Glutenfree in Thailand

Firstly, to quote from my previous post:

There are a couple of things I should first mention. One: I’m not a vegetarian. I’m the Celiac half and “Vege and Celiac”. Two: I don’t think I’m as sensitive to gluten as some Celiacs are. I think my body can handle very small amounts of gluten without too much adverse effect. So while I always attempt to avoid gluten and have had gluten-accidents that have made me sick, it may be possible that the things I recommend here contain some very small amount of gluten that I did not have any issues with, but that you might.

Secondly, Thailand is awesome. Great weather, friendly people, awesome natural beauty and pretty cheap to boot. Not much to complain about to be honest. Some photos to set the mood…

Tuktuks – they may be touristy ripoffs but hooning around in Bangkok traffic in the back of one of these is adrenaline filled fun.

You can’t swing a cat without hitting a monk here… Bangkok Train Station.

Yksi väsynyt matkustaja – expect many long, boring-as-hell bus trips.

Boating Thai-style, a V8 on the back of a canoe. I got less wet the last time I had a shower.

beachfront nightlife

The mangrove swamp, Rai Ley East, Krabi

Rai Ley West, Krabi, perhaps one of the the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.

A hammock + a fan is about the most comfy you can be.

Fire-dancers – you’ll see a lot of these guys

Koh Tao, Thailand

“The Beach”. Literally. I.e. starring Leonardo Decaprio. Koh Phi Phi, Southern Thailand.

The old fishing village of Baan Lanta. Koh Lanta, Southern Thailand.

I wish to be as playful at 50. As the author of a vegetarian blog, I feel honour-bound to tell you that they don’t always treat these elephants that well. As a matter of fact it was a bit of a melancholic experience for us.

a “long-tail” and some dogs playing at Sairee beach, Koh Tao

And on to the food…. one of the main reasons we went to Thailand is the food. We love Thai food and mostly it suits us really well too. They have lots of good vegetarian food – if you include fish I’d say most places about half of the menu is suitable – and they seldom use things that contain gluten.

The only downside to eating in Thailand is you’ll have to give up a little certainty. This stems from two things. Firstly, it’s a pretty rugged place: piers that look like they’re a decent wave away from collapsing, traffic rules that absolutely no-one pays any attention to, municipal electrical systems that look very much like examples of definitely-don’t-do-this in Finnish or Kiwi electrical code manuals. Actually in that way it’s pretty much the anti-Finland. And that extends to the food too. So where as 90% of menus in Finland come premarked with allergy information (gluten and/or lactose free) in Thailand you’ll seldom be completely sure of exactly what you’re getting. So you’re probably gonna have to accept less than 100% certainty in Thailand with regards to the glutenfreeness of what you’re going to eat.

Secondly, to compound this, some Thais apparently have a tendency to just say yes, even if they don’t really know the actual answer. Apparently it’s a cultural thing: they think saying no is impolite. We struck this on a couple of occasions.

I don’t want to get you to down on it though – to reiterate food there is totally awesome, and in general glutenfree and veg-o friendly. If you avoid a few things and print a card in Thai explaining what you can’t eat (hello google translate) you should be pretty sweet. At least I was. Even in the street stalls, which you can be least sure of what you’re getting – which is awesome because from my experience the street food tends to be the best (and also the cheapest).

Things to be careful with

“Pad Thai 75 cents”: Krabi town, Southern Thailand

Noodles. This unfortunately rules out Pad Thai and consequently many street stalls. This was pretty disappointing for me, as Pad Thai is great. You can if you’re lucky find rice noodle based Pad Thai but your mileage may vary as even if they say there’s no wheat, as said, you’re not exactly dealing with a culture that cares much for precision or following the rules.

Cashew nuts. This one I found bizarre and to be honest, stupefying. Nuts are my friend. They’re one of my go-to, reliable snacks. Pretty often available. Hunger-sating. Convenient. What more could you want? Except in Thailand, more often than not, cashews are coated in an imperceptibly thin layer of flour and fried. And that caused me to get glutened, as I noticed only after eating half a bag. Other nuts seem OK, but I’d stay away from cashews – unless you can see the ingredient list in English.

Soy sauce and Oyster sauce. Both more than likely contain wheat.

Stir-fries. Meat or prawn based stir-fries may often contain pieces of meat dredged in flour and deep fried. And even if you dodge that, they will very often contain soy and/or oyster sauce based sauces. So basically you’ll pretty much have to avoid stir-fries if you want to be safe.

Snapper in fish sauce with coriander, chilli, lime and ginger. This one was safe and also very, very good.

