Traveling with any food allergy is difficult, but traveling with a wheat allergy in Taiwan is tricky for a couple of reasons.
First, the allergy seems to be fairly uncommon in Taiwan, so even knowing the Chinese for I am allergic to wheat (我對小麥過敏 / Wǒ duì xiǎomài guòmǐn) or I am allergic to gluten 我對麩質過敏/ Wǒ duì fūzhí guòmǐn) won’t always be clearly understood.
And second, one of the most commonly used article in the arsenal of any Taiwanese chef is soy sauce, which sometimes contains wheat as a thickening agent. So whereas dishes like xiao long bao (dragon dumplings) and youtiao (fried dough) are obviously off limits for the gluten intolerant, other seemingly safe dishes might trigger a reaction depending on the brand of soy sauce used. So your best bet is to stay away from soy sauce entirely, using the phrase I am allergic to soy sauce (Wǒ duì jiàngyóu guòmǐn / 我對醬油過敏).
Having front-loaded this article with the disheartening stuff about soy sauce, let’s lighten things up a bit with the good news. While gluten free travel in Taiwan can be tricky, it’s far from impossible. And what’s more, it can be delicious if you know where to go. Let’s start with restaurant dining.
Taiwan is hardly San Francisco when it comes to allergy sensitive food culture. There aren’t any specifically gluten free restaurants, and the only restaurant we’ve found that has specifically gluten free options, the “Ooh Cha Cha Plant Based Cafe” would hardly be considered a typical Taiwanese eatery. That said, some of the most commonly found restaurant types in Taiwan have tons of gluten-safe options for those who know what to eat.
Teppanyaki / 鐵板燒 / Tiě bǎn shāo
Teppanyaki places are everywhere and easy to spot. They’re the places with long metal grill tables with chefs on one side and customers on the other. Meat and vegetables, grilled to perfection before your eyes. Except for the rice (which you usually grab yourself from a communal pot), these places are practically paleo.
(Just be sure and tell the chef Don’t add sauce (不要加醬Bùyào jiā jiàng) to be on the safe side.)
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Hot Pot / 火鍋 / Huǒguō
As ubiquitous as Teppanyaki places (and also pretty paleo, except for the rice) most hot pot places bring a pot of broth to your table and either have you order ingredients from a menu or simply take ‘em yourself from a massive buffet table filled with meats, seafood and vegetables. The only items to watch out for are dumplings and some of the sauces, which are easily avoided. (Read more: Five unique twists on Taiwanese hot pot)
Barbecue 燒烤/ Shāokǎo
Also quite popular (and fun). The customer picks their meal from among a large variety of meats, seafood and vegetables (most of which are skewered on a stick), and the chef grills them. Just remember to specify don’t add sauce (不要加醬 / Bùyào jiā jiàng). The chef may respond by asking add black pepper or add hot pepper (jiā hújiāo fěn or jiā là)?
Shake your head or nod, depending on your tastes. Both are gluten free.
Most BBQ joints also serve beer, which is obviously off limits. But many now offer a few types of hard cider, which is increasingly popular in Taiwan.
Vietnamese Restaurants / 越南餐廳 / Yuènán cāntīng
There are a lot of Vietnamese restaurants in Taiwan, not just in big cities but in small towns. Some are large, and others quite small. All serve noodles made from rice (米粉 / mǐfěn) as opposed to wheat. (Many Taiwanese restaurants also serve rice noodles as well, but it’s not a given.) With the exception of bread (a remnant of bygone French Colonial days), most food at a Vietnamese restaurant is gluten free. Fresh Vietnamese spring rolls are made with rice wrappers and rice vermicelli.
Buffets / 自助餐 / Zìzhùcān
Found everywhere, these places are best visited around mealtime, and range in size from a dozen to several dozen dishes laid out across several tables. Buffets can be a bit tricky to navigate for the gluten intolerant, but they’re hardly impossible. Avoid vegetable dishes that are brown (soy sauce) and fried dishes (possible wheat coating). Most non-vegetarian buffets will have several meat options, one of which is usually a steamed chicken dish. If it’s white, it’s probably all right (for the soy sauce shy).
(Read more: Cheap Eats in Taiwan)
Vegetarian buffets / 素食自助餐 / Sùshí zìzhùcān
Also tricky, but not impossible (and a good option for vegetarians, obviously). The good news is that these places will have way more vegetable dishes to chose from. Staying away from the brown ones (or asking about soy sauce) should keep you safe. The bad news is that most of the fake meat dishes, being literally made of gluten are totally off limits. But you will be able to eat well here.
Quick Language Key
- I am allergic to wheat 我對小麥過敏/ Wǒ duì xiǎomài guòmǐn
2. I am allergic to soy sauce 我對醬油過敏 / Wǒ duì jiàngyóu guòmǐn
3. Don’t add sauce (any sauce) 不要加醬Bùyào jiā jiàng
4. Don’t add soy sauce 不要加醬油 / Bùyào jiā jiàngyóu
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