Ethnic Eating: Thai

For many who live with food allergies, eating a style of food that they are unfamiliar with can be very intimidating.  I know lots of people who don’t eat all kinds of Asian foods because they are worried about “secret” ingredients, or are worried that staff at the restaurant won’t understand their allergies.  I’ve often felt the same, and there’s no doubt that ethnic eating is certainly more challenging for those with food allergies, but it IS possible!

ethnic food

There are lots of ethnic foods out there (Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai… etc), but it’s easier if you focus on them one at a time.  Thai is personally my favourite food in general!  Surprising, considering how common peanuts and tree nuts are in thai cooking.  The key is to know which Thai foods you absolutely must NOT eat because they non-negotiably will contain your allergen.  One of those is Hoisin sauce, a peanut sauce which is used in both Thai and Chinese cooking.  It often is served with springrolls or salad rolls.  If a dark brown sauce comes along with your meal, best to double check with the waiter as to what it is.  I always get a pineapple sauce with my meal instead.

Next up to be aware of are mango and papaya salads.  These are often fine to order, but can be topped with cashews or peanuts, and thus you always need to inspect your dish before eating and tell your server about your allergies before ordering.  It is often easy to have dishes modified for your allergies.  For example, Pad Thai is a dish that almost ALWAYS contains peanuts, but I order it wherever I go because it a legendary Thai dish and can almost ALWAYS be modified to not include peanuts, as the peanuts are usually served on the side or sprinkled on top.  Always remind your server of your allergies before ordering and double check the appearance of dishes.  If nuts are visible, the dish contains nuts and you should not eat it!

In terms of soups and curries, many can be fine for nut-allergy sufferers, but you must always check with your server before ordering.  Sometimes servers do not speak the best English.  In this case, unless you are comfortable with the dishes you are ordering and the restaurant itself, I would not feel comfortable eating there.  A good sign is always if the restaurant’s menu has “please let you server know of any allergies before ordering” written at the bottom.

As usual, be extra careful if you are thinking about ordering dessert!

Here’s my go-to Thai menu:

Summer rolls (vegetables wrapped in rice paper) with pineapple sauce

Tom Ka Coconut Soup (flavoured with galangal and kaffir lime leaves – those crispy things that usually come on top are fried onions and are generally safe to eat – at first I thought they were some kind of nut!)

Pad Thai (contains egg and usually sprinkled with peanuts – a delicious noodle dish that is a must at every Thai restaurant, so long as you clearly communicate your allergies)

Curried Eggplant

Pineapple Yellow Curry

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