A Pho-nny Story

You may have noticed that my husband and I have been going out to eat a little more than usual lately. We’re on a mission to discover lots of great gluten-free options in unexpected places.

lunch boat

For the most part, it’s been really fun to explore new cuisines and cultures. As a bonus, I feel like we’ve finally gotten out the restaurant rut we’ve been in for many years. It’s so tempting to just go to restaurants you KNOW will be safe, so you end up going to the same two or three places all the time.

My strategy for completing this mission without getting glutened is as follows:

  • Make a list of cuisines you want to try
    • Select one of those cuisines on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, etc.)
  • Research the traditional dishes of that cuisine (or use my research)
    • Pay close attention to naturally gluten-free options AND common sources of gluten
    • Take notes and bring them with you to the restaurant
  • Find a local restaurant that advertises gluten-free options or has a gluten-free menu
    • Call the restaurant and verify their knowledge of gluten-free basics
    • Make a reservation and note gluten-free, if possible
  • At the restaurant,
    • Make sure your server is well-versed in gluten-free dining best practices
    • Request a new server, if needed
    • Double-check your meal is gluten-free when it arrives at the table

This strategy has generally been quite successful, which got me feeling a little cocky about going out to eat…

lunch table

On a recent adventure to try Vietnamese food, I was happily enjoying my Ca Ri Ga (chicken curry) when I looked down and saw HALF a piece of penne pasta on my spoon. My heart immediately sank, but I didn’t want to rush to judgment, so I calmly showed my spoon to my husband…then our server…and finally the owner. Everyone inspected the spoon, and to my dismay, confirmed that there was clearly a piece of penne pasta in my dinner. (I was so flustered, I totally forgot to take a picture.)

I was devastated.

My husband was perplexed.

The owner was both mortified and confused. After all, this was a Vietnamese restaurant—there shouldn’t be any penne pasta in the kitchen at all.

Having resigned myself to this apparent glutening, I tried to stay calm and make a plan.

Thankfully, the owner reappeared with a big smile on her face less than 2 minutes later. She explained that the piece of food we all thought was penne was actually a piece of lemongrass that had been dyed red by the curry. Once she had touched it, she realized her mistake because the texture was clearly very different than pasta. She happily showed us the lemongrass to demonstrate the difference.

My husband was relieved.

I was extremely grateful—you couldn’t have more of a close call—but I was also reminded how quickly a great night out can change.

toppled wine

A few days later, I received the following email from reader, Susan:

“Been gluten free with celiac for 8 years. Struggle with eating out and being in a group and needing special consideration when deciding dinner plans.”

Susan’s email hit especially close to home that week, and it got me thinking about all the reasons that dining out can be stressful for someone who lives gluten-free:

  • You’re anxious about getting glutened
    • You  are new to living gluten-free
    • You aren’t sure how to select a restaurant
    • You don’t know what’s safe to order
    • You’ve been glutened before
  • You don’t want to draw extra attention to yourself
    • You’re shy
    • You are in a business situation
    • You’re on a first date
    • No one else is gluten-free at the table
  • You’re sick of doing all the “extras” to minimize gluten contamination
    • You don’t want to deal with calling ahead, finding a knowledgeable server, trusting the kitchen, etc.

Susan asked that I share her email in a post so we could all benefit from each other’s dining out experiences.

What advice do you have for Susan?  What do you struggle with when dining out? What lessons have you learned about not getting glutened? How do you manage the social aspect of gluten-free dining?