Having Celiac Disease In South Korea

Since I’ve written about being vegetarian in South Korea, I decided to gather information and testimonies from the internet in this article about celiac disease.

I hope this article is helpful to those interested.

What can you eat and where can you find it?

As you already know the ‘Korean menu’ is very varied and you can find rice (obviously), fish, vegetables, meat, and fruit. So I think you can prepare simple dishes based on rice, meat, and vegetables to survive in the event of ‘panic of the first week’.
In Seoul, and like in all major Korean cities, there are super and hypermarkets where you can find a fairly satisfying variety of products that you can eat. One of the most famous is Homeplus where, as mentioned on the web, often you can find an area for ‘gluten-free’ foods. In the supermarkets, you can also find rice noodles.

But what can you eat outside the home?

The problem with Korean food is that often it is about marinated or fermented dishes, with who knows how many ingredients/ spices/sauces.

Sauces or ingredients that contain gluten are:

chili paste – 고추장;
bean paste -된장;
soy sauce – 간장.

The most common and bland dish is the 비빔밥, confirmed by many celiac people who loved it. It is rice with boiled vegetables and meat. It is often served with a huge fried egg on top of everything. Koreans are not used to cooking vegetables for the bibimbap in soy sauce, but it is always better to ask. In addition, it could be served directly with chili sauce inside, it is better to specify at the time of order that you want it without.
There is also the 삼겹살, the Korean BBQ. Often it is pork cooked on a grill placed in the middle of the table. It’s excellent because you practically cook it yourself and you can be sure that no sauces have been added. It is accompanied by numerous side dishes, boiled rice, and lettuce leaves. The typical way of eating it is to roll the meat with the boiled rice in the salad leaf, very similar to the 불고기.
김치 찌개, from the name you can understand that being kimchi is a rather spicy dish. It is a soup that is eaten with pork and rice. It is NOT made with soy sauce BUT I am not sure about the spicy, which should be obtained with chili powder and therefore gluten-free, but in restaurants, you never know so ask before to be sure.
곰탕 is a soup with boiled beef. There should not be sauces or pastes added. In order not to risk, ask to bring it without noodles. Great to eat with a bowl of rice.
Yummy is the 김밥, it is similar to the Japanese sushi-roll. It consists of boiled rice, vegetables, and tuna or ham rolled in dried seaweed. Beware of ham that you are never sure if it is really gluten-free. However, there are a lot of places/restaurants where they do it at the moment so you can choose the ingredients and specify what you can not eat. These are chains, so you can find more or less everywhere, the most common are 김밥 나라 – The country of Kimbap – or 김밥 천국 – The paradise of Kimbap –

In conclusion, I recommend everyone to bring something from home to resist at least the first few weeks. I recognize that having food allergies in Asia is rather inconvenient, so it takes time to explore and adapt.

Always ask if the dish you want to order has been cooked/marinated in soy sauce or if there is bean paste or chili pepper.

Useful phrases

Does it contain chili paste?       고추장 들어 있어요?

Does it contain bean paste?         된장 들어 있어요?

Contains soy sauce?          간장 들어 있어요?

Please give it to me without chili paste.          고추장 없이 주세요

Please give it to me without bean paste.          된장 없이 주세요

Please give it to me without soy sauce.          간장 없이 주세요

I can not eat (-).          저는 (-) 먹지 못합니다

I’m celiac.          저는 셀리 악 병 가지고 있어요

Useful words


Cheese          치즈

Dairy products          유제품

Eggs          계란

Milk          우유

Sugar          설탕


Flour          밀가루

Soy sauce          간장

Pepper paste          고추장

Bean paste          된장

Celiac          셀리악 병

Gluten-free          글루텐 프리

I hope that the article will help you and that it has been quite exhaustive.
If you have some more information or want to tell us about your experience, leave us a comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *