Naturally Gluten-Free Foods in Southern India: My favorite things

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barista.jpgcafebarista.jpgHot Coffee Drinks
I’m a Seattle girl through and through, and life just wouldn’t be worth living without espresso, or at least some good strong coffee. Thanks to the dot com boom and globalization, India has hopped on the gourmet coffee bandwagon and has several chains that are relatively easy to find, at least in Bangalore and other big, cosmopolitan cities. My favorites are Cafe Coffee Day and Cafe Barista. There was a Cafe Barista down the street from our hotel. There was also a nearby Cafe Coffee Day but to get there you had to cross one of the busiest streets in Bangalore, literally taking your life in your hands. (There are very few crosswalks in India.) I prefer the coffee at Cafe Coffee Day but Cafe Barista is pretty good as well. They all offer lovely iced beverages that are off limits to tourists unaccustomed to Indian water. A hot coffee, tea, espresso beverage should be fine. Wikipedia entry on Cafe Coffee Day

masalacoffee.jpgIf you’d rather have something more uniquely Indian you can have a masala coffee or other heavily sweetened milk coffee. I accompanied DH to his Bangalore office and typed blog posts (and academic papers) like a little mouse in the corner. The kind man in charge of refreshments always brought me a lovely, heavily sweetened milk coffee in a pretty porcelain cup that I enjoyed with some of the GF biscotti I’d brought. (photo on left) Coffee break time was my favorite part of the day!

mecorn.jpghotandjuicy.jpgHot & Juicy Corn Snacks
Who would have thought that India would be a great place to find steamed corn available as a snack from kiosks? Hot & Juicy has stands all over India, including outside the Forum shopping mall in Bangalore and outside the domestic airport terminal in Delhi. Some of their larger kiosks may diversify, but the small ones just have steamed corn, available in a variety of flavors from masala, chili, to plain butter. Probably the safest thing to order is steamed corn without any seasonings (not on the menu but you can try asking for it), or their “butter” variety, as spices may contain small amounts of wheat. At some kiosks they use one pan to mix the corn with whatever seasonings you order, so IF there is gluten in any of the spice mixes, there is a cross-contamination risk. I walked on the wild side and ordered one with butter and the spicy chili or masala flavor. they were both good. Some of the other seasoning are, um, interesting.

breakfast.jpgmasalatri.jpgRice Idli for breakfast
Two dishes that South India is most famous for are the delightful and naturally gluten free snacks idli and dosa. Both snacks are made of rice and urad dal lentils that have been ground and fermented into a batter. When thinned, it is used for dosa, a thin and crispy rice crepe made on a large hot skillet, usually seasoned with oil or ghee, clarified butter. Potential for CC is high if the restaurant also makes Rava Dosa, the same batter with semolina wheat added, on the same surface. A thicker batter is used for idli, round rice disks that are steamed and then eaten with chutney and sambar soup. These are ideal hangover, food-poisoning, or gluten-recovery food, as they are very bland and easy on the stomach. Idli are steamed in metal molds that should be washed between batches, so this dish should be safer than dosa even if rava idli are prepared with the same molds. Also the idli should not contain (much) oil or ghee, although the mold MAY be oiled. Uttapam is another similar gluten-free bread that is made from the same ingredients but cooked into a flat pancake, usually with vegetable toppings. Again our hotel was out of control with the oil they used, but this can be a delicious snack. Just check ingredients for safety, especially if dining at a fusion restaurant.While I love a good dosa more than anything, our hotel dosa oozed with oil and was so greasy I learned to avoid it. Also, coconut chutney is my favorite, but their chutney was heavily watered and gave me traveler’s stomach issues. ahem. So, I stuck with idli and sambar soup for breakfast. *some sambar spice blends may contain hing or asafoetida, a spice often cut with wheat flour. ask your server or read label carefully.* I paired that with the lovable baby bananas and amazingly fresh pineapple offered at our breakfast buffet. Occasionally they had vegetable dishes that were tasty- a corn and green pea dish and a cauliflower rosemary dish were the stars of our stay.

pizzadosa.jpg My post on how to make dosa at home
My post on how to make stuffed idli from scratch at home

*The food court at the forum had a dosa and idli stand with onion, cheese, masala (a delicious potato filling), and a cheese masala option, among others. The inside of their cheese masala dosa was brushed with tomato sauce, covered in cheese, and then filled with masala potatoes. It tasted like pizza! I would probably leave off the masala potato and just try a cheese tomato sauce basted dosa. Very, very yum. Gotta love fusion food. (see photo on lower right)


paneerpulao.jpgriceplus.jpgLong-grain White Rice
Rice, rice, how I love you. Even the “bread” culture of North India offers patrons the option of rice with their curries. Plain steamed rice should be one of the safest dishes in any restaurant. If stress over CC’d spice blends are getting your down, or you’re just not feeling well, a big plate of steamed rice soothes the crankiest of tummies. You are unlikely to find short grained rice unless you go to a Japanese or other international restaurant, and brown rice can be hard to come by, so enjoy the loose, long strands of rice for their own merits. I ate mine with a variety of delicious “wet” and “dry” curries, and also enjoyed it in Paneer pulao, a pilaf dish with cheese cubes and mild seasonings. Yum! There’s no culture like a rice culture for the gluten-intolerant traveler.

