9 Tips for a Gluten-Free Trip to China

For travelers with celiac disease, figuring out what to eat in China and making it gluten-free might seem tough. But don't worry! Even though Chinese food often has soy sauce, noodles, and flour, you can still have a great trip. These 9 tips will help make your journey in China awesome!

Most international flights to China offer gluten-free meals for celiac passengers. It's wise to call the airline to book your gluten-free meal before leaving for China. Don't leave it to the last minute, as most airlines require special requests to be made at least 24 hours before departure. And when you receive your gluten-free meal (which we hope you will!), double-check that it is actually gluten-free. Often, it will be labeled with the four letters GFML (gluten-free meal), the international code. If it's not, it won't.

When dining out, the first thing to do is to talk about your allergy. Communicate about all of this in a foreign country? Seems like it's a challenge! A perfect solution is to travel with a considerate tour operator who cares to negotiate with restaurants ahead of time and find out which ones are willing to go the extra mile to cater to your gluten-free food requirements. This will save you a lot of hassle. Also, an English-speaking Chinese guide who can clearly explain your dietary restrictions (and the utmost importance of following them) before each meal is essential.

When on a tailor-made tour with Odynovo (formerly Odyssey, the same hereinafter), both your private travel consultant and tour guide will make their way to arrange exclusively prepared dishes for you. So, if you have a special diet, just let us know your needs!

Restaurants might seem happy to follow up with your requests and questions but be aware that gluten allergy doesn't receive the same amount of sensitivity in China as in the West. Chinese cuisine can be amongst the trickiest cuisine in the world: dumplings and wontons are wrapped in wheat flour; soy sauce, MSG, or flavorings that contain gluten are added to most dishes. Always talk directly to the chef (if possible) regarding gluten-free dishes beforehand, especially issues like ingredient preparation and cross-contamination. Make sure vegetables are steamed over pure water rather than boiling pasta water (as with usual practice). Besides, knowing what is safe to order and what should be avoided helps you eat safely in China:

Gluten-Free Chinese Food List

Staple Food:

Rice (including white rice, black rice, brown rice, purple rice, etc.)Steamed rice, egg fried rice, scorched rice
CornCorn soup, grilled corn, steamed corn
Mung BeanMung bean cake, Mung bean soup
Coix Seeds (AKA Job's Tears)Coix seeds porridge
Chinese YamMashed Chinese yam with blueberry jam
Sweet PotatoGrilled sweet potato
QuinoaQuinoa salad, steamed quinoa

Food/Ingredients to Be Avoided

FlavoringsSoy & oyster sauce: used for stir-frying and as a dipping sauce, such as Kung Pao Chicken; matured vinegar: a common dipping sauce that tastes sour; MSG: also frequently used for stir-frying
Cereals, Wheat, and All Its ProductsDumplings, wontons, noodles, and all bread products, including pancakes served along with Pecking Duck
Imitation ("Vegetarian") MeatMade of tofu or other soy products, plenty of flavorings added, served in temples
Thickened SoupWheat flour or starch added
Deep-Fried FoodCoated with wheat flour or breadcrumbs, such as pine nut fish fry, sweet and sour pork, spring rolls, fried bread sticks
Certain DrinksBeer, liquor produced from gluten grains, barley tea

Gluten-Free Flavorings

  • Iodine-free sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic/garlic powder
  • Rosemary
  • Five spice powders
  • Cumin powder
  • Chili powder
  • Anise/star anise
  • Mint
  • Ginger

If good communication is not an option, a restaurant card that explains the gluten-free diet in Chinese will do you a big favor. We've prepared a printable card for you. Just save the card, print it, and show it to the restaurant, as sometimes the servers or waiters don't quite get it (they might not understand what Celiac means or give you a glib response).

It explains your disease and dietary restrictions in both English and Mandarin.

