How does one survive being gluten free in Asia?
I am here to tell you…
*We have our favorite Gluten Free restaurants and cafes listed below. Locations: Bali, Bangkok, and Siem Reap*
If you find yourself walking through a mall, you will be quick to realize a couple things. You are surrounded by Bread Talks and other amazing cafes selling the most extravagant baked goods. If you thought you were avoiding bakeries by traveling to Asia, I’m sorry to say you thought wrong. It’s going to be tough to avoid the overwhelming scent of freshly baked croissants and biscuits. But, I promise you, you’ll manage. I had my days of walking the streets of Paris with a fresh baguette in hand…I’ve always been a bread lover. If I can go without gluten, so can you.
Asia opens a whole new world of dishes to anyone who is willing to try their flavorful cuisine. After reading this post,The gluten free person in you will be able to navigate your way through the menu quite easily.
It can be a bit nerve racking to travel with Celiac or any another serious food allergy. The nerves and stress only heighten when you are visiting countries where fluent english speakers are a bit harder to find.
This is why going into an Asia trip with a basic understanding of the common ingredients and local dishes can be quite important.
If you don’t want to read up on dishes before hand, a fun way to learn about the common ingredients that are used is to take a cooking class. Kyle and I signed up for one during our first month in Bangkok. This actually helped me out a lot. It’s hard to know all the ingredients that go into these mysterious and spicy dishes when you are only reading about them online, so this is a great way to get informed and have the opportunity to talk to a chef that can guide you towards gluten free dishes in their country.
Most people with a gluten allergy, intolerance, or preference will probably do the research before they begin a trip. Regardless, I am here to make that process easier.
Gluten Free Tips
If restaurants in Asia offer a “change to gluten free option” (there are not many of them) it is the same as in the U.S., it will cost extra. Just prepare to be spending more than the average tourist in Thailand because most of the cheap street food offered, will not be something you can eat.
Maybe it’s for the best…
Now on to the ingredients. You will find in Thailand especially, a lot of the sauces they use are surprisingly gluten free. Although the fish sauce in the majority of their dishes may not smell the best…*When I say it may not smell the best I mean it stinks…A LOT*…it is 100% safe to consume. This was something I was very happy to discover. As you will see on your trip, this is a very common ingredient in Thai dishes.
I know what you’re thinking…”Can I eat pad thai in Thailand?”
As much as your heart desires. You are safe to eat Pad Thai because it is usually cooked with fish sauce and almost always considered a gluten free dish.
Other Gluten Free sauces that are commonly used include: chili sauce and a whole heck of a lot of oil.
I would steer clear from oyster sauce, peanut sauce, soy sauce, and any sort of mushroom sauces. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find these gluten free. It just means that the majority of these brands use wheat instead of starch so you just have to be extra careful.
For comfort and to avoid any issues, I recommend putting a translation in the notes section of your phone. This way if no one understands what you are saying (this will happen a lot) then you can just whip out your notes and they can read it.
- I’m allergic to wheat flour – Puum Paae Paeng-saa-lii
*When you’re doing trying to pronounce that…try this next one!*
- I’m allergic to soy sauce – Puum Paae see-ew
If you think you have seen the word “see-ew” before, it’s because the name of a very popular Thai fried noodle dish is called “Pad See-ew”. My gluten free people, I am sorry to say you cannot eat this. You will just have to watch as your boyfriend scarves it down and hope the the smell alone will fulfill your craving.
Soy Sauce…not Gluten Free
Soy sauce is definitely the hidden ingredient most commonly used in Asian cuisine. This is definitely something you want to be aware of.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I ran in to issues with soy sauce. I would order something that appeared to be completely gluten free…and the waiter would come back and say, “the meat was soaked in soy sauce before it was cooked”. This can happen quite frequently, so be especially careful when ordering dishes with beef.
Most people will understand you don’t want soy sauce if you pronounce it, “soy-yuh sauce”. Otherwise you might get a mix of confused stares, waiters upset with you for wanting to change the recipe of their Thai dish, and again total confusion. To avoid all of this, use the phrases above or use “soy-yuh” and the staff will be able to help you.
Even though there will be a lot of temptation with foods you cannot eat while traveling in Asia, you still have MANY options. If I can forewarn you about something, it’s this…
Get used to eating rice. If a restaurant doesn’t have gluten free options, a rice dish is your best bet.
You will probably have a meal containing rice at least once a day if not more. This doesn’t just have to be ordinary plain white rice, you will find rice being used in ways only imaginable in Asia. Rice, rice cakes, rice noodles, more rice noodles, sticky rice, dessert rice, ALL TYPES OF RICE. All I can say is thank goodness for the humidity and constant sweating to work of the mounds of starch.
Use TripAdvisor for Gluten Free Options!
Finding cafes and restaurants that offer gluten free options is quite easy thanks to the TripAdvisor app.
Downloading this application has been a lifesaver when it comes to finding places to eat in your area. Whether you have a food allergy or not, I recommend getting this app. Kyle and I have found some of the most amazing food at hole in the wall restaurants that we would have never found if it weren’t for this handy application.
SPECIFIC Gluten Free RESTAURANTS, CAFES, AND MARKETS
This was the first specialty gluten free cafe that Kyle and I ventured to in Bangkok. It is very easy to find and just a five to seven minute walk from the Ekkimai BTS Station. Here you will find amazing GF breads, baked goods, and desserts to take-away along with many other in house dishes that range from from Italian pastas to specialty waffles.
