eating with allergies abroad

// veggie pad thai in bangkok: no tiny shrimp hiding out in here

sometimes, food is difficult for me.

I have a sensitivity to gluten. most of the time, I avoid eating it. sometimes I accidentally ingest it in things I can't easily determine have gluten. sometimes [in the case of pizza, usually] I will intentionally "cheat" and eat it will full knowledge of what's to come. depending on what the item is and how much I consume, my symptoms can range from a headache 20 minutes after I eat/drink something or a painful stomach, to digestive issues or having to spend the next morning in bed with what feels like a terrible hangover.

//peanut butter cupcake: someday I'll make a gluten free version...

I am also mildly lactose intolerant, though as long as I avoid milk or ice cream or heavy cream sauces I am ok. [I love cheese and refuse to give it up.]

and then, there is my shellfish allergy. accidentally consuming shrimp or crab results in more than just a stomach ache. it means hives and trouble breathing, or something worse if I ate enough. thankfully shellfish is easier to spot when it makes its way onto your plate.

//Husband's "monsoon shrimp" in Hawaii: I made him brush his teeth before he could kiss me

ok, so I have three things to avoid: gluten, dairy, shellfish. this means no sandwiches or milkshakes or crab rangoons, no beer or ice cream or california rolls. but there are still plenty of things I can eat, and most restaurants are safe for me since gluten and lactose are not allergies and I can survive cross-contamination. that's not so bad, right?

//at Pizza Stella in Philly, yes that's an egg: a tasty stomach ache about to happen

but wait... I live in a country where my first language [English] is not always on the label or the menu. and waiters know "hello" and "thank you" and sometimes "spicy" but that may be their limit. often, we point at the menu to order. we know the phrase for "I don't want shrimp" but there is no Chinese word to encompass all shellfish. and even when we ask for no shrimp, even if we have someone with us who speaks Chinese and they ask, sometimes the request doesn't make it to the kitchen. or they think we mean large shrimp and not the tiny dried ones that are sprinkled on everything for flavor. which I am still allergic to. which we discovered after I accidentally ate one.

//chicken caesar salad: GF if you pick out the croutons [not for serious allergies!]

so how do I deal with it? well. I cook at home a lot more often, so I know what is going into my food. sometimes we have to spend more money while grocery shopping so we can buy the western brand that has an English label I can read. we've been lucky that Taiwan is fairly westernized and we can find familiar things. they usually aren't quite what we are used to [sesame caesar dressing?] but different isn't always bad. I'm also lucky to have some really awesome parents and mother-in-law who have shipped me gluten free flour/pancake mix/ mac and cheese.

//hard cider: it's not beer, but it's gluten free

trying a new restaurant is always an adventure. sometimes we luck out find find another place we know we will become regulars at. we have found several local places where the owners speak English and we are able to ask for no shrimp or no bun and know it won't show up on the plate. but sometimes we go somewhere and there's nothing on the menu I can eat. sometimes my options are to eat gluten and feel sick, or to starve. or sometimes at teppanyaki I order beef and they bring out my meat to cook it... and theres a pile of someone else's shrimp sitting right on it. I won't lie, that really sucks. but usually I can at least get a salad or fries, or pop into 7-11 for some trail mix. sometimes that's not an option though. and if Jamie doesn't eat? she gets hangry [hungry + angry.] so I try to keep granola bars or nuts with me, especially when traveling.

//five napkin burger in NYC: gluten free bun for the win

the bottom line is: eating with allergies is hard, especially in a foreign country. but it's not impossible.

I will probably never be able to walk through a night market or into a local place here in Taiwan and just eat whatever they set in front of me. I have to eat with caution, not wild abandon. sometimes it can be extremely frustrating. but despite my allergies and sensitivities, I have still been able to try so many new things: pho, Korean barbecue, hot pot, bi bim bap, chana masala, etc etc. food may not be the same adventure for me as it is for you, but it's still one I intend to experience.

[though I always keep some Benadryl on hand. just in case.]

ps: I wrote this post as part of the blog every day in may challenge, on how I try to overcome something about "my lot in life" that is difficult. I am not a doctor or nutritional or medical expert. if you have an allergy or sensitivity, please get yourself checked out and follow your doctor's orders. this is just what I do to deal with my own conditions, and not meant to be any kind of diagnosis or guidebook. while they cause me stress and frustration and discomfort, I do realize that my conditions are less serious than a lot of you out there. what works for me - taking a burger off the bun - may be deadly for you. I salute you for being brave enough to go out into the world and eat, because I know how terrifying it can be even for myself sometimes. xo


  1. I have a few slight intolerances myself, and eating in a new place always causes me a little bit of anxiety. I admire you for being able to live in a foreign place with this kind of added difficulty!

  2. i really have respect for those that have these food allergies - especially since you are dealing with this overseas! amazing! :)

  3. That must be tough. I often joke that the mangos are out to get me but it could be much worse.

  4. I CANNOT imagine what you must be going through with this. Ex-pat, gluten free & food allergies ... you're a saint. Is there any cure for any of these food things? Thanks for making me remember NOT to complain about my pathetic weight-gain crap because I eat anything & everything I want ;/

  5. So I found you through on of my fave bloggers yeah... Phyllis above.
    So glad I did.

  6. I bet that would be really tough! I'm so glad I don't have any food allergies. Although, I have to say... I love that you refuse to give up certain food. Cheese is just too good, right? Right.


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