Celiac.com 05/20/2008 - I am going to be honest—I have not traveled outside the U.S.A. except for Mexico and Canada.  When I went to Mexico it was on a cruise ship, so that meant I could eat on the ship.  I would take snacks to tide me over or get a bag of chips.  Hopefully I will one day be able to tour the world and educate everyone on how to make true gluten-free meals for all of us.  I also hope that my when the time is right I will go on such trips with my loving wife.  So I will tell you how I would approach a trip to another country and you can decide if this is worth a try.

 Planning for the Trip (All per emails and internet and phone calls)
  • I would contact the area chamber of commerce or tourist office in the country that I will be going to and see if they have heard of the gluten-free diet or celiac disease.
  • If I was staying at a hotel or resort I would ask them to look into gluten-free meals and if they have a kitchen where I could talk with the executive chef or manager of food and beverages.  I would also tell them that I am a chef from the U.S.A.
  • I would go to celiac.com to locate the nearest celiac support group to where I will be staying.  If there is one I would find out about local spots that I might be able to visit to get gluten-free meals, and if there are any bake shops or natural food stores where I could get some supplies and snacks.
  • I would find a book on the languages that they speak and make a chef Daniel restaurant form so I could eat in a restaurant.  I would have it in all the languages including English for the chef to make sure they understand I am very serous about my health.
  • I would have a card that said “May I speak to the manager and I have a special diet request.” Hopeful I could say that in their language. I would have a gluten-free restaurant card in their language and present it to the chef or manager.
  • I would have a safe and forbidden list in the language where I was visiting.  That way I could check foods from the store so I could eat snacks.
  • I would try to stay at a place with a microwave and possibly a refrigerator.  By doing this if I ran into a language problem I could cook chicken or meats in the microwave (I have cooked whole chickens in a microwave on vacation before and put it in the refrigerator for later).
  • I would carry cards with me to ask for directions or to ask a wait staff for something I might be able to eat.  Like maybe some cheese, beverage, snacks or any type food of the area that I might like.  If you were at a port on the ocean your card could be sauté seafood and with olive oil.  Even if I didn’t look at the menu I would know that because I am at a town on the water, they would have fresh fish coming in.
  • If any of you watch the Travel Channel  you know that there are a lot of different types of foods.  Being a chef I would want to experience all types of different foods.  If I knew something about the local cuisine and how it is prepared before I got there, it could give me an advantage. In Hong Kong I would love to eat some of the hot foods.  Could I eat them?  Is it just the chilies or is it the sauce?  Those are some of the questions I would wonder, so I would research the area and review cookbooks to see how they prepare their foods.
  • If I knew where I would be traveling I would try to contact a local restaurant beforehand to see if I could view their menu for the time when I would be visiting.  If I did this, I could make my Chef Daniel restaurant form up ahead of the visit.
  • I would make sure that when I was at my vacation spot I could get Internet access.  By doing this I could look up restaurants that I see when I am walking around to see if their menus were available online.  Also I would be able to translate a chef Daniel P restaurant form for that place if we decide to go there.
  • I would make sure that I had a phone with internet access to look up info at any time. Also with the phone I could translate a sentence with a Web site I know about.
As you see I have put a great deal of thought into traveling, but not one of them has been tested.  I wish I could say that these ideas all worked for me and they will for you too.  My thought is that the greatest asset for us celiacs is the Chef Daniel P restaurant form you take into the restaurant.

I would have every direction I could give on paper for the chef to see.  When I was cooking I cooked with chefs from around the world.  We all had the same common cause:  To make our customers happy so they will spread the word and come again.  So to me it doesn’t matter if they can read English or Spanish.  It comes down to me as the customer to tell them I have to have a gluten-free meal.  To tell them that if they don’t do as I ask, I could get very sick and it would be their fault, and no restaurant wants to hear that their food caused a person to get sick.

If you are like me, you are going to want to taste some of the home town small restaurants.  I would know the area as mentioned before, and find out about any fresh vegetables or meats that I would like to try.  On my phone I would access the Internet and I would find information on the town I was in.  When I walked in I would ask for a manager, and if that person doesn’t speak English I would get one of my restaurant cards out to let them read what I am trying to say.  I also would try to read the card out so they could see that I am trying very hard to speak their language.  I believe that shows I am not a stuck up rich person who hires everyone to do what I want. If I mess it up, I would feel it is okay as long as I look like I am trying to commutate to them “I am very serous about my health.”  Asking them questions would be hard but I would have cards with questions on them and I would know what yes or no sound like.  If it was a small café I would ask to talk with the chef.  At least try to speak through my cards and being a chef I usually have no trouble seeing the kitchen.  It is an advantage to be a chef from a very popular resort that is known world wide and I would use that to my advantage.  Even if they never knew of me, I know my way around the kitchen and I would be able to look around to see if I could eat there. I would look to see:
  • Is it dirty or clean?
  • Does it look like they cut everything on the same cutting board?
  • Does the cook look very sloppy?
Even if I don’t go to the back where the kitchen is, the dinning room represents the kitchen too.  I am not expecting a clean perfect kitchen.  I am expecting the cook who might be this little old lady who has had this restaurant in her family for four generations to care about me. That is what all restaurants usually want—if they care about their customers they will survive for years and years.  It is a hospitality business in America or in Russia—and it doesn’t matter what you language you speak.   That is when you don’t have to worry so much about the Gluten Monster.

I would be honored to walk into some of these smaller kitchens of the world and find out about their history and who they have cooked for.  Just thinking about it gets me all wiggly in side.  You can tell a lot about a restaurant when you walk in—if you only take the time to notice.

So when you plan your vacation as a celiac you need to keep this in mind:  It is just like over here and it will take you some time to order and eat.  If you are in a hurry, I suggest that you take your safe and forbidden lists to the store and get some snacks.  If you have the time you need to sit and relax and take a stab at eating restaurant food from another country.

Chef Daniel P.

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