Traveling India with my food allergies has been pretty easy – because I brought so much food along. If I hadn’t, I honestly don’t know how I would’ve gotten by. And because eating out of my duffel can be monotonous at times (as you can imagine), I decided to give eating out in India a try (gasp!). But it wasn’t at a typical Indian restaurant, it was at OpenHand – in Leh.
“What’s the difference in eating here versus eating at any other place? I don’t understand why you feel comfortable at a place like this but not at any other hole in the wall place.” Was one of the questions I was asked by my travel partner regarding eating out in India.
And it’s a completely legitimate question with an equally legitimate answer.
OpenHand is a cute restaurant and clothing shop run by Christiaan Bosman – a South African that has lived in India for more than 22 years.
In there lies answer number 1: English is a common language between us. In talking to him, I was confident he understood what I was saying.
Before ordering anything, I explained the severity of my allergies and simply asked if there was anything on the menu I could have.
With a smile he told me that OpenHand has been in Leh for 9 years – they’ve been open in India for 18 total. He has shops in Delhi, Varanasi, and Leh. And in the past, they catered to the UN and the American Embassy school in Delhi where they were making thousands of peanut and nut free meals a week.
“That was the advent of our understanding for these food allergies,” Christiaan told me. “Up until that time, I didn’t really think too much about it. But now, on request, we bake gluten free breads and meals, and any nut or dairy free dishes [a person] wants.”
Hallelujah for him and his UN/ US Embassy contract! I felt so safe ordering food there (and finally eating out in India). So safe, in fact that I needed to share it with you.
“We hire empowerment staff,” he said. “So if you visit the store, make sure you speak directly to the management [when you have a food allergy]. Some of our staff here have baked for world renowned hotels and industries so they really understand the seriousness of allergies. Other staff worked for NGOs and less well-informed industries. I know it takes years for some people to understand that actually these people [us allergy folk] can die.”
“I wish we were at the place where I could say yes, we completely know. But I can instead just say yes, speak to the manager and I am confident he will take care of you.”
And as it happens, his son is gluten free. So there is answer 2: he has a deep understanding of what a food allergy/ restriction is.
And so what did I eat? Pancakes. Made fresh without any nuts or peanuts in sight.