Asia, general, Thailand

Gluten-Free Globetrotter is Going to Thailand

Flag of Thailand

Yes, it is true. I decided back in the fall that I wanted to plan a big trip for my birthday. What better way to celebrate than to to travel almost 10,000 miles away from home? YIKES! This will be my first time in Asia, so I am adding a brand new continent and two countries (layover in Dubai, UAE) to add to my list of travels. This is a trip that takes me way out of my comfort zone but I am ready for the challenge. Am I nervous? HELL YEAH. Am I excited? Even more so!!!

As with all of my trips, I do a ton of planning before I leave. This trip is no different except that I am finding it somewhat difficult to navigate this Southeast Asian country in terms of gluten-free research and reviews. I’ve read mixed reviews from gluten-free travelers about eating safely in Thailand. Besides eating gluten-free due to Celiac Disease, I also have a shellfish allergy. I think the latter is going to pose more of a problem than the gluten.

In preparation for my food restrictions, I received complimentary food allergy translation cards in Thai from Select Wisely that highlight both my avoidance of gluten as well as shellfish. These cards are “strongly worded” to alert the vendor or restaurant of my food allergies and came highly recommended by Jodi of Legal Nomads via Twitter. (Jodi is an extensive world traveler who also happens to have Celiac Disease.)

Thai translation cards from
Thai translation cards from

Jodi has written a book called The Food Traveler’s Handbook which includes “guidelines tailored to travelers with special dietary needs such as food allergies (celiac disease, nut allergies, etc), vegetarians.” I do not have the book yet, but I was quite inspired when I heard Jodi speak about her foodie travels from across most of the world at the book launch last fall. I love Celiac travelers that do not let their gluten-free diet stop them from traveling the globe!

Jodi gave me some other helpful tips via Twitter and email. She said “rice flour noodles abound, but a shellfish allergy is far more of an issue since [Thai] use shrimp paste/ground shrimp a lot.” Jodi adds “seitan (faux meat) is made from gluten” and often used at vegetarian places in Thailand “even with just the vegetable dishes.” Finally, Jody warns that “khao soi noodles in the north are made with flour and should be avoided” and like in the United States “soy sauce has wheat flour, so you’ll have to ask for dishes to be soy sauce-free.”

While translation cards are a “nice to have”, it is also a smart move to do some thorough research for safe places to eat while so far away from home. I often use TripAdvisor forums to search for positive (or negative) reviews of restaurants. I heavily rely on other gluten-free traveler experiences found in blogs, online forums, Facebook, and Twitter. Since this research takes time and effort, I thought it would be helpful for me to round up the articles and blog postings that I have discovered during my Thailand gluten-free research. Obviously I will blog about my own experiences once I return from my two-week journey but here is my summary to date.

Blogs about gluten-free travel in Thailand

Forum posts about gluten-free travel in Thailand

Restaurant and shopping suggestions

I don’t want to give too many suggestions here until I have the opportunity to try these places myself. Sometimes online reviews get a little bit shady and I need to go with my gut (ha!). I have read on multiple sites there is a cafe in Chiang Mai that sells gluten-free baked goods but sadly many people have gotten sick from their food. Rather than risk any additional stomach issues (already kind of banking on TD), I plan on steering away from questionable places.In Chiang Mai, The Salsa Kitchen came highly recommended from a number of websites. I contacted the owner who said his mom and sister both have Celiac and eat at the restaurant all the time. While eating Mexican food in Thailand might seem strange to some, I would rather have a safe meal than a non-cuisine. It was great to connect with the owner and discuss my food issues with him before I even left the states. Talk about reassurance! I definitely plan on going to The Salsa Kitchen during my time in Chiang Mai.

I found a link to a store called Maison du Vins 1994 in Bangkok. Although their site is in Thai, I used Google translate to discover they sell imported gluten-free food. Although not really near the places I plan to go in Thailand, I definitely hope to make it there one day. I love checking out markets and shops with gluten-free products when I am both home and abroad.

As you can see, I have already done a lot of research for my two-week holiday to Thailand. While I feel that some of my research will come in handy, I won’t know for sure until I am there and experience the sights, sounds, smells, and food first hand. I will be sure to report back on all of my gluten-free food adventures when I return. Until then…



Guest Post: Gluten-Free in the Philippines

When I put out my request for guest travel posts, I got an interesting email from a woman named Jessica in the Philippines. I have to be honest and say that the Philippines wasn’t really on my travel radar, although I am sure it is a beautiful country. Here is an edited copy of Jessica’s post about eating gluten-free in the Philippines. Please remember, these are Jessica’s opinions and experiences so I cannot vouch for this information. 

