Gluten Free Malaysia

Malaysia!

I loved Malaysia! For my 30th birthday adventure John and I spent a week in the fantastic Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and a few days in the beautiful historic city of Malacca (Melaka).

Kuala Lumpur is a great city for exploring and people watching. There are a few must sees like the Batu Caves, Petaling Street and the amazing Petronas Twin Towers but if you simply love wandering and exploring new cities then Kuala Lumpur has plenty more things to see and do. Kuala Lumpur is a sprawling city and each neighbourhood has something different to offer in terms of diversity, culture and food. Despite not being the most walker friendly city in the world, as a result of insane driving and a lack of pavements, John and I still managed to explore for miles on foot.

Malacca is a lovely town in the south of Malaysia which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This pretty city lies on both sides of the Malacca river. It’s a nice, quiet town to explore, particularly if you want to see a different side to Malaysia; a change from a busy city like Kuala Lumpur.

Coconut rice and fruit for breakfast

The impressive Petronas Towers



I don’t want to repeat myself too much so if you’re heading to Malaysia definitely check out my Singapore post too. Similar to Singapore, and perhaps even more so, it’s challenging to be gluten free in Malaysia. There are definitely options so you won’t go hungry but don’t expect tonnes of variety. Pack some safe food, be prepared to shop at grocery stores at least some of the time and keep to naturally gluten free food. Again, if cross contamination isn’t an issue for you, there will be more local dishes for you to enjoy than I was able to risk.

Tips for eating gluten free in Malaysia

For gluten free groceries
Cold Storage and I setan are fantastic grocery stores which carry a variety of gluten free products. You can find gluten free cereals, flours, pasta, sauces, crackers, rice cakes, stock cubes, cookies, chips and a various other gluten free goodies in both stores. Most of these products are imported from the US, UK or Australia. I only saw one of two products labelled as gluten free which were actually made in Malaysia.

A gluten free monkey! 🙂

GF products at Cold Storage

For eating out, 
Little India is great for finding naturally gluten free South Indian food 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. We ate some amazing masala dosas that cost just $1.50! Anjappar restaurant was particularly good and interestingly it turns out that they are actually an Indian chain with a few locations in Singapore, Dubai, India and also the US, as well as Kuala Lumpur.

Anjappar Indian restaurant

My delicious dosa

I hope you like sushi! It’s naturally gluten free and it’s one of the best go-to foods for gluten free travellers! You can find great sushi in Japanese or Korean restaurants if you want to eat out or in Cold Storage and I Setan if you want some on-the-go sushi. Nowhere as yet has gluten free soy sauce so be prepared to take you own or go without.

Ampang is the Korean neighbourhood of Kuala Lumpur. This is a great place if you fancy some yummy rice and kimchi! Have a read at my Gluten Free South Korea post for making safe gluten free choices with it comes to Korean food.

One of many fruit stalls on Petaling Street

Sushi from I Setan

In terms of local dishes,
Nasi Lemak can be found in restaurants, cafes or as street food. It 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!

Hainanese Chicken Rice is another great local dish which you can find all over Singapore and Malaysia. Ensure you only get the steamed version with veggies and that there is no soy sauce involved!

Fresh fruit is available everywhere! Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur is a brilliant place for picking up all sorts of ready sliced fresh fruit. You can find fresh coconut all over the place too. Stick in a straw and enjoy the juice then have the sweet white flesh cut out so that you can enjoy that too!

If in doubt, go for coconut rice! You can get it at pretty much any local restaurant and it’s delicious, creamy and naturally gluten free. For a more substantial meal ask for a side of fruit, veggies, crushed garlic, chili sauce or a boiled egg!

Tasty nasi lemak!

Miss Tourism International 🙂

Do you live in or have you travelled to Malaysia? I’d love to hear your gluten free experiences…

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Comments

  • It’s nice to get an outside perspective on traveling GF in Malaysia, and I’m glad to hear you had a nice trip. It’s a really great country. I like it here a lot. 🙂

    I’m an American expat living in Kuala Lumpur and in the 7 months I’ve been here, I’ll be honest – I’ve mostly done my own cooking at home. The risk of cross-contamination at a lot of local restaurants and stalls is just so high. (I would probably have more luck at South Indian restaurants but I haven’t felt up to trying them out yet.) Most of the local food seems to be fried in the same oil as stuff that’s been breaded, and a lot of foods are marinated in soy sauce.