Whether you want to stop by for an in house meal or want to come just to shop, this cute cafe has amazing food with great flavor. As we all know, sometimes GF food doesn’t have the best taste or consistency. This is not something you have to worry about at Theera and I definitely recommend you make time for this cafe during your stay in Bangkok. Theera is where I would buy the majority of my baked goods before I found a more conveniently located market for me, the Sunshine Market.
You will find this darling market located right across the street from the Marriott Marquis Hotel and about a ten minute walk from the Asoke/Sukhumvit Station. This shop is home to the best gluten free items, ingredients, beauty and health products, as well as homemade baked goods, breads, and desserts. When we were choosing a condo to rent out in Bangkok, having a kitchen was a top priority because this would give us the option of cooking food for ourselves. We wanted to make sure that while we were traveling, we would still be able to maintain a somewhat healthy lifestyle.
You can read Kyle’s post this week to find out our process of staying healthy while traveling. In the meantime, this health food market is where Kyle and I would often go shopping for sandwich bread, cereals, and gluten free items. The best days were those when we would walk out with a bag full of various cookies in one hand and pancake mix in the other. Not so healthy I know… If you have the option to cook at your place, I definitely recommend you hit this market up.
This island is a gluten free person’s heaven. A gluten free cafe is like the Starbucks of America, you will see one on every corner. For anyone looking to indulge in amazing GF food, Bali is the place to do it.
Kyle and I probably came here a total of 10 times during our month stay and that doesn’t even include our late night dessert runs to pick up their decadent chocolate brownies. I swear those things melted in your mouth they were so good. Besides their to die for desserts, this cute 3 story restaurant offers just about anything you could think of. After seven months of traveling with a diet of mostly rice, you can imagine my excitement when I found a place that literally has EVERYTHING. We ordered a different thing every time we went and there wasn’t a dish we weren’t satisfied with. If I could recommend anything to you it would be the pesto gnocchi, we are still talking about it.
The best part about this place is that the staff and environment are just as amazing as the food. The workers make a conscious effort to remember you and are always extremely welcoming. When Kyle or I needed to get some work done, this was the spot. The owner and staff graciously allowed us to take over the employee seating area so Kyle and I had a quiet spot to teach our online classes. The Gluten Free Kitchen is one of a kind and an absolute must when you visit Ubud.
Looking for a family sized pizza and some live music? Here you go!
This is some of the best GF pizza I have ever had, so good Kyle even loved it! If you can get someone who isn’t forced to eat gluten free food to like and even love something GF, that’s when you know you have won. Hank’s is an open deck bar on the second floor in the central hub of Seminyak. The prices are reasonable and they also offer some amazing happy hour deals.
They claim to have the best burgers in Bali and I have to say they definitely do. Though this place is a bit far out from the main town, it is well worth the 30 minute walk. Kyle and I went hungry because we had heard their burgers were big and man am I glad we did. The waitress brought out quite possibly the biggest burgers I have ever seen and the best part, it had a big, fluffy GF bun!! Lettuce wraps NO MORE! If you can’t tell already, I am a big fan of burgers. *Gluten free buns are hard to find in Asia!* You best believe I was one happy camper.
Best Part: The staff is extremely knowledgable about the allergy. We were 100% certain that even the toppings and sauces were gluten free. To get your burger fix, you have to visit Wacko Burger!
Are you sick of the words, “gluten free” yet? I promise, only a couple more.
This restaurant is the honorable mention of the list. I almost wasn’t going to add it because they accidentally fed me normal pasta and I got sick (Read about that fun experience here…), BUT we gave it a second chance a few weeks later and I had amazing GF pizza! Though we had a language barrier issue, they do have great Italian food at a reasonable price. Just make sure when you order you specify that you have an allergy. Then, when you receive the food, check that it is in fact gluten free. This restauarnt will not disappoint! The flavor and quality is outstanding.
This is also is a great place to go if you are trying to escape from the heat, which trust me this is something you are going to want if you are staying in Siem Reap. The restaurant is small, but has two levels. The second floor is an enclosed room with AC! This is one of the only restaurants in Siem Reap with an AC unit. So, for the relief factor alone we loved this place.
ALTERNATIVE Gluten Free Options!
I want to acknowledge that it is isn’t always easy to find something to eat at a restaurant. Or, if you find things you can eat, maybe you get sick of eating the same meals over and over again. This is when bringing some back up food can also be important. I am not saying you absolutely need to do this, but it might be a good idea. Bring a few protein bars or shake packages that can provide you with a meal replacement if you need one.
A lot of the meats in Asia are fried. And… the common dishes are cooked in sauces that contain gluten. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wasn’t getting the amount of protein in my diet that I needed. This lead to a constant feeling of low energy.
Kyle was able to introduce me to Isagenix and I immediately fell in love with their products. It definitely helps that Kyle’s mom works for the company and has been able to send us products while we have been overseas. This helped us maintain our healthy lifestyles and to always stay fueled. Thank you Beth!
With a lot of gluten free protein powders, those products either lack flavor or carry too much. The flavor of these shakes are by far the best I have ever tasted, they are gluten free, and extremely convenient for travelers to pack. If you have any questions about these products, feel free to drop a comment!
Last Time Saying “Gluten Free” I Promise!
I hope this post has provided you with some insight! Maybe it gave you some food inspiration for your Asian travels!
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