The big problem with eating gluten free in Southeast Asia is the hidden gluten. It’s reasonably obvious that bread or pasta has gluten in it, but in Thailand, for example, it’s almost impossible to see the oyster sauce or the soy sauce that will make a celiac violently ill.
In Thailand, it took me over a month to work out the perfect phrase to get by. The phrase was necessary because many people selling food on the street, or in booths in shopping mall food courts cannot read Thai or English. Sometimes we suspected that my accent let me down, but as far as I know, I was never glutened. Here’s the phrase phonetically:
g-in beng sallee my die…
Pronunciation: Make sure you say “g-in” with a ‘g’ sound, not a ‘j’ sound, as you would with the beverage. Say the first three ‘words’ much faster than you are comfortable with. Finally, stretch the “die” out so that the it lasts about three times as long as it should.
When trying to eat out in Koh Samui and Bangkok, I was given lots of other phrases to use by well-meaning tourists, by English-speaking Thai proprietors, and by non-English-speaking Thai proprietors, but it was only this phrase that actually worked consistently.
- Much cuisine in Thailand is naturally gluten free. Most green and red curries will be safe, but very few massaman curries will be safe.
- Krapow Guy (which is a rice dish fried with hot basil and vegetables and a non-descript but tasty sauce), is usually safe.
- Salads are generally safe, although be careful with ones with fried food added.
- Stalls selling pork on a stick (usually flattened) is usually safe, although you may want to consider cross-contamination.
- The broth that is often served with meals is always gluten free.
I have written this advice with experience and best efforts in mind. Please be careful when using it, and always err on the side of caution.