gluten free asia

Gluten Free Vietnam

The Asian population in general has a very low rate of gluten intolerance.  This is likely because the majority their diet is based on naturally gluten free grains, namely rice.  They don’t eat a lot of bread like we do in Western societies, where gluten intolerance is all too common. 

The gluten free industry in Vietnam exists because of tourism.  At all of the hotels we stayed at in Vietnam, the staff aimed to please.  Especially the 5 star hotels and international hotel chains like Hyatt and Accor attract travelers from the US, Australia and Europe, with a high rate of gluten free guests.  The good news is that Vietnamese food is naturally gluten free friendly.  Two of the most well known Vietnamese dishes are Pho, which is a soup made with rice noodles, and Vietnamese spring rolls, which have an outer wrap, made of rice paper.   

Vietnamese food is naturally gluten free friendly, but it is not vegetarian friendly.  Most of the Vietnamese cuisine is very heavy in pork and shellfish, so having a vegetarian section on every menu at the hotels we stayed at was also extremely helpful.  

Hyatt Regency, Da Nang

At the Hyatt Regency, the Food and Beverage manager told us that they have increased their gluten free offerings since they have been progressively getting more and more gluten free customers.  They have especially seen increases in the number of children with gluten intolerance.  They have started to educate their staff about gluten free awareness. 

The property has three restaurants.    All menus items are marked with common allergens including gluten free, vegetarian and contains nuts.  On the evening we arrived, we ate at The Beach House restaurant.  We were exhausted after flying in from Ho Chi Minh.  The extraordinary food at this restaurant awakened our taste buds!  There was so much on the menu that we wanted to order and so many delicious items marked gluten free or vegetarian!

Every morning an international hot breakfast is served at The Green House restaurant, which is also open for lunch and dinner as an Italian restaurant.   The hotel staff prepared gluten free "pumpkin bread" for us. Thick pieces of gluten free sliced bread that are yellow in color and smell like sourdough bread, the bread likely had only a teeny bit of pumpkin in the dough to add color.  The texture was dry and fluffy, almost like sponge cake, and the bread didn’t taste like pumpkin at all.  The taste was quite bland compared to the delicious sourdough smell, but definitely does the trick when eaten toasted with an omelet or dipped in olive oil.  The Green House offers gluten free spaghetti at lunch and dinner as a substitute to all pasta dishes on the menu.  In fact, the box of gluten free pasta is on display with the other regular pastas, which is pretty cool!

Vin Pearl, Da Nang

We ate breakfast at the Vin Pearl buffet one morning during our trip.  We were gracious that they have a gluten free bread alternative for gluten free guests.  However, the bread was almost inedible.  It was crumbly and tasted like cardboard- would bring you back to gluten free bread in the pre-historic era (like 1990s!). 

The highlight of this meal was that we got to try salmon Pho for the first time! Phở is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped white rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily served with either beef or chicken.  Pho is traditionally served at breakfast time and is staple of the Vietnamese diet.  Most pho, even salmon pho, is prepared with a chicken or meat stock.  The salmon pho at the Vin Pearl was made with a vegetarian stock, so we got to taste this traditional dish that everyone raves about!  

Angsana Lang Co

During breakfast on the first day of our stay, Josh requested gluten free bread from the kitchen staff.  The issue is that no one seemed to speak English well enough to understand him.  The thing about the Vietnamese people is that they have a very friendly and pleasant manner, but their English is generally very poor.  There were other naturally gluten free items on the buffet including eggs made to order, vegetables and potatoes.  My favorite items on the buffet were the different flavored yogurts.  I especially loved the bircher muesli, the passion fruit yogurt and the aloe vera yogurt!  Of course, every Vietnamese hotel offers traditional Vietnamese breakfast items that are naturally gluten free including congee, pho, shrimp spring rolls, Vietnamese soups and banh chung- a sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaf and packed with fatty pork and mung bean.  Side Note: We had ordered a vegetarian version of Bahn Chung from room service the first night that we arrived to try to get a sense of this popular Vietnamese dish.  I usually love a dish with sticky rice, but the center filling tasted very weird and reminded me too much of animal fat.   Let’s just say I wouldn’t order it again. 

