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Allergy advice

Wheat: public enemy number one, or the basis of modern civilisation? (Photo: StockXchng)

Wheat: public enemy number one, or the basis of modern civilisation? (Photo: StockXchng)

One of my favourite hobbies is winding up my coeliac friend Simon, by asking him if he is also allergic to the tooth fairy, homoeopathic potions, and levitation.There are many coeliacs out there, but I suspect – and I refuse to offer any evidence whatsoever for this – that some people with a self-declared gluten or lactose intolerance have wrongly convinced themselves that wheat and dairy are not only poisonous to them, but poisonous to humanity itself.

You know the type: always on a “detox”, cleansing their temples of “toxins” and looking down their nose at you for eating seven Stinger bars and three packets of Banshee Bones in the same sitting. Never mind that Irish people have the highest lactose tolerance in the world, or that Western civilisation was built on wheat (Before you all jump down my throat, I know full well that it’s not that straightforward, and that allergy levels vary from mild to severe: a good friend of mine is severely lactose-intolerant, while people with cystic fibrosis also have problems digesting dairy).

I know that Simon would dearly love to eat wheat and drink beer all day long: he genuinely does have a gluten intolerance. A few months back, we were at a gig in The Button Factory where Simon asked for the one drink he can have: a pint of Bulmer’s. The bar, however, was only serving one beer that night, and no cider. He explained that he was coeliac and couldn’t have a beer. The barman wasn’t very concerned, and suggested Simon have a soft drink. So he went without a drink, for the sake of a corporate sponsor, in a venue we had already paid into. Delightful.

Allergic to anything? This ketchup advises you to stay at home, you loser

Allergic to anything? This ketchup advises you to stay at home, you loser

They seemed rather unprepared to cater for coeliacs: as much as I relish watching Simon suffer, I thought the outright dismissal and refusal to provide something as simple as a pint of cider was particularly thoughtless and unnecessary. It forcefully brought home to me how difficult it can be for allergy sufferers to navigate a restaurant menu (although I note that Milano have introduced gluten free pizzas options). And then I picked up a very cheap ketchup sachet in a chipper, which contained the following “allergy advice”:

May contain: nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, mustard, celery, wheat, barley, fish, eggs, soybeans, milk, sulphites and cereals containing gluten.

None of those ingredients cropped up on the ingredients list. How does ketchup contain nuts, fish, or milk? Clearly, the producer is covering all bases in case of cross-contamination in the factory, but is it really that difficult to ensure that fish doesn’t touch off tomato paste in a factory that is clearly churning out lots of cheap foods? It struck me as simply lazy and careless.

As for the vinegar from the same chipper: it contains everything you could ever be allergic to – including mustrad (sic), sulphites, and fish – and is probably not safe for human consumption.

So, allergy sufferers. Do you find it difficult to eat out? Have you ever been frustrated by a careless or indifferent attitude from pubs or restaurants? Can you recommend a good restaurant or food product for allergy sufferers? And do you pay attention to the allergy advice on the ketchup sachets, or take your chances? 


  1. Cider isn’t the only drink he can have. As spirits are distilled, rather than brewed, gin and vodka are safe for coeliacs, even though they can come from wheat.

    My sister-in-law is coeliac, and though we enjoy telling her that she can’t have ice-cream or chocolate because of the gluten in them, it really is very tough sometimes for her to find suitable foods to eat.

    Ireland is getting better on this front, though, which is great as we also have one of the highest rates of coeliac disease in the world.

  2. I’ve found barmen at sponsored gigs are normally pretty reasonable and served up an alternative like Corona (gluten-free) or cider.
    The strangest item I’ve seen with gluten in it is jellies!

    Most cafes/restaurants now cater either on the menu or upon request to coeliacs.
    Going to friends for dinner is much more of a pain

  3. My niece has a potentially fatal nut allergy. She is 11 and has to eat almost exclusively homemade food. Her school are apparently fantastic about it but my brother has found that some parents can be right tossers about it, especially when it comes to parties.

  4. My mother has anaphylaxis triggered by shellfish, you would be surprised at the lackadaisical approach that some restaurants take to her, despite her warnings that she could potentially die on their premises if the chef isn’t careful. She is very mindful about where she eats and would avoid many asian cuisines as most dishes contain fish sauces or are cooked/stored alongside shellfish. She’s also always very polite and, in my opinion, not stern enough in her warnings. Yet still, I’ve seen her have severe, but thankfully not life-threatening… yet, reactions to food in more than a few restaurants at this point. Absolutely infuriating.

