In the world of gluten free living there are some ethnic food groups that cater to the gluten intolerant…and Southeast Asian cuisine is not one of them. The Carpenter and I were planning a trip to Shanghai a couple of years ago and I quickly learned that in the gluten free blog world Shanghai is considered the most challenging city to travel to if you have a gluten allergy. Yikes!
When I think of the stereotypical Southeast Asian meal it’s something like rice, steamed veggies and fish. Truth be told Shanghai cuisine is epitomized by the use of alcohol in cooking, salted meats & preserved veggies, lots of stews and sugar and soy sauce are commonly used.
Where are the gluten culprits in these traditional Shanghainese meals?
#1 Soy sauce. Wheat is the first ingredient listed on the soy sauce label. Go right now, open your fridge and have a look for yourself. In the states we can find its gluten free sister, Tamari, in just about any grocery. Not so much in Shanghai.
#2 Alcohol. Hard to tell what kind of alcohol is being used in what dishes. High possibility of grain-based alcohols.
#3 Stocks and broths. Everything is cooked in a chicken-type broth. There are so many gluten free broths now available in the US.
#4 Cross-contamination. Have you watched the No Reservations w/ Anthony Bourdain episode on Shanghai? Cross contamination control in Shanghai restaurant scene is the last thing that comes to my mind.
This might go without saying but one’s inability to communicate their food allergy details to the waiter in Chinese is the most critical issue. If you have a food allergy and live in the US you are likely used to interrogating waiters and at super allergy friendly restaurants getting a tableside visit from the chef to boost your confidence that they will in fact make your meal allergen free and take extreme measures to not cross contaminate. Oh and let’s not forget that 75% of US restaurants now have a special menu for the allergy privileged people of today. *completely made up that stat but it sounds about right*
If you have plans to visit Shanghai and you have a gluten allergy I highly suggest ordering Chinese/Mandarin Gluten Free Restaurant cards. They are free and they have them in 54 different languages!
I’m a big fan of Southeast Asian cuisine and believe me, gluten will never get between me and some Moo Goo Gai Pan. More than any other region of the world my dad traveled to Southeast Asia for business, it was the first ethnic food I was introduced to and ate regularly. I was the 7 year old with constant cravings for egg drop soup and moo shu pork.
One of the healthiest and simple prep Asian dishes is the spring roll. Even easier to prepare is a salad made with the same ingredients found in a traditional spring roll. The term spring roll and summer roll is used interchangeably, depending on the exact Southeast Asian country you are eating them in. Oftentimes in the US a spring roll is fried whereas a summer roll is served fresh and chilled. The rolls are accompanied with dipping sauces, or is it the other way around? Asian dipping sauces are tasty!
For the de-constructed spring roll salad I chose a some of my favorite spring roll ingredients; shrimp and cilantro are a must. Depending on your taste buds and what is in your refrigerator mix and modify to your liking. Great to serve lukewarm or cold and wow your guests with a twist on a dish that they typically order out.
De-contructed Spring Roll Salad
Yields 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings
1 package Rice Noodles
2 cups Shredded Napa Cabbage
2 Carrots, cut into matchstick thin strips
1 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup Seedless Cucumber, cut into matchstick thin strips
1/2 cup Red, Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper, cut into matchstick thin strips
3 Green Onions, minced
1/4 cup chopped Cilantro + 2 Tbsp Snipped Cilantro for garnish
1 lb. boiled shrimp, chilled and peeled
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
2 Tbsp Chili Garlic Sauce
2 Tbsp Lime Juice
1 tsp Tamari
1 tsp Minced Ginger Root
1 Large Clove Garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp Lime Zest
Garnish w/ Black Sesame Seeds (optional)
Cook the rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Place in a large bowl along with the rest of the salad ingredients. In a small bowl whisk together the ingredients for the dressing till well combined; toss with the salad to evenly coat. Garnish with cilantro and sesame seeds.