Gluten Free Diet | Gluten Free Travel | Gluten Free Indonesia | Gluten Free Malaysia | Allergy

Gluten Free Diet Indonesia and Malaysia

by Guest Writer

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.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linda October 24, 2012 at 12:50

Please can you tell me if artificial cream in Indonesia (I think this is called krim buatan) is gluten-free? I believe it is made from vegetable oild and perhaps sugar or sweeteners, but I don’t know if it contains anything else.

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2 Allergy Guy October 24, 2012 at 17:33

Have you tried contacting the manufacturer?

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3 Emma Jackson August 25, 2012 at 07:34

If I were to set up a FACEBOOK page called GLUTEN FREE MALAYSIA would anyone here join me? We can swap recipes, where to buy what etc and support each other – especially like Rachel here 🙁
I have successfully made gluten free pancakes, local dishes and eat a healthy balanced diet full of variety, but it takes time and hard work! If anyone lives in JB I’d be more than willing to cook for you …..
Please let me know by replying to this post. If I get more than 10 responses I will open the FB account & will ask you to look it up next month. 🙂

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4 Allergy Guy September 3, 2012 at 12:37

You are more than welcome to share here too. If you feel inclined to write a longer comment, with a recipe or advice, I will publish it as a separate article.

PS if you set up a facebook page, please post a link back to this article.

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5 James Koh June 14, 2018 at 05:54

Please do it, I will fully support and join your page. James

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6 Emma Jackson August 25, 2012 at 07:28

You might want to avoid a side dish called ACHAR served with nasi byriani and sweet & sour (masam manis) – otherwise I can’t think of any others that include vinegar. As a whole Malays are ner ous about cooking with vinegar but Chinese use it more. CUKA (chu- kah) is the Malay for vinegar. Say:”ada cuka tak?” and point to the dish on the menu (pronounced: adda chu-kah tack?)

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7 Emma Jackson August 25, 2012 at 07:12

I’m a British lady who now lives full time in Malaysia with a Malay husband. Since Feb 2012 I have been trying my best to live gluten free. A recent visit to England has spoiled. Me as I enjoyed bread, cakes, cookies etc all gluten free. Now I’m back I have to return to home cooking which is OK, it’s trying to maintain a varied and balanced diet that’s the hard part! Lol.

I do eat out frequently and can advise anyone on language and local dishes – I make many myself so know the ingredients. I’d love to open my own healthy food cafe …. Pipe dreams 🙂

So please feel free to ask me anything.

Cheers.
~Emma~

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8 Allergy Guy September 3, 2012 at 12:35

Very generous of you Emma!

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9 J June 26, 2012 at 19:11

Thank you so much for this blog! It is incredibly helpful. In addition to gluten and dairy allergy, I am also yeast intolerant (which includes vinegar). I am going to Malaysia for a few months, and am worried about the vinegar used in Malay food. Does anyone know what Malay foods have vinegar in them? Or any that specifically do not have vinegar? Thank you so much -this blog is wonderful!

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10 Wendy June 10, 2012 at 20:39

Hi, can you tell me where in Kota Kinabalu can you get allergy friendly foodS?

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11 Ivy June 9, 2012 at 23:32

You mentioned that there is this shop that is allergy friendly in KK. Can I please get the name of the shop and where is it located? Thanks!

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12 Gluten Free April 8, 2012 at 01:39

I read about Celiac disease last year and found that I had symptoms similar to those of celaic disease. So I tried gluten free diet and was amazed that the symptoms disappeared. Although I didnt do a blood test and biopsy, I was certain that I suffer from Celaic disease. I am now happily eating gluten free, avoiding frequent diarhea, no cheilosis (due to being anemic) and generally feeling much better.

I take rice porridge with canned tuna fish. I generally do not eat Chinese food as soya sauce is always present. I take Indian rice, banana leaf rice is a favorite, without fried chicken or fish battered in
wheat flour. Lays potato chips ( not pringles) are gluten free.

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13 Senga Taylor January 20, 2012 at 00:19

Thank you Laurie, I certainly will do!! Have a super holiday.

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14 Senga Tyalor January 20, 2012 at 00:17

Hi, it actually turns out that my caught has mild chronic colitis and so I am about to put our whole family on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet! Let’s hope : )
There are some recipes that I cannot make, however, I managed to track down a yoghurt maker and I am now fermenting my delicious homemade yoghurts for 24 hrs to remove their lactose. Yay, I am happy, now to see if the diet works!! So we will be avoiding milk and complex carbs and a few other things such as sugar. Thanks!

