Going Gluten Free in South East Asia

Many people nowadays are trying to avoid eating gluten, which is found primarily in wheat but also in barley, rye, and oats. This may be because they have coeliac disease or it may be because they have become “gluten sensitive” and feel much better if they avoid it.  In either case it is wise to cut gluten out – but that is easier said than done, as it’s everywhere. It’s obviously in bread and pasta but also in all sorts of prepared and processed foods, and often unlabelled. So if you’re travelling or living in South-East Asia, you’ll want to know what you can eat safely.Indian food is probably a better bet than Chinese. This is because Chinese cuisine relies heavily on sauces like soy sauce and oyster sauce, both of which contain traces of wheat.

Vadai, Idli & Dosa

Traditional Indian cooking, on the other hand, especially from the south of the sub continent, has many delicious gluten-free bread-like accompaniments to curries and chutneys.  Try vadai, a yummy “doughnut” with a tangy hot bite, which is equally great eaten as a snack as it is with a main dish. It’s made from ground lentils, chilli, onion, and curry leaves. Another south Indian speciality you might enjoy is idli, a soft steamed “cake” made from rice and lentil flour. It’s a popular breakfast dish in India and in Sri Lanka and is often dipped in the remains of the previous night’s curry for extra flavour. Another option is dosa, a golden crepe-like pancake made from rice and black gram flour. It’s often served as a long roll, and sometimes as a triangle, or even a pyramid. The dosa batter is slightly fermented which aids digestion. Make sure that you avoid the following “breads” – naan, roti, chapati, poori, and paratha – as they are all made from wheat.

Dhal curry serve alongside a bread

On the plus side, the spices of the region have much to offer. This is because many cases of gluten sensitivity arise from intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut” where the lining of the intestine has become inflamed, allowing toxins to flow directly into the bloodstream. Many spices have anti-inflammatory properties but the king of spices in this regard is turmeric. Its active ingredient, curcumin, is exceptionally good at reducing inflammation and because of this, it can help to seal the lining of the intestinal tract. Cumin and coriander are also well known as natural gut healers, helping with bloating, indigestion, flatulence, and diarrhoea. And ginger is especially valued for its ability to soothe nausea and protect both the intestine and the stomach. And some, if not all, of these spices are found in most curries, which makes curry an excellent choice.

Turmeric Plant

You can find out about how to cook these wonderful tasty curries at the Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School and you see the spices growing in the garden next to it.


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