Gluten-Free Restaurant Card in ChinaGluten-Free Restaurant Card in China

Asking someone for a gluten-free meal can be difficult at times in China - many do not even know what exactly gluten-free means. If you are not on a small travel budget, consider upscale dining places that better understand your specific demands and carry out them accordingly.

Meanwhile, most international and up-market hotels can provide safe food and have more buffet choices. A celiac client shared her experience in China with Odynovo:

"I stayed in the high-quality hotels, had a sumptuous breakfast each morning, and then didn't go hungry during the day. In the evening, we had more time to source appropriate meals."

If you want to stay in an upscale hotel that meets your expectations the most, our expert can help.

Gluten-free food can be hard to come by in China, especially in some remote areas where food options are very limited! It's recommended that you take gluten-free backups like energy bars, nuts, crackers, protein drinks, boiled eggs (avoid those boiled in soy sauce), fruit, and steamed vegetables, which you can buy at the supermarket. Plenty of snacks are available in the local stores.

When wanting to buy gluten-free snacks in China, you might find it hard to read the labels and figure out if the snacks (other than the obvious ones: rice, rice noodles, fruits, vegetables, etc.) are gluten-free. Bigger cities will have more Western markets or organic stores that may stock imported gluten-free food with English labels. In smaller cities, it can be difficult to find celiac-friendly snacks, so consider bringing some along with you if you don't plan on spending time browsing expensive, foreigner-aimed supermarkets.

Where to buy gluten-free food in China

The 3 biggest international cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, all have gluten-free and foreigner-friendly stores.

Stores for Celiacs in Beijing:

Jenny Lou'sBranch stores across the CBDs, including Chaoyang Park, Sanlitun, Ritan, and more. You may visit their website to check out the nearest.
April Gourmet
  • Lido Store: Building 7, Richmond Park, 9 Fangyuan Xili, Chaoyang District
  • Shunyi Store: Outside the South Gate of Capital Paradise, Shunyi District
  • Sanlitun Store: 1/F Jiezuo Mansion, Xingfucun Zhonglu, Sanlitun, Chaoyang District
  • Sanlitun Store 2: 1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie, Chaoyang District

Stores for Celiacs in Shanghai:

Bastiaan BakeryHongmei Entertainment Street, No.18, 3338 Hongmei Road, near Yan'an Xi Road, Minhang District
Kate and KimiAn online gluten-free grocery store that offers same day delivery. If you order before 9 a.m., your goods will be delivered right to your doorstep within hours.

Stores for Celiacs in Hong Kong:


Elements: Shop 1090, 1/F Elements, Kowloon Station, Hong Kong

Tanley Plaza: Shop No. 203, Second Floor, Stanley Plaza, Ma Hang Estate, 23 and 33 Carmel Road, Stanley, Hong Kong

Though we all hope for the best, it's always better to prepare for the worst. Talk to your doctor about any measures you can take just in case, for example, an epinephrine injector (e.g., EpiPen), or taking an antihistamine like Diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl). Make sure to buy these medications before leaving for your trip to China, as it is difficult to find them after your arrival.

Celiac disease often has symptoms such as abdominal pains or cramps, vomiting, flatulence, fatigue, heartburn, nausea, or pain in the chest or back after meals. As it is less common than in the US and Europe, Chinese doctors can easily misdiagnose it as a heart attack. When you experience similar symptoms, you should doubt whether it's due to gluten sensitivity. Remember to bring a copy of your medical reports. After getting to the hospital, show the report to the doctor and try to explain your disease: I have celiac disease.

Finally, be adventurous. Do not let celiac disease detain your footsteps in China - just make sure you are ready. There is so much to know about and to do! Concentrate on the amazing things you will find: the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, Guilin's landscape, and the Bund in Shanghai, all along with great gluten-free feasts.

Planning to travel to China? Let us tailor-make a tour for you. You will have the freedom to choose restaurants where you can order dishes that are cooked separately just for you. Feel free to write to us directly with any questions about traveling in China: .

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