Whether you’re suffering from celiac disease, or are living a gluten-free lifestyle to reduce the nasty side effects of consuming gluten, eating out can be a minefield of gluten bombs that you can easily avoid if you ask the right questions. While preparing your own food is the healthiest and safest way to avoid gluten poisoning, eating out is a crucial part of a healthy social life and often is necessary for work and travel.
If you find yourself feeling icky after your meals out, consider asking the following questions before ordering:
1. Do you have a gluten-free menu?
This seems like a no brainer, but we often don’t want to come off as high maintenance, or bother the waiter with extra requests. Kindly let the waiter know that you have a severe allergy to gluten and request a list of items that can be prepared gluten free if they don’t already have one on hand.
2. Are the french fries fried in the same oil as the chicken nuggets?
OK, you caught me. I’m a sucker for fries. A few fries here and there isn’t the end of the world, but for someone suffering from celiac disease or a severe gluten allergy, it could make for a very uncomfortable night. Ask your waiter if they have a separate fryer for gluten-free items to avoid cross-contamination, otherwise your fries will unknowingly come with a big side of gluten.
3. Can you prepare my food on a safe surface?
Just as important as protecting your fries from the oil is the surface that your salad or grilled chicken is prepared on. Make sure the kitchen has designated surfaces, mixing bowls, and utensils to prepare gluten-free dishes. If they don’t currently have this practice in place, kindly ask that they use clean preparation methods. Don't feel bad about asking, as you're paving the way for the next gluten-free diner and providing valuable feedback to the restaurant to better serve the growing population of gluten-free diners.
4. Is the rice malted?
Many gluten-free diners, including myself, assume that sushi is a safe bet. After feeling sick multiple times from my “safe” sushi, I found out that the sushi rice was prepared with malted water to make the rice sticky. There are many variations to making sticky rice, including broth and grain-based vinegars that could contain gluten. Ask your waiter how the rice is prepared so you’re not ingesting any sneaky gluten. If the rice does contain a gluten-containing liquid, skip the roll and go for the sashimi instead.
5. Can I speak to a manager?
Let your waiter and their manager know how grateful you are for his/her attention to detail and willingness to make your dining experience gluten friendly. Remember, restaurants are in the business of keeping you coming back for more and largely depend on word of mouth. Let them know that you’ll be back and that you plan on spreading the word to all your gluten-free friends!