Gluten free China: I’ve been to China on a business trip for 10 days in November 2016. From my direct experience, here are the 5 recommendations I would give to anyone who would ask me how to cope with a coeliac condition/ gluten intolerance. Of course, this is purely my personal experience. I am sure each one could live the same place in different ways.As a general assumption, it could sound quite challenging even if you travel in 5 stars hotels like I was lucky enough to do, but I reckon that travelling to China and other Asian countries is still worthy.
1. The awareness
There is no awareness whatsoever of the coeliac disease and the gluten free intolerance. Because of the language/cultural barriers, even if you can explain your food issue some people could be very superficial and offer you food that a coeliac cannot actually have. It happened to me after visiting the Great Wall, when a waiter pointed me out a dish as something that I could have. Since I felt that was risky, I asked for plain vegetables and rice (like these mushrooms).
Be wise and safe. If a food looks like dressed with something you are unsure of, just don’t have it. I was more than happy to try new stuff, but only when I felt that the waiter really understood my problem and the cross contamination risks. In that way, I had no major issues and enjoyed my gluten free China.
2. The language
People can’t speak English! If you think you’ll be fine with your English skills, please don’t give anything for granted.
What I suggest: get a gluten free card and print out more copies of it. Together with my passport, that card was to me the most valuable item I carried and show every single day, three times a day at least. Please find here the card I used, which explains both gluten and lactose free needs.
3. Soy sauce
Since pretty much everything is cooked with soy sauce in China, be prepared to get plain rice and boiled veggies. Not the most exciting meal, after a few days! What I suggest: carry your own gluten free soy sauce or tamari sauce – and food won’t be tasteless! And don’t expect to find that in China. Pretty much no chance to find it in a shop (personal experience in Beijing)…if you are already in the country, you could order it from Taobao – the Chinese eBay, but only if you have enough time to wait for your order to be delivered. Not recommended if you travel around.
4. Plan in advance!
As you may know, Google is not accessible in China so – unless you have a VPN, which I strongly recommend anyway (I used ExpressVPN, it is a bit expensive but perfect service, definitely worth it), I would suggest to research and plan in advance where to go and where to experience some gluten free places. You can also access my gluten free map for free but again, unfortunately you cannot even download it to use it offline. I personally found another solution: Ulmon Beijing app for iPhone. It is free and accessible offline, which is a major benefit.
Also, please check this link with maps created by the local gluten free community (from the website gluten-freechina.com):
5. Pack some emergency food
If you are a coeliac you know that this is a quite common habit. It is even more important if you visit China, because there are some places where eating will be very challenging, like at the airports, during domestic flights (apart from Air China, I had a very good gluten free lunch on the Guangzhou-Beijing domestic flight), in some super local places where you can’t manage to get safe food. I would recommend to bring some bars, biscuits, crackers and gluten free noodles pots (like the Tesco ones) always with you, just in case.
Next time I will be travelling to China, I will bear all of this in mind. Still, in spite of the hassle, it is definitely worth it, so don’t be scared by this! Have you recently been to China or do you live in the country having a coeliac condition? What is your experience? Will be more than happy to hearing from you 🙂