Why Hong Kong?
After loads of discussions with Paul and my friends, Louise and Hugh about going on holiday in March, we eventually picked Hong Kong for a random week away. We thought we could do some sightseeing, visit the large Vegas like casinos in Macau, go to Disney and we love being in Asia. However, travelling in Asia is not easy as a coeliac with language barriers and soy sauce that seems to be in everything! Japan was the most difficult country I have ever visited for these reasons, so I made sure I did plenty of research ahead of the trip.
Another point to note, and one that we really underestimated – Hong Kong was incredibly expensive, and was probably pricier than London for food so I have included some of the prices that we paid where possible to help you be prepared. If you are after a city break that’s cheap or good value for money then please don’t pick Hong Kong! With dreams of street food and dim sum, here’s a round up of how I got on..
Holiday Inn Central
We decided to stay in two different hotels as we were there for a week. The first hotel, The Holiday Inn in Central we stayed at for five nights. This hotel was about £95 a night in a really central location and ideal for walking to a lot of these restaurants. We were also near to subway stations and an easy walking distance to a 100% gluten free cafe and a small supermarket where I found gluten free ‘weet-bix’ imported from Australia. This hotel was great for several days of sightseeing, although the bed was a bit hard for my liking!
Shangri La Kowloon
For the last two nights we decided to stay in Kowloon and splashed out on the Shangri-La, a hotel chain we love and who have always gone out of their way to accommodate me for gluten free dining. Kowloon was so much busier than Hong Kong but we also stayed here at a weekend so that may have affected this but we loved the buzz of visiting all the markets. However, in the end we preferred the hilly and quirky side of Hong Kong!
Our best breakfast was the buffet breakfast at the Shangri-La which cost £30pp. Freddy, the food and beverage manager at the hotel emailed me when I contacted the hotel regarding their gluten free options and asked me to get in touch when I arrived at the hotel. When I checked in I emailed to let him know that I had arrived and my room number. I was amazed when shortly after I had a call to my room from his deputy as it was his day off for the team to make contact and ask for any special requests and reservations.
We decided to eat breakfast at Café Kool and I got personal service as soon as I arrived, with gluten free toast (not using the toaster), cereal and a gluten free eggs benedict being made for me and brought out by the chef who also told me he could make me some pancakes if I wanted (if only I could fit them in too!) Freddy also came to introduce himself and check on the service.
The service here was above and beyond what I would expect and I can not thank Freddy and his team enough. I would recommend getting breakfast here as part of your hotel room if you stay here as we made the mistake of booking room only. I would also recommend this chain for stays throughout Asia if you are struggling to find places to eat, as their email response and help for the hotels I have stayed in has always been exceptional.
Holiday Inn Central
A basic breakfast was included at the Holiday Inn. I just had their fruit juice, used their milk and their yoghurts that were gluten free with cereal that I had brought with me from the UK. I also bought some gluten free Weet-bix from Market Place, a small supermarket located near the hotel.
I often end up taking home gluten free food that I collect on my travels!
Having read reviews online that Green Waffle served gluten free waffles I was desperate to try them especially as many trip advisor reviews state that coeliacs have successfully eaten there. I did decide to eat a waffle there due to this and the fact that everyone had gone there but in honesty I wouldn’t say I felt entirely comfortable eating there. The waffles themselves were gluten free but they didn’t help me much with the toppings. The icecream that they told me was gluten free when I searched the brand online whilst waiting for my order said it contained gluten (although may have been different for that made in Hong Kong) so I changed my order to have it removed. I am also not sure how much of my translation card they read once they read about requiring gluten free so I’m not sure they read about cross contamination on it. Therefore I also used google translate on top of the translation card to ask if they could clean the waffle iron before cooking my waffle to try and get my needs across as I got the feeling staff were just saying yes and not really understanding me when I asked about a separate waffle iron in English. After reading this on google translate the waitress did go back out to the kitchen so I can only hope that they did this.
