Lunch Misadventures

“So, is anyone here a picky eater?”

The question from a co-worker came as our department sat down at a dim sum restaurant. The restaurant was busy with a lunchtime crowd, and our group took up two large round tables in a private dining room. Already the lazy Susan was laden with dumplings, and another cart filled with delicious food was being wheeled into the room. Everyone was grabbing steamer dishes and exclaiming over flavors.

“Because,” my co-worker continued, “this is not a place for picky eaters.” Then he looked directly at me, like he’d found a picky eater. “Aren’t you going to eat anything?”

Well, um, yeah. Of course I planned to eat something. The nice steamed spinach and steamed rice I’d ordered upon arrival. They were, based on my advance research, pretty much the only gluten-free items on the menu. Hey, I like spinach!

“I’m not picky. I’m gluten free.”

Ah, there it was, the look of pity. And I’ll admit I was feeling sorry for myself as well. If there’s one cuisine I truly miss, it’s restaurant Chinese food. Sure, I can get my fix at P.F. Chang’s, and I’ve developed a great repertoire of Chinese recipes, but there’s no good substitute for a leisurely meal of dim sum.

My steamed spinach and rice took forever to arrive. Which meant I just sat there as others ate. Finally, some steamed Chinese broccoli arrived. Okay, that was as good as spinach. I still wanted rice, so I flagged down a server to remind them I was waiting for rice (I figured my request for spinach had gone astray; either that, or they were growing the spinach first. I kid!).

A few minutes later, my rice was delivered. To the wrong table. Which meant calling more attention to myself as I retrieved it. I’m one of those people who prefers not make a fuss about the fact that I am gluten free. I don’t mind talking about it, but I’d rather it not be a focal point. Like when I’m just sitting there, not eating anything.

As if to compensate, other co-workers became very helpful. They offered me soy sauce. “No thank you,” I said. “I actually brought my own.” Yeah, because that’s not weird, but I carry little single-serve packets of soy sauce in my purse just for situations like this (you can buy them at Amazon).

Then came the offer of oyster sauce. There are gluten-free oyster sauces out there, but I felt confident the sauce on the table wasn’t one of them. So again, no thank you. One co-worker, and co-foodie, started dissecting ingredients in her dim sum, convinced she’d fun one or two that were safe. I truly appreciated her efforts. Truly. But I play it very safe; this was not a situation where I could grill the kitchen about ingredients.

It’s rare I can’t find something to eat when I go out with co-workers. I’m sure you’re familiar with the salad-as-fallback trick. When all else fails on the menu, a green salad is your best friend.

This outing was an anomaly. It was a busy, busy restaurant. The service was geared toward dim sum, not individual dishes. Sometimes, stuff happens. I mean, it happens whether or not you’re gluten free. We’ve all been in situations where one person’s dish, for whatever reason, never makes it to the table.

Thanks to the Chinese broccoli, I was quite full (and feeling a bit virtuous, thanks to my healthy meal). And it was a great time. It was nice to talk to people about things that didn’t involve spreadsheets and contracts. And, of course, because I’m an old pro at this gluten-free game, I keep gluten-free snacks in my desk drawer. If the Scouts hadn’t appropriated the “Be Prepared” motto, the gluten-free community would have adopted it as their own!

Of course, as the last of the steamer baskets were cleared from the tables and desserts were considered, my spinach and rice appeared. And, yes, dear reader, I did have a heaping serving of that spinach.

Because I really like the stuff.

Tip of the Week

Be prepared! Lunch emergencies happen, no matter how carefully you plan. Keep gluten-free lunch options in your desk drawer. Your local grocery store likely stocks packaged dishes from Taste of Thai. Stores like Whole Foods are adding pre-packaged gluten-free options all the time. And online grocers can ship you exactly what you’re craving.

Meal of the Week

This popular restaurant dish is super-easy to make at home. Lots of flavor, lots of veggies, and you can have it on the table in less than thirty minutes. Don’t like beef? Try it with thinly sliced chicken breast meat instead. Or tofu — just saute the tofu a bit longer to get it nice and brown before adding the sauce.

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