I have worked in restaurants, and have a huge respect for chefs. They work longer and harder than just about anyone else in the place.
Unsurprisingly, they feel very strongly about their dishes. They will tell you that each ingredient in a particular dish plays a role. The chorizo isn’t just added in – it’s there for its meaty and spicy flavour.
It’s this knowledge that has always made me very reticent about asking for any alterations to a dish when I order it. It adds extra work for the staff to alter the order.
But here’s my problem – I’m lactose intolerant.
Being lactose intolerant affects different people in different ways. I’ve had a friend who threw up if she even had one M&M. For some it causes problems stomach pains and… issues that go with that department.
For me, I’ve had sinusitis which went untreated for years and seems to be aggravated by, if not caused by, lactose. Symptoms include a blocked nose, headaches and a cough that irritates everyone around me.
I’m lucky compared to coeliacs though. Their symptoms include bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, tiredness, and skin rashes.
But those who are lactose-intolerant can at least take something to mitigate their symptoms. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose in dairy products. You can buy it, and take it as a tablet.
You’re supposed to take one lactase tablet every time you have something with lactose in it. But realistically, sometimes you need to take more. Milk, chocolate, cream and ice cream all have a lot of lactose in them compared to cheese and butter, which don’t have much at all.
Some tablets are better than others. The chewable tablets are much more effective than the ones you swallow with water.
In an average day, I’d probably have 2-4 chewable tablets just to
cover basic things like foods cooked in butter, sandwiches with cheese
in them, creamy pasta dishes – the kind of things you would eat all the
time as a vegetarian.
A bottle of 30 chewable tablets costs around €15-17 and I’d get through about three of those in a month.
Unsurprisingly, I try to go for a lactose-free option if I can. I
order tea with soy or almond milk, and if they don’t have that I usually
just stick to herbal teas. I order desserts with cream on the side.
But I’ll often get some dirty looks if I say order a tea with soy milk and a sandwich with cheese at the same time.
Then, if the waitress brings normal milk, I feel like I can’t complain that they messed up my order. Or if I even ask some places if they have soy milk they react in such a way that implies that they think I’m just being precious.
I’d imagine people with other allergies have similar moments. Recently, a Dublin café caused a stir by joking they wouldn’t make dishes gluten-free unless the customer came with a doctor’s note confirming they were coeliac.
Chefs say they are sick of people claiming they’re allergic to something as a shorthand for saying they don’t like something, or believe they’re only going gluten or dairy free because they think it’ll help them lose weight.
My response to that is even if these people aren’t actually allergic, surely if the trend for gluten and dairy free dishes is so huge then it would make good business sense to provide more of them.
Ultimately, I think it’s wrong that people with allergies are willing to suffer discomfort and pain just avoid reprobation from places where they’re paying to be served.
Even if I just ordered soy milk with my tea because I liked it, I shouldn’t have to put up with someone bringing me something I didn’t order.
Unless I’m seriously changing an order and putting the staff completely out of their way, which I wouldn’t normally do, I don’t feel like I owe them an explanation.
And the places where they will take my order without batting an eyelid and deliver it are places I will bring my business to again and again.