As many of you know we went to Indonesia for our honeymoon and I loved the country. Such spectacular landscapes, steaming jungles and the nicest people. Most importantly for everyone here, being gluten free and coeliac in Sumatra was a success! Number of glutenings = zero, hooray! Most things I read pre-departure were very negative about travelling in Sumatra as a coeliac. I want to reassure you that it is totally doable.
Gluten Free Sumatra
A large, incredibly beautiful island, Sumatra is a jungle paradise teaming with wildlife. Brace yourself long bumpy jeep rides into the jungle and through palm plantations (massive thumbs down to palm oil), then prepare to be rewarded by STUNNING places and encounters with kind people. Sumatra is much less touristy than Bali and Java, so I took a slightly different approach to communicating my gluten free needs here. I also took a few supplies to tide me over in case of emergencies. My top tips and some details about where we ate are detailed below.
Top Tips for Eating Gluten Free in Sumatra
Take an Indonesian language coeliac restaurant card to give to the kitchen wherever you are eating. Also state to the staff that you have an allergy to gluten and explain that that includes no bread, no deep fried food, no wheat flour and no kecap manis (Indonesian soy sauce pronounced “ketchup manis”). I would stress the no soy sauce part and double check when your food arrives.
Pack some gluten free cereal bars and other snacks for when you are out and about or cannot find a safe gluten free option. If all else fails, tropical fruit and plain rice are safe bets! I know it’s not exciting, but it’s better than risking it or going hungry.
Hotel Orangutan – our home while we stayed in Bukit Lawang. The staff went the extra mile in keeping well fed on gluten free food, using my restaurant card for reference. We ate here for our entire stay as they were so great and we wanted to invest in them as the village was quiet when we visited. Dishes included chicken rending make specially without soy sauce. Such helpful staff here! Plus, the most epic tropical fruit platter we have ever had and lush pineapple shakes
Take a few cereal bars for breakfast to go alongside your omlette and fruit if you need a dose of carbs (which you will if you are planning a jungle trek!).
If you decide to go on a jungle trek, ask them in advance whether they can make you a gluten free version of lunch without kecap manis. Our guide was gutted that I hadn’t asked him and kindly traded his plain rice lunch with the one he had prepared for me. I hadn’t thought they would be able to cater so had just taken my own supplies, but it just shows how helpful people are here.
Not a destination in itself (we didn’t leave the hotel) but you will likely be passing through for a night on your way to other destinations.
Steak House, JW Marriot – we had delicious gluten free food here. After getting to Medan late in the evening, we opted to just eat at one of the hotel restaurants and it turned out to be a great decision. The staff and chef were wonderful and the chef came out of the kitchen to discuss options with me. He even suggested some changes he could make to various dishes to make them gluten free. I had a special gluten free amuse bouche of garlicky tomato and white fish. Steak for main and the chef altered the béarnaise sauce to make it gluten free for me – awesome!
We just ate at a little local restaurant here (unnamed). I used my restaurant card and recited my trusty no kecap manis phrase and was rewarded with a lovely gluten free pineapple fried rice dish. Everyone is so helpful in Indonesia, just take a little time to explain what is safe for coeliacs to eat.
If you go to Sumatra, be sure to visit Tangkahan as it is beeeeautiful.
For more on gluten free Indonesia travel, read my other guides on the region:
Gili Air – Gluten Free Gili Air Travel Guide
Yogyakarta – Gluten Free Yogyakarta Travel Guide