“Yes, I’d like to order the steak. Is it possible to have it cooked separately in a pan, rather than on the grill?” I asked. The waiter confirmed that this was possible. I handed him the laminated orange card that listed my food allergies. “Could you bring this back to the chef? I called ahead, but just want to double check.”
“Sure, not a problem miss,” the waiter responded, his eyes going a bit wide as he read the lengthy list of ingredients. He paused and walked away, our menus tucked under one arm.
I shared a look with my sister and sister-in-law.
“He seemed a bit overwhelmed by that,” I commented.
We debated the risks and safety checks we’d gone through for this restaurant before turning to comment on the decor. The restaurant was a historical house, and we were eating in a room that had previously been a nursery. We commented on the dark wood, the paintings, the view of the square outside the window, and each took turns wandering the other rooms of the house, as the wait staff had encouraged us to do.
I took a deep breath as I looked into the different rooms. I had such success last night, I thought, I should try to relax and enjoy my meal more tonight. I had eaten out successfully three times already with no allergic reactions. The only disappointment the night before had been my inability to thoroughly enjoy my meal due to fear of an allergic reaction.
I thought through the conversation I’d had with tonight’s restaurant staff before arriving, their assurances, and the possible risks of my meal. Steak was usually pretty plain, and therefore a safer option. The only concern was cross-contamination on the grill.
We had had a full and successful day of touring around, ending with a beer on a rooftop overlooking the river before coming to dinner.
This, right now, was the most stressful part of the day. I returned to the table, and apologized for being distracted.
“It’s okay,” my sister said, “this is the point of the trip! So you can practice doing things like this. And you’ve been doing great so far at balancing pushing yourself with using the safe food you brought with you.” My sister-in-law agreed.
And then, our dinner arrived. Mine with grill marks on it. My heart pounded a little harder.
“Excuse me,” I asked the waiter, “was this cooked on the grill?”
The waiter said that he was not sure. He didn’t think so.
“Could you check, please?” I asked. I waited. He returned, said that the chef had read my card, and that the meal should be fine. He seemed miffed that I would push the question. I acquiesced, decided to eat slowly.
When you have food allergies, you should never allow yourself to feel bullied or pressured – by anyone, but especially by the restaurant staff – to eat the meal in front of you. I should have pushed the question, as the waiter never answered my initial question of whether the meal had been cooked separately.
A few minutes into the meal, my hands went cold and started to shake. My gums were itchy. I stopped eating and informed my sister and sister-in-law that I was starting to have an allergic reaction.
I took a chewable anti-histamine as they finished their meals, my beautiful steak going largely untouched. My cheeks flushed, my stomach growled. I felt nauseous. We paid as soon as we could and left to return to the hotel, not knowing if we were headed towards a trip to the local ER or just an anti-histamine-induced drowsiness.
Slowly, the shaking subsided, my stomach calmed, the itching decreased. No asthma developed, no tightening of my airways. I took a deep breath, frustrated and disappointed that I had ruined the meal and with my new fatigue, the rest of the evening. We sat in the lobby, debating our next plans.
“Well…” my pregnant sister-in-law began, putting her feet up on another nearby chair, “I could certainly use to put my feet up. Okay if we spend the rest of the night in?”
I smiled, relieved. I didn’t have to use my Epipen or go to the hospital, and I didn’t have to take responsibility for having a night in while in Savannah. The restaurant may have been a flop (and I did call to complain later), but my travel companions certainly were not!
Tips for food-allergic travel:
-Even if you call ahead, pick out a meal, and talk with the wait staff, go with your gut. If a meal seems unsafe or if you are uncomfortable, don’t eat it.
-Don’t allow haughty (or overwhelmed, or confused) restaurant staff to bully you into eating an unsafe meal. They won’t be the ones paying for an uneaten steak or stressing about an allergic reaction.
-Do ask the questions you need to ask, and keep asking until they are truly answered.
-Do have awesome travel companions.