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Apr 25, 2011 06:26 PM

Sushi and sesame. Allergic conundrums.

Hello Chowhounds, I'm a lurker and first time poster. My friend of many years, and dearest eating partner has recently developed an increasingly serious seed allergy. It initially started as a reaction to flax and sesame, but grew to include most seeds in that family, poppy, mustard, and pine nuts (tragic!). However, sesame and flax cause the strongest reaction. Early on, it was just a matter of brushing some sesame seeds off of a roll and resisting halva, but she has become much more sensitive of late.

Of course, this isn't the most exclusive of allergies, compared to peanuts or gluten, a seed allergy is pretty easy to deal with. Even with all the products being fortified with omega-3 by adding flax oil, home cooking isn't a challenge. But it has put a damper on some of our favorite cuisines, and while I'm a competent cook, I really can't match the skills and access to product that a well-trained sushi chef has. However, the sesame allergy is strong enough that simply handling seeds and then touching her food is enough to cause a reaction and ruin an evening. This extends to other cuisines in which sesame seeds or oil play a heavy part, which rules out a lot of the best Asian food. I'd love to be able to take her out to some of these places, but am slightly intimidated by demanding that a busy cook completely avoid seeds or switch gloves when making our food to avoid contaminating her order. I also worry about possible language barriers at some lower key (and often most delicious) restaurants or, given how uncommon the allergy is, a lack of concern.

I am eager to hear what any of the veteran eaters on this board have experienced. I'm sure a lot of you will be pretty dismissive of it as being hypochondria or paranoia, but the allergy is very real. Mostly, I'd love to hear if anybody has made awkward demands of chefs at restaurants (especially Asian) that weren't fine dining and found relief. As somebody with no intolerances to any ingredients I can have trouble sympathizing with her. But I'd love to be able to take her to Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese restaurants without any fear of the evening ending with a panic attack, an epi-pen injection, or at best a Benadryl coma. If we could find a few quality Asian restaurants that were very accommodating, they would have a couple of good tipping customers for life.

Thank you all!

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  1. I'm allergic to honey and if I have it, it's a guaranteed trip to the ER. I've found most restos are very willing to work with any of us. If her allergies get much worse, avoid those places you know she can't go. Simple.

    1. My cousin (we are Asians) is allergic to sesame. She simply tells the wait person that she can't have sesame seeds or sesame oil because she is deathly allergic and to please alert her to anything that contains such things because she doesn't want a trip to the ER. I went on a tour of Japan many years ago and our group included a man who had a sesame allergy. He had a note written in Japanese that advised of his sesame allergy and he presented that to the wait person at every restaurant. However, I'm not sure that either of these folks required the distance from sesame that your friend does. No restaurant worth its soy sauce wants to have an ambulance pull up in front of it. I suggest that you call ahead.

      1. We have been dealing with allergies for a long time. My 14 yo son is allergic to peanuts and several tree nuts. You'll probably hate hearing this, but it is something you should think about: we never take him to Thai restaurants at all, because the risk of cross-contamination is so high with peanuts. When we want Thai, we bring it in for the rest of the family and he prepares himself a totally different meal.

        I know sesame seems easier to avoid, but if your girlfriend's allergy gets more serious, she may feel ill just being in a room where she can smell it. Smelling the allergen won't cause anaphylaxis, but it sure can make the victim feel nauseous. So even if you think you've found a restaurant or two where the staff is accommodating and takes her seriously, she should let her nose be the guide.

        When it comes to food allergies, there are no safe restaurants, only knowledgeable employees. You can go to a restaurant many times with no problems, but then get a server or cook who isn't well informed, and end up in the ER. So if you see an Asian place that seems accommodating, develop a relationship with some of the staff there so they will look after you. But don't let your guard down. Ultimately, your GF is responsible for her own safety.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Isolda

          I am mostly cruising for moral support. I actually have family in Japan, so the anecdote about a traveler with a written note was refreshing. Ultimately I think I'll wind up getting some practice with the cuisines she can't have so that if a craving hits hard, it's not just depressing. Although she is sensitive to small amounts of sesame, a good dose of Benadryl is enough to prevent anaphylaxis, it just also knocks her out for awhile, and the reaction leaves her feeling a bit weird for a couple days. Thanks for sharing your experiences.