The waffle was yummy and I wasn’t sick but I wouldn’t confidently recommend this restaurant, you will need to determine the risk for yourself and make your own decision. I wanted to put this on here so you know how I got on due to the number of reviews on trip advisor, plus so you know I always write honestly about any risk and how I get on whilst travelling – it isn’t always stress free!
The Charlie Brown Cafe
You have no idea how excited I was when I discovered that there was a Charlie Brown Cafe! I used to absolutely LOVE Snoopy as a child! I managed to get everyone else there for breakfast on one of the days – a breakfast that they all said was surprising good for a themed cafe!
It was not a gluten free cafe so I just stuck to drinks. Think lattes topped with Woodstock and chocolate milk shaped into a Snoopy! Themed and so much fun I didn’t even care I couldn’t eat!
The only 100% gluten free establishment I visited in Hong Kong was Sweetpea Café, located very conveniently near our hotel when we were staying in Central. The café was so cute with the most adorable and friendly dog. I visited this café to pick up some food to take with me to the horse racing as I knew that finding gluten free food there would be extremely difficult.
It also meant that it was only me that had to pay for food from there because as nice and safe as it was, it was extremely expensive. I am not normally put off buying gluten free food and know it is pricy, but here a slice of gluten free cake was £9.50 and my gluten free cream cheese, smoked salmon and avocado sandwich was about £17!
Far pricier than I’d encountered anywhere on my gluten free travels. However, the food was so pretty, fresh and worth it as a one off to try it and to be able to eat at the racing. The cake – a chocolate cake with passionfruit mousse and topped with Italian meringue – in the end was one of the best I’d ever had and was actually more than enough for two people to share.
A must visit as a one off and also caters for dairy free, vegan, keto and paleo diets.
The only restaurant that we found to have gluten free dim sum was Madame Fu.
I emailed them about whether this would be coeliac safe and this was their response:
“We do have a gluten free menu available. We do take cross contamination measures seriously and there shouldn’t be any cross contamination. However, there is a very low risk. The chefs prepare the gluten free food by special request, ensuring there is no cross contamination. If you are going to come to enjoy lunch or dinner at Madame Fu, we suggest you make your booking in advance, letting the receptionist know that you are coeliac. On the day please let a floor or restaurant manager know so that all the team is aware. Regarding oil , when the kitchen receives advice that the client is gluten free they use different oil. For a gluten free afternoon tea we do request to order it minimum three days in advance”.
We made a reservation for lunch and the service was outstanding. On arrival the manager came to our table and took over all the ordering from our table to make sure all gluten free needs were given to the kitchen by her, with lots of help on the menu.
We ordered all four of the dim sum that were available gluten free. I liked the mushroom dumplings; the beetroot and spinach dumplings; didn’t like the spinach dumplings and loved the prawn and truffle dumplings. They did all have a rather ‘sticky’ texture though but having not had much dim sum I am not sure if this is the norm or because they were gluten free!
My absolute favourite dish though was not any of the dumplings but the pork belly appetiser. It was amazing – I definitely recommend this!
We only ordered dim sum and appetisers as we visited for lunch but people were eating some incredible looking main dishes too. For anyone non gluten free the wontons and barbecue pork steamed buns were favourites of Paul and Hughs, and Louise who is vegetarian loved the salt and pepper crispy tofu.
There were also two gluten free desserts on the menu so Louise and I shared them both. A rich, fudgy and indulgent dark chocolate cake and pavlova with fresh fruits and raspberry coulis.
Both were divine and again highly recommended.
Dim sum with dessert and green tea came to about £35pp.
A Mexican restaurant in Kowloon that we tried for lunch with gluten free enchiladas on the menu. I managed to eat using the translation card and a lot of hassle as even though the tortillas were marked as gluten free on the menu, it took me ages to be understood that I also wanted to check the enchilda ingredients!
