It was my 30th birthday in January and so to celebrate we spent a couple of weeks exploring Singapore and Malaysia. What a fantastic trip. This was an extra special adventure, not only because I was turning 30, but also because I was visiting my 50th (and 51st) country! Travel geek
Let me start off by saying that Singapore was awesome! It’s a really fun city to explore. Celiac friendly options are certainly not abundant but don’t let that stop you from exploring this fantastic city-state. There are gluten free options to be found, you just need to know where to look!
There’s no doubt about it, travelling gluten free in Asia is hard. It’s a whole different ball game from a trip to Europe, the US or Australia. If you were headed to Rome, New York City, London or Sydney you would look for restaurants with gluten free menus or gluten free options, and you’d find some. This is not the case with most of Asia. Here it’s about making the most informed decision you can, it’s about finding naturally gluten free food choices, it’s about explaining exactly what you want cooked. You can’t rely on restaurants having gluten free options.
Even if you took language barriers out of the equation you would still be faced with a continent where celiac disease and gluten free are almost unheard of. If you wish to travel in Asia, and you should because it’s an amazing continent!, you must go into it aware that it’s going to be up to you to determine what is safe for you to eat. Don’t expect gluten free menus or restaurant staff who understand your dietary needs.
I should mention as I think it’s an important point that if you don’t have celiac disease and are able to be a little more relaxed on issues of cross contamination then you will find yourself with a few more options in Singapore. There were some dishes that I couldn’t risk trying as I couldn’t be sure and didn’t want to be sick for half of my trip. If you don’t have to be as careful as a celiac does, you will certainly find a lot more options to choose from.
As yet there is no gluten free certification board in Singapore and there are no completely gluten free restaurants. I found and stopped by two or three restaurants on Yelp which mentioned gluten free options on their menus but all of them were a completely waste of my time. Cross contamination was a huge issue in these restaurants and the staff had no interest in helping to prepare me a safe meal. Just because a restaurant offers some ‘GF options’ doesn’t mean they actually know anything about gluten free cooking. Sometimes you’re better off buying a bag of rice from a Chinese restaurant, tuna and veggies from the supermarket and enjoying it on the roof of your hotel with a bottle of vino!
Eating Out Gluten Free In Singapore
- Sushi – It’s naturally gluten free and Singapore has lots of it! Nowhere as yet has gluten free soy sauce so be prepared to take you own or go without.
- South Indian food – Little India has a bunch of South Indian eateries where you can find naturally gluten free options like dosas and uttapams. Some places do both North and South Indian food and some focus on one. Choose a completely South Indian place to reduce the risk of cross contamination; there isn’t much wheat used in South Indian cooking. TIP: Double check that your dosa/uttapam is not made in the same area/pan as any wheat breads. Also double check that it’s simply rice flour and/or chick pea flour and there is not wheat flour involved.
- Hawker Centers are a fun place to hang out and people watch. They offer a few naturally gluten free options, especially if you get creative! Some of the things I got at Hawker Centers are rice or coconut rice, edamame, avocado, chilli sauce, crushed garlic, fruit and fruit juice. Many vendors have rice noodles and plain chicken too so use your own judgement on cross contamination.
- Hainanese Chicken Rice is a great local dish which you can find all over Singapore. You’ll notice that vendors of this dish have chickens hanging up to show which options they offer, steamed (light coloured) and roasted (dark coloured due to the soy sauce!). The roasted version is marinated in soy sauce so choose a place that only does the steamed option and double check no soy sauce has been anywhere near it.
- Nasi Lemak, also everywhere, should be naturally gluten free as it’s just coconut rice with boiled egg and spicy sauce. There are variations on this depending on where you get it so make sure nothing fried has been added and there is no soy sauce. Delicious!
- Another possibility is Bak Kut Teh, a peppery pork rib soup served with rice. It’s sometimes served with dough fritters so ensure that yours isn’t! (Be extremely cautious unless you speak Chinese, are with a local or can be certain there is no soy sauce in the soup – More on this in the comments below)
- Laksa is thick rice noodles in a rich spicy coconut broth and should be gluten free. Note that sometimes the rice noodles come from a factory that makes other noodles and the food vendors would not know this information so be cautious.
- Marina Bay is a fun place to walk or run and it offers pretty views of the city. Vendors in this area sell fresh sweetcorn in a cup which you can get plain or served with butter and salt. A great gluten free snack!
- Fresh fruit is available everywhere and you will more than likely find some fun fruits that are new to you. If you aren’t already familiar with durian and mangosteens definitely give them a try! You’ll find lots of opportunities to refresh yourself with delicious fresh coconut too!
Some ‘gluten free’ places you could try, or not, depending on your level of sensitivity.
- A few chain restaurants in Singapore offer a gluten free menu including Chilis, Outback Steakhouse and Brussel Sprouts. I would be wary of cross contamination but use your own judgement.
- Crust Gourmet Pizza Bar in Holland Village does gluten free pizza as does Pizza Capers.
- The Soup Spoon is a chain in Singapore with a few locations and they offer gluten free soup!
- Nandos which I know from the UK has a few restaurants in Singapore. They do gluten free options in the UK but there is no mention of gluten free options in the Singapore restaurants. Ask questions and stay away from their sauces are they are not gluten free.
- A few others restaurants which claim to offer gluten free options but which are definitely not safe for celiacs (sorry!) are Real Food on Clarke Quay (I was in tears after leaving this place as they were completely unhelpful & clueless about gluten free cooking and I was jet lagged and starving at the time!), Rabbit Carrot Gun, Cedele’s, House.
Gluten Free Grocery Shopping In Singapore
- Fair Price, Cold Storage and I Setan are supermarkets which can be found throughout Singapore and offer some selection of gluten free products. The products are mainly from the US, UK or Australia.
- If you are spending a longer time in Singapore and have a place to cook or you need a gluten free snack fix, Brown Rice Paradise shop in Tanglin Mall does a great variety of gluten free products. They carry almost anything you could want from cereal to bread to crackers to gluten free bars. The selection is fantastic but expensive as most of the products are from the US or Europe. I found it really interesting to see my favourites from the US and my favourites from the UK sitting next to each other on the shelves!
Definitely be sure to check out the Gluten Free Singapore group on Facebook run by the lovely Keirra! She will be able to help with up-to-date information on finding gluten free options during your stay in the lovely Singapore. One of the highlights of our time in Singapore was meeting and spending a couple of days with Keirra and her partner. We shared travel stories and gluten free tales over Hainanese Chicken Rice and durian and we learned lots of fun and interesting facts about Singapore!
Gluten free travel can be challenging but don’t let that stop you from seeing the world. There’s so much to see and there are always naturally gluten free options to keep your tummy happy as you explore! Stay positive, pack a few of your favourite gluten free goodies and keep reading this blog for more tips!
Do you live in or have you travelled to Singapore? I’d love to hear your gluten free experiences…