Celiac and the frustrations of eating out

June 23, 2015

gluten-free card in Jute B├Ąckerei bakery window

Sigh. Celiac, it seems, is a constant dance with my well-being. I ease up on the reigns of food enjoyment - and I pay the consequences. I mean, we moved to Berlin in large part for the food! We got a taste of all the culinary greatness here, and then - boom! - I'm just supposed to give all that up? Am I just supposed to stay at home every evening with raw veggies, ignoring the sounds of summer - the satisfied slurp of an ice cream cone, the celebratory clink of wine glasses - on the street below us? Granted, with the arrival of summer weather and all the glorious food fests Berlin has to offer, my strict eat-bio-and-grain-free-at-home-only has seen me slip back into less vigilant eating practices. So much so, my body is pulling back on the reins.

Admittedly, I'm a little raw after a recent realization about food I'd eaten that it turned out was not gluten-free. As soon as I read the message from my friend Adam, that his more thorough inquisition turned up soy sauce as an ingredient in the meal I'd had twice in one week, my heart fell. All at once, I understood that my distended belly and foggy brain had not been a result of too much sugar, as I had thought (read: hoped). More importantly, it hit my eating-out confidence hard and I had a mini-breakdown right there in the park. I pouted and realized I'm better off boarding myself up inside and eating only home-cooked meals. What can I say? I still get really emotional about food.

As other celiacs can attest, even when being vigilant, eating out is a minefield. Like my glutenings from the last couple of weekend food fests made clear once again, too many people are unaware of what gluten really is and the serious implications it can have on someone like me. So why eat out at all? I mean, it's my food issue and why should I impart that on folks just trying to provide people with some good food? Believe me, I used to be one of those eye-rollers every time someone began the laundry-list Starbucks order or launched into a soliloquy of why said menu item must be altered to meet their lengthy requirements. No one realizes what a pain in the ass I am, culinarily-speaking, more than me.

But this all begs the question: Is a food allergy sufferer just never supposed to eat out? And more importantly, how is travel possible? It's one thing to inflict one's dietary needs on a well-meaning chef when managing at home is often the better, and safer, answer, but what if that isn't an option? Will people in food service ever truly understand the importance of knowing all their ingredients and their allergy ramifications? Don't even get me started on the emotional fallout around celebrations and time out with friends.

"There are few things more isolating and disheartening than being unable to freely join with loved ones to celebrate significant times in life." 
- Jenni Hulet (The Urban Poser) from My Paleo Patisserie, An Artisan Approach to Grain Free Baking

I don't mean to rant, but I thought that after 10 months of healing from my initial diagnosis and the start of living a gluten-free life, I wouldn't still be dealing with such lows where my health is concerned. All these frustrations have been bouncing around in my foggy brain, yet I never seem to have the clarity to come to terms with it 100%. Speaking with a friend one day about her husband's diabetes and its constant need for surveillance, it hit me that celiac was much the same, at least where recovery is concerned. Not even the middle of an estimated 2-year recovery time, I must still pay close attention to what my body is telling me each time I put food into it. Some days I might feel strong enough for grains or a glass of wine, others might require upping the gelatin and coconut to soothe my ailing gut. It's rather frustrating to feel like there isn't a clear-cut answer for good health and well-being every day, but I've spent much of my life not listening to what my body really needs and now we're playing catch-up from years of miscommunication.

In a very lucky turn of events, the visit this last weekend from my Wiesbaden-based friend Christie, a fellow foodie who's body also takes serious issue with gluten, meant eating out was a necessary indulgence, yet a carefully thought-out affair. After two and a half days of what was essentially a gluten-free food tour of Berlin, I managed to remain free from the clutches of usually inevitable, albeit unintentional glutening. From street food to the Michelin-starred Tim Raue (more on that later, to be sure) to the gluten- and grain-free paradise that is Sauvage, I ended the weekend rather tired, but with my belly in mostly good spirits. For all the times I am glutened and left feeling vulnerable and weak - physically and emotionally - there are shining beacons of light on the Berlin food landscape that give me hope for eating out. This weekend was definitely one of those.

And so I proceed with more caution, but also more optimism as we dive into this currently grey, rainy season that Berlin calls summer. I will stick mostly to places I know are safe, but I will also feed myself healing, nutritious food at home so I am more fortified to go out into the big world of uncertain ingredients. As I refine my diet, I hope to bring you more the successful recipes here soon!

Eating at home: Tom Kha Gai with plantain chips... and a spinach quiche with bacon & cassava flour crust
plantain chips and Tom Kha Gai Thai coconut soup gluten-free grain-free bacon and cassava flour crust spinach quiche with salad


  1. Gutted I didn't try that quiche! Was such a good weekend, I'm so happy we got so much eating done with so very little glutening :) Great quote that, too, absolutely agree. xxx

    1. Not to worry, I'm still refining this recipe! I hope to have it up here on the blog as soon as I feel I've nailed it...

  2. Rant all you like. Dealing with food allergies can be a total pain in the a**. I share your frustration about eating at restaurants/friend's places and have also come to the, annoying, conclusion that eating at home is probably the best bet. Having said that, however, HappyCow.net and I have become the best of friends and I make a game out of searching for places that have delicious menu items and higher levels of respect for people with food allergies or different food choices. Once in awhile I feel disappointment when I look at my kale salad as opposed to a delicious pizza/croissant/pasta plate/chocolate fondant/etc. but when I think about the alternative and tap into how good my body might be feeling in that moment, well, avoiding what must be avoided isn't all that bad. Courage, Kate, and keep up the good fight!

    Now, time for a tangent: Tim Raue. LOVED that place. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

    1. JoAnna, you so hit the nail on the head about eating at home. At times it feels so boring and isolating, but it really is what works best for my needs. My friend Adam started a great site for allergy needs: http://www.allergyexplorer.com/en but for now it's only in Germany. I hope one day it expands to something like Happy Cow! Here in Berlin, gluten-free needs aren't usually taken very seriously, so it's tough. I'm trying to focus on recipe creation at home to keep my high food standards satiated. ;)

      YES! Thank you for reminding me! I need to work on the Tim Raue post ASAP. That meal was truly amazing!


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