Fish and seafood. This one is a bit problematic. Grilled fish, prawns and squid etc are both something you should definitely try and at the same time be wary of. They will very often add a soy or oyster sauce based sauce: which you can’t have. But, in the same breath, it would be kind of a tragedy to miss out on the snapper, barracuda, mackerel, prawns etc that is so, so good. Just make sure that are clear with them, that you want either no sauce (safest) or something that uses only herbs, ginger, fish sauce (glutenfree) or other stuff that is friendly for your guts.

Chilli. And lastly, I’d have to say that even if you don’t get glutened you’re still not completely in safe waters. I got “chillied” on a couple of ocassions. Thais love chilli. In seriously head-kicking quantities. So watch out for that too. And if you do get hit with a chilli bomb don’t be surprised to spend the next day at least partially incapacitated.

Things you should definitely try

Mussaman curry: every time you see this on the menu it’s spelled differently.

All of the Thai curries. Green, red, Panang, Mussaman….. I had many, many delicious curries and didn’t have any problems with them. Well, gluten-based problems at least. One or two knocked me about, as they just about blew my head off with chilli, but you’ll know after a mouthful if it’s “foreigner-friendly” or local-style and consequently whether or not it’s within your chilli-limit.

“Fruit salads” (papaya salad, green mango salad etc). Not sweet, but savoury. They may very well contain dried shrimps, and almost certainly fish sauce so if fish is a problem for you be warned. They don’t contain gluten though. They may also be pretty firey.

Riisiyllätyksiä

“Rice surprises”. They don’t seem very common but were awesome enough to warrant a special mention. And they’re possibly a bit risky, as, well, they’re “surprises”, but I didn’t have any problem with them. We found these only in the deep south (Koh Lanta) but if you see them I recommend you give them a try. They’re sticky rice and something wrapped up in a banana leaf. For example, a banana, coconut, preserved/candied mango, an egg custard and some things which I had no idea what they were. If you see them, you’ll see them in street stalls in the morning time. And they’re dirt cheap. So grab a couple and have yourself a tasty breaky for less than a couple of euro.

One of the many fruit stalls. This one was on Koh Phi Phi (where “The Beach” was filmed).

Fruit. I think we ate pineapple every day for a month. Fruit in Thailand is just incomparable to the same things in Finland. I embarrassed myself once by asking a waitress “what is this fruit?”. It was mango: mangoes especially, really don’t taste the same. Bananas, pineapples, coconut, mangosteens, rambutans, mangoes: they’re all great. I’d maybe only stair clear of durian – but probably the smell is enough to tell you that. But, in general, experiment, find the ones you like and enjoy them while you can.

Maiju ennjoying a cold pineapple shake on a very hot, muggy Khao San Road (a hectic and sweaty market in Bangkok).

Fruit shakes. Ice and fruit in a blender. They’re cheap. They filled with lovely fruit (see previous point). They’re safe.  And they’re cold and refreshing. I guarantee you’ll grow to love these things. And use them to combat the oppressive heat and humidity. Favourite would be lemon as it’s soo refreshing, but banana and coconut, and well pretty much all of them are great.

The day’s catch on the grill. Koh Phi Phi, Southern Thailand

Fish and seafood. As said earlier, they both really delicious and potentially dangerous. So definitely try the fish and seafood, but just be careful.

Cocktails. The youngsters can keep the “thai buckets”. Fresh lime, mint, coconut, pineapple. We had many awesome cocktails there too. So I definitely recommend enjoying those.

This was perhaps one of the best mojitos I’ve ever had. Well, it was a tough competition between this one and the 2 others I had immediately after it.

Almost anything else which is not included in the “be careful” list. Probably I’m forgetting lots of things here in the safe list. But excluding the “danger list” Thailand seemed really delicious and good for us – so just get amongst it and enjoy!

 

And as a teaser for the next post… a very memorable feed at Time for Lime, Koh Lanta. The best place we ate in Thailand and the place where I realised I knew nothing about Thai cooking at all.

Other (glutenfree) travels:

6 responses to “Glutenfree in Thailand”

  1. Junie

    I really enjoyed your comment:
    “This was perhaps one of the best mojitos I’ve ever had. Well, it was a tough competition between this one and the 2 others I had immediately after it”

    Welcome back for more ;o)

    cheers, owner and creator of Time For Lime (and the Mojito recipe)
    Junie

  2. Tim

    You can be sure that if we’re back in Koh Lanta we’ll drop by ;)

    Thanks for your lovely restaurant and also for the work you do for the stray animals (we’re “doggy” people also).

    Tim

  3. Michael

    Many thanks!
    My girlfriend is gluten intollerant.
    Great tips. That helps us very much!!!

  4. Tim

    no worries. Enjoy the trip!

  5. Mlada

    Thank you so much, we are going to stay in KO Lanta, me and my daughter are gluten free.. this is a great article!!

  6. Tim

    No worries. Hope you enjoy

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