If you have food allergies, you know how tough it can be when you travel abroad; especially if you don’t speak the local languages. Food allergies in my family run the gamut from peanut and dairy to mammalian meat. Even though we try not to eat out when we travel, there are times when it’s unavoidable.
INDIA TRIP 2016
Phoning the restaurant to ask what oil they cook with seems like a good idea. Besides, I speak the local lingo. So I dial. I explain the problem, highlighting only one allergy, the life threatening kind. Figure I’ll cross one bridge at a time. The man at the other end of the line listens with patience and assures me that it won’t be a problem. He sounds sincere, but something about his assurances raises a flag.
“No peanuts, right?” I pester.
“No, no, no, no ,no, no,” he says. “Only pure edible oil.”
Wait a minute. Aren’t all cooking oils edible? I push on. “Yes, but what is this edible oil made of?”
“Pure vegetarian, completely edible,” he says.
“Not peanut?” I persist.
“Only groundnut. Not peas,” he says.
In India peanuts are called groundnuts. I look at my peanut allergic child and say, “Sorry, kiddo.”
“How about pizza?” he says.
A quick glance around the room. We have consensus on pizza. I dial Dominos and order one pie with chicken tikka and cheese for those who can ingest dairy without convulsing in tummy cramps and needing a visit to the ER, and another pie without cheese for the kid who can’t eat peanut or dairy.
Right away I run into a problem.
“Pizza minus cheese?” the operator asks. “How is that possible?”
I explain the dairy allergy.
“Without cheese, it won’t be pizza, no?” she reasons.
“But that’s how I want it,” I assure her.
“Not possible, Madam,” she says. “Our chefs won’t do it.”
Come’on. Dominos has Chefs? Who is she trying to con?
“Look, just don’t add the cheese, that’s all. I’m actually making it easy for your…ahem…chefs,” I say. I sense her waning resilience.
“You can talk to the chef if you like,” she says.
“Pizza without cheese? Impossible,” he declares. “How about just a little? Quarter cup. Less even. It has to be tasty, no?” He sounds like he doesn’t go the extra mile for just about anyone, but he’s willing to make an exception. For me.
That’s some twisted logic.
Yes, but I’d like my kid to enjoy the pizza and live to talk about it.
“My son can’t eat cheese. If he eats cheese, he’ll die,” I say, exaggerating a bit. How else am I going to get this nitwit to understand that managing my kid’s allergy on an ordinary day is hard enough, without him tossing his bizarre logic into the mix?
“Death?” he sputters. “By cheese?”
He’s having a real hard time wrapping his head around the concept of food allergies. What? Are food allergies limited to the U.S. alone? Can’t be. By this time the kiddo with the mega allergies sighs in resignation. He’ll be eating a banana for dinner. It’s the only safe option.
“Okay, Madam. I’ll make pizza no cheese,” the Domino Chef says in submission.
The delivery guy shows up on time. He peers curiously into the hotel room, hoping to catch a glimpse of this odd human for whom cheese can be fatal. He opens the first pie for my inspection. “No cheese,” he says in wonder. He shakes his head. Something tells me this delivery will become an urban legend.
IF YOUR TRAVELS TAKE YOU TO INDIA, HERE ARE SOME TIPS IF YOU HAVE FOOD ALLERGIES
SESAME OIL: is often referred to as Gingelly oil. Pickles typically contain sesame.
SESAME SEED: is also called Til
DAIRY: for some indiscernible reason, folks think yogurt belongs to a separate food group. Ditto for butter or Ghee.
ALMOND: is Badam
PEANUT: is groundnut
PISTACHIO: is Pista
CASHEW: is Kaju
INDIA TRIP 2019
My son goes into full anaphylaxis from eating chicken cross contaminated with peanut in the hotel’s kitchen. We’re in Kerala for a family get-together. Stuck in a hotel in a strange city at an unforgiving hour, we struggle to get him stabilized. The ER doctor comments on how rare it is for him to have a patient present with anaphylaxis from a food allergy.