Sunday, November 21, 2010

Report from a reader: #foodallergy in China

Last year I posted about my trip to China and some of the preparations and difficulties I ran into trying to manage my food allergies while traveling there.  Since then, I've received a few inquiries from readers about how to handle their allergies successfully when going to places like China where the country and culture is not as attuned to/cannot accommodate people with food allergies.  One reader, Margaret Lee, was kind enough to report back on how it went after I shared my experience and suggestions with her!  I hope this helps others plan ahead, manage expectations and be realistic about what you can and cannot do when traveling so that everyone stays healthy and safe.

Thanks Margaret for sharing!  The FAQ


Hello Kishari,
Just wanted to give you my report and experiences about my trip to China.
My trip was a company business trip from November 7th through the 17th, with a full 8 day stay in Shenzhen, Guangdong.
I was fortunate enough to know at the beginning that I should probably bring food with me. My food allergies are peanut and tree  nuts, including the oils, shellfish, canola oil and sulfites. I brought the following stash with me, which ended up being a second piece of luggage: Rice cakes, wheat crackers, soynut butter, craisins, canned tuna, soy milk, juice boxes. Since part of this business trip was a social aspect to establish trusting relationships with our sister company's location employees, it was sad that I was  not able to out with the "group" to dinner in the evenings. Fortunately, the hotel my company lodges it's employees at is the Marco Polo Hotel, which is an international hotel. Unfortunately, though we are told that all the employees speak english, they barely speak only basic english and they understand hardly any english at all if you ask them anything. A plus is a free buffet breakfast every day during the stay. The minus was that I was limited to oatmeal, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, miso soup and plain boiled white rice. Not too bad, as I filled up on what I could out of that selection. During the second half of my stay I found out I was able to eat the buffet dinner at the hotel, because they grilled the fish in olive oil. I had the buffet dinner on two different occasions, and it was heaven. My choices were grilled Japanese salmon (to die for!!) steamed squash, steamed sweet potato, corn, mixed greens salad. Not too bad again. Two of the other days, a Saturday and a Sunday I was forced to eat our because of what our group was doing. At one place, our Chinese office manager took 10 minutes to explain to the wait staff my allergies, and we gave the food allergy card to the kitchen. I managed to get steamed rice and a salad, but they totally messed up on the steamed potatoes and corn, as they put a pile of boiled peanuts and chestnuts right in the middle of the steamed vegetables which killed that option. At the other place, in Guangzhou, again there was a 10 minute explanation with the show of my card. I got a supposedly peanut free bowl of rice, broccoli and chicken (no meat, just bone joints and innerds) that I took a few bites of and was not comfortable eating. My face felt tingly after and I immediately took an antihistamine and I was fine for the rest of the day. It's exactly what you told me previously - the chinese really don't comprehend what food allergies are and they don't have the patience or time to prepare a special dish to accomodate your needs. All in all, I never had a bad reaction because I "ate in" most of the time, and I didn't starve even with the few foods I was limited to having. I was glad to have had the experience because not only was it so worth meeting my co-workers in China but I discovered that I can travel with food allergies and it turned out ok.
I understand I may have to go back there again, but I can go with less apprehension than the first time. I'm proud that I was able to overcome an obstacle that brought me great anxiety at the thought of what I had to do initially.
Please feel free to share my experience about this trip with anyone.
Best regards,
Margaret Lee

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