Steaming dumplings, sizzling noodles and stir-fries dripping in spicy hot soya sauce.… To many, China is a foodie heaven. Unfortunately, for those of you who, like me, are allergic or intolerant to gluten, it may feel like we have entered culinary hell. Not only do many of the dishes contain this tiny yet evil protein in some shape or form, but there is also a constant risk of misinformation as Chinese kitchens have not yet fully comprehended food allergies in general. Here are a few of my favourite restaurants that have clearly labelled gluten free dishes and will ensure an anxiety-free trip to the middle kingdom.
Tribe Organic: A respectable selection of not only gluten free but also vegan dishes, Tribe has made ‘Holistic Health’ its mission – without losing great taste or originality. A large variety of healthy grain bowls, deserts and flatbread.
4Corners: When 4Corners’ chef realized he was gluten-intolerant, he decided to turn this restaurant/pub around – it is now home to some of my favourite GF flatbreads, desserts and brunch food. Whilst the décor does not scream glamour, the food definitely makes up for it.
Moka Bros: With a variety of superfood bowls and booming background music, Moka Bros is where the hip and cool crowd in Beijing hang out. Don’t forget to be careful about soya sauce in salads – this happened to me once despite a GF-label, resulting in an awkward argument about the gluten content of soy sauce.
Hunter Gatherer: Wholesome pre-designed or made-to-order grain and salad bowls that are blissfully filling yet healthy and organic. Similar to Moka Bros and Tribe, it’s an easy and casual dining spot.
Luccio’s: Delicious gluten free pizzas, made with gluten free equipment on Thursdays and available until the dough runs out (usually around Monday). Aside from delicious dishes, Luccio’s also has a wonderful wine selection.
D.O.C. Italian: Here you will find not only GF bagel happiness but also a variety of hand-made pasta dishes – careful though as their gluten free pasta is made in the same machine as their normal pasta.
Tribe Organic: A sister restaurant of the Beijing Tribe, this Shanghai location is the result of a successful debut in the capital.
General Tips and Tricks
The two chains Element Fresh and Wagas also contain a vast choice of gluten free and healthy meals in the form of yummy salads (make sure to try their awesome Wagas Salad). However, waiters are not helpful in pointing out gluten free options and you will have to make a choice for yourself about which salads contain no gluten ingredients. For the salad dressing I always ask for olive oil and balsamic vinegar just to guarantee no hidden gluten.
In many upscale western restaurants you will also be able to ask the usually English-speaking manager to ensure your gluten-freedom – in my experience this has worked well. Some of my favourite restaurants for this include El Willy, Green and Safe, and the Commune Social in Shanghai; or Migas and Bistrot B in The Rosewood Hotel (they even have gluten free bread!) in Beijing.
Its Chinese food, you want! Gluten Free Chinese Food I hear you say?
For those craving more Chinese flavours, Hot Pot restaurants such as the famous Haidilao are also always a great gluten free option – as long as you stick to the veggies, vermicelli and meats and stay far FAR away from fish balls, noodles and dumplings (seriously, I once mistook fish balls for scallops because they were served on shells – it did not end well)! This is definitely the safest choice. Otherwise, Yunnan-style Chinese food is also often cooked without gluten-containing ingredients (definitely check out Dali Courtyard if you are in Beijing). For any other Chinese restaurant, it should always be possible to make a stir-fry or fried rice without any soy sauce if requested, however it is highly likely to have been in contact with gluten-containing ingredients. These two options will also require thoroughly interviewing the waiters and double checking once the dishes arrive.
Ultimately, being gluten free in China is possible, and with just a little bit of preparation before your trip, finding gluten-free food will not be a problem as you explore these two fascinating metropolises and get blown away by their energetic atmosphere.
Need to Know
These are the two indispensable websites for regularly updated, long lists of gluten-free friendly shops and restaurants in these two cities:
Also make sure to download an allergy restaurant card. Whilst the language barrier can be a nuisance in everyday life, it becomes a real nightmare when it comes to explaining allergens.
DISCLAIMER: Despite labelling and promises, cross-contamination always remains a risk in China as there are no organizations overseeing and regulating the gluten-free label!