“She won’t be able to eat anything during our trip! Why has she chosen this destination?” That’s the kind of reaction provoked by my trip to Thailand with my friend Vanessa, who happens to be seriously allergic to peanuts.
Complicated? Dangerous? Daring? Travelling with food allergies provides a challenge at every meal. However, with adequate preparation and some globe-trotting hacks, you can enjoy beautiful experiences, both cultural and culinary.
Since childhood, Vanessa has suffered from a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, as well as a serious allergy to coconut and cashew nuts. That said, my friend is also an avid traveler. Like me, she loves discovering new countries. It was therefore out of the question for her to pass on travelling the world because of food. She therefore decided to visit the “island of a thousand smiles”, Thailand, with me.
Even though peanuts and nuts are present in Thai cooking, the lack of choice wasn’t the main problem. Instead, the language barrier was a real challenge throughout the trip. It isn’t always easy to get a clear “yes” or “no” regarding the presence of allergens.
Before leaving, we’d thought of booking accommodation with a kitchen so we could make our own meals. That’s one good way of ensuring a level of safety when it comes to ingredients and food preparation.
We also had a great find during our preparatory research: our proficiency in Thai language may not have been fantastic, but we discovered allergy cards translated into Thai. Available from certain medical clinics and online, these cards are printed with a clear description of the allergy in the desired language, complete with an illustration. The cards also exist as a mobile app and you can adjust the language depending on your destination.
Vanessa was able to show waiters her allergy card on her smart phone during meals. The screen indicated in Thai “I am fatally allergic to nuts and peanuts. If I eat them, I could die”. Employees were very helpful and made the necessary checks. When in doubt, we simply changed restaurant.
Thailand being such a popular tourist destination, you can find all sorts of foods without peanuts or nuts. Italian restaurants, with pasta, pizzas and salads, were a good option.
We therefore didn’t spend our trip in fast food restaurants. What’s more, many supermarkets offered foods with ingredients labels written in English.
Was Vanessa able to experience authentic Thailand cuisine? Absolutely. When it came to street food, she obviously said “good-bye” to satay sauce kebabs and pad thais, but “hello” to fresh fruits and locally caught seafood barbeques. The priority is caution in pleasure: systematically checking the ingredients in food (even if it can become tedious), always wearing your allergy bracelet, and always having your auto-injector to hand, even during excursions or on the beach. Despite these constraints, a happy and satisfied traveler came back from Thailand.
For more tips for travelling with food allergies, visit Food Allergy Canada.