A Tonga Guide for Gluten-Free Diets and Coeliac Disease
Here we go again; another trip another dietary minefield! Admittedly, Tonga isn’t the easiest destination to sail through for those with gluten intolerance, but with a little preparation, you don’t have to go hungry. Tongans may love gluten-rich meals, but many of the staples here are free of gluten when taro, plantains and breadfruit are popular carbohydrate intakes. However, restaurant menus do not yet guide gluten-intolerant travellers through the “GF” meals available, so you may have a little extra work to do on your part. We’ll guide you through it in this gluten-free guide to Tonga.
5 Tips for Gluten-Free Dining in Tonga
Before we get into the heavy stuff, here’s a summary of the guide in six quick tips:
- Cafes and restaurants rarely have gluten-free options labelled on menus, so it’s best to know yourself what you can and cannot eat
- Bring your own soy sauce or bread to give to restaurants and resorts
- Completely intolerant to gluten? Let your resort/accommodation know your dietary circumstances before booking to see how their restaurant can ensure there are options for you (or whether they are willing to use the ingredients you provide)
- Self-catering is the safest option for those with coeliac disease, as gluten-free ingredients are readily available in supermarkets and markets
- Note that many of the traditional foods of Tonga are free from gluten, such as ‘ota ika, lu and feke – so don’t be afraid to be adventurous.
Visiting Tonga with Coeliac Disease
Of course, the most serious form of gluten intolerance is coeliac disease, which comes with the most challenges. As rare few restaurants mark menus with “GF”, precautions need to be taken depending on how intolerant to gluten you are.
If staying at a resort or any accommodation that provides guests with meals, we recommend contacting the accommodation before booking. With many resorts and guesthouses being on remote islands, getting gluten-free substitute ingredients like gluten-free flour and stock/sauces without traces of gluten can be a challenge for them. Contacting an accommodation in advance with your dietary requirements not only allows them time to prepare, but they may encourage you to bring some of your own supplies.
At Tongan guesthouses, you are typically hosted by a local family who may provide breakfast and/or dinner. Hosts are typically happy to cater to dietary requirements, as long as they are given advanced notice so they have time to prepare. Gluten-free diets are not too challenging as most guesthouses aim to provide a more traditional Tongan food experience with breadfruit, taro, plantains and rice substituting glutenous products like bread. However, some popular Tongan dishes are heavy on gluten, such as faikakai and kelevi ika, so it is still important to let your host know that you can’t eat food made with flour. Take a look at the Traditional Tongan Food: 10 Foods to Try in Tonga to get an idea of what you may be served.
For eating out at Tonga’s cafes and restaurants, we highly recommend that you bring your own gluten-free bread and/or soy sauce depending on what sort of dishes you prefer to order. In addition, always ask if a meal that you would typically eat gluten-free, whether it’s a steak and salad or curry, is still cooked without wheat or flour – just in case.
Alternatively (or additionally), cooking your own meals is a safe way to make sure that your gluten-free needs are seen to. There are plenty of gluten-free ingredients in Tonga’s supermarkets and markets. Find out more about self-catering in the “Gluten-Free Self-Catering in Tonga” below.
Gluten-Free Self-Catering in Tonga
A safe way to enjoy gluten-free meals in Tonga is to cook them yourself. Luckily, there are plenty of accommodations with kitchen facilities across all four of Tonga’s main island groups, which we list in the following:
- 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Nuku’alofa & Tongatapu
- 5 Best Self-Catering Accommodations on ‘Eua
- 5 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Ha’apai
- 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Vava’u…
… And if you’re still deciding on a destination, make more sense of the situation with Where to Stay in Tonga: The Best Accommodations.
If you’re used to cooking with naturally gluten-free foods, then that’s something you have in common with Tongans! Traditional Tongan staples include taro, breadfruit, cassava and plantains, which are starchy foods that are often used for carbohydrate intake. Rice is also very popular in Tonga and a staple of even small convenience stores and fale koloa.
When it comes to gluten-substitute food like gluten-free bread, gluten-free pasta, gluten-free flour, etc., this is extremely difficult to find in Tonga. If you rely heavily on gluten substitutes like the ones discussed, you may want to bring a few packets with you to Tonga – see Taking Food to Tonga: What You Need to Know to learn more.
Find out more about what food is available to purchase across Tonga in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Tonga.
5 Best Restaurants with Gluten-Free Food in Tonga
As mentioned, restaurants with specially made gluten-free food are extremely rare. That’s why you’ll find that resorts catering to an international market are often your best option for less stressful gluten-free dining. With that, we’ve scouted out the best restaurants in Tonga with gluten-free options so you don’t have to! Note that these are restaurants with gluten-free options only – we can’t testify to any foods not coming in contact with gluten products.
- Katea Retreat (Tongatapu) – Can cater to gluten-free diets for casual diners and attendees to their cultural show and buffet – call ahead and they can usually prepare something a little more creative
- Tongan Beach Resort (Vava’u) – Restaurant open to casual diners. They have GF-labelled food on their menu.
- Mailetaha Cafe (Nuku’alofa) – Most items on the menu are Tongan dishes cooked served with local root crops or rice and coconut cream
- Blue Water Retreat (‘Eua) – They provide buffet-style meals for all guests staying at their resort and are particularly good at meeting dietary requirements
- Little India (Nuku’alofa) – Indian curry is always an easy go-to for gluten-free dining. Rice and salad are available as a side.
For more restaurants we love, take a look at The Food Guide to Tonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
More About Dining in Tonga
That’s it for our complete gluten-free guide to Tonga. Now plan more foodie endeavours with these extra guides:
- Tonga for Vegans & Vegetarians + 10 Best Restaurants
- The Guide to the Food in Tonga
- 15 Best Foodie Experiences in Tonga