Having a severe nut allergy, I thought there was no way I was going to survive our five week trip to SE Asia. Travelling through countries including Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka that all incorporate lots of nuts in their cuisine, and with us not speaking the local languages, I thought I was going to be in trouble. I also couldn’t imagine going to the hospital in any of these countries in allergy-induced anaphylactic shock and surviving. I thought about bringing a case of Epi-pens. Maybe even wearing a bandolier style belt of them across my chest à la Rambo.
Before we left on our trip, Helen created a paper explaining my allergy in every country’s language we were visiting, as well as a couple of icons, the idea being that we could then show it as we were ordering food, as a preventative measure.
She used google for the translations, so we were both a little skeptical on the outcome. We showed it to local guides on the first day in both Vietnam and China. Both read it and shook their heads; it made no sense to them at all. But both of them were kind enough to re-write it. Even then, most people were still massively confused when we handed them the anti-nut sheet, but with a little bit of added pantomime, most got the general gist, we think.
Still, eating on the trip was always a little stressful. Especially trying the delicious street food, which was so, so good but had an increased chance for nut ingestion (not to mention dysentery!)
Being scared of your food is a strange concept for people without allergies, I’m sure. But if food could kill you, you’d be nervous too. I do have a technique that works (most of the time). I take a initial small bite and wait a few minutes. Usually I get an electric tingling sensationin my mouth if I ingest some form of nut, but mostly I haven’t eaten enough to cause a major reaction. It is really difficult waiting to see if I have a reaction or not, especially when you’re starving and the food is good. Which was usually the case on this trip.
I ate some strange things in some strange places. Gelatinous shrimp pastry in Dong Ba market in Hue. Mystery dumplings in Beijing. The amazing curry and fresh fruits breakfast of Sri Lanka. And through it all, not even a hint of an allergic reaction.
No nuts eaten.
No Epi-Pen jabbed into my thigh.
No trips to a third world hospital.