Trying to avoid gluten when dining out can be a pain in the ass -- literally. (Ooh, sorry!) But it's getting better. Five years from now, maybe it won't be such a gamble or hassle. But for now? Celiacs and others avoiding gluten must dine with caution. Some restaurants are making efforts to put special gluten-free items on the menu. And just as important, some have started new kitchen protocols to avoid cross-contamination.
Meanwhile, there's a few things you can do. April Pevetaux's handy new book, Gluten Is My Bitch, has some great tips for gluten-free dining.
1. Use your charm. When communicating with the waitstaff about your gluten-free needs, make sure you smile a lot. Acknowledge that you are being a total pain in the butt. Make sure they understand that it's not their responsibility to protect your food allergies, but if they could be so kind as so make a few exceptions ...? Tip well.
2. Ask these two important questions. Could you tell me about the ingredients in that dish? (Waitstaff aren't always well versed in all the gluten possibilities.) Is there any chance of cross-contamination in the kitchen? Ask this ESPECIALLY if the restaurant has gluten-free menu items.
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3. Go for Mexican. April says this has been the best option for her. "Since authentic Mexican food standards include corn, rice, and beans, you could do worse than to try to live on Mexican food for the rest of your life." Just be careful about tortilla chips and hard-shell tacos fried in the same oil. Stay away from flour tortillas, of course, and enchilada sauce. Authentic, non-chain Indian is a good bet, too, as long as you stay away from samosas. So is Thai. But still, always ask about ingredients.
4. Try vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Food restrictions are already the name of the game, so being fussy about your food is a little more accepted. Just be careful with meat substitutes like seitan, which have gluten.
5. Choose local instead of chains. While chains are making an effort to offer gluten-free menu items, April says farm-to-table/locavore type restaurants serve you fresher, additive-free food. On the other hand, these smaller restaurants usually are not set up to prevent cross-contamination, so be warned.
6. Ask for clean gloves. It takes courage, but if you're at an assembly-line place like Chipotle, politely request that the person handling tortillas change into clean gloves. It's a learning experience for the restaurant, too. April tried this and was scared at first, but it all turned out fine.
Do you have any other tips to add for gluten-free dining?
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