Having a shrimp allergy in South Korea is complicated.
Here is the quick and dirty on my shrimp allergy:
- I developed it when I was about 14 years old.
- I probably would not die after eating a shrimp, but I have an EpiPen and would most definitely get hives.
- I got re-tested twice in the past year, and, over that duration, my allergy appears to be "leaving" :).
- I have been eating kimchi (which *surprise* contains shrimp) for my entire life.
The reason for my numerous tests before my arrival was that I wanted to know how severe my allergy was after all this time. Turns out, eating shrimp-filled kimchi for several years can rid oneself of a shrimp allergy!*
Of course, it is better to be safe than sorry, and I decided early on not to partake in shrimpy foods while I am here. I figured it would be best to not traumatize my roommate by having her stab me with an EpiPen a send me to the 세브란스병원 with her broken level-1 Korean language skills. As such, I have had fun trying to explain in my broken level-1 Korean language skills that "새우 알러지가 있습니다" whenever I try new foods (which is often). Ohhhhh, and it is just the most awkward thing to do because the absolute LAST thing I want to do is be a needy and picky foreigner, and that is EXACTLY how I feel as I try to explain to the waitress or waiter that I have an incompetent immune system.
So, what do I do? Besides walk around with Benedryl in my bag and cry a little that I cannot enjoy most street foods, I remember that I get to try allllllll of the other foods that Korea has to offer. If it does not live in the sea, I give it a try and try not to focus on what I may be "missing out" on. I also spend ample time practicing my pronunciation of "새우 알러지가 있습니다" to feign confidence as I sheepishly hand out my allergy card to servers. I will say, though, that as the days roll along, I grow slightly more encouraged each time I explain my allergy perfectly on the first attempt.
*this is not medical advice :D