There are many candidates for the world's best gluten free noodle, but for me the clear winner is the Guilin noodle from the small city of Guilin in southern China. Travelling to Guilin is one of the great gluten free pilgrimages for anyone on a gluten free diet.
The noodle itself is a thick round rice noodle, similar in taste and texture to spaghetti, but slightly lighter. As someone who used to love eating spaghetti and who is usually disappointed with the gluten free packet alternatives, the Guilin noodle was a welcome surprise when I first tried it.
Guilin noodle - the world's best gluten free noodle
However, the star of the show is not the noodle - it is the sauce. What's in it? Apart from the families who have made this dish for generations, no one really knows exactly what is in it, despite what might be claimed by some on the internet. In my experience there is general consensus among Guilin noodle consumers that the sauce has a lot of ingredients (>15), that it is complicated to make, and that it is extremely difficult to reproduce.
As someone who is highly sensitive to minute amounts of gluten, I have never experienced a reaction to Guilin noodles from several different noodle shops. So despite not knowing exactly what is in the sauce or how it is made, I am confident that it is gluten free. If in doubt, check with whoever is making your dish.
Why is it the best in the world? Unlike many other noodles from Asia that are packed with a punch of chilli, salt, oil or vinegar, the flavours here are sophisticated and delicate. It has the bulk and warmth to fill you up and can be eaten at any time of the day. It is a genuine comfort food that feels welcoming on your tongue. Most importantly, it stands up as a popular, delicious dish regardless of its gluten free status, so no compromises have been made to the flavour to make it gluten free.
A satisfied Guilin noodle customer
The best place to pick up some Guilin noodles is in one of the family run noodle shops in Guilin in Guangxi Province in southern China. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Guilin, here is a step by step guide to ordering Guilin noodles in Guilin for non-Chinese speakers. If you can't make it to Guilin, this dish is prominent throughout Guangxi province in places like Nanning. Elsewhere in the world, you may be fortunate to have an expatriate from Guilin producing the dish in your city. In Australia for example, Guilin noodles appear to be available in at least Adelaide (albeit with some alarming reviews). I can't personally attest to the authenticity of their noodles, but if you are in Adelaide, it's probably worth a try. If the dish doesn't meet your expectations, don't get put off from trying again somewhere else, because it is notoriously difficult to reproduce outside of those family run businesses in Guilin who have been going through the complicated cooking process every day for generations.
This noodle beats a strong field of candidates including Thailand's light and fresh flavoured, thin flat rice noodle Pad Thai, which comes a close second. Further behind but worthy of a mention are Malaysia's slightly wide flat rice noodle Char Kway Teow, Korea's cold buckwheat noodles, and the vermicelli mung bean glass/cellophane noodle found in soups across south-east Asia, amongst others. If you think you've come across a better gluten free noodle than Guilin noodles, let me know so I can try it out.