How to be a dairy-free foodie

Katy Salter reveals how living with lactose intolerance doesn’t mean an end to gastronomic delights in Clerkenwell…

Katy Salter reveals how living with lactose intolerance doesn’t mean an end to gastronomic delights in Clerkenwell…

London is a playground of global cuisines and delectable dishes. Until a few years ago I took full advantage, skipping around town sampling everything from burgers to posh nosh for my job as a food journalist. Then I contracted bad food poisoning (oysters Rockefeller; much unintended weight loss). A few bouts of gastroenteritis followed. My once cast-iron stomach was weak and I was regularly being sick and suffering acute stomach cramps for no obvious reason.

Lactose intolerance is a pain, especially if you write about food for a living

When I was finally diagnosed with lactose intolerance I was actually relieved. I spent 2011 on countless visits to the doctor, being tested for all sorts of scary stomach conditions. Lactose intolerance is a pain, especially if you write about food for a living, but it is not life threatening or capable of causing long-term damage if untreated, like Coeliac Disease. Basically, it means your system doesn’t contain enough of an enzyme called lactase which breaks down lactose, the natural sugar found in all dairy products. You can develop it after gastroenteritis or food poisoning, chemotherapy, a long course of antibiotics, simply with age, or have a naturally occurring lactase deficiency from birth (it’s particularly common in people of African or Asian descent). The symptoms include stomach cramps, bloating and nausea. If this sounds like you, see your doctor and keep a food and symptoms diary to see if you notice a correlation (on reflection, feeling sick 20 minutes after a flat white should’ve been a big clue for me). Your doctor may recommend an elimination diet where you try giving up all dairy for two weeks to see if there’s any improvement.

There are also lots of people who don’t eat dairy for other reasons. Vegans for a start, people with milk allergies, Paleo dieters; or those inspired by the new-wave of health food bloggers like Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley sisters. I love what those guys are doing, but for my cookbook, Dairy -Free Delicious, I’ve tried to keep things really accessible. I’ve used ingredients you’ll find in at least one of the big supermarkets or a trusty health food store, and classic dishes that you might be missing, from eggs Benedict to a proper old-fashioned sherry trifle topped with whipped coconut cream.

Eating out can be tricky, especially in a place like Clerkenwell, packed to the gills with good places to dine. As a general rule, Asian food tends to be dairy-free (try Sushi Tetsu, Kin on Leather Lane, or Bibigo -the new Korean place on St John Street,). If in doubt about a dish, ask. As of December 2014 all UK restaurants have to keep a list of 12 major allergens in all of their dishes, including dairy. Other restaurants in the area may not seem obvious as dairy-free picks, but those
with good service, like Granger & Co or The Modern Pantry, will be happy to help you. Looking at menus online in advance helps, as does telling the staff at the start of the meal that you can’t eat dairy.

Nearly four years on from discovering I was lactose intolerant, I am still enjoying the gastronomic delights of London, just with more forethought than before. Yes, I miss flat whites and pizzas oozing with fresh mozzarella, but there are plenty of delicious things to cook and eat that don’t make my stomach hurt. If you suspect you have a problem with dairy, don’t worry. There is life after cheese.

My Favourite Dairy-Free in EC1

Avocado on toast at Caravan. Avo on toast is everywhere now but Caravan was one of the first places where ‘butter pear’ met bread. It still does one of the best versions in London.

Brunch at Granger & Co. There are plenty of alluring dairy-free options on the menu at Granger & Co, including the brown rice and miso porridge with coconut yogurt and mango, and granola with coconut yogurt. The staff are also very helpful if you have any questions about the dishes – I happily tucked in to Bill’s famous sweetcorn fritters on my last visit after checking the accompanying spinach wasn’t sautéed with butter.

Chocolate CoYo yogurt from Waitrose, St John Street. Can’t help myself, completely addicted to this coconut yogurt. On a sunny day I’m particularly fond of grabbing a pot and wandering up to Spa Fields with a book.

Mandarin and Jasmine Sorbet, Modern Pantry. Post columnist and Modern Pantry head honcho Anna Hansen is clued up on intolerances, after having problems with gluten when pregnant. The staff at the Modern Pantry are always helpful if you have questions about a dish, and I’m especially partial to this delicate sorbet.

Aeropress coffee, Workshop. I’m not a big soya milk fan, and it often curdles in coffee. So I’m loving the lighter coffee styles made with Aeropress and Chemex favoured by places like Workshop and Prufrock. It’s lighter in colour and far less intense than espresso drinks, so you can happily sit and sip without milk – cow, soya or otherwise.