Gluten-Free Indian Cuisine, Part 1 of 4: Dining Out

Tired of eating the same meal over and over again?

Here’s to spicing it up a notch.

Over the next few weeks, along with our regular helping of product reviews, restaurant reviews and gluten-free news, Triumph Dining will be posting about Indian food, a cuisine with ingredients that are often mysterious and unfamiliar to the gluten-free consumer. You’ll be surprised to find that most Indian food can be enjoyed entirely gluten-free.

In the first installment of our series, we take you to Haandi Indian Cuisine, a typical Indian restaurant, to show you the ins and outs of making sure your meal is safe and delicious.

Indian Buffet

Haandi’s main dining room was laid out like I expect most Indian restaurants might – white walls with mirrors, neat in appearance, white tablecloths, waiters eager to refill your rapidly diminishing water glasses. Haandi also shared a common feature many Indian restaurants now boast – a lunch buffet, complete with five stainless-steel pots containing foods varying greatly in taste, ingredients and seasonings.

When we sat down, we immediately asked the manager if any of the dishes contained gluten. His response would irk even the most seasoned gluten-free restaurant pros. “Gluten? What’s gluten? Isn’t that in Chinese food?”


When faced with a waiter, chef or manager at an Indian restaurant who’s never heard the word gluten in his life, don’t panic! All will be okay. But before you order, be sure to do the following.

  1. Pass over our Dining Card for Indian Cuisine (shown below), which lists Indian ingredients that often contain gluten and more precautions chefs should take when preparing food that’s gluten-free. The directions are listed in English on the front and Hindi on the back.
  2. Explain to him that wheat, barley and oats contain gluten. We don’t necessarily suggest you mention rye. Why? Rye is an ingredient that’s almost unheard of in India. (In fact, when we created our Dining Card for Indian Cuisine, we consulted with three Hindi translators, none of whom knew what rye was!) Another common mistake – rye is often confused with the identically-pronounced Indian spice rai, which is safe for your consumption.
  3. Finally, be sure to ask if the restaurant has a tandoori oven or tandoor. A tandoor is an extremely hot clay oven used to cook tandoori dishes as well as the wheat-based naan, an Indian flatbread. Often times, chefs will slap the naan onto the sides of the oven when cooking it, creating a “poof!” of flour and a near guarantee for cross-contamination with other dishes inside. Some Indian restaurants have tandoori ovens, others don’t. If your Indian restaurant does not have a tandoori oven, cross-contamination generally is not an issue, but be sure to check with the chef beforehand.
The reverse side of our Dining Card for Indian Cuisine lists, in Hindi, precautions chefs should take when preparing a gluten-free meal. Flip it over, and these same directions are written out in English.

This might seem like a lot to handle, but Indian food is unique in that it is among the few types of cuisines that rarely has hidden sources of gluten. We discussed the main cross-contamination issue earlier. Another gluten-containing ingredient, a spice known as hing (which is listed on our dining card), also causes problems from time to time, as it is often milled with wheat.

Gluten-Free Indian Food

As it turned out, Haandi did have a tandoori oven, making the tandoori chicken entrée in the buffet off-limits. However, the other dishes in the buffet – aloo gobi, dal makhani, saag paneer and chicken tikka – were gluten-free, the chef told us. We sampled them, and all were tasty and delicious. We’ll delve into each of these dishes over the next few weeks and show you how to make them, along with our usual helping of product reviews, restaurant reviews and gluten-free news.

Though we were disappointed that Haandi didn’t offer gluten-free tandoori chicken, it’s a dish that’s easy-to-make at home and tomorrow we’ll show you how.

Are there any other fans of Indian cuisine out there? What are you concerned about when you eat gluten-free at an Indian restaurant? We’d love to answer any questions in later posts in this series so let us know!

11 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Indian Cuisine, Part 1 of 4: Dining Out”

  1. I didn’t know that Hing contained gluten. This is the first time that I have come across this information. We use Hing at home as it is an essential ingredient in sambhar. Sambhar gets its unique flavour partly because of Hing. Thanks for the info.

  2. I have had the experience recently and a few years ago that a server at an Indian restaurant said that a certain bred was ok because it was made with “white” rather than “wheat” flour. I have had other friends, one a baker, who said the same thing. WHere does white flour come from? White FLowers?

  3. Is the image for the dining card still available? Or maybe it’s just my computer that can’t display the image no matter what I do. This looks like amazingly useful information — is there anywhere else online the card is available? We love Indian food!

    I’ve come to this blog on a search for info about eating gluten-free at Indian restaurants, but it looks like there is a lot of great stuff in general. I’ve been trying to get my mom to start caring about what foods are and are not a danger for her, and this blog looks like a clear and user-friendly resource. Thanks for all you do!

  4. I’m not sure why the image is missing but the set of ten dining cards are sold on this website. Indian is one of the cuisines included in the pack.

    It’s nice that you are helping out your mom Sasha – the learning curve on the gf diet is about a year. It’s that difficult to lean all the ins and outs of what gluten is – and where it hides in foods you’d never think to look for it.

  5. My image of the card is also impossible to bring up.
    Can someone help as this would be extremely useful to have.

  6. I saw that someone had asked about white bread (that is gluten free) and I am guessing they meant Dosa, it is a south india (crepe like) bread that is made of lentils and rice and is really yummy…my son was just diagnosed with PDD-NOS and boy am I glad that he eats idli and dosa (most Indian kids love these and they can be breakfast, lunch or dinner). There are several Indian dishes that are gluten free.

  7. White bread definately contains gluten. It is made out of bleached wheat flour. You can buy white bread made of gluten free flours at specialty stores, but your typical wonder bread is not safe

  8. I’m currently living in Bahrain and there is a vary large Indian/Pakistani population and culture here. Many of the fancy Indian dining places serve what I would call “Indian Chips.” I asked what they were made of and I was told dal. I made sure there was no ‘hing’ added since the restaurant before told me there might be. After I started eating them the manager came by to review and ask about my special needs. He asked if “gram flour” was okay; I though he said “graham” and then I said, “Oh. Then I’ll stop.” Shortly, he returned with an ingredient list for the chips so I could review for myself if they were safe. The package read: “URAD DAL, RICE, SALT, EDIBLE OILS, SODIUM BI-CARBONATE…PRODUCT OF INDIA.” He wanted to make sure because they didn’t make them there, although most everything is homemade at their place. I decided it was safe; did I make the right choice? Are the ‘oils’ safe? Should I be concerned with cross-contamination? Are these “chips” usually okay to eat? What are they called :)

    Also, gluten-free usually means no desert, what Indian deserts are usually safe? Kesari Rasmalai? Pista Kulfi? I love the rice pudding, keir-right?

    Thank you for your help. I’m also a pescatarian so I love that Indian food has lots of veg options for me!!!

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