I didn’t find it too difficult to stick to my gluten-free diet in Malaysia.
I have coeliac disease so it’s important for me to follow a gluten-free diet and avoid cross-contamination. The hardest challenge was avoiding soy sauce which is used in a lot of dishes. However, as meals are usually freshly prepared, I just asked the cook to leave it out.
Malaysian cuisine is dominated by rice so finding naturally gluten-free dishes is not hard. You will find English translations on most menus and local people speak excellent English as it is compulsory in schools.
As always, it’s best to alert the chef to your dietary requirements to be on the safe side and to talk to them about the dangers of cross-contamination.
Here are some classic Malaysian dishes that are reasonably safe for coeliacs to try:
A Malaysian breakfast staple, comprising coconut steamed rice served with cucumber, peanuts, dried anchovies, boiled egg and a spicy sambal. You will often find this dish as part of a hotel’s breakfast buffet. A hearty meal that sets you up for the day.
Fried rice is ubiquitous in South-East Asia. Nasi Goreng can vary from a veritable feast of ingredients to very plain with just a bit of chicken and egg. Nasi Goreng Kampung is ‘village’ fried rice served with shrimp, chicken, tofu, egg and lots of chilli! Be careful of the crackers that are sometimes served with this traditional Malaysian dish; they won’t necessarily be gluten-free and are thus best avoided.
Satay is usually made from chicken or beef and served with a peanut sauce. It’s great for a snack or a light lunch. You can also find it made from lamb, goat or pork. At night markets you will see the meat cooked on small charcoal barbecues, so you know that it is freshly cooked. However, check that it hasn’t been glazed with soy sauce.
Hainanese chicken rice
This dish was brought to Malaysia by early Chinese immigrants from the Hainan province in southern China. The chicken is steamed and then plunged in cold water to stop the cooking process. This ensures the meat stays tender. The rice is steamed, or sometimes served in balls or cubes. Ask for it without soy sauce as an added precaution as this is sometimes spooned over the top to add some moisture. This is a classic dish in Melaka, but you will find it at street stalls across Malaysia.
Thick rice noodles are served in a bowl of spicy broth flavored with tamarind, lemongrass and coconut curry. Usually served with shrimp, egg or chicken. Cockles are sometimes added to the dish. Again, although rice noodles are traditionally used in this dish, there are variations so check with the cook before ordering.
Beef rendang (main picture)
A spicy dish served with steamed or coconut rice. The meat is slow-cooked in a thick coconut sauce spiced with ginger, turmeric, chilli and lime. The result is a divine mix of intense sweet and sour flavors. Beef is the most common meat, but you can also find rendang made with chicken or seafood.
Grilled or roasted chicken marinated in lemongrass, tamarind, turmeric, cumin, coriander and coconut milk. The marinade is caramelized during the cooking process leaving a mild, sweet and flavorsome sauce that is perfect for those looking for something a bit different from fiery dishes.
And not forgetting dessert….
Steamed rice cake made from rice flour, tapioca, coconut, pandan leaves and cane sugar. This sickly dessert is baked in bamboo tubes and served warm. The texture is like sponge. The taste is delicious!
Green noodles made from rice flour and colored with pandan leaves are added to shaved ice, coconut milk, gulu melaka (cane sugar) and red kidney beans. I tried it, but it wasn’t for me!
This Malaysian sweet has the taste of caramel and the texture of jelly. Dodol is made from coconut milk, glutinous rice flour, glucose syrup, coconut palm sugar, cane sugar and water. It is sold in individually wrapped bite-sized chunks making it an ideal gluten-free snack for travelling.