No Garlic, Please!

“Hel­lo, my name is Jeff, I’ll be your serv­er today.”

“Hi, Jeff. My wife has an aller­gy to gar­lic, can you tell me what’s safe for her to eat?”

“Gee, I’ll have to check with the kitchen, what are you inter­est­ed in?”

“Can you check on today’s soup, on the fish, on the chick­en and on today’s special?”

A few min­utes later.

“OK, there’s gar­lic in all of those, and in all the oth­er fish, beef and chick­en entrees. The chef sug­gests a salad–without dressing.”

The above is an amal­gam of con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had at dozens of restau­rants over the years. Most of the time, the wait staff does­n’t know what foods have gar­lic, far too often the kitchen staff does­n’t know either, or their knowl­edge is faulty. One restau­rant, which we had called the night before to alert them to the ques­tion, said a par­tic­u­lar dish was gar­lic free, though the list of ingre­di­ents in the sauce includ­ed ranch dress­ing. Ranch dress­ing has gar­lic in it.

Here’s a short list of foods my wife can­not safe­ly order:

Piz­za, bar­be­cued ribs, Steak Diane, almost any­thing ‘Ital­ian’, tuna fish, mac­a­roni and cheese.

Wait a minute, mac­a­roni and cheese, tuna fish??

Yes, near­ly all ‘fan­cy’ restau­rant ver­sions of mac­a­roni and cheese include gar­lic. Why? It’s so unnecessary!

As to the tuna fish, we con­tact­ed StarK­ist some years ago, they informed us that their tuna in water includes veg­etable stock, and they were not sure whether there was gar­lic in the stock they get from some of their suppliers.

‘Amer­i­can­ized’ Ital­ian foods near­ly always have gar­lic in them. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, when we were in Turin, Italy, we had very lit­tle trou­ble find­ing dish­es with no gar­lic in them. In one very nice neigh­bor­hood restau­rant, there was just one dish on the entire menu that was­n’t safe. We learned from a friend­ly wait­er at anoth­er restau­rant (the only per­son in the build­ing who spoke any Eng­lish), that gar­lic is sel­dom used in north­ern Ital­ian cook­ing, and nev­er in piz­za. (That restau­rant, total­ly invis­i­ble until they raise up the steel cur­tain cov­er­ing the front at 4pm, was one of the busiest piz­za places I’ve ever seen, over the course of a two-hour meal we must have seen at least 200 piz­zas go out the door.)

We were in Ottawa, Cana­da, a few years ago and walked past a Ital­ian restau­rant (Vit­to­ria Trat­to­ria) with a beau­ti­ful brick wood-fired piz­za oven. We went in and asked the host­ess if they used gar­lic in their piz­zas. She checked, and, lo and behold, they make their own sauce, from fresh tomatoes–and noth­ing else! It was one of the best piz­zas we’ve had in decades. We ate at that restau­rant a total of three times that week. The host­ess and chef both expressed sur­prise when we explained the dif­fi­cul­ties we had in the States. The host­ess said her father, who learned to cook in Italy years ago, almost nev­er used garlic.

If you research the his­to­ry of alfre­do sauce, it was orig­i­nal­ly made just from Parme­san cheese, care­ful­ly melt­ed so it does­n’t cur­dle. Adding heavy cream both speeds the process up and helps pre­vent cur­dling, and cream is a lot less expen­sive than Parme­san Reg­giano. (Don’t try mak­ing it with whole milk, it’ll cur­dle in sec­onds!) But near­ly every restau­rant we’ve been to uses gar­lic in their alfre­do sauce. Again, why? It cov­ers up the fla­vor of the cheese, and it’s not his­tor­i­cal­ly accurate.

I’ve made my own alfre­do sauce a few times, it’s a sim­ple sauce, but I’m told Ital­ian chefs often use it as a test when hir­ing assis­tants. Some­times it’s the sim­ple things that are the hard­est to get just right.

Anoth­er restau­rant we vis­it­ed had a deli­cious sound­ing appe­tiz­er on the menu, a five cheese bruschet­ta. When it came, you could smell the gar­lic from across the room! Worse yet, I tried a piece, and the gar­lic com­plete­ly cov­ered up the taste of the five cheeses. After talk­ing to the wait­er, and then to the chef, we got one that had no gar­lic in it. I sug­gest­ed the chef taste it, it was such an improve­ment over the gar­lic-laden one, you could actu­al­ly taste the inter­play of the five cheeses.

The U. S. gov­ern­ment does­n’t keep sta­tis­tics on gar­lic aller­gies, but based on con­ver­sa­tions we’ve had with friends, I would spec­u­late that 2–3 per­cent of peo­ple have some kind of gar­lic aller­gy or, per­haps more accu­rate­ly, a gar­lic sen­si­tiv­i­ty. In my wife’s case, she inher­it­ed it from her father. In both cas­es, it was an allergy/sensitivity that showed up when they were in their 40’s.

