Indian restaurants and allergy advice – a long way to go
Now I’m the first to admit, I was blissfully unaware of food allergies and intolerances before I became a mum. I’d heard about coeliac, gluten intolerance and IBS, but I really didn’t know much about it.
Quite simply, it wasn’t of my concern. Eating out was easy. As long as the meat was halal, – or there was decent veg or fish on offer – I was good to go. I’ve never needed to read the label on a product in the supermarket or check the ingredients with the chef at a restaurant. Those little abbreviations you’d see beside a dish – Df, Gf, V – meant nothing to me.
And then I had my daughter. As Hannah has a cow’s milk protein allergy – something surprisingly common these days amongst babies – I have to be extra vigilant. I now read the labels on food (and find that EVERYTHING contains milk) and I have familiarised myself with those aforementioned little abbreviations on menus.
And with a rapid rise in food intolerances, plus many people adopting a vegan diet, many a savvy restaurant has learnt to cater for this new normal. Sadly however, a lot of Indian restaurants, my favourite cuisine, haven’t quite addressed the need for correct labelling.
Now of course with all things, there are exceptions to this rule. And there are some restaurants that fall within the above specialities that have got their allergy advice down pat. But many have got a way to go.
Indian restaurants and allergy advice – half-hearted labelling
What’s more concerning is that on some occasions labels on the menu have been incorrect. For example, in one rather high-end Indian restaurant I recently visited, I was relieved to see that the menu was suitably marked up with allergy advice. But my relief turned to disappointment when it seemed that not a single non-veg main was dairy-free. But upon asking the head waiter which options my daughter could have, it turned out that there were a number of dairy free near options, they just hadn’t been labelled correctly. Instead, the waiter just told me what was dairy-free based on the names of the dishes. So I was reliably informed that butter chicken wasn’t dairy free, but the jalfrezi was. Yet both were missing the ND symbol next to them, despite it being present in the footnote of the menu itself. Do half marks for effort. Zero for execution.
Another more budget-friendly Indian restaurant (read: buffet) fared even worse. The young waiter couldn’t even clarify what was dairy free as he didn’t know his ghee from his oils. After several requests to check and re-check with the chef (which seemed to irk the waiter), and receiving vague answers, I decided not to feed Hannah any of the food and instead dipped into my bag of travel snacks (always handy to have when out and about).
Middle eastern restaurants and allergy advice
As I love international cuisine, I have found hat other restaurants also fall foul of a blaze attitude towards allergy labelling and advice. I recently ate at a Turkish restaurant where the waiter said he ‘thinks’ the bread contains milk. With other dishes he wasn’t so sure.
And while other restaurants have been so good as to check with the waiter and offer proper advice, they don’t have labels on their menus.
Thankfully, Hannah can tolerate baked milk in small amounts, and having pure cows milk results in itchy hives at worst. But I imagine for the parents of children with more severe allergies, eating out in restaurants that can’t impart proper advice is a stressful experience.
And that’s the biggest concern of all. With some restaurants, the vague answers suggest they don’t take allergies too seriously, nor do they understand the potential implications. And as we saw with the tragic case of the girl who died after eating a wrap that didn’t state that it contained sesame on the label, the consequences of nonchalance can be fatal.
I’m assuming that these restaurants encounter such few cases of allergies that they haven’t felt the need to reprint menus with adequate labelling. However, with the next generation showing more allergies and intolerances, they will need to up their gone soon, or this emerging market will vote with their feet and go to the eatery that’s on top of their allergy advice game.
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About the Author
I’m not a makeup artist, chef, lifestyle guru or stylist. I’m just me. And like you, I’m trying to make the best of most things, only I’m sharing my warts-and-all thoughts along the way.