Creating a Pleasurable Gluten-Free Eating Experience
There are a lot of running jokes about gluten-free food, some lamenting limited options, others about the challenges of ordering safe food at restaurants, and still others making fun of the taste and texture. Most of these are referencing struggles from the past. Today, there are many tasty gluten-free options, more gluten-free menus at many national and local eateries, and gluten-free food that is delicious.
If you’re still wondering how to have a pleasurable, gluten-free eating experience — for yourself or your loved ones — we have a suggestion for you: Go international!
Why international cuisine? Many traditional dishes from countries around the globe showcase naturally gluten-free foods like rice, vegetables, and beans. Because not all ethnic food offerings are completely free of gluten, you still need to be careful when ordering them.
For example, Naan is a popular bread served with Indian food – similar to a Middle Eastern pita bread – but it is not gluten-free. Papadam, however, is a crispy flatbread typically made from gluten-free black gram bean flour or flour made from lentils, chickpeas, rice, millet, tapioca, or potato.
Use the usual caution and methods of double checking the food:
- Ask for a gluten-free menu if you are eating out or ordering in.
- If a special menu isn’t available, ask if there are gluten-free options and if they are noted on their regular menu. Typically, you might see a “GF” next to a dish or a note that encourages you to ask about gluten-free options.
- Choosing from a gluten-free menu or from menu items marked gluten-free is a good start, but it is still important to confirm gluten-free status with the restaurant staff. This step is essential to ask about processes in place to avoid cross-contact with gluten.
- If there are no gluten-free items noted on the menu, ask if specific dishes are gluten-free. You may have to explain “no wheat, barley, or rye” or anything derived from these grains, like malt vinegar. Not everyone understands what contains gluten and what doesn’t. Staff at GFFS Safe Spots are trained to know what contains gluten and how to prepare foods safely gluten-free.
- If dining in and wait staff are unsure of the gluten-free status for a food, ask if it is made from scratch or from a package. The chef should know what was added to a dish made from scratch or could show you the label on a bottled or packaged ingredient.
Here’s a quick list of things to mention to food service staff, when ordering international cuisine, that should be avoided:
- Soy sauce and some miso (fermented soybean paste) unless you can verify it is gluten-free.
- Anything breaded unless you can verify the flour used is a non-gluten flour such as coconut or almond.
- Baked goods, like Indian samosa (made with maida flour from wheat) or Mexican buñuelos (deep-fried flour tortillas sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar), unless you can verify that they are made with non-gluten flour.
- Some sauces and marinades, particularly those that could contain soy sauce.
- Creamy soups thickened with roux. Roux is commonly made with wheat flour and butter, but those ingredients are not common to some international cuisines. For example, mulligatawny, a creamy, curry-based Indian soup, is thickened with rice. Pozole, a Mexican stew, is made with hominy or dried and treated maize (corn) kernels.
Considering these warnings, you may be thinking, “how can eating international cuisine be pleasurable?” Let us count the ways…
First, there’s the aroma. Dishes from around the world bring new smells from spices and seasonings.
Next, there’s the visual presentation. Many international dishes feature a variety of colorful vegetables and bright accents such as the intense yellow hues from turmeric or the red, green, and white of a pico de gallo (chopped tomato, jalapeno peppers, and white onion).
Next, there’s the taste. Many spices, spice blends, herbs and other seasonings used in ethnic cooking may be unfamiliar to you, such as garam masala (Indian), Taijin (Mexican), and Thai basil leaves. Not only do they smell amazing, but the flavor combinations range from sweet to savory to tangy to spicy and everything in-between — and often all balanced beautifully in one dish.
For some, there is pleasure in the texture of food. The crunch of crispy rice paper spring rolls or the satisfyingly soft bite of a tamale add another dimension to your eating experience.
Many made-from-scratch ethnic foods use only a few basic ingredients, such as broth, rice noodles, and vegetables or rice and beans. Discerning ingredients can be easier because of the simplicity of certain dishes.
Starting Out with International Cuisine
Here are our basic gluten-free guides to various cuisines to help you safely begin exploring them:
Whether you’ve been enjoying ethnic dishes for years or are exploring them for the first time, there are many ways to create a unique and wholly enjoyable eating experience that tantalizes your senses and is fully gluten-free.
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The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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