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15 Senga Taylor January 6, 2012 at 09:31

Thank you for your input. I am not really a processed foods/packaged goods sort of mum. I make my own breakfast granola and I actually think this has created my daughters problems. Who knows, but she has sensitive skin and reacts to various foods especially Vegimite and she craves carbs. I am unsure about the a/c as it’s an ancient system and no doubt there will be mold. It’s practically impossible to live in a mold free environment in Borneo. We have it everywhere in our home. I have been researching gluten free all over the web since I contacted you and I have learned a fair bit. It’s likely she does not have a gluten intolerance but there is no harm in trying to cut out certain foods for a while to see what if anything is the cause. Thank you once again. Senga

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16 Senga Taylor January 5, 2012 at 09:58

Hi, I have a 12 year old daughter. She is passing mucus daily and has been tested for Celiac disease but tests were negative. She has always had loose stools but the mucus is substantial. She recently had an endoscopy which was clear. At that time 10 biopsies were taken. I have not heard so I take it they were negative. Today my daughter passed the usual mucus and this time I saw it. There appeared to be around 5 mls worth in the tissue. I have decided to try a gluten free diet with her but I have no idea where to start. Also we are living in a fairly isolated part of Indonesia as expats and I do not speak Bahasa so it’s all going to be very tricky indeed. I think my greatest problem may be getting anything produced/packaged as gluten free. If you have any suggestions I would really appreciate them. In her IgA test her result was 0.57 with the reference range being 0.81 – 2.32 g/L and so it was suggested she take the celiac tests. They were normal. No para it’s nor bacterial infections were noted either so what is causing the significant amount of mucus?? Sometime she feels nauseous but isn’t sick. She has normal height but a huge stomach? she isn’t fading away but she is worried herself about passing mucus. Any suggestions please. Thank you. Senga

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17 Allergy Guy January 5, 2012 at 13:45

There is more and more packaged gluten-free foods available. Look for them in super markets and health food stores.

Like all processed/packaged foods, they offer convenience but are less healthy than making your own food from scratch.

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18 Laurie January 19, 2012 at 22:31

Senga, go over to the balitravelforum.com website and do a search for gluten free. There are lots of Australians traveling to Bali that give great info on where to find gluten free bread etc. I am going in August 2012 and have found lots of info on that site.
I can’t have gluten, soy or dairy so it will be interesting. Hope this helps

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19 GFCFEF mum November 10, 2011 at 11:02

Hi Allergy Guy and Rachel,

I read with sadness re Rachel’s health issues and the helplessness she is going thru everyday concerning food. Rest assured Rachel, u are not alone in this battle and challenge.

I too live in Malaysia and my 2 young kids are on a gluten, dairy and egg free diet since early this year. Since then, I too have not taken food for granted and have been reading as much as I can about gluten free diet. Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance diet awareness here is lagging but rest assured, it is catching up. Fyi, just last month, the local Star papers featured an article about gluten intolerance. I trully believe and hope that many will benefit from it.

As for where to shop for GF goods, Rachel, other than Cold Storage, u may find your “bar of gold” at Village Groccer, Jaya Groccer and some of the organic shops. Perhaps to cut cost, u could also learn a few tricks with baking your own GF food too. “-) Good luck and happy shopping!

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20 Ilona October 14, 2011 at 20:37

Hi Rachel, ‘glutinous’rice does not mean it has gluten in, some people get confused about that. Rice is gluten free as far as I know, I think the word glutinous is more about the texture of the rice not that it has gluten in. Anyone else know about this? I think asian rice is a ‘glutinous’ type of rice but that doesnt mean it has gluten in. check it out online

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21 Allergy Guy October 15, 2011 at 12:49

All grains, including rice, have a form of gluten in them, as far as I know. Only gluten from oats, barely, rye and especially wheat trigger celiac disease, and rice is safe for celiacs or most people with a gluten allergy.

It is hard to get information about this because most of the information about gluten is about wheat gluten, but I believe the above to be true based on the research I have done so far.

As for glutenous rice, I agree, it is a name referring to the texture, not the chemistry.

