Out of all the countries my husband and I planned to visit in our six months of travel, I was the most nervous about visiting Thailand.
I was completely unfamiliar with Thai food. I had never been to a Thai restaurant in my life, nor had I eaten any Thai dishes. Prior to my diagnosis with celiac disease in 2009, I had been a very picky eater. My bravest food exploration had been trying tacos at a friend’s birthday party in fifth grade!
My quick searches online had warned me to be very careful in Thailand as a celiac. Despite the overwhelming presence of rice and vegetables, the use of soy sauce and oyster sauce in most dishes are the culprits. I anticipated our time in Thailand to be a challenge. I’d never even have the opportunity to experience the flavors, spices, and traditional dishes of Thai cooking because I was convinced I’d have nothing to eat.
Thailand may have been challenging, but overall it was such a pleasant surprise! There’s a growing number of dedicated gluten-free restaurants popping up, along with gluten-free sauces and imported gluten-free products in local supermarkets. I quickly figured out what dishes were safe and unsafe to eat.
During our three weeks in Thailand, I learned how to navigate eating as a celiac in one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia without getting sick.
Here are all the delicious gluten-free options waiting for you in Thailand!
Bangkok is an enormous, bustling city with multiple neighborhoods, huge skyscrapers, exciting shopping malls, outdoor markets, palaces, and plenty of beautiful architecture. As you peruse this massive city and take in all the many parts of Bangkok, you will in fact have gluten-free food choices!
There are a number of dedicated gluten-free facilities in Bangkok, including Rice Bakery, Theera, and Broccoli Revolution. Rice Bakery doesn’t have a sign out front, but don’t miss it! The gluten-free bread is raved about by gluten-free travelers near and far. Theera offers vegan and gluten/allergen friendly meals, snacks, and desserts. Broccoli Revolution is an entirely vegan restaurant with vegetable based meals and cold-pressed juices!
The malls in Bangkok are overflowing with food vendors and restaurants. While most of these will be off limits due to the presence of soy sauce, there are still some options! In the Siam Paragon I found a great gluten-free açaí bowl and asked for it without the granola. They changed gloves for each order and were very careful! There’s even an enormous grocery store that had an entire aisle dedicated to gluten-free foods, imported from other countries.
Peeps Thai Eatery was a gluten-free friendly restaurant with a cognizant staff. They have a separate gluten-free menu, prep area in the kitchen, and specifically use gluten-free soy sauce in their gluten-free dishes. They show you the bottle right on the menu and table so you can see exactly what goes into your dish. I tried the traditional fried rice with vegetables and egg, which was wonderful!
Gluten-Free Chiang Mai
Researching restaurants before going out to eat became a more intense process in Asia. Concern for cross-contamination was huge, especially due to the amount of soy sauce used in so many dishes. Chiang Mai was our next destination and I was extremely hopeful for this laid-back city. Thanks to Carrie from For Gluten Sake, Chiang Mai quickly became one of my favorite destinations!
Carrie shared her experience eating at Pink House in Chiang Mai, a 100% gluten-free outdoor restaurant with freshly baked cakes and local Thai cuisine. I knew I had to try it, and eagerly walked the ten minutes from our hostel to get there.
Pink House was my first opportunity to try real Thai cooking without any concern for getting glutened. I sampled pad thai for the first time and discovered I absolutely loved the flavors!
The owner’s husband has celiac disease and originally began baking gluten-free and vegan cakes for takeaway. Now she runs a restaurant right in her backyard and it’s a celiac dream come true! Pink House became our go-to spot in the evenings. My husband Dylan and I ate here so often the server knew my order – pad thai with egg and a huge bottle of cold water!
For other gluten-free options in Chiang Mai, you can try Salsa Kitchen where you can find great tacos on corn tortillas. There’s also Butter is Better, a 1950’s style diner with an entire gluten-free display of cakes and pastries, and their gluten-free menu offers buttermilk pancakes as well as their own gluten-free bread. Blue Diamond and Free Bird are both vegan cafes that are allergen friendly with gluten-free options.
If you happen to visit the Pratu Chiang Mai Market, be sure to visit Pa’s Fruit Smoothie Stands. She’s friendly and serves the best and cheapest (less than $1) fruit smoothies in the local markets. The only ingredients in her smoothies are fresh fruit, sugar, ice, and coconut milk, so there is no risk of any cookies or cross-contamination. Cookies such as Oreos are very common among smoothie vendors in Thailand and so be careful!
If you are planning to cook your own food in Chiang Mai or have access to a kitchen, consider investing in MegaChef sauces. MegaChef has both gluten-free soy sauce and oyster sauce and they are sold in the local supermarket, Rimping.
You can even bring these sauces with you to attend Thai cooking classes like those offered at Mama Noi’s Thai Cookery School! Each person has their own cooking station, ingredients, wok, and tools, so you can customize the menu to whatever you are able to eat.
I learned to make gluten-free pad thai, and it’s now one of my absolute favorite recipes to cook back at home!
Taking a Thai cooking class was one of the best ways I learned about the ingredients and dishes in Thailand. This way, I was much more prepared and knowledgeable in restaurants when I was unable to find a dedicated gluten-free facility.
There are Thai cooking classes all over the country, but make sure to ask questions and inquire beforehand about how they handle food allergies.
The Beaches & Islands
Thailand is famous for it’s beautiful tropical islands, beach bars/restaurants, and stunning coastlines! If you are planning to spend time island-hopping or just soaking up the sun, here are some places to look out for.
In Phuket, try Bake Free. They are a dedicated gluten-free bakery and coffee shop,
serving up breakfast, sandwiches, coffee, and soups! They also cater to other allergies and dietary preferences.
In Krabi, head to Cafe 8.98 for gluten-free sandwiches, smoothie bowls, and more. Items are marked on the menu that are gluten-free. Buzz Cafe Coffee Shop serves serves allergen-friendly, healthy dishes as well.
On the island of Koh Lanta, try Happy Veggie for an entirely vegetarian restaurant with gluten-free options, including pasta made from vegetables like zucchini and carrots!
General Tips for Navigating Thailand Gluten Free
Taking a Thai cooking class was the best way I learned about what ingredients, sauces, and spices go into the most common dishes you see throughout Thailand. Generally speaking, safe dishes include most curries such as massaman curry, panang curry, and green curry, as they do not use soy sauce. Always double check with the restaurant staff and be careful of cross contamination.
In the outdoor street markets, mango sticky rice is a delicious and sweet snack that is naturally gluten-free, colorful, and super delicious! You can also find freshly cut fruit for sale, like pineapple and mango, and small bags of white rice you can grab on the go.
The more information and knowledge you have, the better you’ll feel navigating Thailand. I spent three weeks in Thailand without getting glutened at all. Do your research, ask questions, and learn more about Thai cooking to have a positive gluten-free experience and enjoy your time there!
Jennifer Fitzpatrick is a gluten-free travel blogger who spent six months backpacking around the world earlier this year. She was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009. Follow her on Instagram @jefinner589 for gluten-free recipes & travel tips or check out her website www.thenomadicfitzpatrickscom.