FOOD TALK

What would you do if you dis­cover that you have a seafood al­lergy? Vic­to­ria Lim’s par­ents and rel­a­tives took dras­tic steps to cure her. Warn­ing: do not try their so­lu­tions at home.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

Rash mo­ments

When an al­lergy strikes, it does not care who you are, what you’ve done and what an at­tack does to you. It will taunt, tor­ture and haunt you. My first brush with seafood al­lergy oc­curred when I was five. My par­ents, one-year-old brother and I were at East Coast Park­way for our once a week din­ner at Long Beach Seafood Restau­rant. Our usual ar­ray of dishes had ar­rived at the ta­ble, in­clud­ing the sig­na­ture chilli crab with golden pil­lowy man­tous, highly ad­dic­tive steamed ra­zor clams with minced gar­lic and ver­mi­celli, and sweet fresh scal­lops with veg­eta­bles. I went for my favourite, the soft fluffy seafood fried rice. And that was when the flare-up started.

Af­ter three bites, my throat be­gan to hurt; it itched so badly that I wanted to rip it out to give it a good scratch. Mean­time, my lips had swelled to a plump size a la Kylie Jen­ner. I thought I was go­ing to col­lapse. My par­ents went into freeze mode. For­tu­nately, the ser­vice staff knew what to do – they gave me an­ti­his­tamines. I was back to nor­mal af­ter the medicine kicked in.

You would think that af­ter this near-death (at least, that was how I felt) in­ci­dent in pub­lic I would be banned from eating or be­ing any­where near seafood. Af­ter all, I am my par­ents’ first­born. I was so wrong. Af­ter get­ting over their ini­tial shock, my par­ents re­cov­ered quickly. I was told in no un­cer­tain terms to deal with my al­lergy head on and they would help me along, and they did it with un­wa­ver­ing zeal­ous­ness. I was given weekly seafood tu­to­ri­als. My par­ents would sit me down and coax me to pol­ish off a plate of prawn fried rice or fried prawn noo­dles. A glass of warm water and a slice of white bread would be by the side to counter any al­ler­gic re­ac­tion. (The irony that white bread could po­ten­tially cause a wheat al­lergy was lost on them.) The lessons went on for a year but they didn’t work.

Then, there was my sec­ond aunt who be­lieved that my al­lergy was all in my head. She would snuck in bro­ken pieces of crabs, lob­sters or prawns into my plate of veg­eta­bles or mound of rice. Of course, that was­nʼt suc­cess­ful be­cause my break­out episodes were real. Un­de­terred, my other (crazy) aunts and un­cles joined in and fed me fresh crabs, prawns and lob­sters. The only sil­ver lin­ing in this dark cloud? We found out fourth un­cle was also al­ler­gic to seafood. I felt strangely com­forted in the midst of this suf­fer­ing.

An al­lergy is a hy­per­sen­si­tiv­ity dis­or­der of the im­mune sys­tem, in which the im­mune sys­tem mis­in­ter­prets a usu­ally harm­less com­pound as a threat. This means that although the main in­gre­di­ent in a dish is pork, if you’re al­ler­gic to prawns and the pork has been cooked with dried shrimp, it can trig­ger a se­vere re­ac­tion too. You pay the price with symp­toms like sneez­ing and itch­ing of the throat. In se­vere cases, it can even be fa­tal. Look­ing back, it was odd that my par­ents did not think of seek­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion for my al­lergy, but then again, this was in the 90s when aware­ness of food al­ler­gies was still low.

Why this mad­ness, you may ask? I come from a fam­ily of hard­core food­ies who be­lieved that al­ler­gies are just a sign of a weak body. The Lim fam­ily rem­edy has al­ways been to fight poi­son with poi­son. Un­til the day I am free from my al­lergy, the seafood lessons will have to go on.

Thank­fully, a mir­a­cle hap­pened. I was cured af­ter three ar­du­ous years! It was on a lazy Sun­day and we were at my grandma’s place for our weekly gath­er­ing. The kitchen ta­ble was filled with a plethora of scrump­tious de­lights, in­clud­ing a plate of harm­less-look­ing broc­coli that was cooked in prawn stock (which I didn’t know). I helped my­self to a gen­er­ous serv­ing (be­cause chil­dren must eat their greens) and noth­ing hap­pened. No­body re­alised this un­til my sec­ond cousin pointed out: “Vicky is okay, her lips are fine and she is not ask­ing for bread and water!” Af­ter three long suf­fer­ing years I was fi­nally free.

Even though my seafood al­lergy was done and dusted, my mind was still scarred. When I’m not din­ing with the Lim clan, I would ac­tively avoid crus­taceans or shell­fish of any kind.

As a writer for epicure, one must learn how to eat al­most ev­ery­thing and any­thing. Re­veal­ing my seafood al­lergy would not have got­ten me hired in the first place and I knew I had to face my demons. I went back into les­son mode again and tried as many seafood dishes as I could. From Esquina’s Uni and Lob­ster Paella to At­las’ poached oys­ter with lardo and blue prawn tar­tar, I ate them all with gusto. And it was through all th­ese tast­ings that I dis­cov­ered a whole new world of pro­duce. I fell in love with uni and cara­bineros. I could dif­fer­en­ti­ate some oys­ter va­ri­etals. A smooth shell with a crisp and briny flavour? Th­ese gems are from the Pa­cific.

In the wise words of Ger­man philoso­pher, Friedrich Nietzsche “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” In a way, my fam­ily’s warped tenets not only worked – but paved the way for my food writ­ing ca­reer. I def­i­nitely wouldn’t rec­om­mend the head on ap­proach to any­one with a food al­lergy. Still, I have the Lim clan to thank for not killing me but cur­ing my al­lergy.

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