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Chinese Gluten Free Restaurant Card

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Hi everyone,

My name is Josh and I'm traveling to China (Shanghai, Beijing, maybe other places) next month. I have Celiac Disease. I'm working on making an effective restaurant card that I can give to restaurants/hotels/cafes so I will not get sick from eating gluten.

I will post it here when it's ready so others can use it in the future.

There are 2 parts to this post: 

1. If you can help, or know anyone that can help and want to make a some money while doing it, check out the job. PM me. I can pay you through paypal. 

2. Can anyone with experience traveling or living in china weigh in on these questions about eating gluten free in China?

Here are some of my concerns about using a gluten free restaurant card in china:

1. I really don't understand Chinese cuisine or culture well enough to know what exactly I need to say on a restaurant card. 

What foods should I specifically list that I cannot eat? Obviously I need to say I cannot eat Wheat, and Barley but I should probably also point out common foods that are made with gluten (like soy sauce, oyster sauce, etc..). What glutenous ingredients are common in Chinese cuisine (in China - not american Chinese cuisine) that have gluten?

2. What are some foods I can eat that a chinese kitchen is likely to be able to prepare? For example maybe plain chicken with rice, plain vegetables, etc.. I'd like to give them options. 

3. What versions of chinese should I have the card in? Simplified chinese? traditional chinese? mandarin?

4. I've travelled extensively in Thailand and I've found Thais often say "yes" just to be polite, even when the answer is "no". Is chinese culture the same way? How can we phrase the card so that a Chinese server or chef would tell me not to eat there if they cannot make anything gluten free. 

One example I found was to say "my intestines will bleed if I eat gluten". Another said, "If I cannot eat anything, please tell me. If you don't know what's in the food, please tell me."

What do you think would be effective?

Here are some examples of chinese restaurant cards from around the internet:


One more note: many of the example cards above include MSG as something the card carrier cannot eat. I don't believe MSG has any gluten. Have you ever heard of MSG having gluten? Is it possible MSG is different in China than it is in the US?

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Celiac.com Sponsor (A8):

Celiac.com Sponsor (A8):

Hi Josh,

For traveling to China, you would need a restaurant card written in Simplified Chinese.  

Chinese cuisine is difficult for celiac people.   There are 3 key ingredients you need to  avoid while eating in China.

1) Soy sauce.   This one is obvious.  There are two types of soy sauce.   A dark soy sauce, and a light soy sauce.   The dark soy sauce is saltier and turn the dish into a dark color.   The light soy sauce is less salty, and will not give the dish a dark color.   So, be careful there, a light colored dish can still have soy sauce in it.   Both dark and light soy sauce are made with wheat.

2) Vinegar:  The most popular vinegar in China is the Zhenjiang Vinegar.   Almost every household and restaurants will have them.   Many dishes in China have a splash of vinegar in it  (almost as common as soy sauce), avoid all sweet and sour dishes.  This vinegar has wheat in it, even though it is a rice based vinegar.   

Here is a link to learn more about this vinegar: http://themalaproject.com/sourcing-zhenjiang-vinegar/

3) Cooking Wine:   Cooking wine is commonly used in almost with all meat and seafood dishes, sometimes as a marinate.  There are a number of different brands, but the most popular is the Shaohsing Rice Cooking Wine.   But don't let the name fool you, this rice wine has wheat in its ingredient.

Found a link for you about this wine on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/SHAOHSING-RICE-COOKING-WINE-2x750ML/dp/B006QYNLKU

About flour:   The good thing with flour is that it is rarely used as a thickening sauce there.   People tend to use corn starch as a thickening sauce there.   Obviously you can not eat any noodles, or dumplings etc there.   They make those with flour.

They have all kinds of other crazy sauces there, such as black bean sauce, plum sauce, you can never be sure that is in it.   Your best bet would be to ask them to only use salt, pepper, sugar, sesame oil, or corn starch for you.

If you like tomatoes and eggs, you should be able to eat this Egg with Tomatoes dish.   It is very common and cheap:


Tell them to skip the vinegar.   There is no reason to use vinegar with this dish anyway.

About the restaurant travel card.   We went to Europe this past summer.  I used a number of the restaurant travel cards from celiac travel.com in the various European languages.   I found that these cards are written in a way that is too long and too complicated.   No restaurant people had the time or patience to read an one page essay about gluten free.  So, I think you want to write your own travel card is a good idea.   The simpler the better!

Good luck to you!   I hope you will come back and share how you did in China with your gluten free diet.   




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Wow, thank you so so much! That is SOOO much more than I knew before.

I've used celiac cards before - including the ones from celiac travel - in Turkey and Israel and they worked pretty well. But I agree with you they are too long and also too general. Not culturally sensitive enough.

In Thailand I just used a card that said "No Soy Sauce. No Oyster Sauce." That actually worked surprisingly well. But the thai cuisine is fairly safe if you can avoid soy sauce and oyster sauce. I think it's a bit different with Chinese cuisine. 


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