Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with celiac disease. My symptoms included mouth sores that lasted for months on end, a distended stomach, pins and needles in my extremities, a constant sore throat, postnasal drip, and runny and stuffy nose.
These symptoms would come all at once, or one by one. I would visit my gastroenterologist complaining of bloatedness, a big tummy despite not eating much and just feeling gross all together. I never once thought that these might all be related.
After almost a year and a half of constantly being sick, I decided to see an immunologist. He did the usual skin tests that didn’t reveal anything unusual, except for a dust mite allergy. He recommended I do a celiac panel.
After about a week of waiting for results, he called me back. He said that I had tested positive for all five tests in the panel. However, he would not declare me “celiac” until I saw my gastroenterologist. I was given a five-page list of food that contained gluten, all to be avoided.
When my gastroenterologist put together my complaints, my endoscopy results and celiac panel results, he told me that I did, indeed, have celiac disease.
Celiac disease is not common to Filipinos, as it’s more of a western disease. However, since many Filipinos are of mixed descent, more and more have been diagnosed as celiac. In fact, my doctor mentioned that perhaps there are a lot more cases in the Philippines that are undiagnosed because of lack of awareness or lack of testing.
A celiac panel is not the same as a food intolerance test. Celiac is not just an intolerance to gluten; it is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks itself when gluten is consumed. While intolerance causes many of the same symptoms, celiac includes damage to the villi in the small intestine, resulting in malabsorption of nutrients.
I didn’t eat out for about a month for fear of getting sick again. Unfortunately, restaurants in Manila are still not too careful with preparation and being transparent about ingredients. Gluten is a tricky one, because there is gluten hidden in several sauces and food extenders.
My husband felt bad about my constantly explaining myself to waiters and managers, and made me a card containing about 21 items that include gluten. I carry this card around and give it to the server before ordering anything. It works in most places, and they check every ingredient with me.
Sadly, I’ve also been to places where the food handling was not very good and I ended up sick anyway. After avoiding gluten and then ingesting it by accident, the effects are debilitating, lasting up to a week.
After about 10 months, I have come up with a list of restaurants where I can safely eat. These places not only provide good quality food, but extreme attentiveness by the servers and kitchen staff.
People’s Palace, Greenbelt
People’s Palace is the only restaurant I have come across that has a dedicated gluten-free menu. Items such as the pad thai, green chicken curry, stir-fried vegetables and my favorite mango with sticky rice are all gluten-free. The list is long and varied. The wait staff is also very informed about what menu items are gluten-free.
M Dining, Pasong Tamo
Chef Tom Bascon is incredibly creative when it comes to providing gluten-free options. One can enjoy any of the pastas with gluten-free noodles. Their buffalo wings can also be made gluten-free. The staff is likewise very well-trained in knowledge of food allergies.
Sala Bistro, Greenbelt
While Sala Bistro does not have a dedicated menu like its Thai sister, People’s Palace, the staff here are very well-trained. They also offer gluten-free substitutes for menu items.
Wildflour and Little Flour, several branches
Both places are incredibly honest with their ingredients. They also use ingredients from small farmers. Chefs BJ and Allan are extremely careful, and have trained the kitchen staff very well. What’s even better is that when either chef is not in the restaurant, the kitchen staff actually call them up and ask what can or cannot be served if someone has an allergy.
Flame at Discovery Primea
Chef Luis is not only creative with his flavors and food combinations, but is able to make a lot of gluten-free dishes. They even have gluten-free bread on request! The service staff is very conscious and aware of food allergies. Having stepped into their kitchen, I can attest to their cleanliness and concern for food safety.
Canton Road, Shangri-La at the Fort
Our family loves Chinese food, and Chinese food is a challenge to make gluten-free because of all the soy sauce and delicious sauces. Canton Road has been able to come up with special gluten-free menus for me on many occasions. The staff are also aware of items that contain gluten, and are able to suggest options for me to try.
While I can’t enjoy Peking duck like I used to, there are several dishes to choose from. A must try here is the Sweet and Sour Pork—they use potato starch.
Raging Bull, Shangri-La at the Fort
While a steak place would logically seem like a gluten-free place, gluten lurks everywhere. I told the staff here that I had celiac disease. Without me having to explain anything, they brought me a gluten-free bread basket. When mains were served, the server reminded me that I could only have the salts and not the selection of mustards—mustard contains gluten! I was most impressed here, as they knew the tricky items that contain gluten!
Uno, Quezon City
Uno is a favorite in Quezon City. It’s pretty much my dad’s dining room while he works! A small family-run restaurant with amazing food, they are able to cater to my gluten-free needs.
Sugi, Greenbelt 2
In this family favorite, the people here have watched me, and my family grow up. They’ve seen me try all sorts of diet—high protein, vegetarian, vegan and now perhaps the most important of all, gluten-free. They are careful, attentive and offer substitutes. The grilled items here can all be made without soy sauce, which can be replaced with salt. I always carry my own gluten-free tamari sauce when eating Japanese.
Hacienda, Forbes Town Center
Mexican food is mostly gluten-free! Tacos and chips at Hacienda are made in-house from corn, while sauces are also gluten-free. Owners Steve and Eliza Mills take great care in catering to food allergies as they are there most of the time. As a bonus, tequila is a gluten-free drink, and Hacienda has one of the best selections of tequila in town.
Do you suspect you have celiac disease? St. Luke’s has a celiac panel test, and it takes a week to deliver results. Hi-Precision Diagnostics also offers tests that are sent abroad. Call Hazel at 8639999 local 125.