As a family we had a little jaunt to the lovely city of Oxford during half term. I’d done a little research before we went….mainly on various places to eat of course. Issy, a fab gluten free foodie blogger, pointed me in the direction of a few places, as she had also recently been – Gluten free in Oxford. We also found Cowley Road – a fabulous street into Oxford with a very eclectic mix of restaurants from all around the world. A great place to eat with a few independents as well as chains.
In all the places I ate I was assured by the serving staff that the food I had ordered was gluten free and yet I was still made ill during my stay. However, the difficult issue is which one glutened me? It’s slightly easier at home to work out where you have been made ill since you would probably only eat out once in a day and thus you can generally pinpoint it. However on holiday we eat out at breakfast, lunch and dinner and, being hobbits, in between too. So you can’t definitively say I got glutened from restaurant X. I do know which place may have started it as the hash browns that I ate (after being assured that they were ok) turns out that actually they aren’t. Thus the downward spiral begins. Once I get glutened I am much more sensitive to the food in the next establishment and so it continues.
So here is the crux of this article, when do you not trust the words of your server? You assume, especially in larger chain establishments, that all servers are appropriately trained and up to speed with this and if not they have the power and where with all to find out. And yet, I was made ill firstly by possibly the establishment who really should have got it right.
I personally hate grilling the staff in a restaurant…..I feel that it labels me as a fussy diner if I not only question them about the food itself, but how it is prepared and how they maintain the gluten free status of the ingredients. I know that in a catering environment the label ‘gluten free’ is strictly not allowed by law unless they can substantiate the claim by testing each meal / dish that’s placed before a diner – not very practical! In practice most establishments use it to denote that the food is made with ‘non gluten containing ingredients’ – it’s just that ‘gluten free’ fits on menus and ‘A boards’ more easily! However, this is my health. I was a lot less ill when I sat in a restaurant and ordered a plain boiled potato with plain chicken – boring, but so much safer.
Smaller establishments happily use the term gluten free and with all establishments one hopes that they truly understand what that means, but they just really don’t. They may understand the main ingredients in a dish, but what about other factors, such as sprinkles on an ice-cream or the wiping down of the surfaces to prevent cross contamination. Who knows? I know that I take risks and in fact it’s almost a given that if we are away for a couple of days, I will spend some of it being poorly. It’s not just the immediate bowel effect though, it’s the tiredness, the joint aches, the low blood sugar and all the rest of the symptoms that make it a miserable experience, but you’re on holiday, so you just get on with it.
As it happens, despite this I had a lovely time. It is an amazing city. Vibrant, young and yet ancient, full of amazing history and stories, great characters (if you ever get to go you must get a student to show you around – Footprints Tours – and you must do the ghost walk run by Bill Spectre – both tour guides were full of interesting facts and information and bought the city alive for tourists.) I would love to go again as there is so much to see and you definitely need more than two days to do it in!