Food allergy guides: Passports to world of safe dining

Globe-trotters may be able to pick out poulet or huhn or pollo on a menu. And that may serve them well enough if they visit a country where English generally isn't spoken and stick to major tourist hotels and restaurants.

When they opt to dine at a tiny trattoria or bierstube, though, travelers may be presented with menus sans translations. Those who frequent ethnic restaurants in this country and know a bit about preparation techniques in a few of the world's cuisines may be able to decipher a dish's ingredients.

But how a dish is prepared at a specific restaurant, coupled with a food allergy or special diet, adds another level of challenges.

Can staff at a cafe in Provence, France, confirm that sauce on a chicken dish does not contain gluten? Will a server in Bangkok understand if you ask to omit peanuts on pad thai?

Kim Koeller and Robert La France don't think such obstacles should keep one from traveling. Their book, "Let's Eat Out with Celiac / Coeliac and Food Allergies! A Timeless Reference for Special Diets," is intended to help those who have food allergies, sensitivities, celiac disease or special diets decipher menus and translate dietary needs in eateries here and abroad.

The authors — Koeller has celiac disease and food allergies; La France is a restaurant industry veteran — have been incorporating reader feedback into each edition since the book's first in 2005. "We have continued to expand the ingredient and food preparation techniques for the seven ethnic restaurant cuisines and respective dishes," emailed Koeller, who added that a fourth edition is due in 2014.

They have addressed the globe-trotters' needs with "pocket-size passports" (French and Italian; American steak and seafood and Mexican; Chinese, Indian and Thai), a "Multi-Lingual Phrase Passport" (French, German, Italian, Spanish) plus nine translation cards (including Greek, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese and Latvian). There are some 10 gluten and allergy mobile apps (Apple and Android) and several e-books at

"Let's Eat Out" is a fine coach, with numerous helpful tips and highlighted dishes in which allergy triggers may lurk. It offers this mantra: "Educate yourself on ingredients, food preparation techniques and hidden allergens."

La France offers insight from the restaurant side, noting, for example, that there's a big difference between a "special request" (think: dressing on the side) and a food allergy.

"As a rule, it is extremely important to use the word 'allergy' in restaurants," he writes. "Failing to satisfy a simple special request has certain consequences. However, failing to deliver on an allergy request can have severe consequences."

The books, especially the "Multi-Lingual Phrase Passport," may prove a lifesaver for those who have food allergies, with offerings such as "No puedo comer estos alimentos, porque me enfermare (I cannot eat these foods, because I will become ill)."

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