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Dec 6, 2011 09:24 AM

Single item done well? Traveling with kids with food allergies

I am trying to come up with a strategy for eating in Paris with my two children who have a) peanut and shellfish allergy and b) tree nut and sesame allergy.

We have rented an apartment (near St Germain Des Pres Metro) so I can cook much of the time, but would like to find a few places where we might be able to eat safely without whipping out the epi pens and benadryl and calling for an ambulance due to either my poor French or the restaurants lack of knowledge about food allergy.

A new strategy I have thought might work is finding restaurants that serve one thing (that is devoid of nuts, peanuts shellfish and sesame) Would a couscous shop be a good choice? Crepes?

I am looking for the French equivalent of the taco truck I suppose. Anyone else dealt with food allergies in Paris? Any other suggestions out there for getting a feel for French cuisine without ... killing the kids?

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  1. "a) peanut and shellfish allergy and b) tree nut and sesame allergy"

    Shellfish is easy to avoid. It is usually stated in the menu.
    Ditto tree nut. Accent on the usually.
    Peanut and sesame are not traditional French ingredients. But many moderne bistros like Ze Kitchen Gallery will have them.
    Are you sure you really want to risk? Your family eating out in Paris entails 1. Your explaining clearly to the staff, possibly in French; 2. The staff understanding minutely all the ingredients used in the kitchen without forgetting a single thing in the preparation.

    I first thought of brasseries that would have classic French dishes which would not have your listed to-avoid ingredients. But their food is not that good, and most importantly, in the mass-producing, less good restaurants all over the world, much is pre-prepared, and one is never sure of the ingredients. How many times have allergic people get into trouble in Asian restaurants having been reassured by waitstaff that a given dish does not have peanut, and it turns out that part of a pre-bought pre-prepared sauce has it?
    It is best to stick to better restaurants, not only because you'd eat better, but you'd be surer of exactly what kinds of ingredients are contained in the food.

    If you think your French is up to the task, I would recommend a place like Dans Les Landes. The food is great. The tapas-style meal - I call it Basque dimsum - is especially suited for a family of different age groups with varying appetites. And kids think variety is fun, right? It is also rather meat-oriented. (The non-shellfish-allergics must not miss the fried baby squid.) That particular regional cuisine is not known for the kind of ingredients you want to avoid. Except that sometimes walnut is put in the salad, but I don't remember whether Dans Les Landes's salad was that way. If walnut is picked out of the salad, is the salad still contaminated? I ask because I have a close relative who is in that case, and he can't even use utensils that have touched the allergenic foods.

    Couscous is usually devoid of your no-no ingredients, but once I had a Moroccan couscous that had nuts. It only takes one couscous to have a slight variation for you to get into big trouble, and the chef does not necessarily specify every variation on the menu.

    Therefore ultimately if I were a mother with a child with such severe allergies that ambulances had been called, I would not think eating out in a foreign country is worth the risk. So after all my advice, I'd say: don't do it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      I'm with Parigi, most "simple" are usually unable to control exactly what they serve. Peanut oil is actually fairly common -- but it's not a tree nut, is it (it's technically a legume I believe). So I would focus on chef's restaurants, high end ones, if your kids are very sensitive.

      Then again, if you order grilled steak and fries, there should be only little shellfish, treenut or sesame involved.

      1. re: souphie

        Soup - nut oils used for frying are highly refined and the high temperature denature any proteins left so they don't often cause reactions. The nut oils to watch out for are the cold pressed oil use in salad dressings, with walnut oil and hazelnut oil being reasonably common in top class restaurants.

        1. re: PhilD

          Yes, but those are exactly the restaurants which can change the dressing and know exactly what they're serving. Not to mention, cold pressed walnut or hazelnut oil have quite distinct taste, resulting in yet another warranty.

    2. I think you should go for it. I have friends and relatives with kids with severe allergies. They say the key is not making a big deal out of it. Go where ever you want, order plain food and if all else fails keep a stash of snacks on you that can tide them over if there is an iffy menu. Also I am sure you already know but most chocolate crepes are filled with Nutella. My daughter loves plain chocolate crepes but it always nutella. Have a great time. (If I am over simplifying I'm sorry :) )

      1. Read The book "Allergic Girl", bring a well translated set of chef cards and try some restaurants like Brasserie Balzar that offer simple dishes without complex sauces. Even there, don't forget to give the wait staff one of your allergy cards.

        1. I am highly allergic to walnuts (experiencing big syringes full of adrenaline a few times in my life) so I don't take the problem lightly, but equally I don't carry an epi-pen or avoid any particular resturants or cuisines - i just eat sensibly and avoid suspicious things (left over walnuts sprinked in an apple crumble topping caught me though). My advice is to choose restaurants tht serve good food and simply choose the dishes tht don't have nuts, peanuts, sesame or shellfish. It really isn't going to be that tricky.

          Shellfish are expensive so they won't get randomly thrown into dishes so tht shoul be fine. Peanuts ten to be I some Asian foods and I don't believe really feature in much traditional French food. Tree nuts are more tricky' and one thing to really watch out for is nuts in salads - walnuts seem quite popular. Also there are often pistachios in terrines so beware of these (i was certain i was alergic to them until someone pointed out that the gherkins in the terrine i had just eaten were nuts). I would avoid a lot of pastries because they can have almond pastes etc. and cous-cous can easily have a good sprinkling of almonds. Chestnuts are common in some parts of France so whatch out fir these - although are they true tree nut? Sesame seeds again re not tht common, maybe on bread and rolls, and obviously in tahini which may be found in dips in cous-cous places.

          But bottom line is that French food is usually quite traditional, and with traditional dishes you tend to know what you are getting so as long as you are reasonably knowledgable about classic French food the kids should survive, and who knows they may grow out of their allergies.

          1. Thank you everyone for your thoughts. I've gotten Allergic Girl's book. I do plan to cook much of the time (and am looking forward to exploring the markets) but also have a Parisian friend translating our chef cards for any eating out purposes.