Gluten free in Beijing

无麸质 – WÚ FŪ ZHÍ – gluten free
 (Travelogue from Beijing)
 

Beijing – The Northern Capital, is the capital of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the second largest Chinese city, after Shanghai, with around 20 million inhabitants. Beijing is also a political, cultural and educational center of China, a city with many traditional, cultural and historical monuments. I highly recommend visiting Forbidden City in the first place – a complex of imperial palaces built in traditional Chinese building style. In front of it, there is one of the largest squares in the world, Tiananmen Square. There is also Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, Imperial Tombs of the Ming Dynasty, numerous Buddhist temples, beautiful parks with artificial lakes, Beijing hutongs, National Museum of China … and certainly one of the largest tourist attractions in the world around Beijing, The Great Wall of China.

What does not belong to historical sights, but is certainly a great experience, is a rich Chinese cuisine that opens all your senses with its culinary magic. For those who love spices, noodles, tofu and their specific preparation, China is a perfect choice. Given that my husband is a Celiac, our journey demanded certain dietary. Safe gluten-free food for Celiacs is far the most important, especially when traveling somewhere, so this travelogue will be exclusively based on this topic.

 

Our stay in Beijing lasted for 6 days.

 

The journey started in Belgrade. We had one stop in Zurich, from where we had a direct flight to Beijing. We traveled with Swiss airline company SWISS all the way. They provided gluten-free meals during the whole flight (12 hours). It is very important to inform the airline company few days before the flight, to prepare you a gluten-free meal. The service was on the enviable level. Several times during the flight gluten-free food was served: pastries, muffins, fruit salads, drinks… The flight was safe and comfortable.

Gluten free meals on the flight Belgrade – Zurich – Beijing

 

Phrase Gluten-free isn’t much present in China. Besides language barriers, people don’t know much about gluten-free diet.

We always take some gluten-free products with us when traveling somewhere: gluten-free bread, snacks, biscuits …. just in case. It has always been a very good travel decision. For breakfast, besides gluten free bread that we brought with us, we found butter, eggs, bacon, ham, fruit, tea in local shops … quite enough for a good meal. One great thing is that you can buy fresh fruits at every corner. Everything is chopped and packed so during the long sightseeing of the beautiful Beijing you can always easily refresh yourself.

Freshly chopped fruit

Although the availability of gluten-free certified products is still very limited in China, you can find enough gluten-free food. The streets are full of cooked corn, roasted chestnuts, candied fruit or freshly cooked compotes, various nuts, which at any moment can quench hunger until you find a suitable restaurant for lunch.

Roasted chestnuts

Freshly cooked compotes

Since people in China exclusively speak Chinese, we helped ourselves by pre-prepared phrases written in Chinese letters, as well as a pocket dictionary.

 

We did not prefer eating fried food on the street. We were choosing busy restaurants where you can pick your own fresh ingredients and then watch their preparation. Besides watching, it was also possible to suggest to the chef what to pay attention to.

Food selection is really great. Everything is fresh, clean, and the final outcome of the finished meal is divine. Chinese cuisine means a wide variety of spices that are added exclusively in the original form (not minced). Some of them are cloves, laurel, garlic, parsley, pepper, anise, turmeric, sesame, black cumin … In addition to spices, there are soybeans, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds… You can combine numerous vegetables, some you know but many of them you have never seen before. Only the selection of mushrooms is so rich that it is impossible to count them all. 

All food is placed separately. The restaurant guests get individual spoon and bowl in which they can put the selected food. After everything is measured and charged in relation to the amount, it is given to the cook who prepares the food in front of you.

The combination of spices makes the taste unbelievably good. Although at the first look most of the Chinese dishes do not look tempting, the taste will in most cases kick you out of your feet. There are also soy sauce and soybean oil with chopped peppers always on the table. Since soy sauce often contains wheat, we used soybean oil instead, which is in China used much more than sunflower oil.

The Chinese love spicy food, so you have to emphasize what level of hotness you want. For example, in the medium hot pork, you can find up to ten hot peppers.

Bread was not served to us anywhere. It can be bought in stores, packaged in slices, but it has a pretty bad taste (considering that I’m not a celiac, I tried it to compare it with ours). The risk of gluten contamination is always present when eating out of your home, especially in kitchens where all other foods are prepared. The contamination risk is reduced to a minimum when eating in restaurants where they prepare mostly food which naturally doesn’t contain gluten. There are no crumbs of bread and small particles of flour on the tables and you always get new, packed sticks to eat your food with. You can ask for a spoon but there are no forks so I would recommend practicing sticks before the arrival. Sticks are very interesting when you master them because the amount of food you consume in each bite is much smaller and therefore every meal becomes ceremony which later has benefits to the whole organism during digestion.



