For the first 2 or 3 months that I was on the autoimmune protocol I didn’t eat out at all. Restaurant menus were easy to navigate while gluten free, especially in Seattle, where there is a good amount of awareness surrounding celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Paleo was also pretty straightforward. However, once I removed foods that are eliminated on the AIP I had a much harder time. Nightshades especially have been a challenge.
Over the past couple of months I have ventured back out into the sea of restaurant eating while still on AIP. I think the biggest thing for me, and what has allowed me to successfully navigate the restaurant world while on an very restricted diet is a willingness to ask a lot of questions and to be ok with being the “annoying” customer who sometimes double-checks with the waitstaff when they bring my food out (not that it has been easy to do so). It has also been helpful to visit restaurants that I trust and am familiar with.
We still don’t go out to eat very often and when we do it’s to one of about 3 restaurants (or types of cuisine).
We are very lucky to have an amazing shabu restaurant in our area. Shabu shabu is a Japanese dish that involves essentially cooking your own food at your table. I think of it as Japanese fondue, but way way better. At a shabu restaurant you are given a huge plate of veggies, a plate of thinly sliced uncooked meat, a pot of hot boiling broth, dipping sauces, and rice.
I always feel safe eating at our local shabu restaurant* because there is so little opportunity for cross-contamination and I know exactly what is in my meal. The meat is sliced separately from all the other foods, and veggies are brought out whole on their own plate. Every person has their own pot of broth, so you only put in the foods you can eat. When I was simply gluten free, this was my go-to restaurant. I didn’t have to ask any questions, besides requesting gluten free dipping sauces, and I could eat everything on my plate.
I actually avoided going here when I first started AIP because I wasn’t eating rice and I couldn’t eat the dipping sauces provided (even the gluten-free versions are soy sauce-based). And Shabu just isn’t the same without the sauce. I wanted to bring in my own coconut aminos but was afraid that either they wouldn’t let me or would think I was weird for doing so. Well, here’s the thing. I am weird. And I love shabu. So I finally just sucked it up and called them to ask if it was ok that I bring my own dipping sauce. They could not have cared less, so I bring my own sauce every time we go. And now I can eat shabu again! I even eat the rice on occasion now, as I don’t seem to have any negative reaction to it.
[*If you live in the Seattle area, I strongly suggest checking out Shabu Chic. The restaurant itself is very nice, the food is incredible, and the staff is welcoming and friendly.]
I used to eat Thai food all the time. It was my favorite type of food growing up and even when I was gluten free and paleo I could always find at least a couple dishes on the menu that I would eat. Unfortunately for me and my AIP-eating ways, my absolute favorite dish was red curry. Very much a no-go when you can’t eat nightshades. After a little bit of moping, I discovered that I can still eat Tom Kha Gai, which is a coconut and lemongrass based soup with chicken.
Here’s where the questions come in. Tom Kha Gai traditionally is chili-based. I quickly learned that even if you order a “0” on the spicy-ness scale, there is still chili oil in the broth. There is one thai restaurant I really trust nearby, so we always go there for thai food. I just have to be very clear in telling them that I can’t eat any chilis at all. Even the chili oil in the broth base. This also requires familiarity with the dish itself, and I found it helpful to ask a couple of additional questions to make sure I’m not missing anything like hidden soy sauce or flour that might sneak it’s way into the dish.
I was really uncomfortable with this at first. I don’t like drawing attention to myself or asking them to change the dish. But it’s worth it to me to be able to eat thai food. I’ve also found it helpful to find a restaurant I trust that I know has a low risk for cross-contamination. It’s always a little bit of a gamble to go out to eat while following a restricted diet. But I hedge my bets by choosing restaurants I trust and ordering dishes I am familiar with.
A very technical term, I know. But I’m not sure of a better description, so there you go. My husband and I stumbled across a tiny, slightly gourmet (?) restaurant that serves amazingly good American food. Not burgers and fries American, but really good meat and seafood with delicious veggie sides. I don’t even know how they do it, but I have loved every single thing I have tried there.
Not only is their food really really good, but they are very familiar with food allergies and the servers know every ingredient that is in each of the dishes. They know what nightshades are (surprisingly rare, I’ve found), and can immediately tell me all the dishes I can and can’t eat. I still have to ask a lot of questions, but no one seems to mind. We don’t go there often because it’s on the pricey side, but it’s a really great option for special occasions. And I have never once gotten sick after eating there.
This is kind of turning into a restaurant review, which is not the point…
The point is that it sometimes takes some poking around to find good food that is safe if you’re on the autoimmune protocol. For me, this involved looking at reviews and asking friends for recommendations. It’s definitely a process. And one that may or may not be worth undertaking. For me, it is definitely worth it to have a spot I can recommend if family or friends are in town or for celebratory dinners. As I said, I rarely eat out, but I like for that to be a choice rather than a mandate imposed by my food restrictions.
Moral of the Story: Ask Questions
When it comes down to it, chefs and servers want to feed customers good food that they are happy with. I don’t really know if I come across as annoying with my questions, but I actually think it’s ok if I do. My guess is that for the most part it’s not as much of a problem as I think it is. And at all times it is extremely important to me that I am as friendly as humanly possible. I just tend to be self-conscious about drawing attention to myself or putting someone out in any way. I have to keep reminding myself when I ask questions that the worst that can happen is someone says “no” or thinks I’m weird. And I can live with that. It’s much better than eating food that has AIP-unfriendly things in it. I like eating at restaurants on occasion, so it’s worth it to me to be a little socially awkward in order to make that happen and not get sick.