    My sister doesn’t eat wheat as since she stopped her adult acne has completely cleared up, she never says she’s allergic though, just that she’s better off avoiding it, according to her Rustic Stone is brilliant as they clearly mark allergy/nutritional advice on all their menu items.

  5. My mother *has not *is. :-/

  6. I find that in Ireland, life is much easier for allergy sufferers than in other European countries. Whenever I’m in France, I have to read every single ingredient in the list to ensure that the item doesn’t contain nut or coconut as my daughter has an allergy to these. Thankfully, it’s only a mild one (it will still give her a bad rash, teary eyes, swollen tongue and other unpleasantness but it won’t kill her) and we are usually fine with the ‘may contain…. traces of nuts.
    The same can be said of most restaurants and some cafés, that label GF and DF and NF dishes, or at least will give you the info when requested. The offer for allergy sufferers in shops is also unbelievable compared to other countries, where you need to shop in health food stores and pay much higher premiums.
    However, when it comes to cross contamination, there is not much that restaurants can do, unless they cater specifically for a person. A friend of mine is coeliac and she usually rings the place in advance, and they usually agree to prepare something for her, making sure to use separate knives, serving bowls, pans, etc

  7. This is a subject close to my heart. I am gluten intolerant, but not technically a coeliac. However, there is no “gold standard” test for coeliacs disease, so a lot of people who are gluten intolerant aren’t identified by the test. I get bad stomach cramps & diarrhea when I eat gluten so as far as Im concerned, thats bad enough.
    Some places are absolutley rubbish about it & Ive had many dinners ruined by the experience. Its so silly as Ireland has one of the highest rates of coeliacs in the world & should be on top of this. Even if not, a good restaurant should have good enough customer service to accomodate clients when they can eat lots of things if some mild adjustments are made. I find it infuriating that chefs dont know whats in the food they are cooking and waiting staff arent knowledgable about what they are serving.

    Here is an extract from my experience:
    Me: “Could you tell me what I can have on the menu thats gluten free, as in suitable for coeliacs?”
    waitress in a restaurant in Bandon: “Hmmm let me see, emmmm, black pudding salad?”
    Me:”Would you mind checking with the chef please, blackpudding normally is not gluten free”
    Waitress, while checking the back of the packet:”It says it has gluten, but Im not sure if its gluten free”.
    Me(having lost patience at this point): “If it says it has gluten in it then its not gluten free”.Like seriously, if waitign staff arent passionate and knowledgeable about what theyre serving, then I dont want to eat there.

    I also had an experience in Pearl Brasserie recently, a fancy enough place where I expected better service-I ordered what I was told was a gluten free quail salad, which showed up on the table with black pudding in it. I asked was the pudding gluten free & it turned out it wasnt. Thankfully I hadnt eaten any but had to wait for a fresh one to be brought out while my BF had already finished his at this point. They also served me couscous with my main, which wasnt advertised on the menu & i had to wait for ages for them to check if it was gluten free, which they eventually said it was but at that stage I was pretty nervous about eating it. By that time, my BF and I’s nice dinner was a stressful affair & I def wouldnt go back to anywhere that hasnt been helpful or accomodating with my food intolerance.

    I generally find Indian & Thai restaurants quite good, Thai Spice off Talbot st were fabulous (and cheap) and I could have loads off the menu. Ive heard dylans McGs Rustic STone is good but its a bit pricey for everyday eating. Theres also a place in Dundrum thats all gluten free but I dont know the name of it offhand.

    Id love to hear about more recommendations for places that are accomodating as its such a stressful experience when eating out.

  8. I was once told by my doctor my reaction to Irish dairy is much worse than the one I get back in France as Irish milk tends to be much richer. Your dairy is DELICIOUS but gets to me so much quicker than elsewhere.
    I think vegetarian places cater better to allergies as they are used to be more focused in their prep.

  9. I think Roly Saul (no link to Roly’s Bistro, apparently) is the place in Dundrum where pretty much everything is suitable or adaptable for coeliacs.
    Actually, Roly’s Bistro does some good gluten free bread, which you can buy in their deli.

  10. Estrella Damm Daura and Glutaner are both gluten-free and widely available. When it comes to ketchup, I’m told Chef sauce is the one gluten-free brand (possibly just amongst the mainstream…there may be others).

    Had my first experience of cooking for a coeliac lately when some friends came over. Tisn’t easy! Well, not first time around.