Gluten-Free Shopping: Asian Grocery Stores

Chile paste

I use Asian ingredients a lot in my gluten-free cooking. Many are inherently gluten-free, making meals so much easier. Sure, my local grocery store has an Asian foods section, but it is largely geared toward the basics like soy sauce (sometimes they stock GF tamari, sometimes they don’t), other sauces, and various noodles and pre-packaged meals (including — thank you! — some great gluten-free meals from Taste of Thai).

But I like to keep my pantry well-stocked with other ingredients I use on a regular basis, so I make regular trips to one of the local grocery stores that caters to the large Asian population in my neighborhood. One store, 99 Ranch Market, is a mix of familiar products and interesting items such as whole Durian fruits. Another is geared more toward Chinese foods, with what seems to be an entire aisle devoted just to soy sauce.

Yes, you have to be very diligent about label-reading. I am still hunting for fresh rice flour noodles that don’t have wheat flour. While items must be labeled in accordance with U.S. Laws, you do need to be aware that other nations have different regulatory standards (some may be tighter, some may be laxer).

Below you can see the results of what I thought was a quick trip to buy chile paste. I went to buy this.

Chile paste
I don’t know the brand name of this product, but I love it in many dishes. It’s spicy, but not overwhelming. Lots of flavor. We use it so often, I bought two jars.


And maybe this.

White miso paste for soups and salad dressings.
White miso paste — perfect for soups and salad dressings.


Was hoping to find a large bag of rice flour. Ended up buying six one-pound bags. Pretty good deal, if a bit less convenient than a single bag. We use rice flour constantly in savory pancakes.

White rice flour
I bought six one-pound bags of this since we frequently use rice flour for savory pancakes.


Tapioca starch. Because, well, why not?

Tapioca starch
Glad to finally have tapioca starch on hand. Perfect for thickening gluten-free dishes.


I love making sandwich roll-ups with rice paper wrappers, so I stocked up on the large size. They are perfect for lunches. I couldn’t resist these triangle-shaped rice paper wrappers. Going to try to make some sort of dumpling/dim sum with these.

Triangle-shaped rice paper wrappers.
These were inexpensive enough that I can experiment with fillings for these triangle-shaped rice paper wrappers.


I am excited about finding millet. Have been Googling recipes all afternoon.

Millet, ready for me to decide what to make.


Oh, and after trying many stores, I finally found gluten-free Korean rice cakes (dduk). So many brands carried by local stores have wheat flour mixed in. I’m eager to create a spicy dish with these chewy, flavor-absorbing babies.

Sliced rice cake and gnocchi-style rice cakes.
Two styles of Korean rice cake: sliced and thick balls. Can’t wait to make a stir fry with these! They are labeled gluten-free.


Grabbed some black sesame seeds. They’ll be beautiful on crispy rice with spicy tuna or salmon. I also picked up some tofu. Because, well, it freezes well so I can have it on hand for quick stir fries or other meals.

I am pro-tofu, and a bit weirded out the by cross-promotion for the movie “The Croods”. Just not sure how tofu fits with the movie theme.


The only thing I resisted purchasing — and I know I’m going to regret this — was the plus-sized bottle of fish sauce. I told myself I had a fresh new bottle at in the refrigerator. Since I use fish sauce a lot, I suspect I’ll be going back. I didn’t buy any dried rice noodles because I have plenty on hand. I went a bit wild the last time I shopped.

I couldn’t find any GF soy sauce, but I admit I didn’t look too hard since I have a good supply (and it’s easy enough to purchase locally).

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7 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Shopping: Asian Grocery Stores”

  1. I never thought to look for millet or tapioca starch at an Asian grocery store (and rice flour is easy enough to get locally). I think I might have gone online at first, but I can find those in the gluten-free sections of some groceries, or maybe in a health food store.

    I’ve been trying to stay away from processed flours, and even grains, lately, so I haven’t been looking. i suppose it might be interesting to wander over to Chinatown and check some of the groceries there.

    I also don’t do well with very spicy foods, so I have to be careful. I might check out chili paste. A touch of that might liven things up. 😉 (I occasionally toss some mild or even medium salsa into my eggs.) My mom found some special fish sauce online (as featured in the newspaper). It’s expensive, so I wonder what the deal is. I haven’t even tried regular fish sauce.

    Regarding The Croods and tofu, maybe someone thought it was funny to link them together? I imagine the Croods would not have had access to any kind of processed foods. 😉

  2. Lori — I think a trip to Chinatown is worth your time! It does depend on what and how you eat. I use a lot of rice flour, so it makes sense to buy it at the Asian grocery store (as opposed to Whole Foods). I’d heard that I could find millet there, and was pretty excited to find some. It’s the little things in life…

    I have heard there are high-end fish sauces, and have — so far — resisted the urge to invest. I usually buy the Taste of Thai brand because it’s readily available and labeled gluten-free. Since it’s something I use frequently, investing in a larger bottle is on my list. And since there was variations in flavor, it will be fun to settle on a favorite brand. Hmm, wondering how I could do a taste test.

    As for chile (or chili) pastes, the flavors vary from brand to brand. The Red Camel paste is spicy, but not kill-your-mouth spicy. I’ve purchased some brands that are so hot, they destroy my desire to eat the food they’re accenting. I’m not sure there are chile pastes that have the level of heat you’d find in a medium salsa, but I’ll look around to see if anything fits that criteria.

    Yeah, The Croods. That cracked me up. Someone has a weird sense of cross-promotion!

  3. Hey! I just found your site. My question is….How do you use the rice paper wrappers to make sandwich rolls?? I would think they would be too

  4. Rice paper rolls are actually pretty sturdy. The key is to make sure they’re not too wet when you roll the paper around the fillings. Also, it helps if the fillings aren’t too wet (this usually isn’t a problem). I make the rolls, using whatever ingredients catch my fancy, and store them under a damp paper towel so the rice paper doesn’t dry out. The neutral flavor the rice paper makes it easy to get creative with fillings.

  5. I just started a low-FODMAP diet and hit the jackpot in the Asian food aisle of my local grocery (who caters to the Asian and Hispanic community here, but is still a “normal” grocery). I got tapioca starch and potato starch for about $3 total, rice noodles to make pancit, and tamari. Didn’t break the bank. Wish I had thought to look there first before spending a ton at Vitacost!

  6. Hello,

    I have a friend that is looking for that Camel sauce, but suddenly can’t find it anywhere! would you be able to tell me where you are still finding it?


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