Or they think if they pick the peanuts out, then I can still eat the dish.
Of course, nowhere is risk-free but, like myself, many allergic travelers find certain destinations easier to manage than others.
That doesn’t mean you have to write off any destination.
Lost in translation
In countries where it’s culturally unacceptable to refuse a guest’s requests or where severe allergies are rare, requests can be misunderstood.
If in doubt, it’s probably best to skip the street food. cities for allergy sufferers
“There are whole shops dedicated to gluten-free products and many restaurants offer gluten-free classics such as gluten-free pizza, tiramisu and even a gluten- and nut-free ice cream cone to have my gelato in!” she reports.
“Some cheeses in France have pistachio nuts in them and Lupin flour is more commonly used in bakery items in European countries like France and The Netherlands,” Beresford warns.
For many travelers who suffer allergic reactions, the best travel destination is simply the safest destination — a country where allergens are sparse, food hygiene is excellent, public allergy awareness is high and restaurant staff are happy to cater to special needs.
The Canadian government’s recent decision to order nut-free buffer zones on Air Canada flights (the first government in the world to make such a stand) is another plus for allergy sufferers.
Despite fretting about the pasta-heavy cuisine, allergy blogger and Coeliac Disease sufferer Sian Drew found Italy a paradise for those avoiding gluten.
Sarah Beresford, communications manager for The Anaphylaxis Campaign, also considers Canada (along with the United States, Australia and Europe) the lowest risk destination for allergy sufferers, thanks to strict food preparation and labeling regulations, as well as a high level of allergy awareness.
As a travel writer who suffers from a severe peanut and tree nut allergy, my urge for cultural immersion often pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone.
A worthwhile risk
She advises caution when traveling to “places like Thailand, China and Vietnam, where nuts and fish are frequently used in recipes and street food is more prevalent, so you are less likely to know what it contains.”
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Meals in Thailand, where crushed peanuts sneak their way into everything from pad Thai to soup garnish, are like a nerve-racking game of edible Russian roulette.
Ordering an otherwise safe pasta dish in Turkey and having it served with an inexplicable topping of ground pistachio is just plain annoying.
“It’s hard for some to comprehend the severity of my illness simply because they have either never heard of it or it’s very uncommon for people [in their country] to have food allergies, let alone allergies that could kill you.”
The perils of exotic cuisine
“When I’m in Peru, Jordan or even in Spain, I’ll explain that I cannot eat peanuts and [locals] think it’s by choice,” says travel blogger and peanut allergy sufferer Elizabeth Carlson. Selecting safe foods in your home country is easy, but navigating a foreign menu can be a minefield of unexpected ingredients.
Ultimately, most sufferers agree that traveling with food allergies is a worthwhile risk and that even higher risk destinations can be managed as long as they plan ahead and prepare for all eventualities.
Some even find their allergy inspires them to explore, such as Drew, who finds the time spent researching restaurants and local cuisine adds a unique element to her trips.
Forget slurping on the deadly tentacles of a Sannakji octopus or munching a fried scorpion: the deadliest morsel that’s ever passed between my lips was an innocuous steamed dumpling coated in powdered peanut.
Experience has taught me how to minimize the risks, but I find traveling in some countries easier than others.. Carlson notes the advantages of more casual eating.
Japan, where nuts are rarely used, is a safe haven where I can be let loose on the sushi bar with abandon.
“I eat a lot of street food when I travel, which is great because you get to see the food being cooked right in front of you, and it’s easier to talk one on one with the cook,” she says.
“We often visit specific gluten-free restaurants and shops that are usually not located in the center of town, making our city tours slightly more local than the usual tourist trail,” she says.
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Traveling in developing countries can pose more risks due to the lack of labeling and the difficulty of tracing food ingredients, although the limited food products available might make it easier to avoid a single allergen.
Thailand’s spicy prawn soup, tom yam kung — delicious, and for allergy sufferers, dangerous. “Often they don’t understand the difference between peanuts and other nuts, or that I can’t even eat something that has been cooked in the same pan as a peanut dish. The biggest challenge for allergy sufferers heading overseas is communication, so it’s no surprise that English-speaking countries top the list of safe destinations.
While carrying translation cards — available from Allergy UK — can help bridge the language barrier, explaining your needs in the local language sometimes isn’t enough.
Food allergy blogger Jenny Kales of Nut-FreeMom.com singles out Canada as a preferred destination for her multiple-allergic family, remarking that “their laws and practices with regard to awareness, food allergy labeling and restaurant preparedness are better than in the U.S.”
“Allergies should not hold anyone back, because you can make a destination work for you,” says Kale.
Even countries where street food is abundant aren’t necessarily verboten