I can tell you it’s a nasty thing to have.

I only found out more than 15 years ago when my wife and I visited Kerala in India. The food there is pretty good and we especially loved the various breads the state had to offer. Unfortunately, I was violently assailed by hives and it ruined my holiday.  

When I got back to Kuala Lumpur, I went to see a skin specialist and he suggested I test for allergies.

He proceeded to take a blood sample and told me to come back in a week. I did only to be told that I was allergic to shellfish, wheat and peanuts.

Astounded wasn’t quite the word to describe my state of mind.    “But I never had these problems before,” I said feebly.

“It happens,” said the unmoved medic. “It’s called aging.” I was then in my early fifties.

It wasn’t really hard to accept in the end because where allergies are concerned, you get better but you never get well. I’d never cared for shellfish anyway – I’ve never had an oyster in my life – and, frankly, I didn’t give a fig for the nuts.

But bread?

It was really quite simple, almost alimentary, my dear Watson. To avoid the hives, I simply had to eschew gluten. Whole legions of food became instantly forbidden before my despairing gastro-intestinal tract.  Croissants, cake, Southern-style fried chicken, burgers, even the humble hot dog – they were all verboten on pain of an itch that refuses to go away. It makes an immune system turn against itself.

You learn to adapt, of course. There are a surprising number of gluten-free foods that can be obtained in Kuala Lumpur – even more so than in Singapore. But gluten-free pasta is, well, gluten free and not quite what Marco Polo envisioned on his trip back from China.  

Then came the pandemic and what Singapore called a “circuit breaker.”

It lasted for three months and my wife had to work from the house.

When Rebecca has time on her hands, she generally finds things to do. And she likes to experiment.

She decided to make sourdough bread.

It’s pretty expensive here too with a loaf going for about S$9 (RM27) per pop. You might even say it was mildly uppercrust.

After some consultation with Youtube – which, let me tell you, is seriously the answer to life’s culinary problems – she was off and baking.

The best thing about sourdough bread is that it does not affect gluten-intolerant people. It is essentially made from the fermentation of dough by yeast and bacilli cells that naturally occur in the air. That means it’s also good for you in the sense of having a probiotic effect on your gut.

It also tastes great. Now I know what they mean when they say, after sourdough you never want to go back to white bread again. And a crisply done beef patty on melting cheese between two slices of freshly toasted and buttered sourdough bread with some lettuce and bacon bits is enough to send McDonald’s screaming into the night.

Because that’s a real burger right there.

Try making some. All you need is air, water and flour. Rebecca has even experimented with olive oil but that’s another story.