Buying Gluten Free Groceries in Hong Kong
When I went gluten free, I had been enjoying pizza, pasta and other wheat, barley and rye products for about 28 years. That’s a long time! But, when I converted to GF, I truly had no choice in the matter. It took me another five years to realize that accidental exposures and ‘cheating’ wasn’t worth the price I paid afterwards.
So, what happens when you’ve been having gluten your whole life and need to make an immediate change or you are working towards gluten free? I’ve had multiple people ask this question in the last week alone, and luckily I already have the experience of helping many individuals and families go gluten free.
First, gluten free does not mean you will never enjoy food again! The selection of gluten free foods in Hong Kong is huge, and for the most part I can get everything in one store. I will spare you the details of all my recipes I use at home, since when you are starting out, it is nice to just purchase the mix and get used to being gluten free.
Here are my favorite out-of-the-box products and mixes.
Pasta, Pizza & Bread
Pasta: I like the Tinkyada brand because I can find it in multiple stores and the spaghetti reheats pretty well. It’s great for lunch boxes, soups, and spaghetti bolognaise. When storing after cooking in the fridge, put a little sauce with it. When reheating, add a bit of liquid so the noodles don’t burn at the bottom of the pan. Tinkyada pasta does take a while to cook (about 20 minutes), so if you need a faster option, choose the quinoa and corn brand. You can also buy mung bean vermicelli, which is very inexpensive and works well.
Pizza: You can handle pizza in multiple ways. Because I like simplicity, I purchase the Udi’s brand premade crusts that heat beautifully in the oven and have a nice thin crust. If you want to make your own, LantauMama suggests the Namaste brand mix. The secret to the Namaste mix is to flip the crust whilst it bakes. If you really can’t be bothered with either of those, go to Pizza Express! They serve gluten free pizzas from separate ovens on separate platters to reduce contamination. If you are celiac, however, make sure you talk to the restaurant manager first to ensure best practices.
Bread: Bread is always a deep topic of conversation with gluten free. Most of the time breads purchased are hard, dense and taste like cardboard. I don’t disagree. Many of them are awful. But there are a couple of acceptable options in Hong Kong. Our family enjoys the Food for Life gluten free bread range (you can buy Bhutanese Red Rice, Black Rice, Brown Rice, etc) from the freezer section. The trick is (after thawing) to carefully slice one piece of bread in half and then toast. Not only do you get double the number of sandwiches, but it eliminates the hard and dense texture. It must be toasted!
If you want to make fresh bread in your oven or breadmaker, Bob’s Red Mill makes a very nice gluten free mix based on garbanzo bean flour and includes yeast. It gives a fluffy loaf, which can be used plain without toasting. The best bread I’ve ever tasted is from Choice Cooperative – Hong Kong’s only dedicated gluten free restaurant and bread factory. You can purchase their bread at the restaurant in Aberdeen or have it delivered to your door via online purchase through Eat Fresh. For hotdog buns, bagels and muffins, Udi’s brand makes suitable options. Just to note – the 99% gluten free bread at many stores is not gluten free! Don’t purchase them!
Cookies: I have tried every box known to the gluten free world. There are two standouts. Betty Crocker makes the best gluten free chocolate chip cookie mix, and Cherrybrook Kitchen has the best sugar cookie mix. Both require a couple of eggs, some oil and water, but it really doesn’t get any easier, and they taste delicious. Cherrybrook kitchen also has the added benefit of being nut free for school. You can even purchase several ready made brands of gluten free cookies, for example there is a gluten free version of Oreos.
Cakes: Again, I have to compliment Betty Crocker on her cakes. They are light and fluffy and not overly sweet. We have made them into cakes and cupcakes, and both options work well. We have had both the vanilla and chocolate and both have passed the test.
Brownies: For these delectable chocolaty bites we like the new XO Baking Company brand found at many stores. They are always moist and definitely serve their purpose. The trick with all mixes is to use ½ to 2/3 of the oil recommendation! With all of these sweets, I’ve never had anyone question whether any of them are gluten free. They taste good and the only thing you are left with is an empty pan! A word of caution – some of these mixes do contain ‘E’ ingredients. Buyer beware! If you need a healthier version, there are tons of great recipes on the internet or you can join our forum for excellent healthy and tastier options.!
Pancakes and Crepes: Fortunately the XO Baking Company makes a very good and easy pancake mix. I do doctor this one up depending on what I am doing. For extra nutrition, I use ½ cup mix plus ½ cup almond flour and about ½ cup canned pumpkin. This adds extra protein and some nutrients to the recipe pretty easily. If you want to make crepes, I add only one egg and extra milk. They turn out beautifully and can be made sweet or savory.
Cereals: If you like your morning bowl, there are tons of gluten free options from muesli to sweet puffs and flakes. Nature’s Path makes a few gluten free options like Gorilla Munch and two varieties of corn flakes (sweetened with honey or fruit juice). You can also find gluten free oats in either steel cut or quick style; look for the Bob’s Red Mill brand.
Soy sauce: Soy sauce normally has wheat as the first or second ingredient, so it’s a good idea to have your own at home and when going to a restaurant. Gluten free versions can be found in three different styles: Braggs, which is soy aminos, San-Jay Tamari: gluten free soy sauce, and Coconut Secret: Coconut Aminos. San-Jay also makes small travel packs in gold sachets to bring with you when going out for sushi or anywhere else you might need a pinch of soy sauce.
Other snacks: There are tons of options at your local store if you know where to look. Paterson’s and Clearspring Oat Cakes, rice cakes (double check ingredients as some recipes do contain gluten), Mary’s Gone Crackers crackers and pretzels, roasted seaweed and most tortilla chips are all gluten free.
Where to buy all these goodies? Stores including Olivers, Three Sixty, Jasons, Great, Fusion, Little Giant, Just Green and Nature’s Village will have a number of gluten free options. Little Giant is a store in Causeway Bay dedicated to gluten free in addition to many of other common allergies including peanuts. I find most of my products at Olivers, Jasons and the Park N Shop group of stores. Rarely do I have to go to a specialty store for these basics. Olivers and Jasons in Repulse Bay has a nice stand alone section of gluten free items plus a large range of Bob’s Red Mill gluten free mixes and the gluten free oats.