Let’s Focus on Gluten-Free Restaurant Meals

gluten-free menu

My local independent coffee shop, a place that gets very crowded on weekend mornings, proudly displays a selection of gluten-free pastries. Because I’m nosy, I’ve also noticed they have specific instructions with regard to handling these pastries, including separate tongs. This warms my heart!

(As a bonus, the pastries clearly sell well, based on my regular reviews of the selection.)

My nosiness has revealed that sometimes they even offer gluten-free sandwiches. Since their sandwiches look absolutely amazing, I am hoping to try one someday. I realize any sandwich I consume will be prepared in a non-GF kitchen, and there’s a chance of cross-contamination. That’s going to be a risk due to the size of operation and the way gluten tends to spread its little molecules far and wide.

This leads me to what I think is the most important cause in the gluten-free world, building on what I discussed last week about Disney properties: making restaurants safe (or at least safer) for us to enjoy. I get that many in our community are focused on gluten-free baked goods, making them at home and trying to perfect commercial gluten-free breads. As I’ve mentioned before, while I admire these efforts (and clearly take advantage of them on occasion), I believe efforts in other directions are more beneficial.

Yeah, I want to try that GF sandwich, but I don’t really need the sandwich, nor do I crave the sandwich. It’s a nice-to-have in my world, not a need-to-have, and I think that’s a perfectly healthy approach to my diet.

Eating in restaurants is part of our social DNA. I have work obligations, social obligations, “I’m too tired to cook” moments, and travel obligations, and eating in restaurants is frequently unavoidable. Researching food and new restaurants should be a pleasure, not an exercise in finding one thing in a remote location that can be safely consumed. So often I dread eating out because of the sheer work involved on my side.

Is the food safe? Is the kitchen safe? Can I safely grab a bit of hummus before someone dips their bread? Will the chef and waitstaff kill me because I am modifying their carefully constructed menu? Seriously, is that boring salad the only gluten-free option available? Why, oh why, can’t I just drive through someplace like a normal person?

(I admit some of this anguish is rare, but we’ve all been there.)

I appreciate restaurants that mark menu items as gluten free. I appreciate restaurants that offer special gluten-free menus. I appreciate every server, manager, bartender, and chef who is educated in what it means to be a gluten-free menu item. These are the places that get my repeat business. I enjoy food very much, and I hate it when it becomes a frustrating task.

Rather than gluten-free breads, I would love it if the community spent more time working with restaurants and restaurant associations on developing and offering gluten-free menu items. Working on educating their local places. Helping others learn what foods are and are not gluten free.

Some things will be harder than others, and, frankly, I am less interested in world where every menu item has a GF equivalent (though, honestly, wouldn’t that be nice?) than I am in a world where there’s enough variety on the menu to make eating out fun.

Because the crazy thing is that a quick review of most menus will reveal the wide number of items that can or should be prepared gluten free, safely, in an average restaurant kitchen. If restaurants approach their menus from the perspective of offering foods to the widest range of potential diners, it’s a win for everyone.

Groups such as the Celiac Community Foundation of Northern California (among others) have curated restaurant training resources that can be used to spark conversations with your local restaurants and cooking schools. It’s also great information generally.

(And maybe, just maybe, local governments could make key allergen awareness part of their licensing of restaurants…just a wild and crazy thought.)

How do you handle eating out? Are you like me, cooking often while relying on a handful of favorite and safe places while venturing forth to new places with caution? Or are you like others, deciding it’s not worth the effort and staying home / eating at your desk most of the time?

Tip of the Week

When you encounter a restaurant that goes the extra mile when it comes to gluten-free options, please share your appreciation with the management. And if you like the food, use your social media power, large or small, toe spread the word (people like me avidly Google [town name, gluten-free dining] whenever we travel!).

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

As I write this, I am making a huge pot of chicken soup. Or it will be chicken soup — more probably a variation on pho — once it’s done. I’ve flavored my soup with garlic, ginger, black peppercorns, a stick of cinnamon, and star anise. It smells amazing.

Later, I will amp up the flavor with a bit of brown sugar and fish sauce. Maybe a bit of lime juice, if the mood strikes (Kidding! I’m always in the mood for lime!). I’ll heat leftover rotisserie chicken in the broth and pour the soup over cooked rice noodles.

Yes, I can get this soup in many restaurants — and most of the places I’ve encountered make their pho gluten free — but it’s easy enough to make a batch at home when I crave the the salty, savory, floral, and tiny bit sweet soup.

  • Chicken Pho with Basil Leaves, Jalapenos, Lime Wedges, and Mung Bean Sprouts
  • Vegetable Spring Rolls with Fish Sauce or Chile Paste for Dipping
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