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22 anuja October 8, 2011 at 11:50

Hi Rachel, I’m really sorry that you are having such a tough time. I’m Malaysian and I have a friend who is gluten intolerant and I came across this website which gives names of stores that sell gluten free products in the Klang Valley, I hope this helps. www.betterdietislam.com/orgnogl.html

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23 rachel August 31, 2011 at 11:01

ok thank you so much will try that..but can i know which symptom that u identified for this aircond problem..may i know so i will know next time i will know ..i open my windows wide if i am not in the room..so the sunlight will come in every morning..also going to have an endoscopy next month to make sure my intestine don’t have any trace of cancer because of my constant diarrhea ..got a few ingredient today after shopping for more than 5 hour..got some organic unpolished brown rice with a big word says gluten free rice..how glad i am like i found a bar of gold..and also got a miso sauce with gluten free to subsitute for soya sauce..sugar level is high also today 26..cannot eat well..

once again thank u for the time u spend replying me Allergy Guy

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24 Allergy Guy September 2, 2011 at 20:13

Hi Rachel,

For some odd reason, the reply I thought I was giving you went somewhere else, and you got the wrong one!

Here is what I intended to reply (nothing to do with air con!)

Here are a few ideas for you Rachel. First, many people don’t know what gluten is. This has changed a lot recently in certain countries such as Canada where I live, but a few years ago I’d get the same blank stare. Better that you explain that you must avoid wheat, barley, oats and rye. Saying ‘wheat flour’ is important, since some people may think you’re saying ‘meat’ (of course if you’re speaking Malay, Chinese or Tamil, this may not be an issue). Some people, especially Indians, think that wheat flour is different from all-purpose flour. So you really have to learn about the food you are eating, the people who are serving it, and what they understand.

As for finding a support gluten-free support group in Malaysia, how about starting your own? If you want to write an article on this website, let me know. There is a good chance that people googling this term will find it on an old established site such as this one. Just leave a comment if you are interested. Mark it ‘PRIVATE’ if you don’t want it published.

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25 rachel August 22, 2011 at 19:20

hi,
I am from Malaysia and recently diagnose with coeliac disease 3 years ago.My doctor told me it will only give me discomfort in the stomach and frequent to toilet after every meal.so i ignore and continue my normal food until it hit me seriously landed in the hospital for 1 week due to dehydration and malnourished because i throw everything i eat and my body does not absorb any nutrition that i take.to add more bad news my antibody immune system had hit my own pancreas and not sure where it will hit next.now with diabetic type 1 it is more hard to get food cause normally gluten free product they replace gluten with sugar so it will be more sweeter than normal food especially biscuits and breads or cakes i have been low in calcium cause i had my thyroid removed 3 years ago.i also have lactose intolerance so i cannot take any lactose product as well.I am trying to find place to eat and shop for gluten free foods and products.Malaysia main food is rice which i think i cannot live without rice.but i found out that almost all the rice sold in Malaysia is gluten based.(did some research here.all the rice and vegetables and fruit which or not organic is contaminated with gluten based fertilizer .
Please i need someone who can help me with any place in Kuala Lumpur that i can shop for gluten free foods or grocery and also if anyone knows of any support group in Malaysia..

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26 Allergy Guy August 22, 2011 at 23:04

Hi Rachel,

I’m sorry to hear that your doctor mislead you in such a serious way. He/she should be suit for malpractice.

If the fertilizer used to grow the rice, fruit and vegetables is gluten-based, that should not effect the final product. Where did you find out about rice being gluten-contaminated?

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27 rachel August 23, 2011 at 21:00

I found out from a few manufacturer and also from my dietitian.I am not sure if it is true but i cannot afford to take the risk..that is why i am trying to find some kind of support group in Malaysia which i can’t find. I went shopping yesterday asking for gluten free product all i get was a blank stare..it hit me quite hard cause Malaysia is known for foods and i ended up empty cart cause i don’t know what to buy or cook..i think i am going into depression almost most of the things i cannot eat and i have to eat..i feel so alone here with no one can understand my problem..i am not a well to do person i am also surviving..i work to live but my health is not giving me any way of strength to move on..i feel helpless..:(

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28 Allergy Guy August 29, 2011 at 19:31

Here are a few ideas for you Rachel. First, many people don’t know what gluten is. This has changed a lot recently in certain countries such as Canada where I live, but a few years ago I’d get the same blank stare. Better that you explain that you must avoid wheat, barley, oats and rye. Saying ‘wheat flour’ is important, since some people may think you’re saying ‘meat’ (of course if you’re speaking Malay, Chinese or Tamil, this may not be an issue). Some people, especially Indians, think that wheat flour is different from all-purpose flour. So you really have to learn about the food you are eating, the people who are serving it, and what they understand.

