During your travels, you may rely on restaurant menus, tour group set meals, or face a general lack of restaurants or food options. In foreign destinations, language may pose a barrier so that you cannot be sure you are understood when you explain your sensitivities and what ingredients must be left out of your meal.
Consider researching the foods and preparation styles of your destination ahead of time. That way you know if certain spices (like chili pepper) are commonly used in the culture or other ingredients (such ghee, a dairy product used in India).
Don't be shy about asking your partner or travel companions to taste test for you. When I travel, my fiance will taste my food before I dig in if I am not certain my requests have been understood, taken seriously or generally complied with. He spots butter and tells me if the food is spicy
You may wish to research sauces often used in a culture before you depart for your destination. That way you can research the ingredients in the sauce. For example, fish sauce may have chili pepper and soy sauce likely has wheat, so I had my meals in Southeast Asia prepared without those. Often, I request that my meal (protein, rice and veggies) be steamed, with sauce on the side. When a restaurant steams your food, you can really see what you;re getting. No sauces to hide anything. In Laos, a restaurant steamed my vegetables. Click to enlarge this photo. The little black spots are not pepper, they are bugs.
One item that you may wish to prepare before departure is a food sensitivities cheat sheet. The snapshot below is an example only.
Use language dictionaries online to translate what is needed into the destination's language. Though for Laos, I had to buy a dictionary on Amazon.
Once you prepare my sheet, copy and paste it several times over in a Word document. Then,shrink it down and print. Cut the cheat sheets to separate them and take several with you. If I am going on a tour (such as with Contiki or EASTCO), if possible, I provide the sheet to the tour manager before departure, That way they can plan ahead for my needs.
While in my destination, carry several copies of the cheat sheets with you. At restaurants, give the server a copy which he or she can discuss with you and take to the chefs for review.
Fellow travelers and restaurant staff react to my food sensitivity cheat sheet method with confusion, surprise, compliments, and laughs. When in Cairo, my new friends and our server were amused. So much so, that one of my friends video taped the episode and others snapped photos of the laughs. The restaurant worked with me and the food placed before me addressed my sensitivities as requested. Of course, there is no guarantee that a food sensitivities cheat sheet will work every time.
If you would like a Word copy of the cheat sheet form, send your request to deblyfe at aol dot com.
What methods have you used to address food sensitivities when you travel? Any amusing, and not so amusing, experiences?