What is necessary for you to have is a couple of applications on your cell phone which will be a great help to you. In addition to the offline map which you can use at any moment, whether you have Internet or not, download WeChat (because it is almost impossible to use Messenger and Viber in China) and a Waygoapp translator which translates product declarations from Chinese characters to English. Using this app, it’s not a problem to look for a noodle packing declaration in a restaurant, take a picture and it will automatically translate Chinese characters which are an impossible mission for us.

In the north of China, you can find plenty of freshwater fish, chicken, tofu, cabbage, shrimps, and mushrooms. In China, there is food literally on every corner. Basically, everything is fried in deep oil, from pieces of meat to various insects, scorpions, snakes, sparrows, bats placed on sticks …

The choice of clean rice noodles and soybean products, among which the most flavorful tofu, is huge. Fish products do not lag behind, and one of the delicious snacks are also crabs chips, fried in deep oil. Besides crabs, this snack contains corn starch. It is immensely delicious and crispy, melting in the mouth.

The Chinese have such a colorful cuisine and very often you can find buds and flowers such as Lalas, tusks, lavender, lilies, roses, zucchini flowers in your food … My recommendation is to try buds of yellow lily.

You can also find dried buds which you have to dip for about 15 minutes in boiling water before they are cooked. After that you can fry them or cook. Sprinkle it with an olive and sesame oil in the addition of unavoidable spices, such as anise, turmeric, sesame, and parsley. Thin sticks of carrots, celery and ginger can be added as well. They can also be added to various soups, served with rice.

Staying in Beijing and not trying the Beijing duck is the same as missing out a tour to the Forbidden City. The taste of the meat is so good that it can’t be compared with any other method of preparation.

Preparation of Beijing duck is more demanding than regular meat roasting, but it’s worth scooping.

Duck first needs to be well cleaned and dried. Then it needs to stay in a cool, windy place, tied for a neck so it can hang for at least 4 hours. After that, it needs to be cooked for about 10 minutes in a boiling water, adding ginger (about 100gr), young onions, 3 tablespoons of honey, 1 tablespoon of apple vinegar and 2 tbsp cherries. Beside these, you need to add cornstarch (2 tablespoons) melted in water and mixed until the water rinses. For a duck of 3 kg, you will have to add 1,5l of water. It would be good to have wide and deep bowl so that the duck can turn around when cooking. After cooking, the duck should be hanged again in the windy place for about 6 hours in order to dry well. Only then it should baked at 200ºC for 30 minutes on each side. You can serve rice with saffron as a side dish.

My recommendation is that if you go in your own organization as we did, prepare a plan for every day. A plan which includes a map for each destination, a well-designed metro map (which by the way works fantastically in Beijing), pre-purchased out-of-town tickets as well as pre-booked organized, group trips and of course gluten-free snacks.

All-day excursion to the Great Wall of China, which we booked and paid to China Highlights before our journey, included the tour of the Chinese Wall, the Ming tomb, the Jade Factory, the tea house and a lunch. The friendly guide has picked us up in front of our hotel – Jianguo Hotspring Hotel (the hotel has satisfied all our needs, even more than that, it was excellent). On the way to the most attractive destination in China, we traveled through the whole of Beijing, seeing a large number of sights from both the earlier and the recent times. The organization of the trip, as well as a group of foreigners from all over the world in which we found ourselves, was great. One of the many pleasant surprises during the tour was the moment when we were asked if someone from the group is allergic to some food. We did not really expect this, which confirms the backpack with gluten-free sandwiches and snacks that we took that day. When my husband said that he was a celiac, the charming guide Lee knew that it was an allergy to gluten and called the restaurant where we were planning our lunch. My husband got a separate lunch than the rest of the group. Alongside the soup he god rice and vegetables, cooked fish with celery cakes and fruit as a dessert.

Staying in Beijing was very pleasant and unforgettable. The gluten-free food selection has largely met our needs. China certainly remains a destination that we will be happy to return to because Beijing is just one part of what the country has to show.

This unusual travelogue about gluten-free food in Beijing is intended for anyone who has a problem with gluten and is planning to go to China. Above all this is written in a first place, to our daughters Tea and Ana Maria, whose dad and mom always want to know, test and live in the order that they get the best advice and help.

Great Wall of China, April 2018

Zorica Gašpar

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