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Peanut Oil at Chinese Restaurants?

Hi Hounds:

Quick question: We're thinking of taking a family member with nut allergies to a Chinese restaurant over the next couple days (Mary Chung was on the list, among others).

Does anyone happen to know if these restaurants tend to use peanut oil or other nut oils for general frying (dumplings, egg rolls, etc). Obviously the family member will stay away from sesame chicken and dan dan noodles and the like, and I know we can ask the server when we are seated, but thought some inside info might save us a trip if we have to rule that restaurant out. Thanks a bunch!

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  1. Refined peanut oil (for cooking) is allergen free.

    1. Nut allergies in a Chinese restaurant? Yikes. Not a good idea at all. What's been your experience before in restaurants and allergic reactions?
      www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

      1. Go to Blue Ginger for someplace safe. Ming Tsai has kids that have allergies so he's big into documenting exactly what is in the food...
        Depends how allergic your family member is...

        -----
        Blue Ginger
        583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

        5 Replies
        1. re: Spike

          That's a great recommendation. Ming is, according from his website, "A national spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network." Of course, Blue Ginger is bigger bucks than May Chung and Chinese? Sorta.
          Re "how allergic": I'm sorry to say that reactions can get worse in intensity! An epi-pen buys you time, but people die every year from reactions to food...
          www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

          -----
          Blue Ginger
          583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

          1. re: scotty27

            allergy-free eating is never cheap (including buying stuff from whole foods to avoid allergies)...but it's cheaper than a visit to the emergency room...

            There was a show on Chronicle a few weeks back about eating out if you have allergies...Ming Tsai was featured as well as a few other places that did gluten free baking, etc. so you might want to see if you can find it. I didn't know his kids had allergies to multiple foods until I saw that. It was impressive to see the big binder w/ all the food ingredient information they keep at Blue Ginger and all the new staff have to go through it...

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            Blue Ginger
            583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

            1. re: Spike

              It can be cheap depending on the allergy: Shellfish, dairy, etc.
              Extremely easy to avoid the former by going to veg or Kosher places and staying away from Southeast Asian restaurants.

              Insurance covers the ER if you can get there in time.

              Legal Seafood also has an allergy free menu.

              www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

              1. re: scotty27

                Legal Seafood also has an allergy free menu.....

                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                Many are allergic to shellfish.

            2. re: scotty27

              I would second the suggestion of the Blue Ginger, which is in Wellesley.
              PF Changs, which isn't really Chinese, also can deal with peanut allergies. My daughter has peanut allergies and we haven't been satisfied that any of the restaurants in Chinatown are truly peanut-free.

              -----
              Blue Ginger
              583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

          2. Hi BostonTrav,

            I remember someone asking a similar question a few weeks ago. This thread might give you some helpful insight or information: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/745140

            (I have a severe nut and sesame allergy, as well, so I understand).

            1. I think you'd be best advised to have your family member discuss it with their own allergist. I'm sure everyone here is well meaning but we don't know the extent of the allergies and what the consequences might be..same with your server. I like Mary Chung's for a few of their items but I wouldn't put my life in the hands of 1 of their server's knowledge about allergies.

              If the person has been eating in lots of Chinese restaurants, I'd be less concerned. I've just heard some horror stories about peanut, shrimp, etc allergies and I don't know if a peaut butter sandwich or someting stir fried in peanut oil is going to affect them.

              I haven't had the pleasure of a trip to the ER; as the principal...but it doesn't look like fun.

              CH is great for trading ideas on where to eat, medical advice..probably not.

              -----
              Mary Chung Restaurant
              460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

              1 Reply
              1. re: 9lives

                9olives is right.

                I have a friend who has a "get out of jail free" card: A laminated, wallet-sized card with Chinese on one side and Vietnamese on the other; a second card with Khmer on one side and Vietnamese on the other. Very explicit about the shellfish allergies and the medical consequences.

                Oh, you haven't lived until you're rushed to the ER.

                www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

              2. I don't see why a Chinese restaurant would be particularly more of a concern than any other kind of restaurant, but Myers + Chang might be a good choice as they seem particularly attentive to particularly dietary needs and allergies.

