Yeast free lessons learned in Asia

When you're in another country and away from your own packed cupboards with your favourite ingredients, working out what's best to eat isn't easy. So after travelling in Asia for two weeks for work this month I wanted to write a blog entry on my experience and how I managed (or failed in some cases!) to stick to a yeast free diet.

Firstly, if I'm going away I don't travel anywhere without a probiotic. When I first spoke to a nutritionist about my intolerance one of the pieces of advice they gave was to always take a probiotic. Even if you're eliminating all the things that you think upset your gut from your diet, a really good probiotic will help your digestion and just keep everything ticking. 

When I'm at home I take Symprove every morning to boost my good gut bacteria. It's scientifically proven (some probiotics don't have much research behind them, Symprove has a tonne!) and was recommended by nutritionist Eve Kalinik in a really helpful article about choosing probiotics here

However as it needs to be chilled once opened, so instead I travel with Acidophilus capsules and take two every morning.

Acidophilus is known to prevent and treat diarrhea, relieves Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms and increases your immune response - all things I definitely want to hear when I'm on the road. I find on the whole, unless I eat something extreme, they do a fantastic job of eliminating my symptoms when I'm abroad and eating different foods. 

But anyway, back to the food! I really love Asian food. It honestly isn't an exaggeration that I am happy to eat noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner given half the chance. I've written a whole blog entry on noodles before, so you'll know all about this! 

But lots of Asian food has ingredients that typically on a strict yeast free diet I should be avoiding.

Soy sauce is of course the obvious one. I have never found I've had a severe reaction to soy sauce in the past, but since discovering my intolerance I don't use it in my own cooking and don't dunk my sushi in it either. It's fairly impossible to cut soy out completely when in Asia (my colleague is vegetarian and has a severe nut allergy, and these alone were hard enough to explain to restaurant staff in a foreign language!) so I had to live with it, and just pick carefully things that might not include it. 

White rice and some noodles are also ideally off the menu. And also traditional buns like the Cantonese cha siu bao use yeast to make them rise. So... that's quite a lot of seriously yummy things I'm not meant to have. 

However I think the crowning of them all is kimchi. This trip was my first time to Korea and kimchi really is served with everything, or at least a pickle of some sort.

Bibimbap in Seoul, served with dreaded pickles!

Bibimbap in Seoul, served with dreaded pickles!

Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are often hailed as fantastic for your gut and when I'm in Korea, home of kimchi, it just felt wrong not to try it. But this really is where I should have listened to my body.

I don't know if I can blame the kimchi entirely, but the days I was in Seoul I felt pretty rough and suffered with really bad stomach aches, my body desperately trying to rid me of whatever I'd eaten that upset it so much.

My trip has reinforced what I know about my eating and my intolerance. Firstly, I really struggle to say no! I want to try everything - even chicken's feet and ox tongue, just to say I've been there. When you are very lucky to travel for work I love to take opportunities to eat like a local and maintain the mantra "you can't say you don't like it until you've tried it."

Me eating chicken's feet... yes... I went there... 

Me eating chicken's feet... yes... I went there... 

But sometimes there needs to be a line. I knew that kimchi wasn't going to agree with me, and yet I still ploughed on with it for lunch and dinner. I shouldn't have been surprised when my body rejected it, especially after months of carefully avoiding such extreme fermented food. So I'm sorry Korea, but for me, no more kimchi! 

Overall though, the two weeks were an amazing culinary experience. I had hot pot three times: it's a dish served in specialist restaurants where a hot pot of broth (or two different types of broth, one spicy, one creamy - see the photo at the top) is placed in the middle of your table on a stove. As the broth bubbles away in front of you, you can drop in your choice of ingredients - veggies, thin cuts of meat, big mushrooms, noodles. Cook just how you like it. We had live prawns to put in one of ours, so so sorry vegans out there reading this! Chicken's feet were also on the menu one time, but I can definitely do without them in the future - they taste fine but they're far too fussy and gristly to eat for my liking.... 

I think the discovery of the fortnight was lotus flower root. I tried it two different ways - one in a sweet sticky sauce (picture below), and one stuffed with mince and deep fried in batter. Now where do I find recipes for those? 

How do you find travelling abroad with a food intolerance? Do you take a probiotic? What do you avoid and what seems fine? I would love to know what you think. 

Here are a few photos from the journey: