‘No black pepper please. Yes, you heard correctly. No, I am not an alien’

It’s that day of the week again, when I talk about one of my favourite hobbies: eating! That’s right, it’s Foodie Wednesday time.

Except that, as I mentioned before, last week I ate some bad chicken, my fault as I didn’t frost or defrost it properly, who knows. Anyways, as I have been feeling a bit unwell I didn’t manage to indulge in as much food as I normally do on the weekends (the horror!). I didn’t even go out for a guilty pleasure meal!

I did go out with some friends last Friday, but not for a ‘cheat meal’, it was quite the opposite actually. We went to try this ‘supposed to be amazing’ raw food place. Except the whole experience was a complete disaster for me, not because I didn’t like the raw thing, the problem was I didn’t even get a chance to try it! Everything they do has black pepper! EVERYTHING! I had a slight allergic reaction with a starter, popped a pill and that was the whole of my meal. They were willing, I’ll give them that, but the only thing they could manage was this raw sushi thing, which I didn’t like. Some of my friends tried my ‘special’ sushi and enjoyed it, but they said it’s definitely not the best compared to all the good things they had. Mega food envy!

This is a problem I face in London all the time. Everything, everywhere seems to have black pepper. As I know this now, I know one of the best ways to prevent getting an unrequested Kylie Jenner lip challenge is to let them know in advance. I know, it’s the most logical thing ever, but in Lisbon I didn’t have to worry that much, as the black pepper use isn’t as intense as in Britain. So now, if I book a table somewhere, under ‘other comments’ I’ll write ‘black pepper and hot chilli allergies’. That seems to solve it. People are aware of it and they will let me know immediately what I can and can’t have. Some restaurants even go to the length of the doing the right thing and prevent cross contamination in the kitchen.

I won’t name this restaurant, because to be fair, the food looked amazing, and we didn’t let them know in advance, so there’s no way they could have guessed or prepared for it. To be honest I never imagined that a raw food restaurant would put black pepper on everything. I guess it makes sense now that I think about it: if it isn’t cooked it probably needs even more spices to add taste to it… don’t know.

But I learned my lesson now. Raw Food joins the list of ‘can’t go to restaurants’, led by Indian restaurants. Yes I know, sad, but reality is as much as I want to try Indian food, I know there’s always going to be bits of black pepper or smashed chilli in the food. So I just avoid it.

I manage to go to the Mexican with the hubby sometimes, as there’s always some non-spicy options. Even if it is fajitas again (who cares, I love fajitas). Black-pepper free of course.

There’s also Nepalese food, which despite being similar to Indian, has great black-pepper and chilli free options. But if like me you’re allergic, make sure you ask before and that you have someone who you can share your food with, at least the first time you go. Because sometimes people will say ‘it’s not spicy’ assuming you’re only worried about the level of hotness, and then you die. Haha kidding. But seriously, try a few things here and there, until you’re confident it doesn’t cause you a reaction.

Travel can be a pain too. In Sri Lanka all I could eat was plain white rice, plain pasta, pancakes, cheese and fruit. They’d be so friendly saying ‘no spicy Mam, no spicy’, but in the end I finished my whole stock of pills.

And it’s not just restaurants; we struggle to find things like sausages, burgers and meatballs pepper-free. Solution: Marks & Spencer has a few options or you can always ask the butcher for a ‘allergic safe special’.

For those thinking I am making this up, I am not. There’s more people like me. There’s the common allergies – milk, eggs, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, peanuts, nuts – that account for 90% of all allergic reactions to food (according to FARE), and then there’s us, the weirdos allergic to random things, including black pepper. The reactions can go from mild rashes to anaphylactic shock (very rare). In my case it’s mostly swelling of the tongue, gum and lips, and an itchy throat; usually antihistamines do the trick. However it’s really not good to push it, just to see how far you can stretch it, like ‘oh yeay let’s see at which amount of pepper you’ll have an anaphylactic shock and die’.

Regarding chillies, I can’t know for sure if I am allergic or if I panic and have a similar reaction because of the ‘hot’ feeling. No idea. My doctor, the allergist, who is super-duper fun BTW, ran loads of tests, we tried all the spices, all the peppers and added chillies to the mixture. Couldn’t reach any conclusion. She says that it’s very difficult to test allergies to spices, other than through ingestion. As I didn’t feel like spending a whole day chewing peppers and chillies attached to a machine, getting shot with an epi, we kind just decided to stick with the ‘better safe than sorry’ therapy.

So there you go, a bit of culture for you. And if you’re a chef or a waiter, please don’t roll your eyes at me. I am not doing it on purpose just to mess with you, I swear.

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