Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Eating out (Asian food)

Eating out is always a bit of a problem. One has to play a bit of "twenty questions" with the waiter about the ingredients, but even after that there is the issue of cross-contamination which is difficult to assess and control. I am fortunate in that I can tolerate some gluten intake without serious problems, which leaves me free to experiment somewhat.

Asian food is pretty much gluten free at the core, with the one notable exception being soy sauce. This effectively bars most chinese food and restaurants from the menu except perhaps for some of the soups.


Japanese food is problematic for the same reason as for chinese, although soy sauce appears more often 'on the side' than embedded as an ingredient. Satay is out (sauce), tempura is out (batter), but we're left at least with all the sushi and sashimi (provided you avoid the soy sauce, or bring your own). Now the only variables here are the nori (seaweed) and the wasabi (the green paste). I've seen nori with wheat listed as an ingredient, as well as without, and I suspect the wasabi can pose a problem too, akin to that of mustard that often have flour mixed into the ground mustard (or so I have read - more on that another time). So if you wish to avoid nori, the rolls are out (and that's a shame), which leaves you with the nigiri-sushi (just a piece of fish sitting on a blob of rice), and of course the sashimi (just the fish). Now if you want to avoid the wasabi as well, you're in deep because they almost always make the nigiri-sushi with a bit of wasabi under the fish, which leaves you with the sashimi as your only option. Now, the wasabi apparently does have disinfecting properties (sorry I have no sources to quote here, comments welcome) so it may be unwise to go for the raw fish without the wasabi, I don't know. But then again you could find a brand of wasabi and soy sauce that you trust, bring'em with you and ask that the sushi be made without wasabi.

A good japanese (japanese-korean) restaurant that I've been to is Joy restaurant, 141 Laurier Ave. W. I only had the sushi but my fellow diners thought the non-gluten-free food was fantastic.

Another mixed-asian (chinese-thai-vietnamese) I had tried just recently is the Mekong. Amazing food, and a busy place sought by a well-off clientele, the likes of which I had never seen on this part of Somerset Street. There is a lot of soy sauce on the menu, but I did manage to get something interesting - stuffed eggplant, hold the soy sauce and no flour please. The contents of the stuffing (ground meat based) was never brought up, but I think it was OK. The waitress wasn't particularly knowledgeable about gluten or wheat (she proposed a wonton soup in stead of another soup I was interested in), but was showing the proper level of concern for my case. I would recomment it, but be ready to play twenty questions.


Indian is very gluten-free except for the naan bread and the samosas. Pakoras are made of chick pea flour, and there is generally no flour involved in the curries or tandoori chicken. So most of the menu is in theory available to the celiac. But there will probably be some pre-ground spices involved in the preparation (for one, I've never seen tumeric available in any other form) so in theory there might be some gluten traces somewhere.

I like going to Haveli's (buffet or sit-down, any location), A Passage to India (544 Rideau) - go for the menu items, especially vegetarian, and avoid the buffet, the New Nupur (589 Bank) for something different, and the big indian buffet place downtown on Laurier (sorry I forgot the name).

[skip this paragraph if you don't want to read about my bowels] I go for indian food a lot myself, and I don't find it has detrimental effects on my metabolism. I do get a bit of a kick in the gut from the stuff (meaning an added fluidity in the bowel movement and maybe some gas) especially if I go for extra spicy. So although I'm not 100% sure it's the spices' natural effect rather than a touch of gluten, it hasn't been a big problem for me either way. Your mileage may vary.

The Nasa food centre (an indian food store Booth and Somerset) make mean pakoras. Much better than the packages ones you find at the Herb and Spice. I'd venture to say they're the best in town, but I haven't had much of those in restaurants.


Vietnamese is also pretty much gluten-free at the core. I avoided any kind of soup for a while (in general, not just the vietnamese places), because most of the powdered broths and campbell's consommé are not gluten-free, and I figured that the cheapest-easiest way to make soup was to use one of those (less of a concern if you go to finer, more expensive restaurants). Apparently I was wrong, because I did finally ask about the soup base at a couple of 'Pho' places and have been told they make it from scratch, although there is fish sauce added. At Pho-Bo-Ga-La I've asked to see the fish sauce package so I could check the ingredients - it passed. So I've been going to New Pho-Bo-Ga-La (Close to Booth on Somerset, North side) and had the basic beef soups with no ill effects (you still have to stay away from the hoisin sauce and the soups with egg noodles).


Blogger Shauna said...

Good choices. Those are three of my favorite cuisines for eating gluten-free as well.

When I go Japanese, I bring a bottle of wheat-free Tamari with me. Dorky, but effective.

I've found with restaurants in general that going to a small place, run by people who care about food, works best. If you go to a place that cares about their customers, you're going to be healthy.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Maiden of the Sea said...

Interesting post! Just wanted to mention that it would be extremely rare for nori used for nori sushi rolls to have soy sauce. The seasoned nori you are referring to would be used for snacking or POSSIBLY onigiri, the sushi triangles wrapped in nori. I lived in Japan for 2 years and have gone to numerous restaurants in the states with no problem. So I don't really think it is necessary to avoid sushi rolls, unless they have exotic ingredients like tempura or fake seafood (almost always made from wheat). Also beware of fake crab- it is almost never gluten free. Things you do have to watch out for are Inari Zushi, the tofu pouches filled with rice that are simmered in a soy sauce, and Inari. You can bring a bottle of wheat free tamari, or also fill a little flask with tamari, or buy gluten free soy sauce in little packets like ketchup online. One of my favorite things is Chirashi Zushi, a big bowl of white rice with assorted sashimi "sprinkled" on top. Good stuff.

Happy International dining!

1:39 PM  

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