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Oceanmama

Going To South Korea

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I will be traveling to South Korea very soon. I know to avoid soy sauce, barley & corn tea, and all the obviously gluten containing foods. Is there anyone out there who has eaten successfully in this country? What would you recommend specifically for me to eat? Thank you.

Oceanmama

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Hi, Oceanmama! Hope I'm not too late...I rarely have time to check the board. I have been living in Korea for nearly 8 years now, diagnosed 2 years ago. Unfortunately, most of the absolutely wonderful Korean food that I grew to love contains gluten... :(

Basically, all sauces here are made with wheat. The hot pepper paste and soybean paste which are very common ingredients are off limits, as are most of the rice noodles and all the rice crackers I've found, all of which contain wheat. Potato and rice ramen noodles contain wheat. At a restaurant, make sure you only drink plain water. (Iced barley water is very common in the summer, although sometimes you will get iced green tea). Coffee whitener contains malt. The list goes on...

The biggest problem is that labelling regulations are extremely lax here. Often, only the main couple of ingredients are listed, so even if you have someone to translate the labels there's no guarantee that the products will actually be gluten-free. Imported foods have their labels covered by Korean stickers which also neglect to mention some of the ingredients.

TGIFriday's, Outback Steakhouse and Bennigan's can easily be found if you're in a larger city, but their menus are VERY limited when it comes to gluten-free food and cross-contamination is always a possibility. If you're desperate, McDonald's cooks their french fries separately and they have a garden salad.

For the good news: meat restaurants, where you cook your own meat at your table, are plentiful. As long as you avoid the marinated stuff, you should be fine. Watch out for the side dishes, though...many of them contain soy sauce or red pepper paste. Bibimbap, a dish you can either get hot or cold, is a bowl of rice and mixed vegetables. It is usually eaten with red pepper paste mixed in, but some places will give it to you on the side or you can ask for it to be left out. Sollong-tang, beef broth with green onions and thin slices of beef that you can add your rice to for a thicker soup, is okay as long as it doesn't contain noodles. Rice porridge (Jook) is usually okay, and you can often find different varieties (seafood, beef, chicken, etc.). There is also pumkin or red bean porridge available. Kimchi, the staple spicy fermented vegetable side dish, is generally safe. It is made with red pepper powder, not the paste. Oh, and I forgot to mention the grilled (whole) fish you can get, one of which is 'samchi gwi'. (I hate cooked fish, limiting my diet even further).

A lot of Korean food sounds rather repulsive when translated into English, but don't be put off. :) If you have any specific questions, you can reach me via cellphone...011-9917-8914.

Good luck, and if you discover any wonderful new restaurants, please let me know!

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Hi. Just wanted to say I found out that restaurant kimchi is often NOT safe. Many restaurants use MSG flavouring, which, in Korea, is derived from wheat (the product is called "Tashida," and is used in most soups as well).

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Hello, thank you for your informative post. You mentioned seollongtang is OK without the noodles in. Is it common for sollongtang to be made without soy sauce? My assumption was that all soups in Korea are flavored with soy sauce, and I would like to think some aren't. I'm afraid to try until I hear from you!

Thanks!

Hi, Oceanmama! Hope I'm not too late...I rarely have time to check the board. I have been living in Korea for nearly 8 years now, diagnosed 2 years ago. Unfortunately, most of the absolutely wonderful Korean food that I grew to love contains gluten... :(

Basically, all sauces here are made with wheat. The hot pepper paste and soybean paste which are very common ingredients are off limits, as are most of the rice noodles and all the rice crackers I've found, all of which contain wheat. Potato and rice ramen noodles contain wheat. At a restaurant, make sure you only drink plain water. (Iced barley water is very common in the summer, although sometimes you will get iced green tea). Coffee whitener contains malt. The list goes on...

The biggest problem is that labelling regulations are extremely lax here. Often, only the main couple of ingredients are listed, so even if you have someone to translate the labels there's no guarantee that the products will actually be gluten-free. Imported foods have their labels covered by Korean stickers which also neglect to mention some of the ingredients.

TGIFriday's, Outback Steakhouse and Bennigan's can easily be found if you're in a larger city, but their menus are VERY limited when it comes to gluten-free food and cross-contamination is always a possibility. If you're desperate, McDonald's cooks their french fries separately and they have a garden salad.

