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When the Travel Foodie is Diagnosed with Food Allergies

Quebec Le Sam Bistro Feuilleté au Chèvre et Epinards. It is the top view of a delightful puff pastry served atop some greens on a gray plate.
This is one of my favorite meals of all time, Feuilleté au Chèvre et Epinards. I dined on it in Le Château Frontenac's Le Sam Bistro in Québec City.

We went to Paris for Christmas, and I returned to our home of the moment, Albufeira, Portugal, with a rash. In 2019, we spent part of our honeymoon in Paris, and I returned to our home in Rochester, Minnesota, with a rash. On our honeymoon, we spent part of our first day winding through noisy streets with empty storefronts and passed by a woman holding up a mattress with fleas jumping from it. Perhaps I had been bitten by one. Or maybe there had been a bed bug in the artist’s-loft Airbnb we’d spent our first night in. Je ne sais pas pourquoi. 

Our Christmas trip was spent in charming, clean areas of Paris – no bugs in sight. Yet, the same rash took residence on my skin. 

As an adult, I’ve followed the fool-me philosophy. Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me; I’m not letting that happen again. Rash number two would be sorted.

My First Experience with Doctors in Portugal

I made my first doctor’s appointment in our new country. Fifteen minutes into the appointment, the doctor determined that the rash was hives and that I was having an allergic reaction to something.

To what, it is hard to know. 

He went to his car to get the medication I needed, a corticosteroid. I guess he makes house calls. When he returned, he handed it over, made sure I was familiar with it and asked for 50 euros in cash. He did not offer a follow-up appointment. I think he thought I was a tourist passing through. Unable to communicate otherwise, I booked an appointment at a larger medical facility to see what was going on.

At my second appointment, the doctor asked me what I wanted. I gave him a list of allergy and asthma-related medications and asked if he could test me for allergies because it’d been more than 20 years since my last one. He had two tests available. One test for the most common allergies, the other a more expensive and comprehensive one. 

I’ll take the more comprehensive one; I said without asking the price. Later that day, I flipped between worrying about the price and not caring about the price – the source must be uncovered! 

I could not take any allergy medication for one week and had to keep things as normal as possible. After that, I returned to the clinic for a blood draw. About two weeks later, I received my results. 

During those two weeks, I ate as I pleased and took my allergy meds.  Plants bloomed. Our home’s humidity rose. My sneezes and sniffles, and stuffiness were out of control. My nose was red and raw. My eyes could’ve watered a row of carrots. I was using my rescue inhaler several times a day and started popping my corticosteroid pills. We bought boxes of soft Kleenex, a dehumidifier, and an air purifier.

The latter two helped some, but not enough to keep me from saying that if this is how I’m going to feel maybe I can’t do this whole living-in-Portugal thing anymore. 

A cup of the richest, most amazing hot chocolate I have ever drank -- Angelina’s Chocolat Chaud L’Africane. It is divine and is served in an elegant, porcelain cup with the words Angelina's Paris on it.
A cup of the richest, most amazing hot chocolate I have ever drank -- Angelina’s Chocolat Chaud L’Africane. It is divine!

I received the allergy test results:

Fettuccine with Artichokes at Paper Moon Restaurant in the W Algarve hotel. A hand is picking up an empty glass of wine behind the plate.
One of the most fantastic multi-course tasting and wine pairings we've experienced. This fettuccine with artichokes was among my absolute favorites.

The test results showed that I am allergic to:

  • Egg yolks
  • Egg whites
  • Spring wheat
  • Dairy (cow, goat, sheep – all of it!)
  • Chestnut and Porcini mushrooms

No wonder I’ve wanted to take a vacuum hose to my nose and claw my face off so often the day after delicious experiences. 

The test did not show shellfish, but I have not eaten shellfish in decades due to an obvious allergic reaction I experienced years ago. If a food isn’t in your system, it’s unlikely to show up in the test. 

Dairy’s presence on the list didn’t surprise me. I’d suspected it as a culprit in the severity of my asthma and spent more than a year avoiding it. While I thought its absence from my diet might have been helping me out, I didn’t have proof; and cheese and ice cream are delicious.

As soon as my sneezing, snuffed nose, how-can-I-even-have-this-much-snot-in-my-body self received and translated the PDF (it was in Portuguese), I cut all of the foods on the list out of my diet. Within a day or two, I started feeling better. I stopped taking the corticosteroids. Less than a week later, I went a day without using the rescue inhaler prescription that I have needed multiple times daily for more than 25 years. 

The Good, The Bad, and The Hardest Thing

I can breathe! My body doesn’t feel like a snot factory and my eyes aren’t producing enough allergy-induced water to care for a cactus. 

I miss food! Okay, that’s dramatic. I miss some delicious food. Cheese, ice cream, goat’s cheese tucked inside of a light puff pastry, pastel de nata, croissants, pasta, omelets… 

I can bake up some wonderful treats like Love and Lemons Vegan Gluten Free scones. They’re amazing. Chris had one and said that I’d found the loophole. They taste too good to be vegan and gluten-free.  


Thank goodness I enjoy baking and cooking at this point in my life. 

Love and Lemons Vegan Gluten-Free Raspberry Scone. Scone on a white plate. Bright raspberries showing through.
A delicious vegan and gluten-free raspberry scone I made using Love and Lemons recipe.

The Hardest Part of having a food allergy…

So much of my goal when we eat out is to share my passion for great food, drink, and exceptional service. When we find a restaurant we love, we want everyone to go there and enjoy all of the things about it. Now, I must share my list after we’re seated in a restaurant. It’s awkward, and I hate, hate, hate being difficult and adding extra work for others. 

Falling in love with a restaurant has one other major new hurdle: options. My menu choices are often far more limited than they were before. Once there wasn’t a single item on the menu fully free from my allergens. Lucky for us, the owner was supervising the floor. He had an amuse-bouche and meal created for me. I felt so spoiled! 

The Other Hardest Part of Having a Food Allergy...

If you’ve followed us for a while, you know that I love indulging in a fancy Afternoon Tea. When I first went through my results, I thought of all the lovely 3-tiered future Afternoon Teas that I won’t be able to have. After doing a bit of research, I have noticed at least one Afternoon Tea spot that offers options that I can have, The Morrison in Dublin. Also, I’m tempted to create my own fancy Afternoon Tea at home. When I do it, I’ll be sure to share.

Melissa with three tiers of Afternoon Tea treats. She is holding a cup of tea and smiling.
Afternoon Tea at The Galmont Hotel in Galway, Ireland.

Road Trips and Plane Rides

Gas stations in Portugal have next to nothing for snacks that I can eat in them. Cardboard-tasting rice cakes do not count as a worthy snack! Since figuring that fun fact out, I’ve been buying snacks at Apolonia before venturing out on the road. I have a feeling Kerouac never thought about things like that. My teenage self is shaking my head. 

I haven’t been on a plane since learning about my food restrictions. Uff! My plan is to make my own meals for our flights. We’ll see how that goes this summer. 


On the Bright Side

Now when I share our restaurant finds, I’ll be sure to point out how allergy-friendly and vegan-friendly the place is. As I sort out how to pack just right for road trips and flights, I’ll be sure to share those details with you all as well. For the love of food, I’ll even let you know when I come across a recipe worth trying.

One recent find that I shared on Instagram is Arte Bianca. Their menu is full of options to keep everyone happy. I wrote more about it in our Portugal: Fall in Love with the Algarve on this Romantic Road Trip post. If you’re planning a trip to Albufeira, be sure to check out our 5 Romantic Restaurants in Albufeira to Fall in Love With post for more options. 

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