Sunday, February 24, 2013

KuKu Canteen (Manhattan)

Asian cuisine is, in general, a tough one for the true celiac; gluten-filled soy sauce is just in so many dishes. I've found a couple of places to eat Chinese food and sushi, but still really miss Vietnamese and Korean food. I can finally enjoy the latter again, thanks to Jackie Kroeger, owner of KuKu Canteen.

Jackie took over KuKu Canteen two years ago and recently tweaked the recipes, substituting gluten-free tamari for soy sauce in all (yes, ALL) of their dishes. This doesn't mean the entire menu is GF (see: dumplings, ramen, etc that still contain gluten), but it does mean we don't have to worry about the correct soy sauce making it into our GF orders - a major relief for this girl.

Had a meeting near KuKu last week, so I popped in for a quick dinner before. I knew what I'd be ordering: Bibimbap, one of my all time favorite dishes. It had been over 10 years since I last had it, so I was psyched.

GF bibimbap

Jackie's version is lighter than the traditional recipe but all the flavors are there. Bulgogi beef, fried egg, vegetables, rice ... so, so good. While I missed the gochuchang sauce usually served with bibimbap (alas, it has wheat in it), subbing in sriracha worked out just fine.

I had a chance to chat with Jackie while I ate and she had a pro tip I just have to share: Beware rice wine vinegar, celiacs! While the stuff we buy in the grocery stores is usually GF, bulk containers purchased by restaurants often contain wheat! If you find yourself feeling unwell post-sushi, this could be why.

While I'm at, did you know that kimchi often contains shrimp?! (Was another hot tip from Jackie.) While not a concern for celiacs, I know a lot of folks with shellfish allergies, so FYI. Jackie sells shrimp-free, gluten-free kimchi in packages up front, should you care to take some home.

If you'd like a beer with dinner, Jackie also stocks a couple of GF brews from New Planet:

Shelves of GF beer = welcome, gluten-free people! 

Have room for dessert? Try one of the GF cookies from This Chick Bakes:

Bottom line: KuKu Canteen is a very gluten-free friendly spot, with healthy inexpensive meal options. I haven't felt that welcomed as a gluten-free diner in quite some time! I didn't get sick and will definitely be back.

Note: KuKu Canteen is a very casual spot - diner-ish, with about 12-14 seats. Take-out and delivery are available and you can order right through their website or Seamless.

KuKu Canteen is located at 289 Mercer St. at Waverly Place, New York, NY.  212-473-6162. 

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