For the good news: meat restaurants, where you cook your own meat at your table, are plentiful. As long as you avoid the marinated stuff, you should be fine. Watch out for the side dishes, though...many of them contain soy sauce or red pepper paste. Bibimbap, a dish you can either get hot or cold, is a bowl of rice and mixed vegetables. It is usually eaten with red pepper paste mixed in, but some places will give it to you on the side or you can ask for it to be left out. Sollong-tang, beef broth with green onions and thin slices of beef that you can add your rice to for a thicker soup, is okay as long as it doesn't contain noodles. Rice porridge (Jook) is usually okay, and you can often find different varieties (seafood, beef, chicken, etc.). There is also pumkin or red bean porridge available. Kimchi, the staple spicy fermented vegetable side dish, is generally safe. It is made with red pepper powder, not the paste. Oh, and I forgot to mention the grilled (whole) fish you can get, one of which is 'samchi gwi'. (I hate cooked fish, limiting my diet even further).

A lot of Korean food sounds rather repulsive when translated into English, but don't be put off. :) If you have any specific questions, you can reach me via cellphone...011-9917-8914.

Good luck, and if you discover any wonderful new restaurants, please let me know!

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Hello, thank you for your informative post. You mentioned seollongtang is OK without the noodles in. Is it common for sollongtang to be made without soy sauce? My assumption was that all soups in Korea are flavored with soy sauce, and I would like to think some aren't. I'm afraid to try until I hear from you!

Thanks!

I just read your post but I see your post is dated some time ago. You probably figured this out already but the soup seollongtang is traditionally made with absolutely no soy sauce. It is basically ox tail boiled forever. Afterwards, you add a few pieces of chopped green onion, salt, rice and usually noodles. It is a very plain dish. This dish should generally be safe (unless for some reason there is cross contamination with some other item). I suggest asking for the soup with NO noodles just to be on the safe side. There is another soup, galbitang, which is similar but made with beef ribs.

Also, rice cakes (ttuck - I am not sure how to romanize it - it looks like a small white cylinder) should be ok as long as you eat it plain (no soy sauce, no hot red paste).

I hope that helps!

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Long time, no post! Still living in Korea, now in Busan rather than Korea. I wish I could say that I'd found more options for eating out, but unfortunately there haven't been many changes. The most 'positive' change is that most of the big department stores have organic food sections now, which include random gluten-free selections (Kentaur cornflakes, Organicville sauces, Envirokidz cereal) if you're willing to pay the price, and some places have mini rice cakes. Food labelling has gotten a little better, so most ingredients are listed.

A few updates:

Don't eat the rice cakes (western concept or what Koreans refer to as rice cakes) unless you can read the ingredient list - many of them contain wheat, and the 100% rice version can be hard to find.

If you're planning to cook/bake for yourself, read the back of the rice flour packages carefully - most of the rice flour, potato starch and cornstarch sold at grocery stores are mixed with wheat flour.

If you want a little extra flavour with your bibimbap, ask for some red pepper powder (gochu garu) on the side. They'll likely give you a strange look, but if you go to the same restaurant regularly, the smarter wait staff will start to bring it for you without asking.

A lot of larger grocery stores sell Vietnamese rice noodles and rice paper now, and you can buy them in bulk at Costco.

Beware of pizza places advertising a 'rice crust pizza'. It's made with rice flour, but since most commercially available rice flour is mixed with wheat flour, it's not gluten-free.

Don't assume that Korean restaurant staff have any idea what's in the food they're serving...they certainly don't know that soy sauce, gochujang and doenjang contain wheat. Most of them will tell you there's no wheat in the food because they want you to buy what they're selling. It's generally not malicious, just naive behaviour.

Good luck!

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Hi - I'm so glad to find this page on a complete lark. I have also been living in South Korea for the past 2 years, and I still struggle not to get glutened. Clare is right everything she says - you essentially cannot trust any food here, so I have been cooking for myself.

I hope Clare is still reading, because it would be great to find another Celiac here. I have recently been glutened, and I am trying to figure out why. Do you think the cheaper honey and citrus tea marmalades would have gluten in it? Either that, or some rice and almond cookies that I bought at Shinsegae, although I was assured by Korean friends and the people selling it that there was no wheat. But, I am sick.

I am going to have to do an elimination of the few, but it sure sucks to be limited to so little and then being aware if you can eat whatever is already on a limited list.

Anyway, if Clare is still here it would be good to hear from her.

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