How to Enjoy Soy- and Gluten-Free Chinese Food

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If your child needs to stay away from soy or gluten, your entire family may have been avoiding Chinese food. That’s because soy and gluten are common ingredients within these meals.

You might not be sure which items on the menu are safe for your child, so you’re staying away from this cuisine altogether. That’s a shame if Chinese food is something your family used to enjoy. In actuality, it’s not necessary to avoid it because numerous Chinese food options are free of both soy and gluten.

Common Culprits

A common ingredient in Chinese food is soy sauce, which is found in a wide range of dishes. Soy sauce contains both soybeans and wheat, making it a problem for those with gluten intolerance, Celiac disease or an allergy to wheat or soy. Nonetheless, there are also other ingredients that could be problematic, such as sauce thickeners, noodles or edamame.

Since many Chinese food dishes contain a large number of ingredients, it’s important to be careful and not make any assumptions about what’s in the food. It’s better to be sure.  

Gluten-Free Chinese Food

Here are some general tips on navigating the menu:

  • Check for a section or markers on the menu that designate specific gluten-free meals.

  • Learn about Chinese food ingredients and dishes so you understand safe options; for instance, you can usually choose rice noodles instead of lo mein noodles, which are made with wheat (Important tip: They need to be pure rice noodles instead of rice noodles that contain wheat, so be sure to ask the server to check.)

  • Avoid meals made with soy sauce or brown sauces, which could also contain soy sauce.

  • Choose meals with rice; many Chinese food meals are offered with white or brown rice, which are free of gluten. (Be wary of fried rice, though, which can contain soy sauce.)

  • Pick dishes without sauces, such as steamed vegetables with plain white rice.

To take it a step further, the best way to be certain about your child’s food is to communicate with the staff. Explain what you need to avoid and that you need your food prepared and cooked on clean surfaces. Also, you can ask if the restaurant carries gluten-free soy sauce if your child would like a meal prepared with it.

If a language barrier is an issue, try seeking out a staff member who is fluent in your language or carry a Chinese gluten-free restaurant card. Celiac Travel and Triumph Dining offer these cards to explain to the staff how a meal should be prepared to fit a gluten-free diet.

Soy-Free Chinese Food

When your aim is to avoid soy, your strategy will be slightly different than choosing gluten-free meals. You’ll want to follow the same advice to avoid dishes made with soy sauce. And if you are not also on a gluten-free diet, you are free to enjoy more of the grain-based foods on the menu.

Nonetheless, you have a different challenge, which is to avoid any meal that contains soybeans. In Chinese food, soy sauce is not the only ingredient to watch out for. You’ll also want to avoid a variety of soy-based Chinese foods, including:

  • Edamame

  • Tofu

  • Soybean paste

  • Soybean sprouts

  • Deep fried soy milk

  • Sweet flour paste

  • Tofu noodles

Once again, it’s a good idea to ask the staff to help you avoid soy since it could be found in various ingredients.

Your family doesn’t have to stay away from Chinese food. You’ll have to be careful about what you order, just as you are in any kind of restaurant. It can be easier if you find a Chinese restaurant that offers a gluten-free menu or one that will remember your preferences. Overall, learning about the ingredients and communicating are key to getting a delicious soy- and gluten-free meal.

To learn more about food allergy-safe dining, see 4 Tips for Managing Food Allergies at Restaurants.