I have always loved Chinese food. As an American Jew, I have strong ties to the Chinese restaurant, where our family spent Christmas eve or day each year, as it is pretty much the only establishments open on Christmas in the US. As an adult, well, I work for a Chinese cookery school after all. I love Chinese cuisine’s use of flavours, the emphasis on sauces, vegetables and a variety of noodles (ones pictured below are mung bean/glass noodles). I love how its fundamentals can lend themselves to a quick and easy weeknight meal (especially now that I have a much better understanding of the cuisine- thanks School of Wok!). The thing I’ve found to be the biggest stumbling block so far when making Chinese food at home, is Isla’s non-negotiable sesame allergy.
Sesame, both seeds and oil plays such a large part in Chinese cooking. Substituting for it though possible, often leaves me feeling like there’s just something missing. Though I’m still working on it (and very open to suggestions) here is what I’ve come up with so far that still allows us to eat one of my favourite cuisines at home, without having to schedule a trip to the hospital immediately following.
Sesame paste is substituted with natural peanut butter or almond butter
Sesame oil is substituted with walnut oil
Sesame seeds are substituted with toasted peanuts, walnuts, or sunflower seeds
I’m not yet sure how this allergy will affect the decisions we make on where to eat out in the future. Should restaurants, especially those which serve a very particular type of cuisine be asked to come up with alternatives and accommodations for allergies? Or should it be something that we as a family, and Isla later an individual, take responsibility for, choosing to completely avoid cuisines that have sesame as a staple ingredient unless cooking them at home?
It’s a hot topic at the moment in the industry; the level of responsibility a restaurant should take (or not take) to accommodate for the allergies or intolerances of its customers. As someone who is situated on both sides of the discussion, I can easily make a case for either one.
For the time being, I think we’ll stick to at-home Chinese food and save ourselves the worry of risk. But there will come a time when my desire for stacks of dim sum baskets, crispy duck with hoisin sauce and pancakes, general tso’s chicken (my dad’s favourite) and the like will need to be quenched. The Chinese restaurant is part of my childhood experience with my own family, and one I would love to share with both of my girls. How we’ll navigate that is still unclear.
Even more so, I am adamant that allergies or not, food is not just for fuel. Food has the ability to unlock a new culture, highlight a trip or even ignite the desire to travel, bind a family together with a tradition, and create a tangible memory of a person, even long after they’re gone. Food can do so many powerful things alongside fueling us. It would be outrageous to assume those with food allergies, of whatever kind, are not entitled to reap its benefits as well.