Friday, October 19, 2007

Ben Thanh Restaurant in Waterloo

Eating out at Asian restaurants is often a challenge for Celiacs. So many dishes seem to have soy sauce, which of course has wheat in it. (Well, many brands do).

Luckily there are usually options for Celiacs. My first choice at Chinese food restaurants is usually Singapore Noodles - a rice noodle dish that isn't in a sauce. Of course, I always ask the server to ensure they don't use soy sauce or other sauces, or other gluten products. Sometimes it is tough to get a concise answer though! (If you have any suggestions of other dishes to try, please leave a comment!)

But...this review isn't about Chinese restaurants. It's about a great Thai restaurant on Northfield in Waterloo called Ben Thanh. It's actually a chain with a few locations in Ontario. (Guelph, Waterloo, Cambridge, Burlington, London and Hamilton).

The good thing about Thai restaurants is they usually have a lot of fresh options, and not as many dishes that are fried or are in sauces. Ben Thanh is great because they seem to know their dishes well. I've been there many times and the server always goes to talk to the chefs about what dishes would be safe for me to eat.

So far, here are my findings:
  • The Lean Beef Pho Soup is gluten-free, and makes a great meal. I don't eat the sauce that comes on the side.
  • The Pad Thai is gluten-free
  • The fresh shrimp rolls are gluten-free (shrimp wrapped in rice paper, with lettuce and mint). Again I avoid the sauce.
  • The fried spring rolls (again wrapped in rice paper) might be gluten-free, but I'm almost certain a separate fryer is not used (so I'd avoid them).
  • The Vermicelli platters all have meat that is marinated in soy sauce - stay away from these dishes.

So far that's all the information I've discovered. Been to Ben Thanh or other Thai restaurants? Please leave a comment if you have anything to share!

Oh and finally, it's always recommended to ask your server - don't just take my word for it. Preparation techniques or ingredients can change at any time.

Enjoy eating out!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Keg

I've posted about The Keg in Waterloo before, but I just visited there this evening and had some additional information to post.

I decided today to have the prime rib, instead of my usual steak option. I always mention to my server that I cannot have gluten, and in this case I specifically questioned the "au jus" that was to accompany the prime rib.

The server didn't know off hand if I could have the au jus, but went to check with the cooking staff. A few minutes later, the host (or manager, I'm not sure which) came to talk to me and mentioned that the au jus contained "corn gluten". He wasn't sure exactly if I could have corn gluten, even though their allergy book indicated that it was fine for Celiacs. (yes, that means they actually have an allergy book. Very cool.)

I did ensure him that "corn gluten" is fine (the word gluten is a little scary, but corn gluten is just corn), and therefore the au jus was fine.

Also, I requested a Caesar salad without croutons, and apparently they made it in a separate bowl so there was no contamination. (The Caesar dressing is safe, I've checked.)

Finally, my meal came with a baked potato and beans and mushrooms. The beans and mushrooms were a little different than the ones my wife (a non-Celiac) got. Hers were cooked in some sort of sauce, and mine were completely plain - probably steamed. I'm not sure exactly why I couldn't have the normal veggies, but they were obviously cautious in preparing my meal.

Overall, it was a great dinner and I really appreciated the staff's knowledge and care about eating gluten-free.

Trip to Madison, Wisconsin

A few times a year I travel to Madison, Wisconsin on business. It's a great city with lots of interesting restaurants. Eating out tips are always handy, so in the case you find yourself in Madison, here are some restaurants you can try.

1) Sardine's - I ate here recently, and the server definitely knew about eating gluten-free. She mentioned (without me asking) that their fries are cooked in a separate fryer and in peanut oil. I had the steak frites, and a nice fresh salad. Very good.

617 Williamson St. (in back)
Madison,WI 53703
(608) 441-1600

2) Bandung Indonesian Restaurant - this is actually right across the street from Sardine's. I was a little worried at first since the menu had a lot of stir fries and dishes with sauces. However, when I mentioned I was on a gluten-free diet, they produced a menu that had all the items on the menu that were completely gluten-free, or could be modified (and instructions on the menu how...e.g. "No soy sauce", "Rice noodles instead of egg noodles", etc.). Any restaurant that has a gluten-free menu is good in my books.

600 Williamson St
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 255-6910

3) Einstein Bagels - I visit this chain often because it has good salad options. The one salad that I've checked up on is the Chipotle salad. The ingredients are indeed gluten-free, including the dressing...with one exception: I don't eat the tortilla strips since the last time I was there they mentioned that they've changed the ones they use recently, and couldn't tell me if they were gluten-free. They are in a separate little container though, so there is no contamination.

