Summer is just around the corner, so it’s inevitable that you will be traveling somewhere… and it’s likely your vacation is out of the country. But if you are like me and you have a dietary restriction, mealtime on vacations can be a little frightening and overwhelming.
Personally, I am unable to eat gluten due to Celiac Disease. I recently went to Mexico, and while the menu was often in English, the language barrier was still a little blurry when I asked waiters if items were “gluten-free.”
Some waiters would nod, some would simply restate what the item was I was ordering, and other times waiters told me they didn’t know. Hearing uncertainty about whether something is safe for you to eat is always a little unsettling. Rather than risk getting sick, I followed a few rules when ordering food.
1. Do Research Before
If you plan ahead, you will save time and prevent contamination. I always google “gluten-free friendly restaurants in (insert location)” before I go on a trip somewhere new. It only takes a few minutes to research, and it may end up saving you in more ways than one.
2. Just Ask
The first thing I do at a restaurant is ask if there is an allergy friendly menu. If there isn’t a special menu, I ask the waiter if he/she knows what is “insert your allergy” free. Remember, there is no harm in asking. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won’t kill you. If you do ask and the language barrier results in confusion… move on to tip three.
3. Unsure = Don’t Order It
This is probably my least favorite rule of thumb that I follow, but it might be the most important. If there is an item on the menu that you are unsure about, no matter how delicious it sounds, don’t order it. Just don’t. You will thank me later.
4. Don’t Get Saucy
What I mean is, if your food comes with a sauce or a dip, it is best to not order it. Sauces and dips are landmines for hidden ingredients. However, there is an exception to this rule.
If the menu or a staff member assures you that a sauce doesn’t include the item you need to avoid, then go for it. Otherwise, even when you think it might be safe, say no to sauce. Don’t worry, the food will still be tasty and healthier (the Ahi Tuna pictured above is a delicious example).
5. Check The “Corn”
If you are gluten-free and order “corn tortillas,” have a friend taste them to verify that they are corn. I’ve commonly found restaurants mixing up their corn and flour tortillas. I may be paranoid due to past experiences, but if a mistake is made and no one catches it, it will be too late for the waiter to say sorry (sorry, Justin Bieber).
6. Keep It Simple
When it is unclear exactly what I can safely consume at a restaurant, I order the simplest items. Simple doesn’t mean bland, as the grilled shrimp, chicken, and veggies pictured above was one of the best meals I’ve ever tasted. My go-to simple order is a grilled meat or fish with a side of veggies sauteed in olive oil, or a side salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
7. Repeat It
This may come across as boring to some, but once I find something I can safely eat it, becomes one of the only things I order. I am not suggesting to stop trying new foods. But when you are traveling abroad and it is hard to find something to eat, it’s better to eat something safe than to eat nothing at all.
8. Drink Up
That’s right, I said it. Order drinks… and more drinks, if necessary. It is likely that a member of your party will desire to go to a certain restaurant or local eatery where there is nothing you can eat. If you don’t feel like ruining your friend’s excitement, just wait to eat and drink instead. That being said, it is crucial that you do eat at some point in the near future.
9. Pack a Snack
I always travel with a snack. I never know when I will be somewhere where no food is edible for me. I prefer slightly healthier snacks than the ones the dog pictured above enjoys — my go to travel snacks are KIND bars and almonds.