Are you allergic to gluten or sensitive to it? About 0.8 percent of Americans have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten. This allergy mainly affects people in northern Europe or people of northern-European descent.
Here are tips about how to find gluten-free food while traveling in China, and tips about how to order gluten-free food in a Chinese restaurant. Some celiac friendly products and restaurants are listed, and some medical information is presented in case of an allergic reaction. We hope these tips help celiacs or gluten-sensitive people to travel China more freely and enjoyably.
Gluten is a protein and starch composite that is found in grains such as wheat, oat, rye, barley and spelt. It isn't present in rice or corn. So these are safe grains for people to eat. When traveling in China, be aware that though rice and rice noodle dishes are a staple of most areas of the country, wheat is often added to rice dishes and is commonly added to soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce and other flavorings.
Consider bringing food you like with you so you can eat well. Consider almonds and other nuts, protein powder, canned tuna fish, your favorite breakfast cereal, beverage powders, energy bars, and other foods to supplement the white rice and fresh fruit you'll probably be able to find everywhere.
MSG and flavorings with hydrolyzed starch are usually added by Chinese cooks, and wheat flour is often added to soups, stir-fried dishes, and fried dishes. So if you want to eat in Chinese restaurants, it is useful to bring a card or paper with a clear description of your allergy and what kind of food you want to eat. Most Chinese cooks have little or no knowledge of your condition.
You can perhaps print out this page and carry it with you, or show it to the cooks in the kitchen with an iPad or other device.
If after all your precautions you eat gluten-containing food, you may have a severe reaction and exhibit a range of symptoms, such as abdominal pains or cramps, vomiting, flatulence, fatigue, heartburn, nausea, or pain in the chest or back. If you experience a severe attack and want to go to the hospital, take the information about celiac disease with you that is written above.
Generally, there is no remedy for the attack except rest and drinking fluids (fresh green tea should help), and perhaps taking oral painkillers, antinausea medications, or antidiarrheal medicines such as Pepto Bismol.
However, because this disease is less common than in the the US and Europe, Chinese doctors may think you are having a heart attack. If you are sure your symptoms are from eating gluten, using the written Chinese information below, try to explain about the disease and ask for the medications you think you might need. If you have a doctor, you could suggest that the hospital call your doctor for advice. Then rest and ride it out.
Most of the big name hotels and chains in Beijing/Shanghai/Hong Kong can provide gluten-free bread etc. on request: Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Langham, Park Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-la, Sheraton. Usually one week's notice is required. Inquire when booking. For other cities this service is less likely, but some (expensive) hotels may still oblige.
If you travel with one of our tour guides on a personalized tour or take part in a standard tour package, they can try to arrange for the special preparation of dishes you need, or help you find alternatives. For many people, traveling in China is daunting without a good guide. But since you have a special diet, we can help you travel and eat well. See our recommended tours below for inspiration:
Our tours can be customized . Just tell us your requirements and interests, and our guide can assist in making sure your food is carefully prepared, so you enjoy a wonderful trip without worrying about what might be lurking in your bowl.