                7 Replies
                1. re: lipoff

                  Speaking as someone with allergies to shellfish in the family: Asian restaurants have more shellfish in the sauces, use the same oil, etc. M&C is a great idea as they have menus addressing allergies.
                  www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

                  1. re: lipoff

                    The Chinese restaurants are more of a concern because of the language barrier. It can be difficult to make yourself understood at some places, and even when you think you have done so, you still have an issue. My husband is allergic to shellfish. We do eat in Chinatown, but that's because there are dishes we know do not have any shellfish (beef chow foon, roast duck, etc.). However, last time we went, I decided to try a new noodle dish and asked the waiter if it had any shellfish or shrimp in it. He went to the kitchen, came back and said "no", so I ordered it.

                    Just to be sure, I took the first forkful and looked at it carefully and tasted it. Sure enough, there were baby shrimp in it. At least you can see a shellfish allergy on the plate. With nut allergy, it could be the oil they cook with. Trying to get that point across in a Chinese restaurant, with someone's health at stake? Not me.

                    By the way, we have used those laminated cards that were mentioned above, when we went to Japan last spring. They were wonderful. The website is www.selectwisely.com

                    1. re: mwk

                      I agree 100% with mwk.
                      One other way to deal with this is by going to the same place repeatedly so the kitchen gets to know your allergies: I did this with CK Sau at CK's Shanghai and before when he was at New Shanghai.

                      You're right about the language difficulties Friends in Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, and China helped me with cards that say, basically: Death if he eats shellfish.

                      I travel to Japan often and...so far so good.

                      www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

                      1. re: mwk

                        Actually, it depends on the severity of the allergy. I know people who have problems with oyster sauce, fish sauce and shrimp paste: you can't necessarily see those in a dish, and they're pretty common ingredients in some cuisines.

                        I agree that the language barrier is at least as big an issue. I recall an incident at S&I Thai where I thought I had gotten the "No shrimp" idea across on behalf of a severely allergic friend, and the dish came out with dried shrimp on it. It's a bit of a crapshoot, maybe a good idea to make contingency plans for the worst, or carry an EpiPen, and least.

                        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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                        S&I To Go
                        168A Brighton Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          The problem with allergies is their unpredictable nature. Reactions can be exacerbated by age, exposure, etc. That's right: the ingredients noted above are hidden, too. The famous case in Rhode Island of the peanut butter in the chili that killed the customer...yikes!

                          Yeah, dried shrimp is used like salt and pepper in Southeast Asian food.

                          Epipen is a necessity, but all it does it buy you time. 15 minutes per injection.

                          Developing a relationship with the kitchen is a good route: One owner of Zoe's in Somerville is allergic to shellfish; CK Sau's GM, "Mike," an ex-Brandeis librarian can help customers navigate; East by Northeast is smart about this; etc.
                          www;shrinkinthekitchen.com

                          -----
                          East by Northeast
                          1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            Actually, my husband does have issue with things like fish sauce. We very rarely go to eat in Thai or Malayasian or other Southeast Asian restaurants for this reason. We have found that Montien in the Theater District is one place where they understand the issue and can either leave out the fish sauce or direct him to dishes that don't have it. We have eaten there many times without any issues.

                            1. re: mwk

                              Same here. Elephant Walk is a pretty safe bet, too.
                              As are any true vegetarian restaurants.
                              www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

                              -----
                              Elephant Walk
                              2067 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140

                      2. sesame is a seed, not a nut and peanuts are legumes, not tree-nuts, so a person may be allergic to peanuts, but not almonds or cashews.

                        with the language barrier at most asian restaurants this isn't a risk i'd take myself if i had the allergy, nor would i take it on behalf of anybody else. even avoiding certain obvious dishes doesn't negate the potential of cross-contamination.

                        the suggestions of both meyers + chang and blue ginger are excellent.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Allergies are weird. A guy at The French Laundry was allergic on his skin to lobster, but could ingest it.

                          At Asian restaurants, speaking experientially, the reused oil, which is a common practice, poses a big risk.

                          Meyers & Chang, yup. Plus: Taam China, which is Kosher Chinese--no shellfish permitted!

                          www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

                          -----
                          Taam China Restaurant
                          423 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446

                          1. re: scotty27

                            the op's concern is a nut allergy, not shellfish.

                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              I understand. It's the reused oil that is problematic, no matter the specific allergen.

                            2. re: scotty27

                              On this note, watch out at Kelly's Roast Beef outlets. They use separate fryers, but the same recycled, filtered oil for frying seafood, fries and onion rings. It would not surprise me if this were true at the many Kelly's knockoffs, too.

