Well, Singapore is FAR from being an easy place to eat gluten free or even understanding gluten free but some shops and restaurants have made monumental strides in the right direction over the last year. Way to go and let’s keep it up!!
When we moved to Singapore in 2009 my mom came to visit a few months after we moved here. She has Celiac Disease. This posed a HUGE problem in finding things for her to eat here in Singapore since no one understood or even knew what gluten was. The only gluten word known here seemed to be glutinous rice – which is gluten free, btw, and only means that the rice is sticky. And thank goodness it’s gluten free because it’s YUMMY!! We bought some gf snack bars at Mustafa for my mom – they had maggots in them. No lie. Kudos to Mustafa for stocking gf anything but it was proof to me that not too many people were out buying gf foods. We tried to find out what type of flour was in some of the batters in restaurants and hawker stalls and got blank stares. We are certain that some of the batters are ok since rice flour is frequently used here but trying to get that information out proved fruitless. My mom ate a lot of chicken and rice during her stay in Singapore. We did cook at home a lot which was fine too but there’s just so much good food out there and if we could only have known what some of it was she might could have enjoyed more.
Since her visit in 2009, a couple of friends here discovered they are gluten intolerant. There is a difference between gluten intolerance and Celiac, btw. (But that’s not what this post is about so you can do some research on your own for that or talk to your dr.) These friends paved the way for me in my recent Celiac diagnosis in finding out information about where to eat, where to shop, etc.
When I talk to anyone about eating GF there are many misconceptions. One main misconception is that we have to give up bread. While we can’t eat regular bread, there are many mixes available that are really good. And you can use any bread recipe using gf all purpose flour or even your own flour mix if you prefer. By far, the hardest part of eat gf is the added time it takes to think through your recipes and check labels. Once you’ve been eating gf for a couple of months, it really becomes much easier.
Another misconception is that you have to give up all of your favorite foods and/or recipes. Chances are you can make most everything you normally make with minimal tweaking. And probably a lot of your recipes are gf anyway. I love cookies and although I miss a big gooey chocolate chip cookie, I still love this cookie and it’s gf and delicious! Many of the Thai and other Asian dishes I cook are gf or can be. Like I said earlier, it just takes a bit of thought in the beginning but it will become routine.
Another misconception is that we have to give up eating out. Granted, in Singapore and other Asian countries it is a challenge but again, you just have to get creative and think for a minute or two. I can’t eat all of my favorite dumplings at Din Tai Fung but I can still eat the Hot and Sour Soup which is my favorite thing on the menu anyway. At Brewerkz, I order a burger and don’t eat the bun (this won’t work for everyone due to varied intolerance levels). I order a salad, take off the croutons and take my own dressing or get some limes or lemons to squeeze over my salad. Hunks of meat, roasted veggies and such are usually ok. Just no gravy on the meat or mashed potatoes. I enjoy going to Hatched and getting the Smoked Royale (basically eggs benedict) without the English muffin. If you are highly gluten intolerant you will need to ask restaurants for recipes and even ask about cross contamination. For some, this is a real problem and will most likely justify eating at home more than eating out.
When you begin eating gluten free you should notice a huge difference. So much so that if you accidentally eat something with gluten in it you will know that you’ve messed up. Just pay close attention to what you are eating and how you feel after you’ve eaten it. That’s really something we should do more of anyway, right? Everyone’s symptoms are different but you will know your own body well enough to be able to tell.
In Singapore, you can always try to ask about ingredients and you might be pleasantly surprised but expect glazed over looks. I haven’t found the magical phrase yet but there has to be one. The thing with eating out here is that most Asian foods are made with soy sauce and most soy sauces contain wheat. Why??? No idea! Why they put wheat in soy sauce is beyond me but I guess it’s they way they’ve always done it. My soy sauce salvation is Bragg’s Liquid Amino. Most stores here have it but it can always be found at Brown Rice Paradise in Tanglin Mall (one of my favorite stores in Singapore but also one of the most expensive). Most Asian food is safe as long as you stay away from battered and fried foods like egg rolls and things like sweet and sour dishes where the meat is battered. Also good to avoid dark colored sauces. They usually contain soy sauce. If you’re not super intolerant, a little soy sauce might be ok but serious celiac sufferers cannot even handle a trace of gluten. If you are a serious sufferer, you’ll know. When my mom was visiting back in 2009, the hawker stall owner spoke very good English and he made her sweet and sour shrimp without battering the shrimp. Get creative, think it through and remember it never hurts to ask. You might get lucky! You also might be in Cambodia and ask for a sandwich without the bread and get a completely blank stare. Just get the sandwich and put the bread to the side.
As anyone knows, eating healthy or in any type of special way is ALWAYS more expensive than eating processed or convenient foods. Supply and demand, I guess? Maybe if more of us at healthy the prices would go down?? Eat specialty foods in Singapore and you can double or triple the price from the convenient foods.
You have to think through sauces, gravies and anything that is coated. Chips, french fries, rotisserie chicken, etc. Often the coatings have wheat in them.
Of course breads and tortillas (wraps/skins) are usually out of the question when eating out. Corn tortillas are usually ok, lucky for me since they are my favorite anyway.
When you’re looking at labels, you’re looking in the ingredients for wheat, rye or barley or any derivative of wheat, rye or barley. Of course, beer is out of the question. Cider is ok though. Corn chips are ok but you still need to look at the ingredients to make sure the coating does not contain wheat. For example, Honey BBQ Fritos are ok but Chili Cheese Fritos are not. I can say that now that they are selling Honey BBQ Fritos in Singapore now! Woohoo!!! Of course they are not healthy but they are gluten free.
Gluten (from wheat) is hidden in so many products we buy. You have to watch out for soy sauce, as I said, grated cheese (some cheeses are coated to keep it from sticking together in the pkg), salad dressings, ice cream, canned soups, even toothpaste.
So… here are a few gf hot spots that I frequent. As I find more I’ll just add to this list here.
- Chili’s restaurant (ask for the gluten free menu)
- Crust Pizza
- Brown Rice Paradise at Tanglin Mall (try their gf cous cous!)
- Most Cold Storages and Market Places have a decent selection of gf mixes and ingredients. Bob’s Red Mill GF Wonderful Bread is good!
- I use this pasta – Tinkyada Rice Pasta (found at most Cold Storage and Market Places) It’s really good pasta and no one I’ve ever served it to can tell the difference. We actually used this pasta before I found out I had celiac because it’s good and digests better than white pasta.
And here are a few links for you to peruse.
Celiac Product Directory (what products have gluten)
Recipe blogs I like:
If you live in Singapore and are trying to or need to eat gluten free for whatever reason, ask for gf or for product information every chance you get. Even if you get a blank stare it will help raise awareness and perhaps a curiosity about “what is this gluten free they keep asking about, lah?”. Try to visit with the chef and ask him if he knows what gluten free is. If he doesn’t, ask him to educate himself because it would serve his restaurant well to know. It might be a little inconvenient and awkward for us now but maybe we can help those out who come after us.