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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gluten free in Hong Kong: Part 1

 Hello everyone! 

I hope all of you had a wonderful and blessed Christmas and New Years! I was fortunate enough to be able to spend both holidays in Hong Kong with my family, this time including my aunt and uncle. It was so much fun revisiting after about 5 years since my last trip and spending time seeing all the beautiful Christmas decorations and experiencing the holiday cheer. The only difference between this trip and my trip 5 years ago was that this time, I had the challenge of eating ALL gluten free. 

Luckily enough, Hong Kong has LOTS of delicious, naturally gluten free goodies for you to enjoy! I will attempt to document my trip, my struggles but also successes as well as tips and tricks for eating gluten free. 

First off, and this is an important point, cross contamination is inevitable. Although I would love to say that all the naturally gluten free food is 100% safe to eat, truth is, it's not. In a place where the word, 'gluten free' pretty much doesn't exist, you're going to have to prepare the Pepto Bismol if necessary or eat very carefully in order to limit the amount of exposure to gluten especially if you're going to eat out. If you are planning on visiting Hong Kong, or any Asian country, and you don't speak the language, it is wise to bring a friend who can communicate with the chef or at the very least, can pick out some foods that are safer to eat for you. 

Okay, so let's begin, shall we? :)

As you may or may not already know, most long haul plane flights have specialized diet selections, including gluten intolerant meals. Make sure to select for a gluten free meal for the plane ride over and back so that there's no confusion in what you can and cannot eat once you're on the flight. Here are some sample pictures of what my meals looked like: 

Steamed veggies, rice, and a chicken breast with tomato sauce

Yay for gluten free on the plane!
The meals to and from Hong Kong were pretty basic: some starch, protein, grains, fruits, salad, and dessert. On the way back, I was surprised to find a gluten free dinner roll that was lightly sweetened. Put some butter on it and bam! delicious ;)  

Once my sister and I met up with the fam in HK, we were extremely jet lagged but happy to be there! The day we arrived, it also happened to be my 21st birthday, and my family was sweet enough to buy me a gluten free Haagen Dazs mango ice cream cake! I didn't even know they sold these!

What's better than ice cream? When it's put into a cake! 
After about 2 days of rest, we were ready to hit the streets and have some adventures! 

Besides the shopping and tourist attractions that make HK a great place to visit, the FOOD is just incredible! Looking back on the trip now... my most vivid memory is eating, and eating, and more eating! So can you still enjoy all the great food while eating gluten free? 


While visiting HK, rice will be your best friend. Rice and anything made of rice is generally a safe bet and a good way to go while dining and snacking. The only thing to really worry about is sauces, especially soy sauce. Most all dishes that are usually bland have soy sauce to flavor the dish, whether it is steamed fish or dim sum. If this is the case, make sure to find a way to communicate with the waitstaff to keep the soy sauce separate from the main dish. Also, if there are other people in your party that don't eat gluten free, make sure to get a good helping first or set out a separate utensil to avoid as much cross contamination as possible!
Fresh steamed fish from the harbor! Usually has soy sauce, so get a helping for yourself first. 
Surprisingly enough, I did not experience any stomach pain or other ailments I had during my previous trip, like diarrhea or feeling like I needed to vomit. This trip was mostly pain free, but for first time travelers to Asia, be cautioned that you will probably experience some discomfort and sickness due to different bacteria in the water and food. HK is pretty safe though, in comparison to China, but if you are still worried, make sure to bring some Pepto Bismol to soothe your stomach especially if you feel sick due to some small contamination. If you have very severe reactions to small amounts of gluten, I would advise you to be even more careful with what you eat. I, luckily, had the option of cooking some of my meals, but for those living in a hotel, that might be more challenging. You may have to eat at restaurants that are aware of gluten and celiac disease, which is usually at large chain hotels. This is probably a very pricey option for most people, but remember that your health is most important, so do what you feel comfortable doing.   

If you're not severely sensitive to gluten, like myself, you can get away with picking food on the menu that has the least amount of contamination. Here are some sample meals that I had while in HK:
Chicken and mushroom with rice with a side of Chinese broth

A simple meal at most HK cafes: chicken breast with veggies and rice noodles in clear broth. 

Preserved duck egg and pork congee. A delicious gfree option! 

Pan fried whole chicken with rice, corn and steamed veggies

Mushroom, bean sprouts, gai lan and rice noodles in fish broth with iced coffee 

Another great thing about HK is that if you're strapped for cash, there are meals as low as $3 (or around HK$24) that include the main dish, a side dish as well as a drink. These meals are usually eaten by most HK residents before they go to work and during tea time (normally around 3-5pm) when prices are lower. This is akin to  Happy Hour in the States. 

Stay tuned for part 2 when I talk about desserts and my experience at the Ritz Carlton for high tea!