Gluten Free Singapore

Tasty Chicken Rice

Beautiful Singapore!

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!

Keeping it simple..

Time for more delicious sushi!

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.

Lots of Durian!!!!

A must try when you’re in Singapore!

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!

Travelling gluten free requires flexibility!

Enjoying a simple dinner on the roof of our hotel 🙂

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!

Dinner with our new friends!

Delicious fresh coconut!

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.

Fruit in a hawker centre!

Gluten Free options at The Soup Spoon

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!

Brown Rice Paradise

Cold Storage Selection

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!

With the lovely Keirra 🙂

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…

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Comments

  • Hi Laura! Thanks for this! We had a great time hanging out with you and John! =) I do want to highlight something I’ve recently had new info about…(you might wanna take it off the list, sorry!)
    Bak Kut Teh – there are 2 types, the dark herbal soup and the clear peppery soup. Seems the herbal variation is sometimes seasoned with soy sauce instead of just salt. Unfortunately, unless you speak Chinese, finding out for sure which type that particular shop sells, and whether or not it has soy sauce in it, is going to be almost impossible as these shops are often run by either elderly Chinese who do not speak English or foreign waiters from China who likewise do not understand English. So for safety’s sake, I’d recommend giving Bak Kut Teh a skip unless you have a local friend/guide with you to translate your concerns or if you’re lucky enough to have it home cooked by me! 😉 For anyone else who wishes to brave a GF trip to sunny Singapore, do check out Gluten Free Singapore on Facebook and feel free to get in touch with me if you need any help! Thank you again Laura for posting this!

  • I travelled to Singapore with work about a year ago but sadly didn’t have much time to explore. It was easier than my travels in other parts of Asia as I found it pretty westernised, lunch every day was from the Soup Spoon, and I found a good stock of very expensive imported Waitrose products in the supermarket under my office! I told the hotel in advance and they sourced some lovely breakfast options for me including gluten free pancakes! I really struggled to find local food that I trusted, except for the ever-present chicken rice (without sauce), so came back from my trip craving chilli crab and soy sauce!

    Of course a Singapore Sling in Raffles is a must – pretty sure there’s no gluten in that 😉

  • Thanks for sharing, Carly. Yes! I forgot to mention the Waitrose products. That was quite the surprise to see. 🙂 How fantastic that your hotel made you gluten free pancakes!

  • Great blog – I really enjoyed it. Very informative for non-Coelicas. I wish I’d read it before I went to Singapore! 🙂 I had some great experiences… here’s a light-hearted look… http://tinamorganella.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/a-coeliac-in-singapore.html. I kept a record of everywhere I ate if anyone’s after even more suggestions.

  • Sounds like an amazing trip! I think I am going to try to look up recipes for some of the food you mentioned it sounds like it might be fun to see if I can make it here at home in my own kitchen 🙂

  • Thanks, Tina! Singapore is really challenging for celiacs but definitely possible as long as you stay flexible. Sometimes you just have to have a supermarket meal on the roof of your hotel! 😉 Let me know if I missed anything out. 🙂

    Anne! I’d love to hear how it goes if you try any Singaporean food recipes. I’m going to try to make Nasi Lemak this week so I’ll put up the recipe if it works out. 🙂

  • Not a huge fan of durians 🙁

  • Wonderful to read about your trip! We also struggled 4 years ago in Singapore: running down restaurants rumored to have gluten free options, only to be met with blank stares and a menu full of pasta and sandwiches… You are so right that concentrating on naturally gf food is easier.

    And I can so empathize with the picture of you on the roof of your hotel with a bag of rice and can of tuna. My young celiac has had many meals in Asia consisting of plain rice and whatever snacks I’d stashed in my bag (nuts, fruit, etc).

  • Thanks, Jen! It was a wonderful trip. Not too many gluten free options of course but there were some and the trip was wonderful all the same! A little dose of celiac disease isn’t going to stop us exploring is it. 🙂

    For sure! If you want to do some adventurous gluten free travelling then definitely expect some plain rice in your future. 🙂

  • Hi!! I’m from Singapore but living in the UK. Next year is the first time I’ll be going home for vacation since going gluten free due to gluten intolerance so this is quite helpful. I was just wondering though, you mentioned sushi as being GF. I don’t think it is. Most proper sushi restaurants will use Japanese rice vinegar to flavour the rice for sushi. This contains gluten. Some places don’t use this on their sushi but I’m quite sure most places do especially if it’s more authentic.

  • Hi Jasmine,

    In terms of sushi, most of the sushi places I eat at use rice vinegar which is simply made from rice, vinegar (water&rice), sugar and salt. I always ask to double check. Some places may use a rice vinegar which includes barley but I’ve found this to be uncommon. Let me know if you have more info on this as I would love to hear about it. It’s definitely important to always ask how they make their sushi but so far, I’ve always been fine eating it.

  • Beware the chicken rice ! Lots of vendors use bought stock to make the rice which contains- you guessed it, gluten.

  • Hi Laura, I’ve recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease and am on a gluten free diet (with other serious dietary restrictions) and am going to Singapore for two weeks in November. When you say “Pack a few of your favourite gluten free goodies”, could you please tell us what exactly one can or can’t take into the country re food?
    Thanks for your article. I’m now beginning to chill out about the trip and food!

  • Hi Pat!

    I brought a whole bunch of gluten-free goodies into Singapore. Interestingly, they are very strict on things like no porn, no cigarettes and no chewing gum!! But you can bring a lot of foods. I took jars of peanut butter, cereal, crackers, granola, protein bars, nuts and dried fruit. There are also a couple of stores in Singapore where you can buy these things if you forget anything or don’t have the space to pack much.

    Here is more detailed information from the Singapore government on what you can and can’t bring in; incase you’re interested! Happy Travels!

    http://www.ava.gov.sg/InformationForTravellers/BringFood/

  • Hi Laura ! Thanks for all the information, will be very helpful as we’re planning a trip to Singapore.
    South Indian food often contains asafoetida , which has gluten added during processing.
    The asafoetida rock is gluten free but what is used in cooking is the processed ready asafoetida powder which is not gluten free.
    Also, the rice / chick pea flour used for dosa / uttapam may be from a processing plant which also grinds wheat flour so there could be a great risk of contamination.

  • Hi! What a great read! The one thing that stresses me out thé most apart from soya sauce is chicken stock…how do you know if they use gluten free stock in otherwise gluten free soups etc?

  • I have to echo the sushi concerns. I’m from Chicago, and almost every sushi restaurant’s sushi rice/rice wine vinegar contains wheat or barley. Gluten-free sushi is actually very hard to find, even in the city. I have called or visited restaurants and had them check the ingredients on the container, and they are able to tell me pretty easily that, yes, there’s gluten in there, and it’s right on the label.

  • Thanks for putting up this fantastic report on gluten-free options in Singapore. I’m originally from Singapore but living in Canada at the moment, and on the Autoimmune Protocol which excludes all grains and gluten (amongst other foods). I would think that the chances of getting ‘glutened’ is rather high when eating out in Singapore. This will be helpful when I return to visit family!

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