Now summer is just around the corner, I’m hoping to share more travel tips, gluten-free city guides and lots of practical suggestions for going on holiday with digestive conditions. I thought I’d begin with Thailand (and in particular gluten-free Chiang Mai and Koh Samui)-not many ‘free-from’ guides and travel tips are written about South-East Asia and whilst the language can be tricky; there are some amazing gluten-free and dairy-free Thai dishes that can be enjoyed.
Some of my very avid readers might know that I used to live in China, and Thailand is one of the places I visited most often on my travels. So here are my ten tips if you are heading to Thailand this summer.
1.Get creative with breakfast
We stayed in a mix of hotels and rented homes in Thailand but regardless; I found breakfast the trickiest meal to navigate. Although fresh-fruit is always an option, many of the traditional places served breakfast soup (which was not my cup of tea and often contains soy sauce); whilst there are many places serving international food (such as fry-ups, toast etc) there are rarely places that will have safe gluten-free options. I personally took a supply of porridge pots and added hot water to them at the hotel!
2. Mango Sticky Rice is your best friend
Seriously! One of the best gluten and dairy-free Thai deserts is most definitely mango sticky rice! I think I ate this multiple times a day when in Thailand; it simply combines fresh mango, sticky rice and coconut milk!
3.DON’T rely on generic Allergy Cards
The first time I visited, I used allergy cards but the problem was actually the concept of ‘gluten’ wasn’t easy to explain in translation to Thai people; so ‘gluten-free’ or ‘coeliac’ was pretty meaningless as they just didn’t understand what it meant! Next time, I asked a local on trip advisor to break down the key ingredients instead-as well as things like soy sauce, oyster sauce (bread is not going to be an issue!). ‘I can’t eat soy sauce’ might be much more helpful than ‘I’m gluten-free.’
The good thing is many Thai dishes use fish sauce instead; and that is usually, traditionally gluten-free. Dairy should be much simpler to translate and is more of an issue with things like baked goods.
4.Chiang Mai is your best bet for gluten-free restaurants
If you’re open to your choice of destinations within Thailand then Chiang Mai could be the best bet. Of all the places I’ve visited in Thailand, being gluten-free in Chaing Mai was by far the easiest; with a wealth of healthy hotspots. One of my favourite places on all of Thailand trips was ‘Cooking Love’ which serves delicious, home-cooked gluten-free food with plenty of vegan options. You can’t book and queues can get long but it’s worth it! There are plenty of juice cafes in Chiang Mai; many of which serve homemade gluten-free, vegan raw cakes- these have greatly expanded since I last visit and examples include 100% gluten-free Pink House Garden Restaurant and Salsa Kitchen.
5. Try a local cooking class
Getting to know the local cuisine can be really helpful-not only will you be able to eat a delicious three-course meal and know exactly what’s gone into it-but it’s a safe way to explore local dishes and, if done at the start of your holiday, can help you figure out what to order in restaurants. I’ve done several cooking classes in different parts of Thailand and all the hosts have spoke excellent English-so it’s perfect for picking a local brains about cuisine.
6. There are plenty of safe gluten-free thai dishes on the menu
As a starting point, these are what are usually safe:
- Massaman Curry
- Green Curry
- Papaya Salad
- Tom Yum Soup
- Pad Thai is made with rice noodles but it will depend on whether it’s made with soy sauce or fish sauce.
All of these dishes use coconut milk so they should be dairy-free too!
7. Be conscious of street-food
I was so excited when I first arrived in Thailand as everywhere was selling fresh smoothies on the beach and I figured these were perfect breakfast material. However, on closer inspection I realised…
- They do not clean the equipment properly and often use the same blender to make pancake mixes.
- They add ingredients that are unclear- including a syrup-type thing (why you need to add syrup to a smoothie I don’t know!)
- They were often not dairy-free.
A quick side-note; if you’re shopping for gluten and dairy free supplies in Thailand, you might pick up Vitasoy; which is the most common soy milk brand in Asia. This is NOT, I realised after many years, dairy-free since they add milk powder to soy milk. No, I don’t know why either but be very cautious of smoothie sellers offering soy milk smoothies.
There are plenty of safe gluten-free street food dishes but the issue lies in cross-contamination and hygiene issues.
8.There are safe gluten-free supermarket foods
I’m a bit of a snacker and did manage to find some safe ‘free from’ snacks whilst in Thailand.
‘Real Potato Sticks’ and ‘Funstix’ were vegetable based crisps that didn’t contain gluten. I also enjoyed dried fruit and banana chips. I know some people have said you can buy gluten-free soy sauce called Megachef but I didn’t personally find any! I did hear great things about Sunshine Market; which is Bangkok’s equivalent to Holland and Barrett!
I really hope these travel tips were helpful. Thailand is such a beautiful part of the world, and if you eat naturally free-from local dishes; you should be just fine!