Gluten-free Beijing

Surprisingly (thankfully!), I did not get sick in Beijing. I was pretty scared that I would accidentally ingest some gluten due to the language barrier, but the Chinese note I had was SUCH A help!

We stopped at our first restaurant on the way to Forbidden City on the first day. It was a small, relatively local, if not dirty, restaurant where locals smoked inside seated at sticky tables. I ordered a simple stir fry and after handing my note to the waitress, she motioned if she could show it to the chef. They prepared my stir fry and rice with cooking oil instead of soy sauce and left the salt off, because often salt or MSG could contain traces of wheat in China  and it’s better to be safe than sorry. It was a little bland, but I was fine afterward.

Every morning we at breakfast in the French hotel chain Novotel where we stayed. The breakfast was relatively expensive, but expansive, with many gluten-free options from fresh fruit, yogurt, dried fruit, deli meat and tapas to fresh omelettes.

Since we couldn’t really find any gluten-free restaurants, we had to wing it with my note. We decided that hot pot would be a pretty easy meal to eat gluten-free, so we went for that the first evening.

The waitress did a double take when I handed her my note that basically said my insides will bleed if they feed me ANYTHING with gluten. She also wanted to take the note to the chef. It was so helpful that I had it printed on a piece of paper that people could take into kitchens.

When our hot pot arrived, it was basically just water. No bouillon or broth because everything they had would have been unsafe for me. It was a little bland at first, but as the meat cooked in the water, the flavors started tasting better. Still, it was a very low-sodium meal.

I was really intrigued by hot pot. The Swiss have adapted something really similar called Fondue Chinoise, which is basically “Chinese Fondue” and it’s boiling broth in a fondue-type pot where you can cook little pieces of meat and eat them with different sauces.

It’s a typical Swiss meal at Christmas, so it was funny to have it in China, the source of the idea! Below were the different items we put in ours: Green onions, onions, greens and meat!

The second and last night in Beijing, Kay wanted to try to get Korean BBQ because he had had it in Seoul and thought it was great.  When we arrived, they seated us and placed scores of little dishes at the table with various foods like kimchi, greens, onions, breads and sauces. Kay explained that you cook the meat on this hot grill and then eat it with all the little dishes.

The problem was that once we gave my note to the waitress and they discussed it with the kitchen, they came back and took away ALL of the little dishes. They brought back two bowls with romaine lettuce and plain salt.

No one at the Korean restaurant could speak any English, so we couldn’t really explain ourselves. They didn’t even trust us to cook our own meat, so a waitress stood there and grilled our meat for us while we ate it with the lettuce and salt. We left a little hungry.

I wanted to get bubble tea to make up for it, but our waitress was outside the restaurant at the bubble tea stand and I wasn’t sure if she was warning the bubble tea worker, but the stand was mysteriously closed for us, even though we’d gotten bubble tea from the same stand the night before.

Our flight from Beijing to Sydney with Air China was relatively uneventful, but they did manage to lose my gluten-free order so I had my first experience on a long-haul flight without a meal option.

Luckily I could still eat the salad without sauce and the fruit and my gluten-free snacks that I have brought with me for this very reason. Kay also gave me his fruit to have a little more food and I was all right without anything for breakfast besides my snacks.

3 thoughts on “Gluten-free Beijing”

  1. Your pictures are amazing, thanks for sharing. I’m so glad you didn’t get sick, but I’m sorry to hear some of your meals were bland. For what it’s worth, San-J makes packets of gluten-free soy sauce (Tamari)perfect for travel. I’ve seen them at Whole Foods and Amazon here in the US. (I’m not sure how useful that is to you, but figured it didn’t hurt to mention.)

    1. It’s hard to order food off Amazon, but good to know things like that exist! Especially if anyone reading lives in the States. I think in future I might bring some GF soy sauce from home with me or even some little salt packets too.

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