Gluten free seems to be all the rage now. Everyone seems to be avoiding gluten like a plague, when just a couple of years before, most have never heard of it. And admittedly, I fall into this category as well.
Now, I don’t go out of my way to avoid gluten. I still love my thin crust wood fire pizzas every now and then. But while I don’t suffer from celiac disease or have an insufferable intolerance to gluten, but I do notice a difference in my system whenever I have gluten. (However, I would not be crass and openly discuss it in public. I’ll leave it up to your imagination)
Whatever your reason is, going gluten free doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. Before you grab that bag of over priced bag of gluten-free pasta, you might want to pop by your local Asian grocery store first. With the exclusion of the somewhat recent introduction of wheat products to the Asian diet, most Asian foods are naturally gluten free. Visit any Asian grocery store and you would find countless of gluten free products – you just need to know what to look out for (without the marketing gimmick “gluten free” being plastered in your face).
Here is a list of gluten free alternatives you can find at the Asian store:
This list is intended for people looking to avoid gluten, but may not be suitable for people suffering from celiac disease or gluten intolerance. These products may contain traces of gluten, depending on the facilities they were produced in. Always check the product ingredient list, as wheat is a sneaky ingredient and the ingredients list may vary with brands.
Laksa Noodles – Made out of rice flour, tapioca and sago starch. It is whitish in colour and like spaghetti, it is long and cylindrical. It has an al dente texture and neutral tasting. Usually sold fresh. (See picture above when cooked and below, uncooked)
Fettuccine/Ribbon cut Pasta
Pho Noodles (Bánh phở) – Usually made out of rice flour and water. It is white, flat and medium-thin in width. It has about the same thickness as linguine. When cooked, it has a slightly softer texture than al dente pasta and is neutral tasting. Usually sold dried.
Rice Noodle, He Fen, Hor Fun河粉 or Kway Teow 粿條 – They all refer to the same rice noodles. Made out of rice flour and water, Hor Fun is white and flat, and broad. The broadness varies, similar to fettuccine and pappardelle pasta. Kway Teow also usually contains vegetable oil and salt, it has a slightly softer texture than al dente pasta and has a slight distinct taste. A stronger tasting sauce would do the trick in covering the slight distinct taste. Usually sold fresh and refrigerated. (See first picture for when cooked as fettuccine and picture above uncooked)
Rice Vermicelli, Mee Hun or Bi Hun 米粉 – They all refer to the same rice noodles. Made out of rice flour and water, Bi Hun is white and very fine and thin. Most comparable to capellini pasta. A brown rice alternative is also available now. Usually sold dried.
Shirataki Noodles – A Japanese low calorie noodles made of Konjac root starch and water. Shirataki noodles is usually off-white or grey and has a slight chewy and slightly firm texture. It is sold in a packet, submerged in a somewhat ‘fishy’ water base and is refrigerated. Excellent in broths and soups, usually served in Sukiyaki. (See my post on Shirataki here and recipe here)
Sweet Potato Starch Noodles – A Korean variety of cellophane/glass noodles, made out of sweet potato starch and water. It is translucent and is chewy and slightly firm in texture. Excellent in stir fries and usually served as Jap Chae. Usually sold dried.
Mung Bean Noodle, Tang Hoon 冬粉 - A Chinese and Vietnamese variety of cellophane/glass noodles, made out of mung bean starch and water. It is translucent and is slightly chewy and soft in texture.Excellent in stir fries or in soups. Usually sold dried.
(Note: For RT4, mung bean noodle is almost 100% carb as it is made out of mung bean starch)
Arrowroot Noodle – Another variety of cellophane/glass noodles, made out of arrowroot starch and water. It is translucent and is slightly chewy in texture, but firmer than mung bean noodles. Usually sold dried. Excellent in stir fries or in soups.
(Note: For RT4, arrowroot noodle is almost 100% carb as it is made out of arrowroot starch)
Crackers and Tidbits
Rice crackers – Various types of rice crackers can be found in the asian grocery store; roasted, puffed, sweetened, fried or baked. There are a lot of Japanese and Chinese varieties of rice crackers. Keep an eye out for the ingredient labels, that it is 100% rice and no wheat.
Most labelling may be unclear how it’s made, fried or baked. If you are looking for a 100% baked rice crackers that taste great, I recommend Fantastic or Sakata brand if you can find it. (Ironically, they are an Australian brand. Go for the original flavour if you are vegan.)
Tapioca or cassava chips – Made out of tapioca or cassava, these are an Asian version of potato chips, usually fried. These usually taste great plainly salted, no wacky flavours here.
Kuih or Kueh – a traditional South East Asian dessert. Kuih is a catch-all phrase for cakes, cookies, puddings. Usually made out of rice, glutinous rice, tapioca or sweet potato, coconut milk and palm sugar. Kuehs are usually steamed, making it dense and sticky in texture, very different to Western baked desserts. A good number of kuehs are vegan, but most contain egg. They may look unappetising, strange and foreign, but they taste quite delicious. Double check and ask for the ingredients to be sure.
(If you are wondering what the strange orange and white stuff are, it is sweetened and unsweetened grated coconut)
Flours – rice flour, glutinous rice flours (also known as sweet rice flour and contrary to its name does not contain gluten)
Starches – corn starch (or corn flour), sweet potato starch, potato starch, tapioca starch
Carrot Cake or Turnip Cake – a savoury dim sum dish, made out of white rice, water and grated daikons. Carrot cake has no relation to the western dessert or carrots at all. Usually served cubed and pan fried with eggs and pickled radish, with a delicious dark sauce. A vegan version can also be made without the eggs. Sold fresh, as a white block, refrigerated.
(Call me crazy, but it just hit me that carrot cake might possibly be a workable gnocchi alternative. I have to give it a try)
What are your experiences shopping at your local Asian grocer? What are the most interesting products you have come across?