Gluten-free Chinese

This post is written by Nima community member, Ellen! Ellen, her husband, and their two kids live in Emeryville, CA. They’re a family of foodies, and half of them are gluten-free. You can follow them on Instagram (@gfmelonoat) and/or read more about them in their Breaking Bread interview on our blog.

gluten-free chinese new year food: ellen and her daughter

Happy Chinese New Year!

For those of you that don’t know, Chinese New Year marks the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar. However, it typically falls within the first week or two of February on the Gregorian calendar (the calendar we go by today). The Chinese New Year is about fresh beginnings, celebrating hope and luck for the coming year, and, of course, food!

In this post I detail some traditional Chinese New Year foods that are naturally gluten-free, how to make traditional foods gluten-free, and some of our family favorites.

Reminder: Nima can’t test soy sauce! So be careful if you’re eating out. If you’re cooking at home you can substitute with a gluten-free soy sauce like Tamari.

Traditional foods that are naturally gluten-free

Nian gao (sticky rice cake)

Symbolizes: prosperity

About: Nian gao is usually gluten-free as the recipe typically calls for rice flour or glutinous rice flour depending on the style of preparation. Glutinous rice flour, despite the name, is gluten-free. In this case “glutinous” just means sticky or glue like in texture.

Recipe #1

One method of making nian gao is to steam the cake, slice it into pieces, and then fry the pieces (often in a batter). The cake itself is usually rice flour but I have come across a few that use some wheat flour. So if you aren’t making this yourself, make sure to confirm that no wheat flour is used in the frying process or in the cake itself.

gluten-free chinese new year food: rice cake

Recipe #2

The second method is baking the cake resulting in a mochi cake that chewy and sweet!

Here is our family recipe for this method:

  • 1lb glutinous sweet rice flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup avocado oil
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pitted and chopped Chinese dates (optional)
  • Pre-soaked and boiled fork-tender red azuki beans (optional but highly suggest!)
  • Preheat oven to 325F. Line or oil two 6” baking tins. Mix all ingredients except for dates and beans in bowl. Add dates and or beans. Bake for 60 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Rest for 10min. Slice and Enjoy!

Traditional food that you can make gluten-free


Symbolizes: wealth

About: This is a popular and crowd pleasing dish for everyone to help prepare. However, finding a gluten-free version is hard! We were lucky and discovered the brand Feel Good Foods…their dumplings have been tasty! However I think it’s just not the same unless you wrap them yourselves.  This year we experimented with an all-purpose gluten-free flour mix (we used Trader Joe’s) and some glutinous sweet flour. It turned out pretty good!

gluten-free chinese new year food: dumplings

We used a standard recipe of 3 cups all purpose gluten-free flour to 1 ¼ cup water (use boiling water for pan fried potstickers) and ¼ teaspoon salt. However we realized the dough was not pliable enough so we added some mochiko sweet rice flour and more water. It came out great!! You may have to experiment some more but our recipe in the end was roughly:

  • 1 ⅔ cup all purpose gluten-free flour
  • 1 cup sweet rice flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Add flours to stand mixer and slowly pour in water. If too sticky add additional flour.  When a dough forms take out and put in ziplock bag to rest. Roll out and cut into ¾” thick pieces to use as wrapper. Dust working area with additional sweet rice flour to prevent sticking.

Our Gluten-free family favorites


Symbolizes: “the year surplus”

About: Our family loves fish. And for the new year, fish symbolizes “the year surplus.” Just make sure not to eat it all on New Year’s Eve so you can carry some of that surplus into the new year. I usually go pick up a live fish from Ranch 99 (they will de-scale and clean it for you), stuff it with sliced ginger, and steam for 15-20 min depending on the thickness of the fish. I’ll also separately sauté some green onion and garlic, add some gluten-free sweet black vinegar, soy sauce, wine or sake and then pour over the steamed fish and juices before serving.

My daughter loves fresh steamed fish!

gluten-free chinese new year foods: fish at a family meal

Gluten-free friendly Chinese restaurants

Finally, if you aren’t into cooking but are into eating, here are a few of our favorite gluten-free friendly Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area.

Great China

Where: 2190 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Tip: Tell them you are gluten-free and they can accommodate. It takes longer as they use new pans. Duck, double-skin noodles, I think even the walnut prawns could be GF!

Ranch 99

Where: 3288 Pierce St Pacific East Mall Richmond, CA 94804

Tip: The hot foods sections has a few items we’ve tested and eaten that are gluten-free. Roasted duck, steamed rice cake. They also sell many GF Chinese sauces (hoisin sauce, oyster sauce).

Noodles Fresh

Where: 10042 San Pablo Ave El Cerrito, CA 94530

Tip: This place has delicious gluten-free dishes including water under the bridge, Jiangxi stir-fry, and hainan chicken.

Berkeley Bowl

Where: 920 Heinz Ave, Berkeley, CA 94710

Tip: This local market has many gluten-free ingredients, Asian vegetables, and snacks!