Monday, May 10, 2010

Who Eats Pasta or Bread in Italy, Anyway?

by Kelley Lindberg

As you know if you read my earlier post about discovering my son is allergic to lupin flour ("Lupin Allergy in Europe"), I was a little worried about how extensive the use of lupin flour is in Europe, since we were headed to Paris and Italy for a two-week vacation.

Well, we’ve now made it there and back safely, but here’s the thing: I’m still not sure how wide-spread the use of lupin flour is in Europe.

We asked about lupin flour in every restaurant we visited in Paris in along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately, most of the restaurateurs didn’t know what ingredients were in their bread because they got their bread from a bakery, and there was no way to check ingredients. Some people didn’t understand what lupin flour was. Others had heard of lupin flour, but just didn’t know if it was in their bread. Because some had heard of it, I can assume that it’s used at least somewhat frequently in Italy, but I really didn’t get a sense of how wide-spread its use is. We didn’t encounter any lupin in the pastas we tried.

The grocery stores near our villa were tiny, with extremely limited selections of pasta and pre-packaged breads. Neither the pasta nor the sandwich bread I found listed lupin flour as an ingredient, but I was able only able to find one or two brands of each. (Sandwich breads mostly had nut warnings – I only found one brand that had no nut warnings.)

Allergy information was generally listed on everything that had labels, so that was reassuring. But anything that came from a bakery was problematic, just as it is here in the United States. That meant we avoided things like pizza (the few places we asked didn’t know what was in their pizza dough, because it came from elsewhere and wasn’t labeled), and I got in the habit of packing my son a sandwich that I made in the villa before we left on all-day outings (after that day in Pompeii when his lunch ended up being a can of Pringles and a soda).

Although lunch stops were challeng-ing, we had much better luck in nice restau-rants for dinner. Maybe it’s because most of the places we ate were family-owned and there was an obvious sense of ownership pride in them, but we found several restaurants where the owners, chefs, and waiters would bend over backwards to make my son’s dinner safe.

My best investment before we left was to buy allergy translation cards from These wallet-sized laminated cards say “I have a life-threatening allergy to…” in whatever language you order. I handed the card to a waiter, then he would take it to the owner/chef, who would invariably come over to my son and carefully talk him through the items they could make safe for him. Sometimes they’d stick with what was already on the menu, but others would suggest combinations of things that weren’t on the menu. They really made him feel special and safe.

When we found a place like that, we tended to go back two or three times, and they would recognize him and welcome him back. He soaked up the royal treatment! The owner-chef at Cucina Casereccia da Vincenzo, on our third visit, offered him a completely new treat for free: octopus and calamari. He was so enamored with this woman who’d been pampering him for days that he tried it and LIKED it. If I had tried to get him to eat octopus anywhere else, I don’t think he’d have tried it. But for this chef who was taking such good care of him, he scarfed it down!

We made it through the two weeks without any allergic reactions. We did limit his exposure by preparing breakfast and most lunches in the villa, and we cooked several dinners in the villa, too. (We didn’t do that just for him. We did it to save money and our waist-lines, too, and because cooking with the fresh produce from the neighborhood market was so much fun -- look at those giant lemons and those baby artichokes!) But when we went out, we relied on those SelectWisely cards to help eliminate accidental contamination.

So despite the fact that he couldn’t eat pizza in Italy (is that legal?), he can’t wait to go back and experience the history, the scenery, and those friendly Italian restaurateurs. His next destination, he tells me, is Sardinia. Guess I’d better start saving my Euros!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! I am about to go on a 10 week trip to europe/uk with my husband who has anaphylactic reaction to nuts and most recently has also been found to have the same reaction to lupin. I hadnt heard of it until now! Great idea about the food safety cards.. i'm going to make some up.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am preparing to travel with my daughters to Italy with multiple food allergies and have found the personal references limited on the web. Do you have any other tips?

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

Hi! Beccc182, when you get back, let us know how it went, okay?

Anonymous, I just posted some summer travel tips today. Here's the link:
Staying safe while traveling always comes down to these 5 things for me: Pack safe food in my carry-on and purse so there's always something for my son to eat, take translation cards to show waiters and chefs, have my son wear a medical ID bracelet in case he gets separated from me, take hand-wipes to clean everything (esp on the plane), and carry Benadryl and Epipens. Then just prepare your girls for the fact that they WON'T be able to eat everything, and that they'll just have to enjoy the OTHER parts of being in Italy. Kids do better if they're mentally prepared for such things -- they don't get as disappointed if they know ahead of time. I hope you have a great time! Good luck and bon voyage!

Irene said...

THANK YOU for your blog posts about lupin!! I really can not thank you enough for putting this information out there.

We are about to embark on a 1-month trip to Corsica, France. My husband as family there. My 4-year-old son has multiple food allergies - peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, eggs. My dear mother-in-law, in helping me to prepare for the trip, found out about this "lupin" business - I had never heard of it! - and I just put a call into our allergist's office to see if we can get my son tested for lupin before we leave.

I am anxious to find out whether or not my son is allergic, but I am relieved to read this post about how successful a trip you had even though you DID avoid lupin!! It is encouraging. THANK YOU!

Jen Jen said...

I am really happy to find this post! I am an adult with a peanut allergy and have been freaking out about this lupin flour. I did find Lupini beans in my local grocery store. I am hoping my allergist will allow me to do an oral challenge before i leave for a two week stay in Europe!