How to travel safely with food allergies.

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People were asking questions about how me with peanut allergies safely ate my way around Asia. The purpose of this blog post is to (hopefully) answer some of these questions.

Going abroad can be a challenge for allergic people. Be it parents with allergy concerns regarding their children or those suffering from multiple allergies themselves.

The last thing any of us would want on a holiday is ending up at the emergency room in a local hospital. Sadly, many tourists need to take more precautions to avoid incidences of this caliber in the near future.

When I was a child I was struggling with a lot of food allergies. As I grew older I got rid of the majority of them except nut allergies.

One of the most common reasons why people go into a hypoanaphylactic shock is because they unknowingly ate something they are hyper allergic to.

Even in 2014 it’s surprisingly many people who don’t understand how certain foods can cause severe allergic reactions or even worse, result in death.

Skin Allergy Test

In some cases, people from foreign countries don’t believe in nut allergies. A foreign coworker put nuts in her husband’s food without telling him. She came from a place of stubbornness and wanted to prove to him that nut allergies are non-existent. Fortunately he had a mild allergic response that was cured by antihistamine pills.

Nut allergies appear to be the biggest allergy concern when it comes to Asian food, but other kinds of allergies will also be covered in this post.
Below is a list of things that will help you travel more safely by taking the right precautions.

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Things to Pack

  • Epipen (in extreme cases or if needed)
  • Allergy medication
  • Worldwide travel insurance in case of hospital visits.

Precautions to take:

  • Eat in tourist friendly restaurants with bilingual staff.
  • Buy and download a mobile app such as Food Allergy translate. It can be found at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=Food+Allergy+Translate. This application is professionally translated into different languages. It also covers a wide range of allergy types.
  • Always carry around your epipen or allergy medications. You NEVER know when they become handy.
  • Do research about the local hospital facilities before booking your ticket.
  • Try and avoid going to street food/hawker stalls if your allergies are serious.If you suffer from mild discomfort, only need to take a pill or the place serve food without allergens you need to worry about, then dining in a street environment is a experience not to miss out on.
  • Ask what kind of oil they prepare their food in. Some places tend to use peanut/groundnut oil for food preparations.
  • If you suffer from seafood allergy ask your food to be cooked in clean oil. Many restaurants deep fry seafood, chicken, beef or other proteins in the same oil.
  • If your gut feeling tells you that it’s not a good idea to eat here or you suspect the staff didn’t understand your concerns fully. Then kindly leave and dine somewhere else. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

What to look out for in regional Asian cuisines:

Thai food

Thai people love their crushed peanuts/nuts. Thai food is generally safe for people on a dairy free diet. People with serious nut allergies need to be extra careful here. Some dishes to look out for:

  • Chicken Satay – Dipping sauce contains crushed peanuts. People with nut allergies may still enjoy the chicken meat without the dipping sauce.
  • Massaman curry – Contains crushed peanuts.
  • Pad thai – Crushed peanuts sprinkled of top before serving. Ask for one without peanuts, its still delicious without.
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  • Som tam – Papaya salad containing crushed peanuts.
  • Gai Pad mamuang himaphan – Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts.

If there are concerns about other dishes, then it’s better to ask or use your allergy translate app.

Malay/Nyonya/Indonesian food

The usage of candlenuts is quite common, especially in curries. When the candlenuts are ground they add a thick creamy consistency to gravies. Also look out for crushed peanuts sprinkled on salads. The level of English in Malaysia is quite good, but keep your allergy translate app ready (just in case).

Indian food

Cashews and almonds are commonly used to provide body and texture to curries.

North Indian food is a Dairy allergic’s worst nightmare.  North Indians rely on Yoghurt/curd, paneer (cottage cheese), and Desi Ghee (clarified butter) in their every day cooking.

Proteins are often marinated in Yoghurt and spices before cooked in a Tandoor. Stay away from Street vendors and dine In International hotel restaurants or tourist friendly restaurants.

Chinese food:

While the Cantonese kitchen is fairly allergy friendly, Szechwan and Hunanese food uses peanuts quite frequently in their cooking.

Restaurants also tend to use peanut oil for preparing wok dishes. Always ask before ordering and specify your allergy to the waiter/waitress by using the Food Allergy Translate app.
Chinese kitchens also tend to use egg in marinades. Velveting involves coating proteins in a mix of egg white, potato starch and salt before poaching in moderately hot oil.

Make sure the staff understands your concerns 100%. If you are unsure, kindly leave the restaurant and look for a safer place.

For those of you who need to avoid gluten, it is advised to stay away from these ingredients:

  • Soy sauce. Unless it’s gluten free.
  • Oyster sauce. Unless it’s gluten free.
  • Egg noodles or other wheat noodles. Go for rice noodles instead.
  • Bottled sauces use starches as a thickening agent. Do your research by reading on the bottle.

With these precautions in mind, I end this post by saying Happy travelling, enjoy good food and do your best to not ruin your holiday in a hospital.

Have you got any allergy stories from traveling around the world?. Don’t hesitate to use the comments field below. Rice & Sticks would love to hear from you.

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