Picada, a Latin American restaurant that we visited for lunch was one of my favourite restaurants of the trip. With a funky vibe and plenty of gluten free options, I could have cried with happiness when they said that the Columbian empanadas were not cooked in a shared fryer! I ordered the mixed empanadas that included one chicken,one beef and one veggie whereas Louise ordered three veggie ones.
With lots of sharing options it would be a great location for a sociable dinner, but for lunch I had the empanadas to myself with a pisco sour. Paul had tacos and a beer and it came to about £25 each.
Paul and I absolutely love Vietnamese food since we visited Vietnam in 2012. Luke Nguyen, a celebrity chef in Australia is someone we have followed on TV since the trip and we ate the most incredible meal at his restaurant The Red Lantern in Sydney. Therefore I was very excited to find that he also had a restaurant in Hong Kong.
However, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of help or attention that they gave me regarding gluten free options compared to when I was in Sydney. They did say the pho and summer rolls were gluten free so I managed to eat here but they didn’t try and attempt to go through anything else on the menu and the service was nothing like that of Red Lantern.
I did however manage to get lunch of exactly those items – summer rolls and a bowl of pho and it was a perfectly timed lunch as it started throwing it down with rain as we got to the restaurant. Paul as always loved this meal too!
A Mexican, hidden away down a small alley this restaurant came highly recommended on social media.
All their tacos except one with breaded fish were gluten free. On Mondays and Tuesdays they also have taco deals, and we washed them all down with jugs of margarita! Tacos and margaritas came to about £40 each and we had a fantastic night here.
Do take care here though as I was told the guacamole and chips and the nachos were gluten free. It was only when I asked what was cooked in the fryer with the breaded fish that I found out that all the tortilla chips were fried with it. I tried to order them anyway without being fried but they had already been fried in advance so please take care here if you are coeliac.
We loved this restaurant so much that we went twice! With a gluten free menu, vegetarian menu and easily walkable from our hotel it was a great restaurant to pick for an easy meal on the first night. I ordered the pad thai and washed it down with an amazing coconut mojito, one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had!
We returned towards the end of our holiday, and ordered lots to share on this occasion. This included the ‘Babi Guling’ suckling pig, red thai prawn curry, vegetarian pad thai, Nasi Goreng and Thai fiery fried rice.
On this occasion a different member of staff brought our food out to the table to the person who took the food order and there had been a mix up in the kitchen with the rice not being made gluten free (think it had crispy shallots on top that should have been removed) and when I double checked if it was all gluten free he said yes. Fortunately the waitress that took our order walked past and realised that the order was wrong and took the two rice dishes away to be remade, but shows how easy it is for things to go wrong!
Found thanks to Carries blog post on Hong Kong we decided to eat at La Creperie on pancake day! It was also really convenient as it was randomly located next door to our hotel and open until 11pm making it perfect for a casual meal after our day at Disneyland.
The buckwheat crepes here are gluten free so I had them with savoury toppings for a main and sweet toppings (think snickers – caramel, chocolate and nuts) for a dessert. The menu stated that they use the same equipment for wheat products but I asked them to clean it first. Again I was relying on coeliacs having successfully eaten here, my translation card and my additional requests for the restaurant to follow cross contamination measures. I ate two crepes here without getting ill, but like anywhere with a mixed kitchen you will need to decide for yourself whether you want to eat here.
A chain I have eaten at many times safely in the US and Rio, we often go here when on holiday. They normally have a disclaimer on the menu about not guaranteeing that your food will be free of cross contamination which is the case in many non dedicated restaurants. I personally though have always got on well here with staff able to talk me through the menu and safe options.