                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                That's true at most diners, from Greg's in Watertown, to Charlie's in the South End.
                                Fryolator oil, I mean.

                            3. re: Bob MacAdoo

                              Bob is right. It is fast and terrifying. Your throat constricts, etc. The ER...well, this is truly scary stuff.

                              Anyway, on a pleasant note: It's really possible to enjoy eating well without danger. In addition to precautions and avoiding certain cuisines, learning to cook food at home, allergy free, well, that's what we do here.

                              www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                A person's allergies are case-dependent based on the indvidual. My son is allergic to peanuts (yes, a legume), but not beans or apsargus, but also soybeans (protein only, not oil.) He is allergic to sesame seeds but has no problem with pumpkin seeds, He's also allergic to tree nuts, but can eat cocnuts, which is technically a tree nut. He's allergic to eggs as well ...

                                The point is, anybody with an allergy should visit an allergist, get their blood tested (skin tests only go so far), and then always ask the chef (not the waiter, not the manager, not the line cook) about ingredients.

                                As an aside, a good friend of mine who has a severe fish allergy (though not shellfish!) was eating at a restaurant in Florida and asked the wait staff to speak with the chef about ingredients. The waiter assured him that all staff was briefed on ingredients and that a pasta alfredo absolutely did not include any fish. Alas, it did include fish stick, which the chef used last minute to thin out the creamy Alfredo. And so my friend wound up in the ER.

                                Locally, I've had great success at family-friendly restaurants like Not Your Average Joe's (whose head chef phoned me at 9 a..m on a Saturday from home to go over ingredients), Charlie Sarkis' restaurants, as well as any small, chef/owner operated Italian restaurant (North End, Metro West, and North Shore). Any restaurant where the chef will not get on the phone (note: I call either very early, around 10 a.m., or late afternoon, around 3 p.m.) to discuss ingredients is a place I will not go.

                                1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                                  You are so right. Scary, isn't it?
                                  Your point about "hidden" ingredients is spot on.

                                  1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                                    bob, totally get this. when the op lumped in seeds with peanuts, i was just trying to be helpful to the op. if they were my allergies, (as an adult) i'd be the one calling the restaurant and making sure the coast was clear and my issues addressed.

                                    that being said, a few years back we had a set of parents and two daughters come for dinner. girls about 12-14. standard allergy warning on bottom of menu. when entrees arrived one of the girls began eating and the mother flagged me over. "are those nuts on my daughter's dinner"? "well, yes." "SHE COULD DIE!!!!! SHE IS DEATHLY ALLERGIC!!!!!" of course, i swooped the plate away, but how could she not have said this FIRST THING to the server? people never cease to amaze.

                                2. I have a son with a severe peanut allergy and lesser, non-deadly allergies to certain tree nuts. The only Asian restaurant we will eat in (we do get take-out from numerous other places, but not for him) is Blue Ginger. I would never risk taking someone with a peanut allergy to a Chinese restaurant unless I was absolutely certain the kitchen staff understood the seriousness of anaphylaxis.

                                  It's not just the type of oil--and it is true that refined, comercially processed peanut oil is safe-- it's the fact that dishes containing peanuts or other nuts can be cooked in the same oil as those served to an allergic diner. It's not enough to just wipe out the skillet--it has to be washed with soap and refilled with fresh oil. Unless you can be sure a place will do that for you, don't eat there.

                                  -----
                                  Blue Ginger
                                  583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Isolda

                                    I agree 100%. In this house, with allergic members, people are learning to cook favorite dishes at home: Pad thai, Dry cooked chicken, etc.
                                    I figure if we can perfect 12 dishes, we're good.
                                    www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

                                    1. re: Isolda

                                      as well as the knife, cutting board, spoons, side towels and latex gloves the cook may be using, etc. i've been lucky that every place i have ever worked (granted, yes, fine dining, but still...) has taken declared food allergies as serious as a heart attack. this simply reinforces what i said upthread about language barriers and special orders.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        Yup, agreed. I had to walk onto the sidewalk, at A-Z, back in the day due to unwashed knives: Crabs! Chef Yeo was chill, but yeah it was scary.

                                        Places I worked at begged customers to tell us about their allergies, yes.

                                        www.shrinkinthekithen.com