Thailand Gluten Free information blog
Thailand Gluten Free
A Guide to Thai food

After many mistakes and years of surviving in Thailand on a Celiac diet, i finally developed a general guideline on how to avoid the dangers and traps of becoming glutened by Thai food. There are basicly three things to look out for: Flour products, Sauces, and cross-contamination.

Thai cuisine is rapidly undergoing many changes influenced by many different cultures with Mc Donalds and Burger Kings everyhere, almost everything deep fried, and loads of added sugar, salt and oil. Gluten flour was once upon a time a rarity in Thailand, nowadays it's a common sight.

Let's start with the wheat-flour noodles that you can now see everywhere. I cannot blame the Thai. Those noodles are just too damn delicious (I still remember my pre-Celiac days). The easy way to identify them is the color of the noodles. Yellow color is usually bad and made from wheat flour. White color is usully good and made from rice flour. When i see a noodle stall that sells some of the yellow stuff i avoid it completely, because they boil the rice-noodles in the same pan as the wheat-flour noodles so cross-contamination will be a fact.

Actually i avoid most soups as they often add a bit of soy-sauce to it, and when they do, it's almost impossible to find out if it's gluten-free soy sauce or not and i don't want to take the risk. I found a lot of street stalls that like to add Maggi (a wheat-based soy sauce) to their soups. It is the same with other noodle dishes like Yam-Woon-Sen that are served without soup, but are usually still boiled in the same soup of other dishes. Street stalls always use the same boiling pot for everything, and it would be safer to order noodle dishes in a restaurant if you know for sure they use a different boiling pot or at least clean it properly.

Using the same cooking material is kinda the main problem when it comes to street stalls as they don't clean the materials between meals. This is even the case with many restaurants. The challenge is to find a food stall that has either everything gluten-free, or uses different cooking material for different meals.

The next big problem are the sauces which Thai love to put in almost every meal. It's a cheap and easy way to add some flavor to meals. Pay attention to the bottles they have standing on their stall. Usually it's either Soy sauce, Oyster sauce or Fish sauce. The Soy and Oyster sauces can be contaminated so try to avoid it.

My general rule is that Fish sauce is Okay. There are some fish sauce brands that contain caramel coloring made from barley and rye, but i have never seen a street vendor in Thailand use those brands. They always stick to the cheap fish sauce brands which have no coloring added. You have to be able to speak a bit of Thai here to ask the vendor of what type of sauce they are using. If they use soy sauce then you are at risk.

Soy sauce is also used on all kinds of grilled meat. To give the meat a nice color and taste they marinade them in a sauce mixture which is part soy sauce. I avoid all marinated grilled meat.

So what is safe to eat then? There are several dishes which are almost 100 percent safe (It really depends on each shop wheter it's fully safe or not). A popular Thai dish is Som Tam (spicy papaya salad). This can be extremely spicy so you better also learn how to say "not spicy please" if spicy is not your thing. Steamed fish should be safe too as they are often wrapped in alluminium foil or have their own dedicated pan or oven. Curries are most of the times safe as they don't add soy sauce but you still have to be carefull for cross-contamination from spoons for example. Some good judgement will get you a long way. I also recommend the Thai national dish: Tom Yam Kung, which is traditionally served with shrimp but you can also order it with chicken or fish. Most Tom Yam do not have soy sauce in it, but occasionally they do add it, so make sure to ask if they do. Also order plain rice instead of fried rice because of the Soy sauce and Oyster sauce problem.

There is a whole range of Thai desserts being sold on the streets and the popular ingredients are Coconut-milk and riceflour. The stalls that sell them are usually dedicated to just selling Thai desserts so they should be safe. Just ask the vendors what type of flour they use. A favorite dessert is "Khao niew Mamuang" (sticky rice with Mango) which is great and totally glutenfree.

See my overview of Thai Street food for more suggestions.

Thailand Gluten Free