Photo from Wow Philippines

Gluten-free in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the government recognizes the importance of having readily available gluten-free foods in the local market that will cater to the needs of both the locals and the international tourists. In fact, a handful of congressmen has taken the initiative to ensure that the gluten-free foods sold in the country adhere to international standards. Through the “Gluten-Free Labeling Standard Act,” gluten-free food sellers and distributors are required to limit the gluten contents of their food products in accordance with the standards of Codex Alimentarius, an international organization handled by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)of the United Nations.

[Ed. Note: I could not find any updated information about the Philippine Congress House Bill 03345. The most recent information is from 2007. If anyone has updated information about the Philippine GF Labeling Standard Act, I would love to read it!]

Furthermore, the Philippines is naturally abundant in gluten-free foods, making it a convenient place for people under the gluten-free diet to live and travel in. The local cuisine itself already offers a wide array of choices from delicious appetizers to mouth-watering desserts. Some of the more popular gluten-free local dishes are lumpia (a local adaptation of spring rolls), pancit (rice noodles)[Ed. Note: Use GF rice noodles and GF soy sauce], and desserts like champorado (chocolate rice porridge), puto (steamed rice muffins) [Ed. Note: be sure to use GF rice flour!], and biko (rice cake).

Specialty stores in different malls across the country also sell gluten-free foods. A popular destination among those under the gluten-free diet is the Healthy Options store, which sells gluten-free cakes, cereals, and other delicacies. Local markets and groceries also sell a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. As an archipelago, the country is surrounded by expansive bodies of water that provide it with a regular and steady supply of different kinds of seafoods such as fishes, shells, shrimps, crabs, etc, which are commonly sold in the local wet markets.

Having celiac disease and being under a gluten-free diet does not necessarily entail a person to sacrifice his gastronomic experience. The modern market offers a wide variety of alternative choices for everyone. As for travelers under the gluten-free diet, you might want to consider the Philippines as your next destination for leisure and vacation. Blessed with abundant natural resources and beautiful tourist spots, you will surely have a wonderful time with friends and family without having to worry about your next gluten-free meal!

About the Author
Jessica Francisco is a cheerful 25-year-old with an odd sense of fun. The least of her broad range of hobbies include swimming, hiking and listening to the music of Michael Jackson. Jessica is also one of the editors of the Luke Roxas blog site.


Guest Post: Gluten-Free in Japan

I do not travel nearly as much as I want to but I realize that many of my gluten-free friends and fellow bloggers go on some amazing (and jealousy-inducing) trips. I have decided to start featuring guest posts from gluten-free travelers.

In the fall of 2011, my friend Sean H. went to Japan. Sean had only been gluten-free for a short time so this was his first overseas adventure on a gluten-free diet. I asked Sean to write up his story to share with my readers. The following is Sean’s story of Japanese gluten-free travel. The views and experiences expressed below are solely his own. If you have questions or comments, please post them below and I will direct them to Sean. 

Traveling to Japan may seem like a daunting challenge when you are eating gluten free. The flight is around 12 hours direct and airplane food is mostly off limits. Japan is like a different planet. Japan welcomes tourists and most of the signs have an English translation.  However, some people in Japan speak English and others barely speak any English at all. However, with a little work, it is possible to enjoy all that Japan has to offer.

For the flight, I brought some fruit and a few bags of assorted nuts to get me through the journey. An important thing to carry with you is a Japanese Gluten Free Restaurant Card that explains your food allergies in Japanese so the wait staff will know your issues.

In my case, I was traveling to see a Japanese friend. Her sister has a wheat allergy and she knew some food allergy-friendly restaurants. She also instructed the wait staff on my gluten issues when necessary. She recommends that people do their research before they make the trip.

Organic, vegetarian, and vegan restaurants are a good place to start when eating gluten free in Japan. These restaurants have salads and protein dishes that are free of soy sauce. The vegetarian restaurants will have a better variety of menu items from which to choose. They will also be very accommodating to people with food allergies. These restaurants are easy to find via a Google search.

