My Gluten-Free Experience in Seoul
A small note...
I would like to preface this by stating that my experience with a gluten-free diet was strictly medical, where I was put on the diet at a rather short notice. Having to medically refrain from gluten means that even gluten-contaminated products are off limits, and that means anything that was produced in the same kitchen or factory as something that contained gluten. For one to better understand my situation here, a "gluten-free" sandwich made at say, Subway, can never be gluten free (unless they dedicate an entire kitchen/workspace for those orders) even when all ingredients used to make the sandwich truly are gluten free. It remains a fact that different people have different experiences with dietary restrictions, where someone with gluten-intolerance would have no issues with gluten-contaminated foods or small amounts of gluten even. I would like to reiterate that this was not the case with me, as we were suspicious of Celiac's disease, and I had to strictly eliminate all gluten and possibilities of gluten from my diet especially since we were trying to find out how my body would respond.
"This isn't sustainable," I thought to myself.
Walking down the pavement in a hurry whilst carrying a small take-out bag stuffed with gluten-free goodies, some of which are supposed to be frozen, and then being faced with an hour-long metro commute is extremely difficult. Sunnybread is this wonderful, fully gluten-free cafe located in the Seoul Forest area, and I relied upon it quite alot in my first few weeks of being in Seoul mainly due to the sheer extensiveness of their menu. They have everything from cakes and scones to salads and sandwiches, with many vegan options as well for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant. My reliance on this place has alot to do with the fact that alot of the other places that have just a few "gluten-free" options cause me quiet a bit of anxiety to eat at just because of aforementionned contamination concerns. That is not to say that I did not eat at said places - Paris Baguette is much more convenient as it is available practically everywhere and they have these wonderful gluten-free macarons (vanilla bean, salted caramel, and blueberry are my favorites!) and ice cream mochi. I used an application called HappyCow to help me find some of these places and I find that it is really useful due to the detailed reviews of restaurants along with many pictures of the food or what is available on the menu.
I will be including some review of sorts of the places I have tried at the bottom of this blog after briefly talking about my struggles with maintaining such a diet here as a university student. One thing I had to learn to accept was how rare it is to find something that is labelled as gluten-free. Our next best bet is to look at the ingredients list and check on allergen information, which of course, is all in Korean here but was thakfully not an issue for me (just be prepared to know your allergens in Korean). You would usually find a section like this one below which essentially is the allergen infromation section:
The thing with Celiac's is yet again, cross-contamination, and for some reason there's no avoiding the "may contain gluten" label (amongst many other allergens). This is usually shown at the bottom of the food nutrition label, just like this:
So, given the fact that I am a living being that needs to feed myself in order to be able to carry out my basic daily functions, I just had to brace myself and ignore the little warning label. As long as I was paying attention to the ingredients and allergen information section, I would be fine.
Soy sauce is not gluten-free :(
I don't know about all of you, but I was really taken back when I found out about this (mainly because I found out so late)...
The actual review...
Moving on, I would really like to talk about the places I tried here, my reviews and personal recommendation of each place. I was unable to try every single gluten-free place in Seoul mainly due to the fact that cafes here are continuously opening up and the health trend here is on the rise resulting in many new vegan and gluten-free cafes. Of course, I say this very proudly as this means that there are more and more options for those with dietary restrictions - I just hope that this is reflected in a more general level such as the food available at grocery and convenience stores with time. It is quite hard to have to prepare your own food at the dormitory every. single. day. and three times a day at that.
Without further adieu, here is a list of the cafes (and their instagrams!) I have tried along with a *relatively* short review
- Sunnybread (@sunnybreadkr): They have two branches, one in Huam and one in the Ttukseom/Seoul Forest area (which is the only one I have been to). I find that their menu is the most extensive and you really can't go wrong choosing anything on there - every single item on the menu is delectable. My favourites are the mugwort & red bean cake, chocopie cake, and the salted caramel cream pot. Honorable mentions are the cookies and the dirty choco cream pot! I also tried their smoked salmon sandwhich that I also really liked.
- The Bread Blue (@thebreadblue_official): Not everything here is gluten free, but their brownies are to die for. I believe they use a tofu base for it which makes it very creamy and compliments the chocolate flavor very well. They also have these small rice flour financier/madeleine-like desserts (which they keep in the freezer along with the macarons) that I really really love - my favorite being the black sesame flavor. I would really like to emphasize that each and every flavor was absolutely delicious, they did not fail at bringing out whatever flavor it was whether it be mugwort or chocolate! Another thing I liked was the earl grey pound cake (or was it a cake roll?) I tried their rice flour castella and a few flavors of the macarons which were okay, I didn't end up repurchasing them though.
- Paris Baguette (@parisbaguette_kr): This was the most convenient for me as I didn't have to plan out entire commutes to get there - there's a Paris Baguette around every neighborhood in Seoul! It's really unfortunate that they're the one of the most limited in gluten-free options but I feel that it is made up for with the wide range of flavors they always have in stock. As I already mentioned, my favourite macarons are the vanilla bean, salted caramel, and blueberry, with chocolate being a very close competitor. I think the price is also relatively resonable compared to the price at which other cafes sell macarons here in Korea. The ice cream mochis can be found in their freezers and contain no gluten as well - yum!
- For Four Bread (@forfourbread): Again, not everything here is gluten-free but they do have a wider variety of options. From scones to cakes, madeleines, and cookies - they have a physically separate section for their gluten-free items. I tried all (4?) flavors of their scones, which all tasted alright but a little on the drier side (I liked the dried tomato one the best). This was the same for the cookies as well, but I liked those a little better. What I kept going back there for was their madeleines (especially the maple one!) as they were very chewy and just delicious overall. I also tried one of their cakes (I think it was the caramel cheeseake) but there was a peculiar flavor to the "cheese" (maybe because it was vegan?) that I couldn't get used to. Here's a short clip I got of the place the last time I was there:
- Immu Bakeshop (@immu_bake_shop): They only have 2 gluten-free items at a time (out of 3) due to the fact that it is a small cafe located on the 2nd floor in the Hapjeong area. I only tried one of their items, the cherry chocolate mud cake, which I must say I surprisingly really liked. One thing about me is that I hate fruits in my dessert, but I think they complimented the flavor of the chocolate really well (although I must say that I would personally prefer having the chocolate mud cake alone or "plain"). The crumble on top of the cake is so addicting I was picking the crumble dust off my takeout box...
I would also like to mention that I have been wanting to try Duduridupang (@duduri_dupang) and Cafe Interact (@cafe_interact), both of which are entirely gluten free as far as I know, but have been unable to due to the fact that the former has limited opening days/hours and the latter is opening soon!
Today I want to speak on the Topik Test--(the only official) Korean language proficiency exam administered by the Korean government. Taking the Topik exam is a great way to gain a formal gauge of one’s Korean language abilities since it is standardized, although the score is only valid for two years after taking the exam.
Today I will be recounting a little trip to Damyang Bamboo Forest in South Korea! For one weekend in early December, a couple friends and I took a short trip to Gwangju City--leaving Seoul for the last time before the weather got too cold!