    I know I could ask for my food prepared without soy sauce or flour, but it still doesn’t seem worth the risk when I think about the reaction I’ve gotten trying to explain the issue to cooks here. I’ve found Malaysians don’t understand food allergies or gluten intolerance at all… It’s just not on the cultural radar. Basically if you don’t immediately break out in hives they think food sensitivities aren’t a big deal. (“Oh, so you just get a stomachache?” :P) I find myself having to second-guess people who assure me they understand the issue all the time. When flying with local airlines who knew I’d ordered a gluten free meal, I’m still given cookies and bread products as snacks. I’ve even been offered bread and malt-containing drinks after a medical procedure in a clinic where my gluten intolerance was already noted in my file. They didn’t have anything I could actually eat at the clinic, so my husband actually had to leave and bring me back some gluten-free snacks while they kept me for the night.

    I’ve also been glutened a few times by local packaged foods (they’re required to disclose gluten ingredients but most don’t mention shared equipment with allergens), so I buy US or European brands when I can and don’t buy anything that looks iffy. Since I mostly cook fresh, whole foods at home it’s not actually that difficult, but it would be a different story if I didn’t have a kitchen of my own to work with. I’d definitely advise visitors to be careful and not be afraid to refuse anything that looks iffy. You really have to look out for your own needs here in a way I didn’t experience in the US.

    That being said, Singapore and KL are definitely easier for GF travelers than a lot of the surrounding countries! At least here there’s Cold Storage stores all over and foods are labeled in English. (In contrast, my experiences last summer on a business trip in Thailand were awful! I basically had to live on fruit and potatoes for 4 days because the hotel – which claimed to be experienced in handling food allergies – kept serving me food with bread or croutons tossed on top. And there were no local markets nearby. Never again…)

  • I can imagine it is challenging to find gluten-free foods in Malaysia, but groceries there really help though! 🙂

  • Sushi, sushi, sushi! What would we do without it in Asia?

    We’re off to Thailand at the end of March. Half the trip we’re at a resort that will make anything our young Celiac desires and half of the time we’ll be making the best of what we pack along and what we find. I’ve already starting talking to her about how important it is to be a (safe, gluten free) “food adventurer.” Wish us luck!

  • Definitely, Jen! Sushi is a Gluten Free Traveller’s go to meal anywhere in the world!

    Best of luck with Thailand. Let me know how it goes 🙂

  • Malaysia is definitely challenging, mostly because of cross contamination and a lack of awareness about celiac and what exactly can contain gluten. Sadly, sometime thing we assume are safe aren’t. For example sushi in Malaysia can be hit or miss because of the vinegar used in making sushi rice – sometimes it contains wheat and sometimes it’s a barley based vinegar. I’ve found it’s safer to stick to sashimi.
    As more people are now aware of gluten free needs, the supermarkets stock a range of pantry staples, which is helpful. Eating out can be hit and miss, as sometimes, even when they assure you it’s gluten free, it may not be. Common mistakes include using oyster sauce or kicap which contain wheat. Luckily, there are great options like satay, the above mentioned dosa when there isn’t a risk of cross contamination. We’re big fans of your blog and look forward to hearing more about living celiac in other parts of the world.

  • Eating out can definitely be a challenge although perhaps my cafe in BSC can help. About 6 months ago my friend Elisa and I opened a small healthy and nutritional cafe called The Daily Habit. I don’t want to use this space to self promote but I have many customers recently asking me to contact people and groups like yourself to let you know we exist and that we have many gluten free options. My partner and I are both expats with a love of real food and we work hard to create dishes that satisfy like minded people. You can find more information about us on our website and Facebook page. Cheers!

  • Hi Jacquie – Interesting to hear about your cafe. 🙂 I didn’t come across it when I was in KL. You say you offer gluten-free options, do you take precautions to ensure there is no risk of cross contamination when preparing gluten-free meals? This was my biggest concern in Malaysia so it would be great to hear about somewhere safe and educated on gluten-free dining!

  • hi im malaysian n im struggling to find gluten free foods. Is indian food dosa is ok?made from rice.pls help

  • Hi Sandy! Dosas are great. I eat them all the time. Just double check where they are made and that there are no cross contamination issue.

  • Would agree with the first comment up top about eating gluten free in Malaysia. The risk of cross contamination is pretty high because most people don’t take food allergies that seriously. I’m used to eating at home most of the time, or buying gluten free blends (Orgran) and making my own bread.

  • Hello- I’m in Malaysia at the moment. I forgot to pack gluten-free soy sauce in my bag. Do you think I’ll be able to buy it at one of the health food grocery stores you were talking about in the post? x

  • John Ho

    Nov 1st, 2014

    Jacker is GF potato crisps made in Malaysia. Available in Tesco and most supemarkets.

  • Kirsten

    Dec 27th, 2015

    Laura, your blog is very helpful. I am heading to Malaysia on Wednesday and have been anxious about what I will be able to eat. Anxiousness alleviated =) gf soy sauce= packed! Thank you!!

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