No more crustaceans

The first time I realised something was wrong was at an Italian cooking master class in 2013. Between cooking demonstrations, the chefs prepared a selection of hot and cold canapés. After eating the prawn crudo with pesto, I felt a strange tingling and tightness in my throat. I’d never experienced this sort of reaction before. I didn’t say anything – just stopped eating the prawn crudo, drank lots of water and hoped it wouldn’t get worse. Could it be an allergic reaction? I was incredulous: I was 38 years old, had eaten prawns since I was little and I didn’t have any food allergies. But I could only conclude that I’d had some kind of reaction to the raw prawn; the prawns I usually ate were cooked. My throat settled down and I had a great time that evening feasting on everything but the prawn crudo.

The prawn crudo The prawn crudo

After this, I stayed clear of raw prawns – which wasn’t difficult to do and didn’t bother me at all. But at a dinner at Print Hall restaurant I ate a piece of barely cooked scampi (which in hindsight was stupid of me) and had the same reaction in my throat. From that point, I avoided all raw or possibly undercooked crustaceans but continued to eat well cooked crustaceans – marron, crayfish, crab and prawns. As you can imagine, I had no desire to give them up. It all seemed fine for the next year or so… Until one day eating Jac’s garlic prawns at home, my lips visibly swelled up like Botox gone wrong. I stopped eating crustaceans all together after that.

I’m one of those people who rarely needs to go (and pretty much avoids going) to the doctor and it took me a while to make an appointment so I could get a referral to an allergy specialist. I finally got tested this August.

Left arm - seafood. Right arm - other common allergens.Grids drawn on my arms for skin prick testing. Left arm – seafood. Right arm – other common allergens, including pollen, dust mites, horse, dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig. As expected, I reacted to all the crustacean samples – but not to other seafood (scallop, squid, fish, oyster, mussels). I found out I am also allergic to dust mites, and, surprisingly, very mildly to cats! I won’t be giving up our cats though.

Despite a lifetime of eating and enjoying crustaceans, the specialist confirmed it – I have developed an allergy, cause unknown. It is only to crustaceans – not all shellfish and definitely not all seafood. I still eat squid, scallops, clams and fish, for example. The specialist said that it’s not uncommon for adults to develop this particular allergy. The good news is, in my case it’s only mild and I’m unlikely to have an anaphylactic reaction. And there is hope – there’s a small chance that it will go away over time. I’ll return to the allergy clinic to be tested again a few years. Fingers crossed.

Sadly, this has sucked much of the joy out of eating dim sum – so many dumplings and other dim sum dishes contain prawns or crab. When I went to Singapore recently, I couldn’t eat chilli crab and numerous other dishes featuring crustaceans. So much of our amazing Western Australian seafood is now off limits. Last Christmas holiday in Denmark and on our food adventure in the Southern Forests region earlier this year, I left all the marron to Jac. There have been several occasions at degustation-style meals where my ‘no crustaceans’ requirement has resulted in ‘no seafood’ – frustratingly, I’ve missed out on clearly crustacean-free seafood dishes and been served chicken or vegetarian alternatives instead. Now that’s dish envy.

Chilli crab pastaA dish I was unable to taste at TWG Tea in Singapore this year – chilli crab pasta. It was (tantalisingly and torturously) placed right in front of me and smelled fantastic.

The worst thing is that I know what I’m missing out on. It would’ve been an entirely different story, for example, if I’d always been allergic to crustaceans and had never tasted any. I’ve eaten some magnificent crustacean dishes over the years. I wish I had gone back to The Witch’s Cauldron just one more time for their famous garlic prawns before all of this. Damn, I really miss bursty prawns.

Anyway, in the scheme of things, I know this really isn’t a big deal. It isn’t difficult to manage (much easier than nut, dairy or egg allergies, for example), and I’ll let you know the result when I’ve been re-tested. In the meantime, I have lots of pictures and many great crustacean memories. Take a walk down memory lane with me…

PS. Feel free to hashtag me in to your delicious crustacean dishes on Facebook and Instagram – #crustaceansforTFP

Seafood paella at Twilight Hawkers MarketThis was my personal ritual every summer at the Twilight Hawkers Market in Perth city – eating seafood paella with large king prawns, sitting on the steps of the old GPO building.

Soft shell crab with water melon Soft shell crab, this version with water melon and ginger vinaigrette at Kuza Urban Japanese Food in Victoria Park, 2012. The salty fried crab and juicy watermelon are a surprisingly harmonious combination.

5336075574Barbecued marron tail with lime-wasabi butter from Nippers Cafe in Albany, 2011.

Gently poached southern rock lobster, hand-caught Tasmanian squid, golden tapioca, lobster velvet Gently poached southern rock lobster with hand-caught Tasmanian squid, golden tapioca and melt-in-the-mouth lobster velvet from Quay Restaurant in Sydney, 2012. If you haven’t read my blog post about this unforgettable meal, I highly recommend it.

Marron at Bistro Guillaume The tender poached whole marron with velvety avocado cream, tomato, croutons and cos lettuce at Bistro Guillaume in Burswood, 2012.

Popcorn shrimp Popcorn shrimp coated with creamy chilli mayo at Sake Restaurant and Bar, in Sydney, 2010.

p1320911Tiger prawn salad sandwich with lime and coriander, absolutely delicious on the thick-cut, chiffon-soft white Vienna bread from Monty’s Sandwich Shop, Bondi Junction, Sydney, 2012. Seriously, this is a GREAT sandwich shop, if you’re ever out that way.

Marron at Truffle Kerfuffle Blue Ridge marron from Manjimup dressed with truffle-infused butter at the Truffle Kerfuffle festival, 2013.

Seafood platter from Print Hall Bar Chilled seafood platter from Print Hall Bar in Perth, 2013. So many crustaceans here – Western rock lobster, Blue Ridge marron, blue manna crab, tiger prawns and Cambinata yabbies.

No more of this…

The seafood is cooked simply, the crustaceans in all their bug-like glory with beady eyes, many legs, tender fleshy parts and hard poky bits. The house made sauces and dressings included horseradish, cocktail sauce and mignonette. I guess bibs don’t really match with the dress code of the place, but they would’ve come in handy as we twisted heads, cracked claws and plucked and sucked meat from tails. Get dirty or go home hungry.

King Island crayfishAmazing King Island crayfish with homemade Mary Rose sauce, 2014.

Salted egg yolk crab A whole cooked crab, chopped into chunks, claws pre-cracked, all smothered and dripping in salted egg yolk sauce- from Keng Eng Kee Seafood, Singapore, 2014.

And no more of this…

I still think crabs are ugly, but this ugly brute was spectacular. The thick, flavoursome sauce was littered with curry leaves and was finger-suckingly, plate-lickingly good. The meat in those heavy claws was especially sweet. We were seated right next to a sink where we were able to wash our hands, but I felt like I needed a bath after eating the crab – if only I could clean myself like a cat (what a happy little cat I would be).

Shrimp and grits (cup)Probably one of my last prawn dishes before I stopped eating crustaceans all together – shrimp and grits in a cup at the wonderful Rabalais’ Southern/Cajun Bistro and Bakery in Santa Paula, California on my solo trip to the USA in 2014.

Mystery river prawns in Kuching Large river prawns cooked to order with butter and garlic at Top Spot food court in Kuching, Malaysia, 2011. I would LOVE to go back there again someday. With luck, by that time, I’ll be able to enjoy prawns again. Yes, what a happy little cat I would be.

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