Some time honored traditional Japanese food is safe. One of the obvious delicacies is Sushi. Sashimi Sushi is raw fish and is safe. The sticky rice that is used with Sushi is made with rice vinegar. It is safe. There are some ingredients such as artificial crab that should be avoided. There is debate on the safety of Wasabi. Wasabi is a spicy sauce. Some Wasabi is safe while others may contain wheat. So it might be better to avoid it. Soy sauce is not safe. However wheat free soy sauce is available in Japan. Finding it will not be easy though. An alternative is bringing your own.

In Tokyo, we viewed an American memorabilia sales district that was once a black market location for American serviceman. We stopped at a nearby Sushi Bar. The Sushi was served on a conveyor belt that traveled around a circular island. These types of establishments are common in Japan. Each type of Sushi was served on a specific patterned plate. Each pattern had a price designation. At the end of the meal the plates were added by the waitress. It was an interesting and quick way to eat!

Rice balls are an early example of Japanese ingenuity. They are made from the same type of sticky rice that is found is Sushi. In the middle of the rice ball is a protein like chicken or a fruit like sour plum. Rice balls were invented by Samurai warriors for battlefield nourishment. Rice balls are easily found in convenience stores throughout Japan. They are a good balance of portable carbohydrates and protein. They fill you up and keep you going. You will need the energy as visiting shrines and tourist attractions in Japan involves a lot of walking.

Another Japanese treat is Yakitori. This is Japanese grilled chicken. However, the Japanese eat the whole chicken. This includes the gizzard, heart, egg yolk, liver and even the cartilage! Each part of the chicken is presented as a separate meal course. The chicken is prepared on sight on a smoky grille.

Yakitori restaurants are known as meeting places for boisterous businessmen who talk loud and drink liberally. I ate at a Yakitori restaurant in Kyoto, Japan. It was there that I spotted an authentic Geisha. The Geisha was paying a lot of attention to these businessmen. It is very rare to see a Geisha in the flesh. They are hidden from public view in Japan. So I consider myself lucky to have seen such a rare sight while consuming almost every part of a chicken!

There are American choices. I did eat grilled chicken at The Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama on Halloween night. I also ate a steak at an American style café in the Kyoto train station. There are a lot of American style diners that serve classic American cuisine. So, if you are terrified of eating Japanese, there is an alternative.

Throughout the trip I drank water, tea, or coffee. They give you sugar syrup that is real sugar. It works great with Ice Coffee. Sake is a rice based Japanese alcoholic drink. However, only Traditional Gekkeikan and any Sake with “Junmai “ on the bottle are safe. Junmai means pure. Other forms of Sake may be flavored with barley and are therefore off limits. As for beer, there is currently one gluten free beer in Japan. It is called Nadogoshi Nara. It is wheat and gluten free. It does use Soy protein though. Nadogoshi was created to dodge Japanese taxes on Malt. It has become very popular and it may be easy to find.

The word for Wheat in Japanese is Komugi. Barley is known as Oomugi, and Malt is Bakuga. On packaging everything is written in pictograms which makes it that much more difficult to understand.

Above is the Japanese Pictogram for Wheat. However, you should be able to find nuts, fruit, and chocolate at convenience stores. The most prevalent stores are 7/11 stores. They are similar to 7/11 stores in the U.S. However, the food and selection is much better.

So are thoughts of traveling to the Far East still scaring you half to death? I hope not. I was apprehensive but I found the Japanese to be incredibly polite. They always greeted me with a bow and a smile. They will be more than accommodating when you present a Gluten Free Restaurant Card. The Japanese economy depends on tourism and they welcome tourists. They want you to visit their country. Many of them struggle with their own allergies. It is a beautiful country with history that is completely different from Western and European History. Going gluten free in Japan is difficult, but it is possible. There is no reason you should let your gluten free diet stop you from enjoying this jewel of the Far East.

Asia, general

No Grain, No Pain: South China Morning Post

Although I don’t have much information about being gluten-free in Asia, I was excited to be interviewed for the South China Morning Post last year about being gluten-free. Click the links below to read the article.

South China Morning Post: No Grain, No Pain (1 of 2)

South China Morning Post: No Grain, No Pain (2 of 2)

Have you been to Asia? Did you have any good or bad gluten-free experiences? Please share in the comments section below.