I had read mixed reviews about Outback in Hong Kong but we still gave the one in Kowloon a go as it was located near to the Shangri-La. The member of staff couldn’t have been more helpful. I stuck to the ribs and jacket potato, my go to order that I know is normally ok and means that you don’t have to ask so many questions about fryers for chips. The waitress went and checked this meal with the chef and came back to tell me that their sauce was not gluten free for the ribs but they were able to do the ribs plain still with the jacket potato. I thought they would be a bit too plain, but in the end they weren’t as they were seasoned well and still a great meal and I felt relaxed eating here. It really can all depend on the person serving you and how much they are willing to check ingredients and cooking processes but my experience was a good one!
Shangri-La Kowloon Tapas Bar
After a day out in Kowloon in all the markets and surviving on snacks from the UK whilst everyone else sampled the street food I wanted some food when I was back at the hotel. Paul and my friends are great at letting me pick safe restaurants but I wanted them to have the chance to try some of the more local options whilst at the markets rather than just westernised restaurants. Staying at the Shangri-La meant that I knew that I would be able to get something when I got back. (Not that that took away the pain of watching everyone else eat ice cream filled waffles!)
I opted to eat at the Tapas Bar so that it was more informal for me to be the only one eating and picked this mega plate off their menu. The chef went to get this gluten free bread from one of the other restaurants in the hotel so that this tapas plate could be made for me. It was insanely good, although did probably cost more than the other three spent at the markets all day between them!
7-Eleven stores were everywhere in Hong Kong! In them I spotted some safe snacks depending on the size of the store, including Soy Joy bars (a cereal bar I lived on in Japan once I’d learnt the kanji for wheat and barley and could work out which flavours were safe!) and Kettle chips imported from the US. My favourite find though was the Haagen Dazs ice cream with ingredients listed in English. The small tubs were great for a sweet treat, or when I fancied dessert when none on the menu were gluten free. Plus is it really a holiday if you don’t eat icecream daily?!
This list is all the other places that I was recommended and/or contacted ahead of my trip and desperately wanted to visit, but I just didn’t have enough time:
A new 100% gluten free restaurant that was a bit far out from Central for us to get to, but they had photos of the most amazing looking cakes!
A high end Chinese restaurant with a gluten free menu. I really wanted to eat here because of the fact they could serve gluten free Chinese but it was just too fancy for what we wanted after a day of sightseeing, and given Hong Kong prices I’m sure this would have been extortionate.
Gough’s on Gough was a restaurant serving British cuisine, another high end choice that was located near our hotel in Central that we didn’t get a chance to try. Recommended by #coeliacbites they responded very quickly when I emailed them about their gluten free options and cross contamination measures:
“Chef Cary and his team will certainly be able to cater for your dietary restrictions. All dietary restrictions are very carefully adhered to by our team. It would be a great pleasure to host you at Gough’s on Gough”.
#Coeliacbites also recommended Brasserie on the Eighth at Conrad hotel and said that they could do a bottomless brunch. Their email response stated that they could specially prepare the gluten free bread, gluten free mushroom soup, salad and a main dish. They attached a tailor made gluten free menu which cost HK$830+10% for my reference (about £83+10%!) They said that they didn’t have a gluten free menu for brunch but that they would be able to do some dishes.
#Coeliacbites was also about to give Old Bailey a try when we were discussing gluten free options in Hong Kong. The Old Bailey had gluten free options marked on the menu including crispy duck. They responded to my email about cross contamination stating that they had gluten free options but no extra space for preparing the dishes. I didn’t respond any further but may be worth trying to find out more if they can prepare it safely despite the lack of separate space if you want to try the duck or anything else listed on their menu!
#hongkong.glutenfree gave me lots of gluten free options in Hong Kong. However, they did state that they weren’t coeliac so to be careful if you try any of their recommendations to ensure that they take cross contamination measures. Frantzen’s Kitchen, a high end Nordic choice seemed to be a favourite recommendation.
Italian fine dining restaurant on the 100th floor of the ICC building.
Pasta bar with some gluten free options.
A fancy Japanese restaurant that had gluten free soy sauce.
Option to pre order sandwiches.
