Let’s Eat Out!A few weeks ago, I received a copy of Let’s Eat Out! Your Passport to Living Gluten and Allergy Free, together with some pocket-sized books from the same series intended to go out and about with you. The idea was that I should review these for you – and I was thrilled to receive the pack. It’s glossy, well-produced and has deservedly been nominated for many awards (and won lots!).

I have been intending to review these. I have, honestly! But I have found it extremely difficult to know what to say.

Not because I don’t think this is an extraordinary piece of research, or a very valuable asset to eating out, because I do. This is clearly a very detailed inventory of cuisines, with some very helpful advice on what to think about before eating out – and what questions to ask.

And I know that many people find it difficult to eat out, because they lack confidence in the restaurateurs, and don’t want to be ill – understandably! So I think this may prove to be a huge help to a great many people.

So why am I struggling to review it?

  • Partly, possibly, simply because there is just so much material, so densely packed. This book deals with 10 different allergens, most of which aren’t relevant to my family (though will clearly be relevant to somebody else), and so identifying which paragraphs are appropriate is a bit of a chore.
  • Partly, perhaps, because the countries I’m interested in haven’t yet been included. Not surprisingly, Let’s Eat Out have focused on the most familiar cuisines. I would have too! But I’d like to see sections on eating Greek and Turkish, and I’m very interested in eating gluten free in Finland at the moment (because my coeliac daughter really does want to go to Finland) – so there’s lots of scope for expansion!
  • And, of course, much of the advice in each section is similar to those in other sections, (such as discussion of stocks, sauces, cooking oil and coatings) and so there is a degree of repetition. But as the authors point out, this book is not to be read cover to cover, but dipped into at need – so these things do need to be repeated in each section. Just in case you only ever read the section on Italian cooking, say. And it doesn’t hurt to have these things reiterated … It is easy, sometimes, to forget that what is very familiar to me may be brand new information to someone who’s only just been diagnosed.

One way that this company could resolve this would be to enable a pick and mix approach, so that people could create their own allergy-pack by picking and choosing elements to be incorporated into their personalised book. That way, if you couldn’t eat gluten or dairy, you could have just the relevant pages; if you couldn’t eat eggs or dairy, you’d have a different set; and if you just wanted pages relevant to nut allergies, that’s all you’d get. If you only wanted to know about eating gluten free in a Thai restaurant, that’s all you’d buy, but if you wanted to know about eating dairy free in French, Italian and Indian restaurants, you’d buy a different set. (See my very recent post on creating your own cookbook).

The parts of the main book that I’d like to point out as particularly useful are:

  • the section on ingredient and preparation techniques, broken down by allergen, and explaining why, for instance, you should be careful about mashed potato in North America
  • the sections on breakfast, and on snacks – with a wide range of options listed under each
  • the section on allergy-free drinks
  • the appendices – books, websites for support groups by country, websites for allergy-free shopping, by country

And I like the small handbooks – though a guide to pronunciation might have been helpful.

I found the quick reference charts unhelpful, as so many of the items ‘could’ contain gluten that looking at the list was quite demoralising – and weakened the authority of the book. How could orange juice or mineral water contain gluten? Also, of course, these things vary from country to country: pork sausages in the UK will almost certainly contain gluten in the form of breadcrumb or rusk (you have to look quite hard to find those that don’t) while in France the butcher will probably look at you in horror at the very thought of bulking out his sausages with this kind of filler.

Overall, though, this series is just astonishing in the depth of information available. And if I were taking a holiday in, say, Italy, I’d definitely pack the multi-lingual phrase passport. I’m really looking forward to seeing the expansion of this series into a wider range of national cuisines.

Have you bought this? I know its been out for at least a year now, because I commented on it back in October 06, so chances are you’ve seen it …