Travelling with food allergies is always a challenge. Since soya is frequently used in Asian cuisine and the language barriers can be relatively difficult to deal with, people who are allergic to soya should be well prepared before travelling to Asian countries. We believe that nearly anything can be done with the right planning. That’s why we have put together a checklist and some tips for a successful trip.
- Find out word for soya in the languages of the countries to which you are travelling. It might have a few different names in the same language. Also find out the names of products and foods made from soya to which you are allergic (for example, tofu or soya sauce). Write the translations down in the local language and carry them with you. If possible, make a note of how they are pronounced.
- A helpful aid is a piece of paper or a document on which it is clearly written that you cannot eat soya, in English and the language of the countries you are visiting. A translation agency or a special provider of food information cards or travel allergy passports can assist you. If there are other foods you are allergic to, these can be included. The best thing to do is to put this document on the table in a visible place – especially if you are not sure that you will be understood.
- Install an app that allows you to translate foreign words on the fly. For example, with the Google Translate app you can translate the foreign text on restaurant menus and other printed matter in nearly 30 languages using the camera on your mobile phone.
- Inform your hotelabout your allergy before you arrive and ask specifically whether it is possible for them to prepare soya-free meals. Get the precise facts so that the hotel can accommodate your needs.
- If you have an allergy passport, keep it with your travel documents.
- Also remember to inform your airline in advance – the meals are usually loaded onto the plane in the departure country. To be on the safe side, bring a snack with you that you can tolerate.
- If your doctor has prescribed you an emergency kit with an adrenaline autoinjector, find out before you fly whether your kit contains medications that need to be kept cool at all times or once the ambient temperature reaches a certain level. It is also important that you take a doctor’s note with you so that you can carry the kit in your hand luggage without any hassle. Keep at least two kits/adrenaline autoinjectorswith you.
- Pack a supply of snacks that you tolerate well for you to eat during the trip.
- If possible, visit an Asian supermarket before you go on your trip. In Germany, packaged products usually have a German label. This will allow you to become familiar with soya-free snacks well ahead of time.
- Find out in advance which restaurants understand English or your native language. If you can, get in touch with them before your trip.
Street food or restaurant?
Restaurant. Soya is used regularly in Asian cuisine and the food available at street markets carries a high risk. To be on the safe side, food from snack bars should be avoided. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat delicious food. Hotels and better restaurants that will accommodate your needs are a good alternative. Our columnist Steffi Grauer-Stojanovic has written two articles on the subject of traveling and going out to eat. You can read them for more inspiration for your travel planning.
Consult your doctor. Depending on the type of allergy you have, there may be certain soya-containing products that you can tolerate better. This is because the allergen content of soya products varies depending on the degree of processing. For instance, the allergen (Gly m 4), which triggers symptoms in people with a pollen-associated soya allergy, is found in the highest concentration in soya protein powder. Soya beverages, tofu and soya flakes and unprocessed soya products contain higher amounts. On the other hand, it is not found in soya sauces, miso and roasted soya beans because the allergen is destroyed through fermentation and heating. Fermented, well-cooked soya products are therefore generally tolerated by people with a birch pollen-associated soya allergy (for example, foods containing soya sauce, soya bean oil or roasted soya beans). This of course only applies if you have not had any negative reactions in the past.
However, people with a primary allergy to soya will also have a reaction to heavily processed soya products. They should therefore avoid soya completely.
It is important for you to know your allergy risk and to be able to assess it so that you can also take it into consideration when choosing your travel destination. Information on the standard of medical care in each country is available at the German Federal Foreign Office. As a rule, the medical care available in big cities and major tourist destinations is usually better than in rural areas. European foods and English-speaking staff are rare or totally absent in rural, isolated regions. Depending on your itinerary, it might make sense to travel with a guide who can communicate on your behalf in the local language.
Consult your allergy specialist for information on how to best prepare for your trip.