Following a gluten free diet in Indonesia or Malaysia is not too hard, but there are some pitfalls. Follow these tips by Lukas to avoid gluten.
In response to some earlier comments, I have lived and traveled throughout Indonesia and Malaysia with my allergies.
I am allergic to dairy and gluten, and never ever consume even tiny amounts.
Dairy Free in Indonesia and Malaysia
Being dairy free in both Indonesia and Malaysia is quite simple. Just use common sense: caution with any desserts, make sure eggs are cooked in oil instead of butter, etc.
Gluten Free in Indonesia and Malaysia
Gluten free is a bit different. In Indonesia and Malaysia, it is easy to be 99% gluten free, but very tough to make it 100%. There are many seasonings that are traditionally made and added to rice dishes. The restaurant operators assure you the made these spices in their kitchen just hours before from only what the grew in their garden, but don’t let your guard down. Some import their seasonings from abroad, with unclear labeling regarding gluten content.
The one dish you can continually get gluten free (and dairy free) in Indonesia and Malaysia is called “nasi goreng”, or “fried rice”. However, like most things in rice-based countries, it is almost always made with soy sauce.
Make sure you ask the chef to make it without soy sauce. The way you say this, in both Indonesian and Malay, is “tanpa saos kecap” pronounced like taan-paa saaows kuh-chop”.
If you have can remember the longer version to ask, it will probably be more effective: “Saya allergie kecap. Bisa masak ini tanpa saos kecap?” (I am allergic to soy sauce. Can you make it without soy sauce).
Also useful: “Saya tidak bisa makan terigu” (I can’t eat wheat).
I ate nasi goreng at restaurants 3 times every day for 4 months, and not once did a chef refuse my requests. There is always some risk of cross contamination, so if it looks risky, don’t do it.
In Indonesia, they also serve meat kabobs, called “satay”. These are almost always marinated in soy sauce or other sauce, so you will need to ask if they can make it for you without sauce. If they serve a peanut sauce with it, make sure they made the sauce themselves, with just ground-up peanuts/water. Imported sauces always have a higher risk for gluten.
Shopping Gluten Free
In many of the larger urban areas of Indonesia and Malaysia (except Sarawak), there are Western supermarkets selling a handful of gluten-free products. In Denpasar, there is a Hardy’s located in Sanur which I recommend. In Ubud, a bakery called Kue serves gluten-free bread, muffins and cookies, most of which are dairy free as well. They usually require 1-2 days to prepare, so call in advance. English is spoken.
At the base of the Petronas Tower in KL, there is a supermarket, I think called Cold Storage, which must be Asia’s finest assortment of gluten-free and healthy eating options. It is small, but comparable to a mini Whole Foods.
In Kota Kinabalu, there is also a supermarket selling imported allergy-friendly foods from the US, Canada, and Europe.
Many rice dishes are also served with a hot sauce on the side, called “sambal”. This is usually just ground up pepper, but occasionally is mixed with soy sauce. Again, request it without soy sauce.
No matter where you are in this part of the world, there is always, always, always fruits, eggs, plain rice, peanuts, etc. You have to be proactive to get the more sophisticated cuisines made gluten free, and there is always a small risk, but for the jungles, cultures, beaches, and friendliness of Indonesia and Malaysia, it’s worth the effort. Let me know if anyone has anymore questions.
Thanks to Lukas for this article.
Please leave a comment below if you have more questions about a gluten free diet in Malaysia or Indonesia.