A vegetarian option that was recommended several times. However, I also read many reviews that said it wasn’t safe if you were coeliac and that they took no cross contamination measures so be careful if you decide to give them a go.
Another vegetarian restaurant with gluten free options.
Argentian steak house that I was told only used the grill for meat.
#Lorileysesh recommended Yard Bird from her Hong Kong stopover. I emailed them and they said they do not have a separate gluten free menu but that these items could be made gluten free upon request – edamame; grilled maitake mushrooms; cucumber, daikon and fennel pickles; all yakitori except for the green miso breast, meatball and fillet; yellowtail salad; Korean fried cauliflower; fried chicken and the mushroom rice. They wrote that due to the small size of the kitchen and the limited number of fryers and grills, they can not guarantee that cross contamination will not occur.
When I followed it up with a further email to check whether the fried chicken was actually gluten free due to the comment about shared fryers and the response was that they only have two fryers at Yardbird so right now their ‘gluten free fried chicken’ is cooked in the same fryer that cooks items containing gluten. The email then said that there may be a high chance that the gluten free items listed in the previous email [the items listed above] are prepared using pans, chopping boards etc that are used to prepare other dishes on our menu that contain gluten.
In the end I decided not to risk eating here but at least they were upfront about the cross contamination risks that may be the same in many shared kitchens. I wouldn’t eat from a shared fryer though so I was disappointed not to be able to get the fried chicken. The email however does imply that this is not a permanent thing so may be worth emailing or trying if you visit to see if by then they have separate fryers! Both Loriley and Alex #theglutenfreesuitcase have had success in getting the most amazing looking chicken rice from here though.
#Forglutensake has a blog post on Hong Kong and one of the recommendations was for Knead for gluten free sandwiches.
A healthy/paleo eatery also recommended on #forglutensake blog post.
I really wanted to go here and had emailed ahead to reserve a gluten free afternoon tea. They don’t take reservations so it is a case of queuing on the day at this iconic hotel. However, the queue was extremely long and not a fast moving process since everyone ahead of you is sitting eating afternoon tea so we didn’t wait and I was gutted to miss it! We perhaps made the mistake of going on a weekend day so maybe try on a weekday for less of a queue.
When I emailed about the gluten free afternoon tea this was their response:
“Please note that all of our food items identified as gluten free are bought from outside the hotel from specialised producers. Meaning, we do not produce any gluten-free items within our premises. This is very important to prevent cross contamination. We take the subject very seriously and want to ensure that our guests are safe”. They also asked for advance notice to be able to prepare.
In a follow up email I asked if the afternoon tea came with gluten free scones and this was their email reply:
“It also includes a selection of finger sandwiches, home made afternoon tea pastries, freshly baked gluten free scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves. For the finger sandwiches, which are rice paper, lettuce, mango, rice noodle, beef with mango dressing, poached shrimps and lobster butter with gluten free white bread, grilled eggplant with eggplant caviar and tuna in oil, cucumber, quinoa, slow cooked chicken with green peas. For the pastries which are chocolate disc with passionfruit cream and fresh mango, samba tea and strawberry granite, white chocolate cocoa nibs, chesnut mousse and chocolate cup with hazelnut cream and chocolate Chantilly”.
The Mandarin Hotel was another hotel that gave me a very helpful email response when I emailed to ask about gluten free options and whether they could provide an afternoon tea gluten free. They said the following:
“After a review with our culinary team we do use separate oil for frying and fresh water for pasta dishes. On the other hand, we do not have a kitchen or area designed and restricted to gluten free products”.
“Yes we do a gluten free afternoon tea, without scones. Specific sandwiches and desserts will be provided and advance booking is required”.
“All day dining restaurants such as Café Causette has a few gluten free options clearly labelled on the menu such as pasta, salad, clear soup, bread and desserts”.
An Italian with gluten free options located in Kowloon.