4) Mexican food - Madison has a plethora of good Mexican food restaurants. This is good news for Celiacs as a lot of authentic Mexican food is made from corn. (notably corn tortillas) I always try fit in a couple Mexican meals when I'm in Madison.

Well, that's just a few of the establishments I visited on my last trip. I'll post other restaurant options as I take more business trips there.

Have your own favourite restaurants outside of the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge areas? Feel free to add a comment!

Gluten-free in England and Italy

I've now returned from my 3-week trip in Europe - 1 week in England and 2 weeks in Italy. I thought a little summary post about the trip (with respect to being a Celiac) would be helpful.

So, here are my observations:


It seems like London is further ahead in gluten-free options than we are here in Ontario. The grocery stores had plenty of GF options; but more importantly they label so many of their products as gluten free or non-gluten free. Just look for the special gluten-free symbol on the front of the product! Pretty handy.

However - they must have slightly different 'rules' about what ingredients are and aren't allowed in England. I say this because some products that were labeled gluten free had ingredients that I wouldn't dare to eat. For instance, "wheat starch (gluten-free)" seems like an oxymoron to me, but I'm not sure what sort of processing was used (and can't pretend to be an expert). I just stayed away from these products.

Which reminds me, if you fly British Airways, you get food made in Britain. No kidding! But the bun that came with my gluten-free meal had ingredients listed on of which was this same "gluten-free wheat starch". Just be careful.

With all that said, I do think that London at least is further along in terms of gluten-free options. Restaurants - especially 'fast' food chains - seem to have more gluten-free options. For instance, a few of the Starbucks I visited had a gluten-free pastries. Pret a Manger, another popular fast food restaurant had "sandwiches without the bun". I had a shrimp salad which was amazingly fresh and tasted great.

The restaurants we visited were pretty knowledgeable as well, but I guess I was most impressed with the large food chains that had options usually not found here in Ontario.

Oh, and before I forget. I found a gluten-free beer in England! That's two that I know of now (the other one being La Messagère of course). Here's a picture:


Eating in Italy was both easy and tough for me. It was easy because although many places we visited didn't speak English, the business card-sized note I made up in Italian indicating that I needed gluten-free food was ideal. It worked so well, I almost feel like making one in English so I don't have to explain to my server every time I go out to eat!

It was tough though because my wife (who isn't a Celiac) ate so much great bread and pasta that I was pretty jealous.

But overall, I didn't have a tough time. At our first town (Padua/Padova), we found a natural food store that helped us find gluten-free products. They directed us to the pharmacy - yes that's correct - you buy gluten-free products at pharmacies in Italy.

So we found a pharmacy close by and it had so many gluten-free products. Needless to say I stocked up (see the picture below).

The fresh (not-frozen) Schar products were really the best of the bunch, though everything was very good. The Bon Matin buns were sweet breakfast buns, perfect with a little Nutella on them for breakfasts. I also bought sandwich buns and just purchased sliced meat and cheese from the markets for lunches. Not only was this cost effective, but a quick and delicious lunch. The pharmacy also gave me a handful of free sample products, such as cookies, crackers and savoury snacks!

As an aside: Italy's sliced meats are a lot different than the processed meats we get here in Ontario at grocery stores. They have a lot less preservatives and fillers - in fact, finding ones with gluten is very unlikely. Even salami and sausages that I found were pretty much pork, salt, pepper and spices.

Dinners worked out well - instead of the 'primi' course (which is usually pasta), I enjoyed salads, prosciutto with melon, or cheeses. Often I tried the risotto if it was available, and the servers ensured me that it was cooked without gluten. (The most common problem with risotto is the chicken broth that the rice is cooked in. This chicken stock often contains gluten in store bought products in Canada.) It seemed fine in Italy, but definitely check if you are there and have risotto.

The second course was easy as it's almost always meat or fish. In fact, if you don't order a side dish, sometimes you just get the meat. (A little shocking when you just get a whole fish plopped down in front of you!). Anyway, most of these second courses were just grilled or baked, with not a lot of sauces to worry about. But very tasty indeed!

All in all, it was a great trip, and a lot less troublesome than expected.

Do you have any vacation tips, especially when visiting foreign countries? Please add a comment!

One last picture from Italy: