Gluten-free dimsum

Disclaimer: This guide is not intended for those with extreme gluten allergies or intolerances. Most non-specialist dim sum restaurants are highly unlikely to be able to minimise cross-contamination. Each restaurant will have its own recipes, and some dishes mentioned in this guide may vary.


If you’re sensitive to gluten, going out to a dim sum restaurant might feel impossible. Not knowing what contains soy sauce, whether the dumplings are made from rice or wheat flour, whether the fillings have gluten-based binders, and so on. But fear not - it is doable. No intolerance should prevent you from experiencing the joy of sharing hot tea and delicious food with your friends and family. Fortunately for us, there are naturally gluten-free options on the menu and others that can be adapted with some simple adjustments.


Savoury:


Cheung Fun | 肠粉 | Steamed rice noodle roll

Warning: Request for no sauce

Cheung Fun is one of the most popular dishes to order at dim sum. The roll, which is made of a strip of rice dough, typically comes with three whole prawns. Other popular fillings include spring onions and char siu pork. The texture is quite chewy, similar to thick rice noodles. Omit the sauce, and add your own gluten-free tamari.

Congee | 粥 | Rice porridge

Warning: Chinese sausage sometimes contains wheat or soy sauce

Congee is a warm, comforting, simple dish, often served with a side of spring onions and soy sauce. Without additional ingredients, congee can be quite bland, consisting of simply water and rice. At dim sum restaurants, the usual flavourings include century egg, chicken, Chinese sausage, and seafood. Like with all dim sum, congee is a shared dish, so you can add your own gluten-free soy sauce to your heart's content.


Lo Bak Go | 萝白糕 | Turnip Cake

Warning: Some fillings may not be gluten-free.

The name, also referred to as radish cake, may sound daunting and unappealing, but don’t run in the other direction yet. The savoury taste and crispy exterior make for one of the best things to order at dim sum. It’s made by combining shredded Asian radish with rice flour, sometimes combined with fillings like mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and dried shrimps. After the mix has been steamed, it’s fried and topped with spring onions, sesame seeds, and sometimes fresh chilli.

Wu Tao Gou | 芋頭糕 | Taro Cake

Taro cake is similar to turnip cake and is made much the same way. Wu Tao Gou is made from rice flour and taro, a sweet root vegetable that can be found in South-East Asia. It’s significantly sweeter and denser than its savoury counterpart, but contains similar fillings, and is served in the same way.

Gai lan | 芥蓝 | Chinese Broccoli

Warning: Request for no sauce

Gai lan is a popular vegetable option at dim sum due to its freshness. The texture is chewier than western broccoli and looks more like thin-stemmed broccolini. It’s typically steamed in garlic, oyster sauce and soy sauce, but ask for the sauce to be on the side or removed completely, and add your own gluten-free alternative.


Zongzi | 粽子 | Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf

Warning: Chinese sausage sometimes contains wheat or soy sauce

Despite the name, there is no gluten in glutinous rice. Short grain rice is wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves, then steamed or boiled. The end result is a dense, sticky rice dish with different fillings. The most popular include mixed meats, shiitake mushrooms, and dried shrimps. Enjoy as it comes, or add your own gluten-free soy sauce.


Har Gow | 蝦餃 | Crystal Dumplings

Warning: Not for those with wheat intolerances

The translation ‘Crystal Dumplings’ comes from these dumplings transparent wrappers. That glassy appearance is achieved by using wheat starch. Wheat starch includes only trace amounts of gluten, but if you’re someone who is celiac or allergic to wheat, this is something to avoid.

Desserts/sweets:

Mati Gao | 馬蹄糕 | Water Chestnut Cake

We’ve already gone over two types of steamed cake, and this one is similar once again. However, instead of being served with savoury toppings, Water Chestnut Cake is almost always considered as a dessert. The cake is made from chopped water chestnuts and chestnut flour, meaning it’s entirely gluten-free. They’re yellow and transparent in appearance, and the texture is chewy, soft, and crispy (if pan-fried before serving).

Doufu Hua | 豆腐花 | Tofu pudding

Doufu Hua is a sweet dessert made from soft tofu and syrup. The texture can be compared to panna cotta, although slightly softer, and with a fresh, subtle taste. The ingredients are simple - silken tofu, and brown sugar. Other popular toppings include ginger juice and osmanthus (devilwood) syrup.


Jian Dui | 煎䭔 | Sesame Ball

For a crispy and delightful end to the meal, try Jian Dui. These sesame balls are classified as a type of pastry, with the dough made from glutinous rice flour and sweet sugar water. The outside of the ball is coated in sesame seeds, then deep-fried. Due to the expansion of the dough in the hot oil, the inside of the ball is hollow and has different fillings. The most popular include lotus seed, black sesame, peanut butter, and red bean paste.


While having a food intolerance certainly makes navigating restaurants a little more tricky, it forces you to be experimental. Try new dishes from new cuisines, push the boat out and fall in love with new cultures. Try to see it as an exciting experience - not a limiting one.