I was tragically disappointed tonight to find that the only place anywhere near us that does gluten free fish and chips appears to have closed down. In desperation I googled “gluten free fish and chips near me” and found that Mt Waverley fish and chips was listed. They didn’t say anything about gluten free on their menu, which always makes me nervous, but I have been pleasantly surprised before. My favourite restaurant of all time, The Smokehouse at Sorrento (now, sadly, also closed :( ), had a whole slew of gluten free desserts that it never listed on its menu.
So I called up Mt Waverley Fish and Chips and asked if they did anything gf. “Oh yes,” they said. “Burgers, souvlakis, and of course fish and chips.” I was really excited. I carefully checked that the chips were cooked in their own oil, to avoid cross contamination (which can make a coeliac surprisingly unwell). “Yes, we can do that,” they assured me. So I shelved my misgivings and ordered a really yummy dinner. I asked for a gluten free burger, having carefully checked that there was no onion in the burger (I am also fructose sensitive, which is true for many coeliacs). My daughter got a vegetarian burger. We got a bunch of other stuff as well, and I repeated that the chips and my burger needed to be gluten free. They cheerily agreed.
When we got there I asked them to be sure that the chips were gluten free. They pointed to the chips, languishing under a pile of – wheat flour battered – potato cakes and said “Those are gluten free.” I pointed out that they weren’t, as they were sitting with things containing gluten (it really does make me unpleasantly unwell), and they apologised and made us some fresh chips.
Feeling quite uneasy now, I checked on the burger. “The burger really is gluten free, right?” “Oh yes, one of them is definitely gluten free.” They were very emphatic.
So we took our food and headed home, where we found it rather difficult to work out which burger was gluten free, and indeed which one was vegetarian. One burger had no meat, just a fried egg, cheese, and some salad. One burger looked very much like a veggie burger, but it had bacon. There was a third burger, which looked relatively normal. All of them seemed to have the same kind of buns, and gluten free bread is usually quite distinctive.
So I called them and asked which one was gluten free. They checked the ingredients and said it was the one without tomato sauce. I pointed out that the buns all looked the same, and they said yes, but the burger was gluten free. The one without tomato sauce was definitely gluten free. By this point I was incredulous (and also feeling slightly queasy, having foolishly eaten some of the chips). I asked again if the burger was gluten free, and again they said yes. And then I asked explicitly about the bread. “Let me check with the manager,” the guy said.
And then he came back. “No,” he said, sounding a little sheepish now, “We can’t do gluten free bread. It’s normal bread.”
By this time I just didn’t know what to say. “I ordered a gluten free burger. You said you could do gluten free.”
“Yes,” he insisted. “The patty is gluten free. But not the bread.”
“I’m coeliac. You could have made me really ill.”
“Sorry about that. You can have a refund if you’re not satisfied.”
“IF? IF I’m not satisfied? You nearly made me really ill. Yes. I do want a refund.”
“You can come to the store.”
“You can’t refund me over the phone?”
“No, only cash.” (I paid with a credit card. Taking my money was easy, it appears. As was trying to poison me.)
At this point I gave up and went to brush my teeth, in the vain hope that I could avoid ingesting too much of the gluten that was almost certainly contaminating the chips. And now I am cooking a fresh dinner, while hoping that I am well enough to eat it by the time it’s done.
I ask you: how is it possible to even be licensed to sell food when you HAVE NO IDEA WHAT GLUTEN IS? WHEN YOU HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT CROSS CONTAMINATION OR HOW TO FEED THE INCREASINGLY LARGE PROPORTION OF THE POPULATION THAT SUFFERS FROM FOOD ALLERGIES?
If that was a nut issue, I have friends who could have died. As it is, coeliacs who inadvertently eat gluten can be unwell for days (as I very likely will be now), and it actually damages the lining of the gut. This is serious stuff. People can get sick. People can die. How can you sell food and not have the first idea about the consequences of getting it wrong?
So next time someone tells you that being gluten free is easy now, you might want to point them at this blog. It is true that a lot of places are very good at it. But the world is still a glutenous minefield for the unwary, and I was not wary enough tonight.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go throw up. Maybe I should go back to Mt Waverley Fish and Chips to do it. Bastards. No, not bastards. Fools. Culpably ignorant fools.