A restaurant with British cuisine located on Lantau Island, with options that included fish and chips using dedicated fryers. Unfortunately this was too far out of our way for a visit!
Do not make the same mistake as me on missing out on this restaurant and book in advance!! I had underestimated how popular it is and I couldn’t get a reservation, something I was gutted about as this was their reply on Instagram when I messaged about gluten free options:
“Our sabzi and deg dishes, except for the Mughal room makhana are gluten free. As well as all our tandoori grill dishes. We use a separate tandoor to cook the breads and try our best to separate ingredients although, we have to stress there is always a chance of cross contamination”.
Blog posts/websites on Hong Kong that I recommend:
Sightseeing in Hong Kong
We took the tram up The Peak and managed to dodge the rain for some clear views – a must do on a trip to Hong Kong!
On the way back down we stopped at the coffee shop, where Paul had a cereal bar that was actually labelled gluten free. I also saw moo free chocolate at one of the shops if you’re after gluten and dairy free chocolate, but it did cost about £9!
We took the cable car up to the Big Buddha.
Whilst there were quite a few shops and restaurants there I just took food with me to save the hassle of trying to find somewhere for me to eat and for the others be able to eat where they wanted! The kebabs that they all had did smell amazing but it was far less stressful just having my own food whilst away from the centre of Hong Kong.
Avenue of Stars
Costing about 37p using the Octopus card to cross between Hong Kong and Kowloon this ferry ride is a must!
Temple Street Night Market
Happy Valley Racing
As mentioned previously, I took food into the horse racing with me that I had bought at Sweetpea Cafe! Fortunately they had wine for a gluten free drink option!
The science museum helped fill a couple of rainy hours but we actually really enjoyed it – especially all the puzzles!
We were also going to go to the space museum but it was ridiculously busy (it was a Sunday) so we gave it a miss.
I did spot gluten and dairy free snacks in the gift shop too though before we decided not to visit!
Another stop to shelter from the rain meant a quick stop off for Paul and Hugh to play on the retro arcade games in an underground games arcade that made us feel like we were back in Japan!
A smaller Disneyland with a small castle but we enjoyed a day at the park. I had read that Main Street Café can cater for dietary requirements but I just took food with me.
However, I did use my language card at one of the snack carts, asking about the icecreams. They read the card and quickly found me the correct information. The allergen information stated that the two sherbet ice creams and the mickey ice cream were may contains whilst the Minnie bar and the orange ice lolly looked safe. I ordered the Minnie ice cream only for that to actually be a may contain on the wrapper so do be careful!
We didn’t visit this theme park, but wish we had!
Some final top tips for Hong Kong:
- Pack your rain jackets, we had a lot of rain!
- I also used an umbrella to protect my bag, or a backpack with a waterproof cover is a good idea!
- Buy an Octopus card, works like an Oyster card in London – top it up and it can be used on the underground, to go up The Peak, on the ferry between Hong Kong and Kowloon and even to pay for entrance tickets and on some vending machines. Travel using this was really cheap.
- Just to reiterate, Hong Kong food is expensive so be prepared to pay a bit more than London prices for a lot of these places in this guide.
- Travel with snacks especially outside Central Hong Kong.
- I took gluten free bread, cereal bars, crackers and a couple of treats to help keep me going whilst I was away!
We had an amazing time in Hong Kong, but not without it’s challenges. There were times that we had to pay more for Westernised restaurants rather than eating local food and several times that I survived on snacks whilst the others ate the most incredible looking, and smelling, gluteny items. There were also a lot of mixed kitchens where I was relying on the translation card for staff to take cross contamination precautions which in itself at times could be very stressful. This is a guide of where I ate, without getting sick, but they are not 100% gluten free restaurants so you will need to assess the risk for yourself on the day you visit as staff and experiences can be so different and of course change. However, for me it was all worth it to still be able to travel the World. If you decide to visit Hong Kong as a coeliac, I hope you have the BEST time!