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Seafood Allergies and Southeast Asian Restaurants


stevep
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Hi all -- I have a lifelong allergy that requires that I avoid all types of seafood -- fish, shell fish, and all the rest. I have successfully avoided eating seafood for many years, but this has been done by not eating the foods from many Asian countries, primarily to avoid the accidental ingestion of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and similar ingredients. But, your descriptions of enjoyable eating experiences lead me to ask for some advice. Knowing of my allergy, would I have any likelihood of avoiding seafood ingredients in Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, or Korean restaurants? If so, what can I order? Thanks for any assistance.

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I don't believe that the marinades traditionally used in Korean cooking for bulgogi and kalbi contain seafood based sauces.

Many Vietnamese dishes do contain fish sauce and recipes are likely to vary from restaurant to restaurant so my recommendation would be to go to a place like Present, explain your allergy to all things seafood, and ask them for a recommendation. They may have dishes where the entire dish is made from scratch and soy sauce can be subbed in for the fish sauce. Things to avoid at Vietnamese places would be pho or grilled meats where the large batch of broth will likely have fish sauce or the meat is premarinated with fish sauce.

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Hi all -- I have a lifelong allergy that requires that I avoid all types of seafood -- fish, shell fish, and all the rest. I have successfully avoided eating seafood for many years, but this has been done by not eating the foods from many Asian countries, primarily to avoid the accidental ingestion of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and similar ingredients. But, your descriptions of enjoyable eating experiences lead me to ask for some advice. Knowing of my allergy, would I have any likelihood of avoiding seafood ingredients in Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, or Korean restaurants? If so, what can I order? Thanks for any assistance.

Oh boy... tricky tricky.

Korean is probably the safest. The least obvious thing to be cautious of is kimchee, which may contain fish sauce or oysters. Tofu stews (soon doo boo chigae) frequently have oyster broth. Barbecue is probably the safest, but make sure the grill is clean in case there's residual squid or octopus. I think some of the other stew dishes like yook gae jang would probably be safe, as well as bi bim bap and a number of the noodle dishes like naeng myun that don't already contain seafood.

Thai curries - the curry paste doesn't have fish sauce, but I think when it's mixed with other things may have fish sauce. But otherwise would be pretty safe. But I'm not sure if it's one of those ladle the sauce over top type things, and already mixed together.

Of the cuisines you listed, I think Vietnamese is the scariest. Fish sauce is the primary condiment used in marinades and in ngoc cham (the main dipping sauce). It's in practically everything.

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Thai curries - the curry paste doesn't have fish sauce, but I think when it's mixed with other things may have fish sauce. But otherwise would be pretty safe. But I'm not sure if it's one of those ladle the sauce over top type things, and already mixed together.

Ground dried shrimp and shrimp paste are common ingredients in Thai curries.

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Thank you very much for the insights and information. I guess that my enjoyment of Asian cuisine will remain vicarious.

Steve

It doesn't have to be vicarious if you want to try your hand at cooking. Korean will be your safest cuisine, and there are some fairly accessible cookbooks.

If you go to your nearest Korean market (Super-H, Grandmart) and purchase kalbi (aka LA-style short ribs)and a pre-made jarred kalbi marinade, you will be able to check ingredients and make a pretty good kalbi on the grill at home. Trader Joes also has a frozen pre-marinated kalbi which is not bad, and they tend to be very careful about ingredient lists.

In addition to oysters slipping into various Korean pickled vegetable sides, both dried shrimp and dried fish show up in them as well. Dried fish may be shredded and hard to spot. I wouldn't touch the banchan at a restaurant with your allergy for that reason unless I had a Korean-speaking dining companion who could explain your allergies to the staff.

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It doesn't have to be vicarious if you want to try your hand at cooking.

If your interest extends to Japanese food, cooking it at home is doable. You can make dashi broth with just seaweed. Unseasoned miso doesn't have fish or shellfish in it; neither does tofu. You'd have to check soy sauce bottles to be sure, but many of them don't involve fish/shellfish stock. Omelettes, various rice dishes, and many okazu (small dishes) don't use fish/shellfish, and if a recipe calls for dashi, you could use seaweed-based dashi or even water. I think you'd have to be careful of bottled sauces, like ponzu, because many of them contain fish-based dashi.
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Hi all -- I have a lifelong allergy that requires that I avoid all types of seafood -- fish, shell fish, and all the rest. I have successfully avoided eating seafood for many years, but this has been done by not eating the foods from many Asian countries, primarily to avoid the accidental ingestion of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and similar ingredients. But, your descriptions of enjoyable eating experiences lead me to ask for some advice. Knowing of my allergy, would I have any likelihood of avoiding seafood ingredients in Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, or Korean restaurants? If so, what can I order? Thanks for any assistance.

My Aunt has an iodine allergy which prevents her from eating salt water fish or shellfish, but she has eaten at Thai and Vietnamese restaurants quite successfully. She is just careful and explains to the servers the importance of this. I am not sure if fish sauce or dried shrimp have iodine in them though... You could also get the shot and go for a seafood blowout, if they can give you the shot she could get. But generally I would play it very safe, trips to the emergency room from dinner aren't fun.

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I have also been allergic to all seafood my whole life. I eat Vietnamese, Thai and Burmese cuisine, though. I realize I am probably eating fish sauces and dried shrimps, but for some reason, I rarely get affected. If I do have an effect, it's only a little bump on my lip or slightly scratchy throat. As long as I'm eating the foods in these forms, the amounts seem minimal enough or transformed enough from a whole fish or crustacean, that I have never had a serious reaction. When I've accidentally eaten even one bite of a more whole fish dish, e.g., a whitefish dip on a cracker, my throat starts to close up. Good luck!

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I was recently talking to someone who said there was a big difference between the iodine allergy and other seafood allergies. And that in the past they thought it was all an allergy to iodine, but that is not the case now. Have they isolated exactly what you are allergic to? I would venture to bet the iodine allergy plays a role in my aunt being able to eat fish sauce and dried shrimp and etc.

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Steve,

In addition to knowing specific ingredients to avoid when you have an allergy or sensitivity, you also have to consider the potential for cross-contamination. Most fried foods should be avoided, for example, because fish and shellfish are probably fried in the same oil as other foods. I'd be concerned also about cross-contamination from seafood-containing dishes being prepared or cooked in the same work areas or grills/woks/steamers as non-seafood dishes. Further, I read on line that fish and shellfish proteins can become aeresolized, so avoiding exposure to cooking or grilling areas where seafood is used is also important. IOW, no restaurants with tableside cooking.

I should say that I am not allergic to seafood, but you have my sympathies. I have gluten sensitivity, so I know first-hand that navigating a restaurant menu can be tricky for anyone with a food allergy or sensitivity.

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