Sunday, December 22, 2013

A first for me

Mine! All Mine! Prepared gluten-free by Fuji's hibachi chef,
all  the food on this grill belonged to me!

A few days ago, my husband’s family celebrated my father-in-law’s 85th birthday (and our nephew’s 33rd birthday) with a dinner gathering at Fuji Japanese Seafood & Steakhouse (located at 2909 S Campbell Ave. in Springfield, MO), a restaurant that features hibachi-style tableside grilling.

I wasn’t sure what might be in store for me, as far as gluten-free food was concerned, but Japanese restaurants generally have at least a few sushi offerings that I can eat. Gluten-free soy sauce can sometimes be a problem, however, so I threw my little GF soy sauce packets into my purse before we left.

Well, I needn’t have worried! The waitress and the hibachi chef at the restaurant were well informed about gluten issues. She asked me if I had celiac disease or if I were on a gluten-free weight loss diet. They are especially careful, if the customer has actual gluten intolerances. Many of their customers, she said, have gluten issues.

Now, if you have ever eaten at a Japanese steakhouse where the food is prepared at the table, you know that watching the chef is a large part of the treat. Egg tricks, onion volcanoes, and athletic knife-handling keep you entertained as you wait for your freshly-cooked food.

The huge serving plate was completely full!
In order to keep my food gluten-free, the chef prepared my food first on the clean hibachi—and, of course, he used gluten-free soy sauce in the process. My poor tablemates had to wait a little longer for their food, but they were very patient.  As I ate my fresh, hot stir-fry alone--no longer the second-class citizen I am accustomed to being, waiting for my fellow diners to finish their complimentary breads or gluten-containing appetizers--I think they rather envied me for a change!

Fuji does have a nice sushi menu, if you want to eat it as an appetizer or opt out of the stir-fry, but gluten avoiders can have just about anything on the menu prepared without gluten. The food was delicious, plentiful, and relatively inexpensive for the amount of food we received. I think most of us took at least half of our food home with us. (For me, it was enough food for dinner that evening and for lunch the next two days--and I can really put it away!)

Speaking of hibachi grills, the chain restaurant HuHot (located at the north end of the Battlefield Mall in Springfield) is also very careful to prepare food for those who can’t have gluten. They have a handout describing their foods and listing the various allergens. When you have collected the fresh ingredients and approved sauces from the food bars, you take them to the grill. They carefully clean the grill for you and cordon off a special area in which to cook your food.

While there is always some danger of cross-contamination in a food-bar setting—people might dip ladles in the wrong sauce or drop gluten-containing food into a pan of food that would otherwise be gluten-free--I have taken the risk several times and have never had a problem.

If Japanese food prepared fresh on a hibachi is one of your favorites, you don’t have to do without, just because you must eat gluten-free. And you might just get to eat first!