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Advice for eating out to celebrate Chinese New Year 


The Chinese New Year is celebrated over 15 days, the festival stretches from the new moon on New Year’s Day (starting on the 10th of February 2024) until the full moon on the Lantern Festival. There are lots of Chinese New Year events happening across New Zealand to usher in the Year of the Dragon and with a bit of careful planning and awareness, you can still enjoy a delicious and fulfilling gluten-free celebration while managing coeliac disease.

These tips should help you stay safe and enjoy the authentic taste of Chinese dishes when eating out or ordering takeaways this Chinese New Year.

  1.  Educate yourself: stay informed about hidden sources of gluten particularly in processed foods. Be wary of cross-contamination in kitchen utensils, cooking surfaces, fryers, and woks.
  2.  Plan ahead: Before visiting a Chinese restaurant or ordering takeaways, it’s important to do some research. Look up those in your area that offer gluten-free options or cater to dietary restrictions. Reading reviews and checking menus online can help you find restaurants and takeaways that are more likely to accommodate your needs.
  3.  Communicate with staff: Once you arrive, do not hesitate to communicate your dietary needs to the staff. Inform them that you have coeliac disease and need a gluten-free meal. They may be able to provide you with a separate gluten-free menu or guide you towards coeliac safe options.
  4.  Examine menu descriptions: When navigating Chinese menus, it is crucial to carefully read the descriptions of dishes. Look for any indications of gluten-containing ingredients such as soy sauce (other than tamari), wheat-based noodles, or mock meats. Dishes described as “fried” or “crispy” are more likely to contain gluten and are best avoided.
  5.  Stick to gluten-free staples: Certain Chinese dishes are naturally gluten-free and can be a safe option for those with coeliac disease. Steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables, and grilled or steamed meats are generally gluten-free. Opt for these staples and ask for sauces and seasonings on the side to ensure they are gluten-free.
    • Rice
      Rice is gluten free, as are products derived from rice. Check if rice noodles are available instead of wheat noodles and if spring rolls can be made using rice paper.
    • Plain tofu
      Plain tofu is naturally gluten free – but check if it has been marinaded or contains flavouring first.
    • Prawn crackers
      If they are made in a dedicated fryer, prawn crackers are likely to be gluten free.

Foods to avoid

    • Noodles
      Noodles such as egg noodles or ramen noodles contain wheat and are unsafe for coeliacs. Rice noodles are a safe alternative!
    • Mock meats
      Mock meat dishes are best avoided and are generally not gluten free. Seitan originated in China in the 6th century, as food for Buddhists and other vegetarians and is made from wheat; tempeh also can often contain grains that are not gluten free, so are best avoided.
    • Sides
      Fortune cookies are not gluten free, and neither is anything made with wonton wrappers.
    • Sauces
      Dishes with hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, wheat noodles, and dishes with gluten-containing soy sauce should be avoided. Check that marinades or battered items do not contain wheat-based flour and flour-based sauces or thickeners.
  1.  Join a support group: connecting with others who have coeliac disease can provide valuable support, tips, and restaurant recommendations too.

Does soy sauce contain gluten?

Yes, traditional soy sauce contains gluten. Soy sauce is typically made from soybeans, wheat, water, and salt. The wheat component makes it unsuitable for people with coeliac disease. However, there are gluten-free soy sauce alternatives available, such as tamari sauce, which is made without wheat and is safe for those following a gluten-free diet.

Does teriyaki sauce contain gluten?

Traditional teriyaki sauce contains gluten because it is made with soy sauce, which typically includes wheat as one of its ingredients. However, gluten-free versions of teriyaki sauce are available, using gluten-free soy sauce or tamari as a substitute. Always check the label or inquire about the ingredients to ensure it is gluten-free.

Following a gluten-free diet does not mean you have to miss out on having Chinese food! However, remember to be vigilant as living with coeliac disease requires careful attention to your diet to avoid gluten-containing foods that can trigger symptoms and damage your intestines. Finding a place that offers dedicated gluten-free dishes and has an awareness of cross-contamination is important.

Encourage restaurants and takeaways you visit to get their staff trained on the Coeliac NZ Gluten Free Food Safety Training. Find out more about this at Gluten Free Food Safety Training Certificate - Coeliac New Zealand



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