Dining out

Lack of awareness amongst food professionals, many unexpected uses of gluten in restaurant dishes and high chance of cross contamination in busy restaurant kitchens pose a serious challenge to a gluten free diner.

We have some tips and information to help you order meals easily and to assist the restaurant staff in providing a safe meal for you.

What you should know

  1. The food items which are safe and unsafe for you
  2. The hidden sources of gluten in restaurants like:
    • Maida (flour), sooji, breadcrumbs and other gluten items are usually added in many dishes to add flavour to them; like pakodas, soups, gravies, idli, dosa, grilled and fried items and many other inherently gluten free dishes
    • Some words in restaurant menu that may contain maida or bread like encrusted, coated, dusted, au gratin etc.
    • Many sauces which may contain gluten like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, marinades and barbecue sauce
    • Use of sooji in south Indian restaurants, soy sauce in Chinese restaurants, small amount of maida/atta mixed with ‘gluten free‘ flour (like the possibility of maida mixed with corn flour in preparations in Mexican restaurants etc.)
  3. The possible sources of cross contamination in a restaurant kitchen
  4. Many dishes are prepared differently (and wheat/flour used in them) in restaurants than at home
  5. The awareness levels regarding gluten and cross contamination are extremely low amongst the staff at eating establishments. YOU need to take precautions and ask questions.

What you should tell – DINING CARD

Dining Card has a brief set of instructions which can be used in any dining outlet to prepare your meals.  Download the tips and the dining card and carry with you to restaurants. Your child should be encouraged to use it too. The dining card has been presented in Hindi as well as English.

What you should do and ask

  1. Always carry a snack from home for your celiac child, in case she does not get anything to her liking there. A gluten free roti, slice of bread or pizza could be wrapped properly in a foil, taken along and asked to be heated (with the foil).
  2. Choose a restaurant where you think the possibility of inherently gluten free dishes is high.
  3. Call the restaurant beforehand and discuss the dishes which they can prepare for you.
  4. Try to dine at off peak hours when the staff will have more time to understand your specific requirement and answer your queries.
  5. Do not eat from buffet style as chance of cross contamination is extremely high there.
  6. Try to speak to the manager or chef and explain your requirement to them as they will know the food ingredients and food preparation process and may also be familiar with gluten free diet.
  7. Do not hesitate or feel shy to ask questions as consuming gluten is detrimental to your health.
  8. Explain your requirement for gluten free food due to celiac disease. This will also help build awareness amongst the restaurants about the need for gluten free dining options.
  9. Learn what to ask in the local language, write it down and take with you.
  10. Order dishes where the scope of contamination with gluten maybe negligible or extremely low:
    • Fruits or fresh fruit juice
    • Order simple dishes, preferably rice based preparations and avoid gravies.
    • Avoid ordering rotis and baked products (even when made out of alternate grains) as the utensils used to make these would have extremely high chance of cross contamination with wheat.
  11. Always keep in mind the ‘hidden sources’ of gluten in dishes.
  12. Be very specific about the ingredients to be used while placing your order (show the dining card).
  13. Request them to serve your special order first so it does not get mixed up with any gluten order for another member of your family
  14. When you get your meal:
    • Confirm that your meal has been prepared to your specifications.
    • If you are in doubt, don’t hesitate and request a replacement. Ensure they don’t send the same food back to you!
    • If you are still not sure, ask for fruit or fruit juice – Sometimes despite all precautions and talking to the restaurant prior to your arrival, you may still have to give up the entrée and main course for another option to protect your health.
  15. Always carry your dining card with you.

Tips for different cuisines

Each cuisine has some safe and unsafe items and dishes where gluten maybe hidden in some form. We plan to interact with experts from different cuisines and bring tips for you which can help you place your order.  We begin with some suggestions for dining in  South Indian restaurant.

Tips for South Indian cuisine

A gluten free customer can have plenty of options to choose from in a South Indian restaurant. Here is a short guide to what you could be watchful for while ordering some popular items in a restaurant serving South Indian cuisine.

  1. All items made out of Rawa (Sooji/ Semolina) are unsafe. Rawa idli, Rawa Dosa and Upma are always made out of rawa and should not be eaten. There could be other dishes made out of rawa too. It’s important therefore to check about the ingredients before placing an order.
  2. Dosa – Rawa dosa is unsafe but for other dosas, the batter is made of lentils and rice. Some restaurants though use commercially prepared rice flour instead. It is advisable to check about it as commercially prepared flours always have a risk of cross contamination (as they are prepared in the same mills as wheat). At times, a little bit sooji or maida could be added to add crispiness or flavor to the dosas.
  3. All dosas are prepared on the same pan. Please request them to make your dosa on a separate pan than the one which was used to make rawa dosa or request them to wash the pan thoroughly with soap.
  4. Idli – Rawa idli is always unsafe. For the other idlis, please confirm if there is any sooji mixed in the batter.
  5. Sambhar – Heeng is almost always used. Please check as some brands of heeng could use maida (flour) as an anti- caking agent.
  6. All other items like Appam, rice dishes and chutneys are usually  out of inherently gluten free ingredients. The spices maybe mostly commercially packaged, though some restaurants grind their own spice powders.
  7. Fried items – Could use maida. Or may be prepared in the same oil in which maida coated dish was fried.

Apart from the popular items like dosa and idli, there are many other less popular dishes which are inherently gluten free. A quick guide to understanding some of these names will be made available soon.

Some other tips:

  • The practices, ingredients and cross contamination risks vary from restaurant to restaurant.  Ask questions and find out about the ingredients in each dish.
  • Always ask for a clean pan for preparing meals, especially for dosas.
  • Please specify clearly that you cannot eat maida and sooji (rawa) as the staff at all such eateries may not be aware of celiac disease, gluten free food and rawa or maida being unsafe for you.
  • Cross contamination risks are present as there is gluten present in the form of sooji and maida in a South Indian restaurant kitchen.
  • Try to speak to the staff in advance and avoid peak hours.
  • Read our Tips for dining out and always carry our Dining Card with you.