Peanut Allergy: Surviving Asia
I traveled 1 month in Vietnam and quickly visited Bali and Japan with a severe peanut allergy and no reactions at all. If travelling with a peanut allergy is nothing but possible, many countries, as Vietnam, are just a HUGE ''may contain''. Don't expect for the cozy vacations you would get in a country which is familiar with food allergies, and be ready for some sacrifices and organization. (Honestly, I'm glad I did it but as a peanut safety freak, I will probably wait 5-10 years that we are all cured before I undertake such a trip again). If travelling in Vietnam has been a trek on peanut shells and Indonesia is the homeland of Satay, Japan was by far the easiest country where to enjoy meals (few peanuts, high allergy awareness).
Here are some tips for a safer trip:
1. The ''carry a translated card explaining your allergy'' tip might be helpful.
However, few vietnamese people are familiar with the concept of peanut allergy, and its severity may not be understood. I joined vietnamese food allergy Facebook pages and as weird as it might be, there doesn't seem to be anyone in the whole country having a peanut allergy.
I found that the terms ''Food Disease'' worked better than ''Food Allergy'', since ''allergies'' in Vietnam usually refers to little skin rashes.
2. Choose restaurants with no peanuts on the menu.
In vietnamese food, peanuts are usually used as garnish and are easy to detect. However, cross contamination is a thing. Its understanding and hygiene standards might not be the same as in your home country.
To avoid cross contamination as much as possible, I ate at western food chains, speciality restaurants (with few meals on the menu, less chances of having peanuts, ex. Bun Cha) and fancy restaurants, where I could expect the staff to speak better english.
3.Sneaky hidden peanuts: Sauces and oils
Peanut oil is used but is expansive. Most widely used oils are soybean and sunflower. The first day, try to identify the different type of oil labels at the grocery store so you can quickly know which street food you can get by recognizing the bottle. Sometimes, it is easier (even if weird) to ask the waiter to see the bottle of oil that is used by yourself, rather than asking for the kind.
Be careful with mayo, as in Banh Mi, because it might be peanut oil. Also, I have no idea if ''vegetable oil'' there is fine. I ate it a couple of times with no issues, as in the condensed milk of coffees, but wouldn't trust it more than that.
Many sauces, even soy sauce, contain peanuts. Weirdly, some sauces as Chin-Su don't label peanuts but tell on some websites they do contain (a mistake?). I suggest to carry your own Kikkoman little bottle to season your meals.
4. Cook your own stuff
After 24h, I realised how of a pain would it would be to find safe food at restaurants. I quickly decided to give up on the epicurian culinary experience and opted for the most basic diet of my life: fruits, yogourt, eggs, oatmeal, rice, chia seeds, PEMA bread (at A-Marts). Bring as much snacks from home as you can: Soylent saved me a couple of times, and I deeply craved for some multi-vitamin pills. Get yourself a tupperware, cutlery, a small easy-to-carry pan, a small bottle of oil, and deal an access to the kitchen of your hotel to cook yourself some rice and eggs. Don't pay any extras for the included breakfast in case you may not be able to eat it. Hostels are a good solution for getting a non-awkward kitchen access!
5. Bring a ton of epipens
No epipens are sold in Vietnamese drugstores. It just doesn't exist, and there are no big store chains on which you can rely for getting any familiar medication. I brought 4 epipens. And be careful of keeping it at a 15-30C temperature.
Carry your doctor's prescription for customs and planes.
6. Travelling on planes
Talking of planes, big shout out to Japan Airlines. By far the best accomodating airline ever !
I have never had trouble with serving of peanuts on board but apparently some people do. Maybe think of bringing a medical mask and some Wet Ones to wipe your seat out of peanut dusts.
7. Travel with some company
Find someone nice and patient to travel with you, so that person can help in the case of an emergency.
I contacted a vietnamese allergist prior to getting in Vietnam and he assured me that hospitals emergencies can treat anaphylaxis. However, ambulances may not be equipped with proper stuff. In the case of a reaction, it might be better to quickly grab a taxi and run for a hospital.
9. Specific restaurants recommandations
Food chains recipes may not be the same from a country to the other. I suggest to contact them to inquire about the use of peanuts, especially for oil and sauces. I got replies from Subway, Dominos and Burger King telling it's fine.
Here are some local restaurants that offered a good services for allergies and that were fine at the time I was there (January 2017)
Hanoi: Bún chả hàng mành - Đắc Kim (Bun Cha No. 1), Hang My Hotel (For breakfasts)
Halong Bay: Galaxy Cruises (Just totally excellent)
Sapa: The Hill Station
Ninh Binh: Tam Coc Bambou Hotel
Hoi An: Havana Café, Dingo Deli
Dalat: Vuong Pizza
Don't hesitate if you have any question ! I would be more than happy to help 🙂
That is so helpful! Thanks for sharing. Please copy/paste this on the Vietnam page so even more people can view it: http://www.allergytravels.com/vietnam/
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