The dangers of eating gluten-free on holiday
If ever there's a time you're meant to relax, it's on holiday, right? And yet for a coeliac, it can be worse than staying at home.
Why? It's all the eating out and relying on someone else to get your order right.
Every. Single. Time.
Just take a proper look at the gluten-free menu I was given this weekend. At first it looks great, doesn't it? Gluten-free bread, a charcuterie plate, one hard-working goat to produce all that cheese...
Have you spotted it?
Yup. Pearl barley.
So what went wrong?
I'd gone to Lyme Regis and looked up online "gluten-free restaurants". On Trip Advisor, one place stood out for its gluten-free options. So I booked it (and in the special requests section put that I was coeliac & needed gluten-free).
When I arrived, I was checked in via their computer, which should have flagged up my need for gluten-free. It didn't (or it was ignored) and I was presented with a normal menu. But no matter, a quick trip to get the gluten-free menu and all was sorted. Except that I immediately saw the words "pearl barley" and my stomach flipped.
I stopped the waitress. She went off to check. A few minutes later she came back and told me, "The chefs never put the barley in if it's a gluten-free meal". But then why was it specified on the gluten-free menu?
I quizzed the waitress endlessly about their cooking methods and ended up doing what I loathe: ordering a meal I don't really want because I'm pretty sure they can't accidentally put gluten in it.
This is what I ended up with:
Admittedly, it's not awful, but it's not the best look for a meal, and to my annoyance it was heavily over-salted.
To make matters worse, when I asked for white wine vinegar, the waiter looked at me oddly and said, "If you want!" (as though I'd made some terrible faux pas like ordering red wine with lemon sole). My husband was given malt vinegar, which is obviously so much better... Oh, how many times I've heard similar stuff as a coeliac, as though it's my choice to avoid gluten.
Now there are so many things I could have done to have avoided this.
1. Walked out and gone elsewhere
The reality of doing this is then:
(a) finding somewhere else that has availability;
(b) being sure it'll serve gluten-free; and
(c) not ruining the ambience of the holiday for everyone who then has to move to another place.
2. Trusted the chefs and ordered a decent meal
Yeah. I've tried that. My toilet doesn't like it.
3. Done more research.
I stopped the waitress. She went off to check. A few minutes later she came back and told me, "The chefs never put the barley in if it's a gluten-free meal". But then why was it specified on the gluten-free menu? I could do all the research in the world but there comes a point where the only way to be certain is actually going into a place and experiencing it.
4. Go to a chain restaurant.
Admittedly, this usually means a better chance as they'll have standardised allergen training, but (a) it's not a given and (b) I was in a place where there weren't any chain restaurants.
To make matters worse, since my symptoms don't always come on straight away, I could find myself caught short on holiday without warning. And let's face it, no-one wants to be trying to enjoy themselves whilst doubled-up over a loo.
Does it really matter if you have a 'may contain'? You can probably guess what I think! Read more...