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How to Handle Food Allergies When Travelling in China

Written by Kelly Pang Updated Jan. 15, 2021

It's never easy to travel abroad when you have certain food intolerances or allergies. Due to increasing awareness of allergies, China is becoming an easier place to explore, even for those who need to be extra careful of a stray peanut or bit of gluten. If you are worried about how to handle food allergies when travelling, read on to get some useful tips.

Know What Is in Chinese Dishes

Before you arrive, it helps to know the cuisine, i.e. what's in Chinese dishes that may trigger your food allergies. Below are some common ingredients and spices that are usually used in Chinese dishes.

Gluten is the basis for many of the faux meat products at Chinese vegetarian restaurants and is also often added to rice breads and buns for extra elasticity.

Peanuts and nuts can be easily recognized in most food, but some bread and cookies may have them hidden inside.

Peanut oil is the most common cooking oil in China, and is often the base for "chili oil", which is served as a condiment or a finishing touch on some dishes.

Soy Bean Products Soy Bean Products

Soy: If you are seriously allergic to soy, be careful, as many cooks fry vegetables and meat with soy sauce to enhance the flavor.

Sesame oil is also used widely in Chinese dishes especially cold dishes.

Celery: This ingredient may be slightly used in fried pork, beef, or egg dishes, though the menu doesn't include it.

Shrimp paste: Shrimp paste (or dried shrimp) is used as a flavor enhancer in a number of non-seafood dishes.

Shellfish: Some soups or noodles may use shellfish as minor ingredients, so make sure to ask and state your allergies carefully to avoid them.

Salicylates: On a Chinese menu, it's easy to avoid ordering fruit and vegetables which contain this allergen. But be careful, as some Chinese dishes may contain beer, soy sauce, vinegar, mushrooms, and peppers. Some soup and congee may contain dates and grapes. So make sure that your dishes don't contain them.

Chinese Allergy Phrases — Easy Essential Communication

In case you have trouble communicating with the waiter or cook, you can prepare Chinese cards about your allergy.

Allergen Chinese for: "I'm allergic to _____. Please don't put it in my food."
Gluten (wheat flour, wheat, soy sauce, pancakes, malt vinegar, beer) 我对谷物蛋白(面筋、面粉、小麦、酱油、蛋饼、麦芽醋、啤酒)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Nuts (peanuts, peanut oil, walnuts, almonds, chestnuts) 我对坚果类(花生、花生油、核桃、杏仁、板栗)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Soy (soybeans, soy milk, soy sauce) 我对大豆(黄豆、豆浆、酱油)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Sesame (sesame oil) 我对芝麻(芝麻油)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Celery (parsley) 我对芹菜(西芹、香芹)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Shrimp (shrimp paste, dried shrimp) 我对虾(虾酱、虾米、海米)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Shellfish (crab, clams, snails, oysters, scallops) 我对贝类(蟹、蛤蜊、螺、牡蛎、扇贝)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Seafood (fish, shrimp, crab, squid) 我对海鲜(鱼、虾、蟹、鱿鱼)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。
Salicylates (apples, grapes, oranges, lemons, pineapple, dates, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, chilies, beer, soy sauce, vinegar) 我对水杨酸(苹果、葡萄、橘子、柠檬、菠萝、红枣、番茄、黄瓜、蘑菇、辣椒、啤酒、酱油、醋)严重过敏,请不要把它加入到我的菜里面。

More Things You Can Do to Ensure an Allergen-Free Diet

Break the Language Barrier — Translation App, Tour Guide / Translator

Tour Guide A tour guide can help you arrange allergen-free foods.

Most waiters and cooks in Chinese restaurants speak Chinese only and this is a barrier for you to express your unique requirements about an allergy-free diet. So you can use a translation app to help you. Or you can hire a tour guide or translator to accompany you.

Pack Allergy-Free Food in Your Suitcase

For a short visit, you can pack some allergy-free food that you know is safe from your country in your suitcase. Then you won't go hungry if you can't find anything you're sure is safe to eat.

Prepare Medicines, Buy Insurance, and Choose Your Travel Agent

Especially if you suffer from severe food allergies, always be prepared, especially while traveling abroad.

Bring Anti-Allergy Medicine

The quality of healthcare in larger Chinese cities rivals what you find might at home, but please be sure to bring any relevant medical records with you as well as an EpiPen and/or your preferred antihistamines in the event of an emergency.

If you need prompt medical attention, larger cities have top-notch foreign hospitals, some with expat staff that can provide fabulous care. However more provincial areas will probably be lacking in service and facilities. It would be best to avoid remote areas if you have serious health concerns.

Buy Health Insurance

We recommend buying travel insurance before you come for everything you might need from hospital costs to helicopter evacuation.

Choose a Travel Agent That Can Help You

China Highlights takes care of our customers with help choosing suitable food, and goes the extra mile if there is a medical emergency in China.

Let Us Help You Enjoy a More Care-Free China Tour

Chinese Food

If you are planning a China tour and have food allergies, let us help reduce the burden on you, with expert help from our travel advisors and tour guides. Below are our popular China tours for your 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.

Start planning your tailor-made tour with 1-1 help from our travel advisors. Create Your Trip

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