Having a celiac disease or gluten intolerance can make eating out a challenge. How do you know what to order at a Chinese restaurant?
Soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and wheat noodles are common Chinese ingredients that contain gluten. Rice and rice noodles like chow fun or mei fun are popular, gluten-free options.
It looks like there are gluten-free Chinese food options if you know what to ask for. In this article, we’ll explore what familiar dishes are gluten-free, tips to enhance your meal, and a recipe you can make at home!
Naturally Gluten-Free Options
It can be tough to find naturally gluten-free items when eating out. Look for rice options and ask about which sauces come with which dish.
Rice and Rice Noodles
Rice is a naturally gluten-free food and is the most common staple at any Chinese restaurant. While I know rice can get boring after a while, it can be a great alternative to feeling sick for hours or days after. White rice is a safe choice where you can add your home-brought soy sauce.
Fried rice can be trickier. If the rice is only fried in oil and salt with some fresh veggies, the rice is safe to eat. However, almost all Chinese restaurants add other ingredients like soy sauce or breaded/marinated pork that may contain gluten.
If you’re itching for fried rice at the restaurant, ask your server if they can make you a separate batch. This is only if you feel comfortable with definite cross-contamination or your intolerance is less severe.
Soba or Glass Noodles
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and contain no gluten ingredients. However, they’re usually tossed in soy, hoisin, or dark sauce. They can make an excellent substitution but have a different texture than traditional lo mein noodles.
Glass Noodles are made from mung beans or starches like potato, tapioca, or green pea. They have a chewier texture and can feel rubbery if undercooked. Like soba noodles, they’re gluten-free but usually served with dark sauces.
Read More >> Are There Gluten-Free Udon Noodles?
Tips for the Restaurant
You can do a few things to ensure you come into contact with as little gluten as possible. Bringing your sauces, asking for alternatives, and understanding your options are just the start.
Bring Your Own Sauces
As long as you’re paying for the food and aren’t causing a stir, most restaurants are fine if you bring in your sauces due to food intolerance or allergy. Bringing your soy sauce or sriracha, but don’t bring anything you made at home. Even though duck sauce isn’t a dark sauce, it still contains gluten as a thickening agent.
Try to bring the smallest bottles that they offer. In other words, please don’t buy the mega-sized glass bottle of gluten-free soy sauce and bring it to your local restaurant.
A “white sauce” is made from cornstarch and doesn’t contain any soy or dark sauces. You can order this by asking for a “white sauce made from cornstarch.” The sauce usually contains garlic, ginger, onion, and vegetable or chicken stock. Make sure to specify you don’t want any soy sauce!
Some Chinese restaurants will sell items on the menu individually. If they don’t, ask if they can prepare a dish with no sauces. For example, if you’re looking at the chicken with vegetables in garlic sauce, just as for the chicken and vegetables without the sauce. Ask if the chicken is breaded, as the breading will contain gluten.
From there, you can either ask for white sauce or use a sauce you brought from home.
Pre-Check the Menu
I’ve never been to a Chinese restaurant that doesn’t have its menu online or in print. Go over the menu and see your options for a gluten-free meal. This will help you prepare for the restaurant and save you a lot of time and questions.
Homemade Gluten-Free Recipes
While going out is always great, it can become a big hassle when you can’t eat what you want to. Here’s one Chinese food that has been turned into a gluten-free delight!
Read More >> Gluten-Free Stir Fry Sauce
Gluten-Free Lo Mein
For this recipe, you’ll need rice noodles instead of lo mein. Wide rice noodles work the best because there’s more surface area for the sauce to cling to, like in traditional lo mein. You can add shredded carrots, frozen vegetables, baby spinach, bean sprouts, or any vegetable that holds up well in sauces.
This recipe is from here.
Put the tamari and cornstarch into a large bowl to make the sauce. You’ll need to whisk the mixture thoroughly until the cornstarch completely dissolves. Then, add rice vinegar, rice wine, sesame oil, brown sugar, ginger, garlic powder, dried onion, and vegetable stock. Optionally, you can also add chopped scallions.
To make the noodles, cook them as the package directs. While that’s cooking, put the sauce and any vegetables into a large skillet or wok. You’ll see the sauce start to thicken as it simmers. Once thick enough and the noodles are done, toss the noodles into the wok and stir to combine. There! Gluten-free lo mein.
Here are the ingredients:
- 3/8 cup tamari or gluten-free soy sauce
- 1.5 Tbsp cornstarch
- 3 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1.5 Tbsp sesame oil
- 3 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp dried onion (or 1.5 tsp onion powder)
- 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 chopped scallion
Take thin slices of chicken or beef and coat them in cornstarch if you want added protein. Then, toss the strips into a wok with some cooking oil. Cook until the meat is no longer pink (8 minutes for chicken, 6-7 for beef). When done, add the meat into the sauce with the vegetables before you add the noodles.
Eating a gluten-free diet is challenging when placing takeout or dining at a restaurant. When ordering Chinese food, stay away from dark sauces and breaded foods. Plain white rice is a great option, as well as asking for dishes prepared in a “white sauce” instead of the original.