There is a proverb about Shanghai which says, “Shanghai is heaven for the rich, hell for the poor“. I would say instead that China is heaven for those with no food allergies/intolerance, hell for those who do! For me that means no gluten. Shanghai, however, did manage to provide a range of gluten free options. I hope this list can help other coeliacs venturing to the ‘Paris of the East’.
As mentioned in my gluten free travel in China guide, I recommend trying to find an Airbnb with self-catering facilities. We managed to stay at a fantastic Airbnb during our time in Shanghai and having the option of cooking definitely helped, as while there were more restaurants serving gluten free food in Shanghai than elsewhere we have visited/lived in China, there are nowhere near as many as in the UK.
The greatest joy in Shanghai though was that some restaurants actually know what gluten is and provide clearly labelled gluten free dishes on their menu! An experience I’ve only had one other time in China (Moka Bros in Chengdu). So here is a list of the places I ate at.
Hunter Gatherer was definitely our favourite of the restaurants we tried. Whilst the ground floor is a small shop selling some organic fruit and veg, the first floor is a large, open space, Instagram-worthy restaurant. Whilst it’s isn’t a vegetarian restaurant their are loads of veggie options. We ate the HG bowls which let you choose a base (rice or noodles), protein and vegetables from the different dishes displayed. Each dish is clearly labelled if it’s gluten free.
There are also plenty of gluten free cakes and biscuits to try from if the HG bowls don’t fill you up. We tried this gluten free chocolate cookie!
Sprout Lifestyle is another restaurant which can be found above a shop. This restaurant had one advantage over Hunter Gatherer – it sold wine! However, their menu had a lot less choice when it came to gluten free options, but all their dishes are either vegetarian or vegan. Both the soups were gluten free, as well as one or two of the salads. I had the soup, and whilst it was lovely it wasn’t exactly filling for a main meal.
Bastiaan’s Bakery on Laowai street can provide a range of gluten free bread, muffins and cakes. However, you will need to contact the cafe (either by phone or in person) and make an order for the gluten free products. Two days later you will be able to pick them up. The french bread I ordered tasted like actual bread and the muffins were good too.
The actual restaurant of Bastiaan’s Bakery doesn’t have any gluten free items on the menu, but the staff understand what gluten is and were willing to check with the chef regarding ingredients.
A quick scan of Disneyland Shanghai’s English website led me to this delightfully confusing page; in which it says that several of the Disney restaurants can accommodate common food allergies, but it doesn’t tell you which restaurants they are (there are like a billion restaurants so I wanted to be sure which ones I could eat at rather than trudging around all of them on the day of the visit).
Whilst it says those with lifestyle dietary requirements don’t have to make arrangements in advance, I don’t really see coeliac disease as a “lifestyle choice”, so I decided to contact the Disneyland helpline. You will need a Chinese sim card to do this unless you want to international phone charges! The staff do speak English which is helpful.
The webpage tells you to “contact the restaurant manager and sous chef” to make dietary inquiries, so when someone answered my call, I asked them which dining facilities could cater for gluten free. After being put through to someone else, they listed three different restaurants I could make a reservation for, and the staff would be told in advance of my dietary requirement. I asked for the cheapest option – she said Lumiere’s Kitchen, which provides a buffet lunch, for 388 yuan per person (approx £38). In a state of shock, I thanked her and hung up.
If you want to eat in one of the Disneyland restaurants, I recommend the Royal Banqueting Hall, which is slighly more expensive than Lumiere’s Kitchen, but has the advantage of being in the Castle and very close to the rides. Lumiere’s Kitchen was located in Disney Town, which means you have to leave the park to get to it, which seems like a right hassle.
If, like me, the idea of paying £38 to massive multinational corporation (that already makes enough money thank-you-very-much) read on to see my alternative guide to eating gluten free (spoiler alert: SNEAK IN FOOD).
Taking your own food
The Disneyland website says that you shouldn’t take in food from outside the resort (more on this later) but Jonny’s coat pockets are fairly big and we weren’t taking a bag so we were fairly certain we could sneak a few things in. Before getting the Metro we headed to Family Mart (they are literally everywhere in Shanghai and in most metro stations).
From here, we got some rice triangles for approx 3 yuan. Not all the flavours are gluten free, so check before buying. We also bought a snickers bar. In hindsight, I definitely would bought more food – there were only a few snack stands in Disney land and the only things they sold that were gluten free were some over-priced popcorn.
Also, we needn’t have worried about sneaking in food. Whilst the staff do check your bags on arrival, they didn’t seem to be checking for food and no-one was having their food confiscated. Only one of the rides that I went on wouldn’t allow you to take your bag (the Tron ride) but there were lockers provided.
Day trips from Shanghai
The fantastic chain Moka Bros has just opened up a restaurant in Hangzhou, so if you decide to go on a day trip to see the West Lake, be sure to have lunch there. Plenty of gluten free options on their menu, which are all clearly marked.
This is where I failed. I was unable to find anything safe to eat in Suzhou (apart from a McDonalds at the railway station). I spent most of the day feeling cold, hungry and miserable. I recommend taking a packed lunch. If any fellow coeliacs do go to Suzhou and manage to find anything, please let me know!