, picking up a quick bite for lunch is a normal part of their working day, and business dinners and family social events are regular events for lots of us.
That said, mistakes are more likely when you’re away from home and less in control over the food you eat, so it’s not something you can treat lightly or be overconfident about. It is vital to understand what you can and cannot eat – it’s unfair to expect others to if you don’t.
Where to eat
Ask for recommendations. Fellow, long-standing coeliacs will know of good places, as will your local coeliac group. Coeliac UK has a Venue Guide and offers a GF Catering accreditation scheme to food outlets who meet certain criteria and standards. Many GF bloggers review restaurants and share tips on social media. Most restaurants and chains provide menus online.
With GF batter and careful cross-contamination controls – separate oil and frying areas for fish covered in gluten-containing batter, for instance – many fish and chip shops can now cater for coeliacs, and some hold special events once a week or month where they go entirely GF for the evening or day.
Some of the popular fast-food chains’ products are listed in the Food and Drink Directory, and these chains will gladly give you a list of GF food served.
Some pub chains have a GF menu, and some privately owned pubs or ‘gastropubs’ have good options. It’s always worth checking that GF beers are available!
With pizza and pasta galore, Italian restaurants used to be fairly coeliac-unfriendly in the British Isles, but the situation has improved tremendously in recent years and most high street pizzerias now offer both GF pastas and at least ‘no gluten-containing ingredients’ pizzas, for example. Others may add toppings to your own brought in GF pizza base – but you must stress that it would need to be baked in a clean oven.
Wheat noodles and soy sauce are an obvious source of gluten, but there’s also the problem of the tradition of wiping but not washing a wok, causing possible cross-contamination.
Traditional Indian cooking – especially from the south – is largely GF. Watch out for breads such as naans. Chickpea flour is the usual thickening agent, though, which is naturally free from gluten. Ask about cross-contamination of deep-fried foods. With lots of rice dishes, Indian food can be a good option.
A lot of sushi is naturally free from gluten, but do check. Check the crabsticks and soy sauce too.
Sandwich and salad bars
Some sandwich bars have GF sandwiches. In salads, any grain should be checked, but gluten may be ‘hiding’ in dressings too. Those bars that allow you to make up your own salads and choose your own dressings are the safest.
Coffee and tea
Cafés and teahouses increasingly stock GF sweet treats and sometimes modest lunch options, and many upmarket hotels now offer GF afternoon tea, with sandwiches and cakes.
Pre-planning is helpful and reassuring to you; however, more and more chefs and catering staff are now fully aware of CD and understand that it is not a fad diet. You are increasingly likely to find dishes labelled ‘gluten free’ – if not a dedicated GF menu.
- Phone ahead. Speak with the head waiter or chef, if you can. Try in mid-afternoon during a quiet period. Ask whether those on a GFD can be well catered for, and what may be available.
- Give examples. Explain which kinds of meals are naturally free from gluten or easily adapted to a GFD, such as rice-based meals and meat, fish and vegetable dishes, and where gluten may ‘lurk’, such as stock cubes and thickened sauces.
- Satisfy yourself that the kitchen understands cross-contamination issues, e.g. that the spoon used to stir wheaten pasta cannot be used to stir your corn pasta.
- Convey the severity of your condition. Don’t just say ‘I can’t eat gluten,’ use powerful words: ‘I have coeliac disease’ or ‘Consuming even a trace of gluten will make me extremely ill.’
- Get family, friends and colleagues ‘on side’ before you go out. Let them know about your dietary needs and that you will need to talk about them, so you don’t feel embarrassed when the time comes and they can support you as needed.
- If you’re not comfortable with the arrangements and don’t feel reassured that you can be safely catered for, then change your plans.
This is an extract from Coeliac Disease: What you need to know