Several weeks ago, my Japanese friend invited me to go grocery shopping with her. Her German friend has a gluten sensitivity and had asked for her help translating labels in hopes of finding some gluten-free foods at the local grocery store. They were going together the following day and she thought I might like to join them. I wasn’t working that day, so I jumped at the chance of finding new things I could cook with or eat. With her help, I found a lot of great stuff. It was a great morning.
After shopping, she suggested we all grab some lunch. Japanese malls have an endless amount of dining options. Between the food court and all of the different restaurants available, my friend assumed we would be able to find a safe place for me to eat. One by one, she approached a staff member from each restaurant and asked to see their allergy menu*. One by one they happily handed it to her. And, one by one she quickly realized everything had gluten in it (with the exception of steamed rice).
After the fourth or fifth restaurant, she finally gave up, apologizing profusely. I assured her there was nothing to apologize for; that’s just what living with celiac disease is like.
A couple of weeks ago, that same friend messaged me – she’d found a restaurant nearby with gluten free options: Cocido de Sol in Machida. It’s not a gluten-free restaurant, so there’s a risk of cross-contamination, but many of the menu items are naturally gluten free and the chef had told assured her I could eat there. We made plans to go last Sunday, and I have to say, the place did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded my expectations.
The owner (who also happens to be the sole chef) went above and beyond to ensure I had plenty of options to choose from, and the staff was great about asking questions and explaining potential issues with dishes that might contain gluten or dairy.
When it came time to order, we chose a bunch of different appetizers and my husband and friends ordered a couple of paellas to share. I ordered the streak plate because the paella broth had gluten in it. As the food cans out, each dish seemed better then the last. Everything was delicious! We ate so much that by the time the paellas came out, we were all stuffed. My husband and friends weren’t sure they’d be able to eat it.
As the server handed out fresh bowls and silverware for the paella, I was surprised when he handed me one. I reminded him I couldn’t eat it, assuming he’d forgotten, but he assured me I could. It turned out the chef had wanted me to be able to eat the paella with my husband and friends, so he had modified the recipe to make it gluten free.
I was floored. To be honest, at that moment, I was so surprised, I don’t think I reacted as well as I should have. This may sound dumb, but I actually felt sort of embarrassed that he’d gone through so much trouble. The restaurant was packed with people and he was cooking everything by himself. I felt like a burden, and I was so full I wasn’t even sure I could eat another bite. But, what else could I do? I couldn’t be rude. I had to try it, so I did. And man, it was so good! It blew every other dish out of the water. Despite feeling like my stomach was about to burst, I refilled my bowl at least two more times.
By the time we paid our check and left, the initial embarrassment had faded away and the enormity of the chef’s kindness had finally set in. The fact that he had gone to so much trouble just so I could enjoy the paella with everyone else at the table meant so much to me. I said thank you to him the best I could in the little bit of Japanese I know, but I still left feeling like I failed to adequately express just how grateful I was for everything he did for me that night.
I fully intend to return to his restaurant soon and recommend it to everyone I know. Again, it’s not a gluten-free restaurant, so there is a risk of cross-contamination, but I felt like the chef and his staff did everything possible to minimize that. It’s definitely a place to check out if you find yourself in Machida craving some Mediterranean/Spanish food (or even if you’re not).
*Random thought: I had no clue before that day that most larger restaurants have allergy menus. You just have to ask to see them.