Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dining Brief: Tips on Lesser-Known Asian Cuisines and Shiok! in Menlo Park

Eating out gluten-free can be daunting, but it really needn't be. When I was first diagnosed, I was terrified to eat out, and rather depressed about what seemed to be the end of my foodie days. I have developed an arsenal now of strategies to dine out at all sorts of places.

Here are a few tips related to tonight's dining brief.

Tips for dining out at lesser known Asian cuisine restaurants

What do you do when you don't know the cuisine well enough to know which dishes are likely to be safe? Here are a few tips.

1. Call ahead, but don't be too discouraged if your questions confuse the person answering the phone. Explain your dietary restrictions in concrete terms. "I cannot have wheat, all-purpose or wheat flour, or soy sauce. Do you have any dishes on your menu that I could eat? Could you talk to your chef and call me back?" This screen is about helpfulness, not about accuracy. NEVER rely on the phone call for the final word.

2. If you can search for a few recipes from the cuisine of interest. Get a feel for what contains soy sauce and what doesn't.

3. At the restaurant ask right away to speak with someone that knows the food. Key words for Southeast Asian cuisines: no soy sauce, wheat flour, all-purpose flour, wheat noodles, kekap manis. I also ask them to check the labels of any pre-prepared sauces or items they use to see if they have wheat in the ingredient list. Many brands of Asian sauces do, and the restaurants often don't realize it.

4. Be prepared to have steamed fish. It can almost always be made gluten free : ).

Dining Brief: Shiok! Menlo Park
The Bay Area is blessed with amazing variety in Asian food. One needn't be limited to hum drum Thai, Chinese or Japanese. In fact each of these cuisines has regional variation reflected in the areas restaurants. Tonight we visited Shiok! in Menlo Park to nosh on some Singaporian food - a nice mixture of Chinese and Indonesian.

For a Celiac, the options are fairly limited, but what we could have was nicely prepared. I called ahead to inquire about gluten, and the person, as is fairly common, had a hard time understanding what I was asking. I persevered and he took my number and called back after he had compiled a list of gluten-free options. It seems varied enough to give it a try. Aaron was able to have chicken satay with a peanut sauce (not the peanut butter stuff one gets used to). The chicken had a citrus slant to it, looked dry but the kids devoured it. The peanut sauce was very nice, with roughly ground peanuts and a complex mixture of spices, chilis and sour flavors. For Isaiah (and the rest of us) they made a special gluten-free version of their HOKKIEN MEE or noodles with shrimp and calamari. It had a nice wok sear, but it was pretty skimpy on the seafood. The noodles I think suffered from the lack of sauce, but was nice mixed with the other sauces on the table. My chili prawns were wonderful. I asked for spicy and they obviously didn't believe me, but it had some spice to it. The sauce is sweet, but not too sweet, and thickened with egg. The prawns were well cooked, served whole (yes eyes and all - as they should : ) ). Jason had the SAYOH LODEH, a veggie and tofu medly in yellow curry broth (NOT GLUTEN-FREE) and beef rendang (gluten free). He enjoyed both dishes. The bite I had of the rendang found it to have nice flavor, but a bit dry. Also had coconut rice and brown rice. None of the rice and noodle dishes are gluten-free, and most gluten free options have fish. The eggplant with tamarind sauce is gluten-free and was very tempting, but we had enough food this time around.

Celiac dining summary:
Quality of GF food: Stick to the naturally GF options, and the food was tasty. Probably not the best Singaporean food in the Bay Area, but a very nice option in the Menlo Park area. We will be returning I am sure.

Variety of options: Limited, mostly seafood, especially limited if you have picky kids.

GF dining skill required: Moderate. Didn't know about GF right away, but willing to help and able to communicate easily.

Disclaimer: I am adventurous in my dining out. Biopsies and blood tests have shown no evidence of repeated gluten exposure, but I can't guarantee it. Please do not use these reviews to decide what to eat at a restaurant. Always ask.

1 comment:

  1. Our celiac daughter who lived in Bali last summer would love this! We'll be sure to go...thanks for breaking ground with them and giving us these tips!