HOW DO I EAT GLUTEN-FREE IN CHINA?
Keeping a gluten free diet can be tricky anywhere, but especially so in China. Whether you are planning a short trip or a move to China, this page will help you understand the challenges and find safe food to eat during your stay.
There are two main challenges with ordering gluten free food out in China, besides the language barrier. First, the concept of gluten is still very unknown here and most chefs are unfamiliar with the diet and its restrictions. It may be hard to convey all of the foods you need to avoid and that your request is based on medical necessity. The second main issue is that restaurant staff may not be able to tell you what their food contains, or what is in the sauce or broth they use. If you ask if something contains wheat, for instance, they will not think about the soy sauce (or other purchased sauces) or the flour they added to the broth. In some places, soy sauce is added to almost every dish.
To help you navigate these challenges, we have the following recommendations to make eating out a little easier.
- To ease communication, here is our gluten-free restaurant card. We also recommend you check out our dining guides by city. There you will find restaurants where we have found gluten-free options or accommodations in the past.
- Stick to the basics. Your best bets will be:
- Non-breaded meat, poultry and fish
- Non-thickened soups
- Salads with no croutons or bread bases
- Plain vegetables, rice, potatoes and fruit
- Read more about naturally gluten-free
- Research the traditional foods in the region you will be visiting to see if any are made without gluten. Yunnan Province, for instance, has a few soups that contain rice noodles that are not traditionally made with gluten. They also have snacks like pineapple rice and bamboo rice that are also naturally gluten free. Guangzhou, on the other hand, has more wheat based foods such as dumplings, steamed buns, and wheat noodles.
- Bring along a friend or colleague who can speak Chinese – at least in the beginning. It is always going to be easier to work with staff if you can get passed the language barrier. When trying to explain your needs, its best to say you have an allergy to flour/soy sauce instead of trying to explain the disease.
- China has become quite international and has many international restaurants where it may be easier to find gluten free food. Besides western food, many Asian foods are naturally gluten free such as (most) sushi in Japanese restaurants and rice noodle soups and rice paper rolls in Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Places with more international (or internationally trained chefs) are more likely to understand and be able to accommodate a gluten-free diet.
- No matter how much you plan, there are some places in China where you will not be able to find gluten free options besides plain white rice. This is especially true the farther out you go from city centers. For this reason, we highly recommend bringing along some of your favorite easy to travel snacks and foods as you venture out and explore all that China has to offer.
While the availability of GF-certified products is still very limited in China, you will be able to find plenty of food to eat here. Below are a few recommendations to make shopping a little easier.
- Start by packing some travel friendly GF food like crackers, cereals, rice cakes and bars/jerky to have when you arrive. It may take some find local items and you will be glad to have familiar food while you find your way around
- You can find healthy, naturally GF foods and ingredients almost anywhere. Here is our list.
- Check our our shopping guides to find stores that sell gluten free items in the city you plan to visit. Stores with imported international items are more likely to have GF certified foods.
- Check out the online options listed below. You may need a guide or friend to help you order if you do not have a Chinese bank account.
If you plan to stay in China for any amount of time, please contact us with your WeChat ID and location to join one of our WeChat communities. Having a community is helpful not only in crowdsourcing new places to eat or shop, but also for support in handling the special challenges with GF eating here in China. Please also contact us if we can offer any further answers or support.
China is a beautiful country. With some planning and realistic expectations, you can live and eat comfortably here. With Gluten-freeChina.com, you won’t be alone in trying to find new places to eat and new friends to lean on once you are here.
Let us know if you have more questions!
Photo from here.
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Contact us: contact @ gluten-freechina.com