That afternoon, we met a woman at Yoga who told us that the hotel had been preparing gluten free bread for her every morning at breakfast and that we had to speak with the head chef who spoke English.  The staff was so apologetic about not understanding our request the day before that the next morning, they prepared a special plate of gluten free breads and muffins for Josh.  Josh enjoyed the mini gluten free rolls and said they tasted just like bread sticks.  The sliced bread was not very enjoyable, as it was had a gummy and cakey texture, even after being toasted.   The muffins were dry and crumbly.  But they definitely got an A for effort! 

There is an Italian restaurant on the neighboring Banyan Tree Hotel property that is open for lunch.  On the first day, we brought our own gluten free pasta and asked them to prepare it for us.   They did so happily.  The next day, they prepared a gluten free pizza for us.  Although they don’t normally do this, the hotel is clearly eager to please guests.  The chef used a gluten free bread mix for the base and explained to us that the dough was too soft and kept falling apart.  When she baked it longer, it held together better, but she still struggled with the consistency.  It actually looked AMAZING, which is half the battle!  The pizza had a very funny flavor and chewy texture.  We requested a side of pizza sauce and dipped it in the sauce to mask the flavor.  But since it looked so pretty, we continued to eat every last morsel.  

The Nam Hai, Hoi An

The Nam Hai was not only the most beautiful resort I have ever stayed at but the most accommodating to dietary restrictions too.  Upon check in, reception asks if you have any dietary restrictions and make a note on your room account so that the kitchen and wait staff is aware when they serve you.  

Breakfast is served every morning at a beautiful space overlooking the hotel property, the expansive pool and the quiet beach.  Sitting at breakfast was absolute serenity and I never wanted to leave!  The quality of the food at the breakfast buffet was exceptional and all of the food was laid out so beautifully that it made me want to try everything! 

The hotel had delicious gluten free English muffin style bread prepared for us every morning.  They also prepared gluten free crepes made to order for us that were so incredibly delicious. They tasted exactly like the regular crepes on the buffet.  Other items that they offer made to order for us were omelets any style and Indian Dahl (lentils).  They had an impressive array of cereals, yogurts and fresh fruits.  There was an incredible mix of toasted and caramelized coconut, almonds, cashews, pecans and seeds that paired perfectly with the fresh yogurt.

 

There are two dinner restaurants on property.   One is an Indian restaurant and the other is Vietnamese.   Both are very expensive but the quality of the food and the elegant ambiance at each restaurant helped to justify the bill.  The fish at both restaurants was extremely fresh and sensationally prepared with fresh spices and herbs grown on the property’s garden.  The staff prepared special gluten free bread rolls for Josh at the Indian restaurant.  At the Vietnamese restaurant, all tables are served rice crackers to start.  They actually looked and tasted very similar to Passover matzah and like matzah, they were pretty addicting!  

The gluten free highlight of the Indian restaurant was the gluten free dessert that they prepared for Josh.  It was a gluten free passion fruit soufflé served with coconut ice cream and a crème Anglaise.   Other gluten free dessert items on the menu were crème brulee and home made ice cream, but it was great fun for Josh to be able to eat a soufflé!   

The pool side service at Nam Hai was also exceptional.  As we sipped our delicious cocktails while reading the lunch menu, Josh exclaimed "I wish I could have some gluten free pasta or pizza right now."  We asked the server if the kitchen would be able to prepare gluten free pasta or pizza for us.  Typically for these last minute requests, the hotels respond that they need 24 hours notice to prepare ingredients.  On the contrary, the server informed us that the kitchen would be happy to prepare gluten free pasta to our liking straight away.  If we wanted gluten free pizza, we would have to wait two hours to allow them to make the dough from scratch and let it rise!  Hunger trumped patience and so Josh ordered some gluten free pasta with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese.  He finished the bowl before I could blink and said it was some of the best gluten free pasta he had ever tasted.  He said it tasted like they made the pasta from scratch.  Then he ordered another bowl!