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Nov 4, 2013 01:19 PM

Gluten free Chinese dishes

Every time I travel to China I struggle with getting gluten-free food in restaurants.
Any suggestions on Chinese dishes that are naturally gluten free (e.g. I don't need to request for certain ingredients to be left out)?


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  1. I just posted this same question/response on the Special Diets board, but for those who live in China:

    Is the soy sauce (and potentially other sauces?) used in Chinese restaurants in China gluten-free?

    12 Replies
    1. re: Dave MP

      Thanks so much for your response, Dave.
      I am pretty sure the soy sauce is not gluten free, and neither is MSG. I always ask the cook to leave the MSG out, but when I ask to leave the soy sauce out as well, they often just refuse.
      That's why I was wondering if there are any dishes that have no sauce to begin with. I'll try the sticky rice in clay pot and let you know how that goes...
      Thanks again!

      1. re: hoyhacesol

        Depending on the recipe, those might have soy sauce in them too. Where in China do you live?

        1. re: Dave MP

          I don't live in China, I just travel there often. I have an upcoming trip to Beijing, various places in Anhui, Nanning and then off to Hong Kong and Taipei. Restaurant recommendations anyone?

        2. re: hoyhacesol

          Two important things to know:
          Pure MSG has never any gluten in it, those two things are completely different but get mixed up often. MSG is an artificially created taste enhancer, a copy of something found in meat.

          Soy Sauce normally will not have gluten in it if it is done in the traditional way, means brewed. But there are soy sauces on the market that take a short cut, so that there is gluten still in it.

          As a celiac myself I never had any troubles in south China with just avoiding dishes that have gluten in it on first glance. Especially Canton region uses mostly rice and corn starch instead of wheat. North China is a different thing, had to be much more careful there.

          1. re: NilesCable

            Thanks for clarifying that, I had no idea that MSG is mostly gluten free. I am not celiac but I have a pretty bad gluten intolerance. Every time I eat something with MSG I seem to get sick, so I just assumed.
            Thanks again!

            1. re: hoyhacesol

              Thats why i wrote it, I often meet people that mix up these two. The only case where MSG can have gluten is if MSG is mixed with spices. Most producers add wheat flour to these ready mixes to have the spices attach better to the food. Same reason you find a gluten warning on most potato chips packings. But most cooks will prefer their own spice mixes instead of using these ready made ones.

              1. re: NilesCable

                I agree with Niles in commercial kitchens MSG is going to be spooned in as pure MSG powder rather than as a combination so should not be an issue with gluten.

                Soy sauce is trickier as the cheaper, often western, ones are possibly going to have wheat in the production, but even then the processing eliminates most of the protein that causes a reaction. Better soy sauce is brewed without wheat so should be fine - but how do you know if it's used?

                Potato starch is often used as a thickener or to gloss the dishes so that should be fine, and rice flour is often used in the south for noodles etc. in the north more wheat is used in dumplings, pastries and buns.

                What to eat - roasted meats, steamed fish (soy sauce added by the diner not in the kitchen), stir fried dishes, tofu dishes, hotpots. But not steamed buns...!

                1. re: PhilD

                  Thanks PhilD! Some useful advice here :)

              2. re: hoyhacesol

                Just so you have an idea, if you are getting sick with MSG in foods, then you might have an intolerance to that enhancer. It is an excitotoxin and stimulates the neuro-pathways in the brain. The book, Excitoxin, The Taste that Kills, by a brain surgeon would probably answer your questions about this dangerous spice. I react to wheat and MSG. But not to gluten in general.

                1. re: PamelaJ87

                  I think Jeffrey Steingarten in his article "If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn't everyone in Asia have a headache?" hits the nail on the head. The excitoxin scare is in the same mold - if MSG was poisoning everyone because it's a toxin where are all the issues in China and Japan?

                  Here is a good balanced article:

                  1. re: PamelaJ87

                    I think it is funny how this stuff about MSG turns up time and again. Every real scientific research ever done on this subject has not found any indication of MSG intolerance. Blind tests showed that people reacted to MSG that wasn't even there when told they had just eaten some and the other way round, had no reaction when eating MSG and being told there was none present.

                    MSG is naturally present in most foods you eat, so everyone that would really have an intolerance couldn't eat most stuff without getting problems.

                    I am no friend of MSG or the nowadays much more used yeast, which is not needed to note but where a reasonable portion of population really has intolerance against. A good meal can be cooked without using any taste enhancers.

                    1. re: PamelaJ87

                      Also one remark: You write you react to wheat and MSG, but not to gluten in general. Sorry to say that, but this is impossible, as gluten IS wheat. There may be a difference between gluten intolerance and wheat allergy, but every person that has a wheat allergy reacts fully to gluten. Difference is, that a allergic person gets an allergic reaction, while gluten intolerant peoples bodys attack the digestion tract while digesting gluten, producing digestion problems and destroying the digestion tract.