Eating out for celiacs getting easier
Eating gluten free has become sort of a health kick these days, but for people with celiac disease, it’s no fad.
Celiac is an autoimmune disease and sufferers cannot process gluten, the protein that is in wheat, barley and rye. It tends to run in families, so when my husband was diagnosed with celiac it wasn’t really a surprise. His mother has it.
We manage quite well at home, either avoiding baked goods or making our own with my mix of gluten-free flour. A lot of recipes are easy to adapt.
And we often substitute — my husband can’t eat couscous or tabouleh, but he can eat rice. He can’t eat his favorite biscuits anymore, but I make a mean gluten-free cornbread. When the kids crave spaghetti, I’ll just make two different dinners.
The biggest problem for people with celiac is eating out. You can order a salad, but you have to explain that you absolutely can’t have croutons. And then you have to check the ingredients of the dressings. It’s hard to order fish, because it’s almost always breaded.
With the rise in interest in gluten-free diets and the increased availability of gluten-free foods on the market, eating out is easier for people with celiac. But you still have to be careful about cross contamination.
There are a few pizza places in the area offering gluten-free pizza. But without interviewing the staff, we have no confidence that they are being careful to make sure there’s no wheat flour dust in the kitchen when the gluten free dough is being made. I know from experience how little wheat dust it takes to make a celiac sick.
The sandwich chain Subway started offering chopped salads in lieu of sandwiches — basically you can get the ingredients of a sub chopped up as a salad. This is handy for people who want to avoid gluten for dietary or health reasons. But for celiacs, it doesn’t work, since Subway is a sub shop and it’s pretty certain that just about everything has crumbs on it.
Accidental ingestion of wheat is a big problem for celiacs.
At home, if the kids slice bread or a bagel on a cutting board, they know to wash it and the knife as soon as they are done. Otherwise their dad is likely to cut up a tomato on the same board and get himself good and sick.
My husband doesn’t like to make a scene or call attention to himself, so for a lot of years, we just avoided going out to eat. If we’re traveling, we pack food, since the possibility of picking up a safe snack at a rest stop is pretty much nil.
But now we have a few tricks. One is knowing who the chef is and returning to places known to be safe. In Ballston Spa, Fifty South is certified gluten free, so you know you won’t be plagued by cross contamination. My sisters live in Rhinebeck and there’s a diner there, Eveready, that understands celiac. When my husband orders he has taken to explaining that his request for “a scrupulously gluten free” meal is medical. “Not a fad,” he says, and if the waitperson seems perplexed, he adds, “The cook will know what I mean.”
We like Eveready because it has a second location in Hyde Park, convenient to the Poughkeepsie train station where we often drive our daughter, halfway back to her school. And my husband has never gotten sick eating there.
We tell people newly diagnosed with celiac that the easiest thing is to go for a different culture to find food that’s not wheat-based. Otherwise, they’ll be stuck with a side salad when everyone else is eating club sandwiches.
My mother-in-law has always gone for Mexican and Latin American food, where there’s generally a corn option instead of a wheat option (think tortilla or tacos) and the starch is typically rice. Or you can go Asian — Chinese, Japanese, Indian. Just watch out for soy sauce, because it generally has wheat in it. Tamari sauce, on the other hand, does not.
Middle Eastern fare also works, and my husband still talks about the one time he ate at Mamoun’s Restaurant in Albany. Falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj, kebabs — it was all good.
He just had to avoid the pita and couscous.
My husband and his mom were a little irritated when gluten-free eating became the rage, worrying a bit that a real disease was being looked at as a fad diet.
But they’re over that. We still have to be very careful, but shopping and eating out has become a lot easier.
“In & Out of the Kitchen,” a wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food, is written by Gazette staffers. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.