salad.jpgtamarind.jpgSalads of Raw Red Onion, Lime, and salt
It sounds strange, but one of my favorite things in India was the salads, and I don’t mean a wimpy lettuce salad. (Probably not a good idea with traveler’s water concerns anyway.) I found the simple salads offered at places like Tamarind Restaurant in Bangalore refreshing and tasty, especially paired with a rich dish in gravy. My new favorite way to dress raw vegetables like tomatoes and red onions is to sprinkle salt on them and add a squeeze of lime. So tart! So refreshing. Yum. BTW we enjoyed our dining experiences at the Tamarind in Koramangla very much but the seafood is not recommended. Like many restaurants in India, power and refrigeration can be an issue.

I hope you’ve enjoyed traveling along with me to India. I’d love to hear your feedback, either if you’ve visited India, or are thinking about visiting the country. Do you feel more or less like India could be a good destination for the gluten-free traveler? I hope my story gives you confidence to travel to India, and also offers some helpful survival tips once you arrive.

As with any dining experience, there are certainly risks of CC, and there seems to be little general awareness of allergies and food-intolerances, making it difficult to convey dietary needs even if everyone speaks the same language. It is however a wonderful place for the vegetarian traveler, and sometimes you can couch requests as strict vegetarian requests and they will be taken very seriously. For example, one posh Bangalore lounge we visited had a green thai curry on the menu. When I asked it turned out that although there was no soy sauce, it contained fish sauce. When I hesitated, they offered to leave it out. I got the feeling other vegetarian diners had made this request before. It turned out to be one of the most delicious things I enjoyed. If you are planning a trip to India, I would highly recommend learning as many words for gluten ingredients in Hindi and other regional languages as possible. Also, research the food of the region you will be visiting. If you’re planning an extended stay, consider an apartment with a kitchen- preparing your own food really is the safest way to go, and then you can have more control over the number of dining risks you take. It took a little time for me to learn what foods worked for me, mostly by research, trial and error- not only because of my restrictions from Celiac, but also because of normal travelers issues in India. It helped to compare notes with friends along on the trip. I often found that the same things (seafood, watery chutneys) affected my non-Celiac friend that affected me, allowing me to (mostly) rule out gluten as the relevant issue.

This is my last post on India, so, for the last time, Farewell, India! Farewell, Bangalore, and Agra, and Delhi. Thank you for the delicious flavors, gorgeous sights, and the memories.
I’ll never forget this trip.

-Sea, January 2008


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Coming up next…

Gluten-Free Vegetarian Bento: Gobo Kinpira Recipe, Lotus Root Sesame Stir Fry Recipe, and Inari Zushi Recipe
Posts on Gluten-Free travel in Austria and reviews of GF Reformhaus products in Europe

And, BOOK OF YUM is remodeling. Watch over the next week to see our brand new look unveiled!


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8 Responses to “Naturally Gluten-Free Foods in Southern India: My favorite things”

  1. I can’t wait to see your new look on the site, and I always love your photos. beautiful!

  2. Thank you Karen! I’m excited about the changes ahead- I’m hoping to make the site more user-friendly. :) The organization has been bugging me for a while. The new design should be fun, too.. lots of new pictures!

    -sea

  3. Hey I am a South Indian and know about all the tastes of Southern India but the way you have described it is so tasty. I have a blog written about some places in India, just visit the site.

  4. Hi Priya, thanks! Please enjoy some tasty South Indian dish for me today- I already miss the food! :)
    -Sea

  5. So jealous, so jealous! I want to go to India and Thailand so badly and being Celiac will certainly not stop me, so thanks for all your tips! I am so far behind on reading my blogs and it seems in that time you have traveled the entire world! Was the trip for work and pleasure?
    I have been planning my trip to Seattle and Portland for Feb/Mar and can’t wait to try the fish and chips! Any other tips or places I should try? Esp in Seattle or the Oregon coast.

  6. Hey there! I seriously love your blog!
    Now for totally non food/blog part. I’m actually taking a class right now called global issues. Our big topic of discussion is globalization which we are learning has no clear definition. I noticed you referenced it here and curious (if you don’t mind that is!!) What your off the top of your head definition/idea is. It was interesting to hear everyones different ideas in class, so really im just nosy and would like to hear more!

    Thanks!
    L

  7. [...] it has such a strong vegetarian tradition, but also because, spice cross contamination aside, Indian cuisine is often naturally gluten-free. Dishes have layers and layers of delicious spices enhancing perfectly simmered vegetables, and can [...]

  8. hey ppl…m anukriti…ma brother is sufferin frm celiac disease(he cnt eat wheat)…so if u guyz can help in finding ome wheat free store in india…!

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