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Food allergies and living in China


Shelley
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1 hour ago, Shelley said:

This is actually one reason I never made it to China, fear of eating anything

 

We're off-topic here but although I don't have food allergies, as a mostly-vegetarian I felt similarly apprehensive before I got here. 

 

(Having been regaled with stories by work colleagues about going on business trips and taken out to fancy restaurants where they'd been offered various "exotic" animals to eat.)

 

I'm not really a fan of a lot of Chinese food but have ended up adapting some local dishes to make myself.  Plus I eat a lot of Thai and Japanese food here, which I like much more.

 

Anyway... don't let food worries put you off visiting! Especially in the bigger cities. I was even in a hotel in Xiamen a few weeks ago that had labelled every single dish in the breakfast buffet according to allergies, veg/vegan requirements etc.

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FWIW I think 花生 will always be understood as "peanut", and 马铃薯 will always be understood as "potato". It's just that in Taiwan 花生 is a formal and less commonly used word, and in mainland China 马铃薯 is a more formal and less commonly used word. The colloquial 土豆 is the only one with any ambiguity.

 

Regardless of dialect words, depending on the severity of your peanut allergy, it could cause problems in China if you eat outside of very "foreigner friendly" places. Peanut oil is pretty ubiquitous in Chinese cooking, and given the frequency of stories where vegetarians are told their 麻婆豆腐 is meatless only to find it contains minced beef, I wouldn't be surprised if you found a similar thing when asking if a dish contains nuts.

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@Demonic_Duck Yes, this is the main reason - peanut oil. Sorry for derailing the topic a bit, it just struck me as a really useful thing to know. Confusing potatoes and peanuts can be the difference between life and death.

@mungouk Thanks for that. I don't mean to belittle the choices of a vegan/vegetarian or other food choices but it won't kill you to eat meat accidentally where as even the tiniest amount of peanut can have serious consequences for a nut allergy sufferer.
I just can't take the risk. I don't even eat out in the UK where I should be perfectly understood as some people still don't take it seriously. i cook all our food from scratch and read packets carefully. 

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14 hours ago, Shelley said:

Yes, this is the main reason - peanut oil. Sorry for derailing the topic a bit, it just struck me as a really useful thing to know.

When I became gluten intolerant, I thought China might become difficult (because wheat is the 1st ingredient in most soy sauces)  However, I found a website that has a short text about being gluten intolerant in countless languages.  I took their Chinese one & friends helped me edit it.  I keep paper print outs so waiters can show it to the cooks.  I've never had a problem. 

 

With gluten intolerance, it was important for me to offer alternatives and to describe what I could/couldn't eat.  Peanuts are somewhat more simple.  

 

(sorry also for going off topic....)

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With allergies and intolerants, it’s not only about telling the staff at the restaurants in Chinese but making sure they understand that you will die from it that is also difficult. Because deadly food allergies are not very common in a lot of Asian countries. In fact I only discovered there is such thing as peanut allergy after I moved to Australia. Also in my personal experience a lot of Asians would eat the stuff that’s only causing discomfort ie. dairy, a lot of Asians have dairy intolerant including me and a lot of us just choose to eat them anyway and deal with the discomfort later so this attitude might contribute to a lot of food vendors not really paying attention to food restrictions. 

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There can also be interesting interpretations. A friend of mine is deadly allergic to anything that lives in water, but he has been able to live and work in China just fine regardless. He told me of one incident when he explained to his Chinese hosts that he couldn't eat any sea food and they told him that they'd take care of it. The main course ended up being some big freshwater fish...

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17 hours ago, alantin said:

He told me of one incident when he explained to his Chinese hosts that he couldn't eat any sea food and they told him that they'd take care of it. The main course ended up being some big freshwater fish...

 

I guess that's a subtle difference between "seafood" and 海鲜. Compare: Are freshwater fish considered seafood? (consensus is "yes") vs 淡水鱼属于海鲜吗? (consensus is "no").

 

On 6/17/2021 at 4:44 AM, Dawei3 said:

With gluten intolerance, it was important for me to offer alternatives and to describe what I could/couldn't eat.  Peanuts are somewhat more simple.

 

I don't think gluten intolerance is really comparable to peanut allergies. The most serious reaction from gluten intolerance is diarrhea or stomach cramps, whereas the most serious reaction from peanut allergies is anaphylaxis, which is potentially life threatening.

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10 hours ago, Demonic_Duck said:

The most serious reaction from gluten intolerance is diarrhea or stomach cramps, whereas the most serious reaction from peanut allergies is anaphylaxis, which is potentially life threatening.

That's actually not true. While I don't know anything about Dawei3's level of intolerance, serious gluten intolerance can lead to death and psychosis if enough is ingested, and "enough" is sometimes not as high as one thinks. I understand your trepidation and your feeling that your allergy is not taken seriously by many people, but assuming that nobody has an allergy as serious as your own is unbecoming, and also doesn't allow you to accurately assess risk based on people's anecdotal evidence.

That said, it would be good if someone with your specific allergy would chime in, I think peanuts is somewhat special in the sense that it's so omnipresent in Chinese cooking.

Unfortunately on that note, I have to say that China simply cannot accommodate a peanut allergy in my opinion, especially not a severe one. Even if you get extremely lucky or proficient with navigating the relevant conversations with Chinese people and manage a 100% success rate in getting them to understand both what is kosher, and the consequences if they fuck it up, peanuts are so omnipresent in Chinese kitchens that cross-contamination will be to some extent unavoidable.

If exposure therapy to reduce the severity of your allergy is not an option then the simple fact is you cannot safely eat out in China. Sorry.

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55 minutes ago, NinKenDo said:

That's actually not true. While I don't know anything about Dawei3's level of intolerance, serious gluten intolerance can lead to death and psychosis if enough is ingested, and "enough" is sometimes not as high as one thinks. I understand your trepidation and your feeling that your allergy is not taken seriously by many people, but assuming that nobody has an allergy as serious as your own is unbecoming, and also doesn't allow you to accurately assess risk based on people's anecdotal evidence.

 

To clarify, Shelley is the OP, not me. I have neither gluten intolerance nor peanut allergy, though I do have some other allergies (mostly pretty mild).

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