From what I’ve read, it appears that what gar­lic does, and why it is con­sid­ered healthy, is to slow down your diges­tive process. In my wife’s case, it brings it to a near halt, some­times for up to 18 hours. Hav­ing a full feel­ing after a deli­cious meal is pleas­ant, hav­ing it until the fol­low­ing morn­ing is not.

Your home­work assign­ment for today is to pick up all the cans of pas­ta or piz­za sauce at the gro­cery store and check the ingre­di­ents for gar­lic, which, for­tu­nate­ly, is an ingre­di­ent they’re required to list. Here’s a shout out to the folks at Hunts, who make two pas­ta sauces, tra­di­tion­al and mush­room, that don’t include garlic.

For those occa­sions when I want to make a lot of sauce (like for a big tray of lasagna), here’s my own gar­lic-free mari­nara sauce recipe, I think you’ll find that gar­lic isn’t nec­es­sary here, either.

Mari­nara Sauce

1 medi­um to large yel­low onion, diced

3 table­spoons of but­ter or canola oil

2 table­spoons sugar

A num­ber 10 can of diced toma­toes (if using fresh toma­toes, you’ll need around 8 pounds of them, peeled, juiced and seed­ed; be sure to remove the seeds, not only do they get stuck in your teeth, they’re bitter)

2 table­spoons toma­to paste (the kind in the tubes is the best)

2 table­spoons dried basil

1 table­spoon dried oregano

12 tea­spoon ground marjoram

4 bay leaves

12 tea­spoon thyme

Salt to taste (I don’t both­er adding any myself)

Cook the onions in the butter/oil until trans­par­ent. If a few turn brown on the edges, that’s fine, I think it adds flavor.

Add all the ingre­di­ents except the basil and cook on a medi­um heat for about 45 min­utes. Add the basil towards the end, it los­es poten­cy if cooked too long. Remove the bay leaf, then blend to pro­duce a smooth sauce. A stick or immer­sion blender is the per­fect tool for this, I rec­om­mend the Bamix, not only did they invent the stick blender, they per­fect­ed it.

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Published:May 14, 2016

Cooking Restaurants

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Home Forums No Garlic, Please!

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Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
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    Mike Nolan

      "Hello, my name is Jeff, I'll be your server today." "Hi, Jeff.  My wife has an allergy to garlic, can you tell me what's safe for her to eat?" "Gee,
      [See the full post at: No Garlic, Please!]

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        I'm not sure if I am responding to the garlic article but I found it fascinating and will try your marinara sauce Mike. My father in law was Sicilian (both his parents grew up near Palermo, my husband's last name) and he was not a fan of garlic. I'll have to ask my husband if his dad or grandfather used garlic in the sauce.
        And thank you for the info on the allergy. I assumed it brought on hives but having your gut stop is not a good thing!

        Joan Simpson

          Thanks for accepting me to your site Mike,glad to be a part of this baking circle!Joan~Ga girl


            I seem to be technologically ignorant, so I don't know if this comment will post. I haven't been able to figure out how to make a new post on the General Discussion forum. I'm a new member. Not Italian. Whenever I entertain, I cook only Italian food. I prefer to cook Italian for the family. I have three excellent Italian cookbooks written by Italians living in the U.S. Garlic is used in some recipes. Sometimes only a hint of garlic, when a clove is browned in olive oil then removed. I certainly understand how having garlic intolerance would be a problem in our society. I'm amazed, Mike, that you folks have found any Italian foods in the U.S. without garlic.


              I am not allergic to garlic but I feel that most recipes over do the garlic. I automatically reduce it by 1/2 when I make it. I don't want to taste my meal all night long or have massive indigestion. I think most restaurants over use garlic. A hint is great but if garlic is all you can taste it takes away from the whole dining experience. It is one of my pet peeves. I am happy to hear that I am not alone in my garlic dislike.


                So sorry for your wife's allergy and the difficult times to find a place to dine that doesn't include garlic. Personally, I don't know what I would do if I had that allergy (well, I guess I would have to stop eating it) I love garlic and use it all the time. So far I've not had any issues with it but my husband doesn't tolerate it as well and usually pushes it to the side or puts it on my plate. Thank you for posting your story, very informative.

                Mike Nolan

                  My wife says I should have written a section on what happens when I take her, her best friend, our daughter-in-law and another couple out to dinner.

                  My wife is allergic to garlic
                  Her best friend is allergic to olives and olive oil (and carries an epi pen)
                  Our daugher-in-law has a wheat allergy
                  The other couple have a wheat allergy, and are also dairy free.

                  That's enough to drive any waiter crazy!

                  The last time I had them all over for dinner, I had to make several items multiple ways, including two kinds of Hollandaise sauce, two kinds of pasta (one gluten-free), two kinds of bread (one gluten-free), etc. My wife made 3 different desserts.

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