As for finding a support gluten-free support group in Malaysia, how about starting your own? If you want to write an article on this website, let me know. There is a good chance that people googling this term will find it on an old established site such as this one. Just leave a comment if you are interested. Mark it ‘PRIVATE’ if you don’t want it published.

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29 rachel August 29, 2011 at 20:25

Hi,
Thank You so much for taking the time to reply me.I really appreciate it..at least someone is replying me..I just want to understand more cause when i read on other website about coeliac they don’t mention in details and also some i don’t understand..they always say immune system and i though was just like antibody low getting sick easily ..i didn’t know that it can be eating my own cells..now with my pancreas almost gone i think is gone cause my sugar level is not going down..my sugar level is between 31 to 26 for the past week since i am out of hospital..is it true that in type 1 diabetes that stress also can contribute to increasing sugar level..i am not sure cause that is what my doc told me..how to live without stress in real life..can some let me know what it will do next..I tried very hard to stick to gluten free diet but even the medication i am taking all the pills also have gluten like calcium pills ,diabetic pill,hormone pills,hypertension pills,vitamin pills,potassium pills in total is 136 per day..and i cannot stop taking these medicine cause i am low in calcium and hormone due to my surgery 4 years ago..ever since that surgery i am low in everything..due to the diarrhea that i am having daily i go to toilet at least 4 times daily and due to my high sugar level i constant feel dehydrated and tend to drink lots of water and that contribute to frequent to toilet at more than 10 times..so everything in my body is flowing out..
I went to a few organic health store past few days and when i mention gluten free just got back the blank stares…i think i am quite use to it right now..

I am not sure how long i can survive but i am living day by dat now..i don’t think much just try to appreciate life more than before

And thank you so much Allergy Guy for letting me write here..it means a lot to me ..and yes i would like to write here and hope someone somewhere can help me

30 jen March 30, 2011 at 06:43

Great article thanks. I’m off to Malaysia shortly. Do you know of any Malay dishes that are ‘usually’ made without soy sauce? That would be a good start. Do you know if laksa usually contain gluten? Thanks!

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31 Allergy Guy March 30, 2011 at 11:03

Good questions! I don’t have a dependable answer for you. At the time I ate Malay dishes with no problem, but at the time I wasn’t worried about small amounts of wheat in soy sauce. Now I am more cautious.

Eventually I may have some answers, but not before your trip unfortunately.

If you’re able to get more info about Malay food (and Malaysian food including South Indian and various styles of Chinese) then I’ll be happy to expand on the info here. Do please let me know what you find out.

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32 Miss Gluten Free Singapore April 21, 2011 at 09:29

Thanks, this is fantastic. Lots of info on GF in Malaysia says ‘if it is gluten free, it probably is’, but people aren’t thinking about that extra 1%. Thank you especially for the phrases. I do know that in terms of ‘usually’ gluten free foods (contamination always being the risk if there are other breads), South Indian Dosai, Utapam and Idli should all be technically gluten free. The Hindi word to look out for is ‘ata’, meaning whole wheat.

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33 Allergy Guy April 23, 2011 at 13:53

Thanks for the helpful info!

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34 Michelle Childs March 23, 2011 at 23:16

Thanks Lukas, I am off to Bali soon and have been quite worried about what i can eat, I have allergies to wheat, grains, dairy and sulphites and thought I would be living on steamed rice and fruit…….looks a bit brighter now, thanks.

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35 Allergy Guy February 14, 2011 at 11:01

Thanks for this very helpful article, Lukas.

When I was in Malaysia, it was not possible to get specialty gluten-free diet products in supermarkets, then again, it wasn’t very common in Canada either.

Thanks for making the distinction between 99% and 100% wheat-free.

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36 Allergy Guy August 30, 2011 at 22:51

The symptoms you describe could be mold-related.

One thing you may try with your air con is when you want to turn it off, leave the fan running without cooling for 10 minutes or so to dry it out. That should reduce mold problems. Maybe you can find a way to prevent leaves from getting into the unit while still allowing adequate air to pass through the unit.

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