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Next come sauces, gravies, and soups. Most of them have some wheat flour sprinkled in. It makes them thick and creamy, and it’s completely unnecessary from a culinary standpoint. Most chefs, except for the very best, will use flour routinely in their sauces and soups. All Cajun food is suspect because it’s based on roux, a mix of flour and oil that is the basis of all soups and sauces in that genre of cooking.
Then there is anything that comes out of a package. Wheat and its derivatives are hidden in hundreds of forms, and in thousands of places, ending up in salad dressings, prepared sauces, potato chips and most other junk foods, even in soy sauce.
Veggie burgers are famous for having wheat: It usually comes in the form of seitan, sometimes identified as wheat gluten and sometimes by another name (modified vegetable protein, for example).
As you are starting to figure out, this turns eating into a constant yoga. It’s easy enough if you make all your meals at home. I happen to live on the road, so I eat out a lot. Every time I sit down in a restaurant, I have the same basic discussion. I have to recruit the assistance of the dining room staff, and get them to be my lawyer in the kitchen. If they get it, that is. I don’t hesitate to ask to see the formula for any particular dish; I have asked that the chef be called at 10 o’clock at night. I presume I have the right to eat safely.
In some ways, my life is an ongoing survey of food awareness in the world. You would be surprised how many people don’t know that bread and pasta are made from wheat and flour. I have stopped being surprised, and have resigned myself to the fact that about 80 percent of the population has no idea what it’s putting in its mouth.
I live in Europe, so half the time this discussion is going on in French. The French have some special properties. For one thing, they are cookie pushers like few others. French food is laced with flour. They love sauces, and since everyone can’t be a great chef, most restaurants must content themselves with shades of mediocrity. A properly trained French chef would no sooner put wheat flour in a sauce than you would put shoe polish in one, but unfortunately there are not so many of these elites.
In the United States, most people decide I’m trying to lose weight. I am not prone to violence, but there came a point where if one more server asked me if I was on the Atkins diet, I thought I was going to turn the table over.
Or, you explain the dietary restrictions you have: no breads, breaded food or sauces or gravies containing wheat; and the server asks me if I’m a vegetarian. Well, wheat rhymes with meat, but they are different. Unless that meat is seitan.
Then there are the times when you negotiate everything being wheat and flour-free; you negotiate and stipulate everything; everyone agrees and is happy to oblige; and then dinner comes out with a big piece of bread soaking in the middle of the plate.
Soy sauce was an interesting discovery. One of the ways you can avoid wheat is to eat Asian food, but you have to be careful because soy sauce is brewed with wheat. I don’t know how many parts per million of gliadin end up in soy sauce, but I prefer to avoid it. I will either bring my own gluten-free soy sauce to sushi dinners, or a bottle of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos; but I can’t tell you how many of these not-so-cheap condiments I’ve left behind at Asian restaurants. Note that many lower-quality Chinese places recycle their old deep-fryer oil into other dishes; this would spread gluten into places you would never imagine have it, such as sautéed vegetables.
In my neighborhood in Brussels, one sympathetic Chinese restaurant keeps a bottle of gluten-free soy sauce on hand. I’ve found that the best bet is to eat in Thai restaurants, which use other things to thicken their soups and sauces, and they don’t use much soy sauce. Thai chefs seem to be particularly impeccable when it comes to knowing their ingredients. Astrologer Debbi Kepton-Smith once wrote that people with Venus in Taurus (which I have) tend to go the same restaurant and eat the same thing every day. That would be me.