Gluten Free: Eating out

Korean BBQ

Have you ever been to a Korean BBQ?  The picture above shows some of my delicious dinner.  Grilled beef and a green onion and vinegar/chili dressing salad all piled high on to a piece of leaf lettuce.  Fold it all up like a leafy burrito, and wah-lah.  Korean BBQ dinner.  (See the veg?  Yes, I had some grilled veggies (sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, onions, etc) as well!)

And all of this?
Eating OUTside of my home!
(Hooray for no dishes!!)

About a year ago, my love and I found this great all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ.  When we entered the first time, I was certain that my eating would be relegated to the salad bar.. .and then only some of it.  However, my love was HUNGRY for meat.  So I bravely entered with an open mind and a thankful heart/stomach as I really wasn’t really hungry at all.

And man, was I surprised!  Not only did the BBQ have a decent salad bar and sushi bar (fresh fruits, salads, GF curried rice noodle dishes, rice, veggies, potato salads, etc (all gluten-free, I asked). but when my Love came back from the meat selections he had a HUGE grin on his face.  He told me that some of the meat options were NOT marinated at all with any types of soy or gluten containing ingredients.  WAHOO!

And cross contact issues?  Well, eating out *always* is always tricky.  However, I found the Korean BBQ to be easier than most.  Why?  Well, because you cook your own food at the table!  Each table has a grill inset into the center.  And each set of customers has an fresh grill (top, based, grill) when they sit down.  Wahoo!

Now before you head out to find your own gluten-free Korean BBQ,  Here are a few words of caution:

  • MANY of the BBQ meats are marinated in a mixture that includes NON gluten-free soy sauce.  DO NOT eat those meats.
  • Build a relationship with the owners and eat when they are NOT busy.  Most Korean establishments are NOT accustomed to accommodating food issues, so be kind.  Explain the foods you must avoid – point out the soy sauce and the miso are particular problems.  This will help them eliminate the foods they have that you cannot eat.
  • The brown bean & miso mixture that is used on the leaf wraps is NOT gluten free.  It contains wheat (from the soy sauce) and some brands add wheat flour to thicken it.  (I can’t figure that out, really, since the beans are thick enough…. but hey… what do I know…. LOL)
  • If your gluten-eating family is going to use the grill too, grill your food items FIRST before they use it.  Tell them that their patience will pay off.  After all, you will eat first, but after that?  They can eat until their heart’s delight or their stomachs implode.  Whichever comes first.

I *know* that Asian restaurants are challenging.  I *KNOW* that it makes people anxious.  However, eight years ago when I began this lovely GF lifestyle, I began to limit my outings with friends.  Eating out wasn’t something I felt confident doing any more.  Then slowly I began to build up to eating salads with everyone while they dined on pastas or pizzas or Chinese foods, etc.  It was all just too much and too isolating.  Since those days, I have attempted to push the limits and find the courage to stand up for myself at restaurants.  And I’ve learned a few restaurant tricks that have helped.

I thought now that school is in session (my life has once again turned into 14 hour work days), it would be the perfect time to talk about eating out and staying gluten free.  Sure, I order salads a lot.  but now I order them because that is what I WANT to eat, rather than that is the only thing on the menu that I CAN eat.  Big difference in the dining-mood, that’s for sure.

Here are a few of the tips/tricks that I have, but really I’m writing to learn MORE MORE MORE!
What are your tips? tricks?  favorite meals outside of the home?

  1. Call ahead when and if you can.  Talk to the manager about your needs.  Don’t be high maintenance/demanding, but genuine about the need for utmost care.  Request several menu options – that way if you get there and you really don’t want to eat that *one* thing, you don’t have to.  You have options.
  2. Don’t expect wait staff, managers, etc to know what you are talking about when you mention gluten-free.  More than once I’ve had a waiter (heck – twice it was the CHEF!) tell me that I should order the risotto because it has rice gluten.  Um.  yea.  No. You CAN order the risotto IF they are NOT adding anything with gluten IN.  Rice gluten?  That’s okay.  (And you may have to tell them that you can eat potatoes too.   That one always shocks me.)
  3. Be sure to ask what the garnishes are on the dish.  Not just the crouton factor either.  More than once I’ve order steamed veggies and have had them served on toast.  (?!?!?!?!)  And that random decoration on my plate of swirled unknown sauce?  Thank you, no thank you.  (I hate it when they shake a billion pieces of parsley all OVER the plate edges and foods too.  While gluten-free, it’s obnoxious to be unable to touch the plate (or breathe near it) for fear of the parsley-dust bowl incident.)
  4. Did you order a salad and it came with croutons?  BEFORE you send it back, put a sugar packet or some piece of your napkin under the lettuce leaves.  If it’s still there when the salad comes back?  Bust them for NOT giving you a new salad.  They’ve just picked off the evidence, but we all know that it doesn’t have to be a visible crumb that will get us.
  5. Learn your culinary terms and sauce names.  If you are well educated about how sauces are prepared or  how your food is being made, you can easily predict where the cross contact or full on contamination of your food may fall.  Ask the wait staff (or manager) clarifying questions and HELP THEM figure out how to serve you.  For example, let them know that you can eat a piece of grilled, fresh chicken breast with salt/pepper on your salad but that they MUST clean the grill section and prep area FIRST before placing your food items them.
  6. Gently tell them that gluten is not a germ.  You can’t kill it, disinfect it, etc and it *IS* natural.  Therefore statements like “all natural” or “natural flavorings” cause you concern.  (More than once I’ve had to tell someone that “Yes, wheat is a natural grain, right?”).  Let them know that their seasoning shakes may not be okay for you, but surely they have salt/pepper in the kitchen, right?
  7. I tend to stick to restaurants where fish or meats are served grilled or steamed.  I know I’m usually safe with grilled salmon (or planked, which is how I really like it and how it is very likely to be made out here in the PNW) versus places that just sells burgers and fries.  Not only is it harder to eat at the burger/french fry joint… but really now, my thighs thank me for avoiding the french fries too.
  8. Use gluten free dining resources like the Triumph Dining books and cards, especially if this is (a) all new to you, (b) you don’t feel like you have a great grasp on the culinary terms or prep methods, (c) your not a cook and wouldn’t know where to start helping them figure out alternatives or (d) you loathe the idea of speaking up for yourself in a restaurant for fear of being painted as the pushy one and having your coffee.. ummm… “altered”

I know I’m missing some things here.  LOL.
This is what I get for not preplanning this post better.  (Sorry guys!)
What about you?  What are your top eating out tips?
Happy Fall and Busy Days, All!
-Kate
PS.  I’ll be back soon with an AWESOME new cookbook (GF and CF!) review as well as a low-fat/no-fat and low-calories blueberry muffin recipe too.  We are busy finishing up our home study and getting the visa paperwork completed.  (Not to mention finally replacing our dishwasher that died 3 years ago… ahem.)  Life is busy – but good  – here.  What about you?

13 comments on “Gluten Free: Eating out
  1. I had Korean BBQ ages ago (pre-gf) and it was amazing! congrats on the new dishwasher, I couldn’t imagine life without one. have a great week!

  2. H.Peter says:

    Korean BBQ is fantastic. So tasty and full of varieties.
    I do not like to work for my food when i go out for dinner (Peeling shrimp, Fondue), but that type of BBQ is fun.

    H.Peter

  3. Slacker Mom says:

    This sounds SO good. I wish I had something like it near me.

    Children are back in school and I am happy to have a little time to check out my favorite blogs. :)

  4. I’m with you – I always try to go on a bit of off hours, talk with the manager and chef first, and always use my Triumph cards. I try to be patient and explain/teach, as it just helps the staff understand more. I do love though when I order off the gluten free menu, then get asked, “So do you want the bread basket?” That’s a great one….

    I also ask when they are giving me my meal, “This is gluten free, right?” and usually won’t take a bit until it’s confirmed.

    Oh, and my biggest tip – shredded cheese. ALWAYS ask if it’s shredded there or prepackaged, as many prepackaged contains flour so it doesn’t stick (DUMB!).

    I refuse to not eat out, but I do get stressed about it, and just try to remember that if it happens, it happens and learn from the experience.

  5. renee says:

    Steve –

    In my 13 years of being gluten free, I have never found a shredded cheese with flour added. Usually they add something like silicon dioxide to prevent clumping. I think that is another one of those old myths…

    Today (10/4/08) I was shopping and picked up some shredded cheese and found that it was tossed with wheat starch to prevent sticking/clumping. I was a bit taken aback as it has been years since I’ve seen this! However, it just reminds me not to get complacent with my label reading. I’ve been surprised before. Thankfully, this was before I paid for it! LOL – Kate

  6. Steve says:

    Renee – I’ve actually seen this in some packaged brands at the store. It may be a few, but I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.

  7. Emily says:

    I had Korean BBQ one time in Vegas – it was delicious and fun! Wish there was a place around here.

    I always like to check out the restaurant online before I go. Especially if they have an online menu. You can get a few ideas of what would be good/safe and then call to talk specifics! It saves time when you get there and I always like the anticipation – makes me more hungry for that dish!

  8. Eleanor says:

    Whilst not celiac myself, some close friends are so I understand how hard it is to eat out when your gf. The Celiac Society Victoria has a section on their website devoted to eating out. Places are listed by area, including address and phone number.

    The best part….. the pizza places that don’t need 24 hours notice.

    Otherwise we browse the menu in the window and won’t walk in unless there is something we can all eat.

  9. Jay says:

    Is this at the Koren BBQ in Toronto or Richmond Hill?

  10. Larry says:

    The croutons in the salad remark stuck out at me. When I was diagnosed with Celiac disease 6 years ago I remember going to Trader Joes and on their gf list they said you can remove the croutons on a salad and it would be gf. I don’t think that if a salad comes with croutons you should play tricks to call them out on it. Just remove the croutons; it’s not a big deal. Restaurants are always busy no matter what time of day or night. I know it is annoying but being that picky will get you in trouble. If they put a sauce containing gluten on the salad that is a different story but croutons can be removed and you will not get glutened from a crumb. GF processed foods contain a small amount of gluten so if you can tolerate gf processed foods then you can tolerate a crumb or stay home.

  11. Rachel says:

    Can’t tell you how often I’ve seen italian places offer GF pizza crust and then cook it on the same surface as the regular. Some even have gluten free pasta that they cook in the same water as the regular!!

    The problem is that GF is a diet trend and not always treated as an allergy. Usually, If I say I have a severe allergy, the staff is far more patient and willing to discuss with me. Also, I almost always apologize. I know its not my fault, but it is more work for them and that does kinda stink. Plus, I hope if I’m really nice about it, they will take pity on me and actually do what I need.

Got a gluten free crumb to leave behind? Share your thoughts!