I suspect an innocuous looking chicken salad was the culprit.
Coeliacs who suffer symptoms of being glutened instantly turn detective: gluten doesn’t glow green or come with any other sign that lurking within it are the minute amounts of the offending stuff that will cause havoc in a coeliac’s intestines. Mentally examining the ingredients of past meals is sometimesthe only way to avoid a ‘damaged’ day or two: rather like someone who has drunk rather too much, it is not territory you want to find yourself in again soon, if you can avoid it.
It started so well, my nearest and one of my dearests phoned the restaurant in advance to check it had gluten-free dishes on the menu. After a stiff walk up one of Hong Kong’s vertiginous narrow streets accompanied by the cacophony of honking cars we reached the recently opened restaurant. We admired its industrial chic, a detail that extended to its choice of New Zealand bottled waters, Antipodes, which cleverly echoed the rope embellished jars re-fashioned as lights hanging from the ceiling and looked good against the rough wooden tables and polished concrete floors.
Looking back, the signs had misleadingly seemed auspicious when the person answering the phone seemingly didn’t skip a heartbeat in affirming that they had g-f dishes on their menu. At the restaurant itself it was a different story: no note had been made of the g-f request and, when asked, the waitress wrinkled her nose; she had no idea what gluten was. A second waitress offered to check with the chef and came back with a menu marked in pencil to show g-f dishes.
I’m not out to name and shame, though even if I were I wouldn’t have the required level of proof: after all, I wasn’t in the kitchen when the salad was made up. That said, I strongly suspect that the chef simply thought about whether those dishes contained obvious sources of wheat rather than the insidious variety lurking in most processed foods.
I couldn’t check the labels of any suspect sauces (any that are bottled rather than home made) to check for gluten in its ingredients but the fact that the chicken salad was dressed rather than naked makes this as the source of the problem much more likely.
How do we coeliacs deal with this? Do I write a guide for HK chefs? After all, at a recent buffet lunch at a very smart French restaurant overlooking Victoria Harbour the very helpful chef who proudly told me that his truly sublime seafood soup was thickened with rice didn’t know that not all chocolate was g-f.
Until restaurants have a real understanding of the range of foods containing gluten and the impact of being glutened, the only way we have to deal with this is to play cautious, questioning waitresses before we order and quizzing chefs before we eat the food they have carefully created. We must also continue to play detective, avoiding those places where we have had bad experiences and passing it on to other would-be visitors who have the same constraints.
Incidentally if any of your guests are not gluten intolerant, the authentic French lemon tart was reputedly sublime. The challenge is on to to create something similar that those avoiding gluten can eat.
Fish and Meat, 1-2/F Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong – Tel: 2565 6788