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Living gluten free in South Korea

A year of gluten free food knowledge from South Korea

Ed Fisher talks about getting gluten free food for his celiac girlfriend during a year’s teaching in South Korea

Seeing as I’d got a lot of information from this site I thought I’d share my experience of gluten free South Korea.

My girlfriend and I have just finished teaching for a year in Daejeon, the fifth biggest city in South Korea. She is a celiac and before coming out was a little apprehensive about what she would and wouldn’t be able to eat. Fortunately we’ve managed to find a fair few meals that are ok, so comparatively speaking it is one of the best Asian countries for celiacs. Here’s a few meals/tips etc

  • The most common meal she ate was bibimbap, basically rice with lots of steamed vegetables. Koreans don’t use soy sauce quite as much as Japanese and Chinese, so for the most part it isn’t cooked with it, always best to check with a Korean gluten free travel card though (be aware that some foods, especially soups and those with sauces will contain soy sauce pronounced can jang or dwenjang in Korean.) Bibimbap normally comes with a spicy red pepper sauce which is gluten free (but very spicy!). She sometimes adds boullion power for a bit of flavour. It s a really cheap meal too, about £1.50.
  • Another favourite is samgyupsal, a type of Korean bbq. Pork meat is cooked on a cooker in the centre of the table and eaten with lettuce, rice and plenty of side dishes. A very sociable meal. With drinks about £5.
  • Kimchi chigay is a fairly spicy soup eaten with pork and rice. Again not made with soy sauce.
  • Sushi and kimbap have been great for lunches while away at the weekend. Kimbap is kind of a sushi roll but made with tuna or ham (she normally pokes the ham out as we were not 100% it’s gf. Lots of places make it fresh so you can normally ask for what things you want in it. Sushi is a lot cheaper than England and can be taken away from most large supermarkets. Kimbap is super cheap at about 75p a roll.
  • In Sil Cheese Pizza is a chain that does 100% rice based pizza! It s made with purpleish rice flour so it quite a strange colour, but tastes great! There’s a website in Korean, so I asked my Korean co teacher to translate and fortunately there was one within walking distance of our apartment! They re quite expensive at about £10 a pizza, but there aren t many places in the world that do GF takeaway pizzas!
  • In Daejeon at the Savezone supermarket, there s a rice bakery that does gluten free bread, muffins and a couple of cakes. Obviously it s not as cheap as normal bread but it s all made fresh and the staff are really lovely and understanding. I also managed to get her an amazing birthday cake. I ve heard there s a bakery in Seoul that can deliver rice bread too.
  • Rice triangles in convenience stores are also good for a quick snack.
  • In Daejeon there’s a posh department store (similar to Selfridges in England) called Timeworld that has a smallish food section and sells gluten free cornflakes and vegetable stock. I imagine you d find similar department stores in the big cities.
  • There’s plenty of western restaurants over here, I d recommend VIPS which is a lovely buffet with loads of western foods.

For more information check out the Daves Esl café forum, there s quite a few threads that discuss gf food there.

Other things to mention is that she s doesn t eat school lunches and cooks her own food, so she brought lots of gf pasta and had some gf spaghetti shipped in a shoe box from home - unfortunately there’s nowhere to buy it here. Gluten free potato noodles are available from supermarkets but they tend to go quite soggy perhaps we’re not cooking them properly! Nearly every Korean restaurant (especially supermarkets) has plastic models of their meal displayed, which is perfect for seeing what’s in the dish.

On the whole if you re thinking of working in Korea, I’d recommend living in one of the bigger cities (Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Incheon) simply because of the bigger selection and convenience! The bigger cities aren t as pretty but the weekends and kimbap have allowed us to explore!

Thanks for Ed Fisher for sending in his celiac travel story.

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