Travel preparations can be stressful and difficult at the best of times but this is exacerbated even further for people traveling to Japan with gluten intolerance or Coeliac Disease. Food is an integral part of a country’s cultural identity and a necessity to experience if you want to fully submerse yourself in local life. Someone with gluten intolerance must contend with unfamiliar ingredients and a language barrier when traveling which can cause a great deal of stress.
Do not be discouraged, I hope to provide you with some useful tips on how to experience the beauty of Japan whilst enjoying a rich gluten-free diet! On the surface, Japan can seem like a gluten-free haven as the staple grain is rice and not wheat. The problem lies within a lot of the sauces used in Japanese cooking as they contain soy and wheat. Coeliac Disease and gluten intolerance are not common in Japan so there is no real demand for gluten-free food. Japanese diners do not usually ask for a meal to be modified at a restaurant, so it unsurprising that a chef, who would have worked for years perfecting a dish, would consider it rude to make such a request and refuse. But there are some ways to make this easier:
The language barrier can be difficult in Japan as English is not widely spoken. These useful phrases will make eating out at a restaurant a lot easier:
I have a serious disease called Coeliac Disease, so I cannot eat food that contains gluten. I cannot eat anything made with wheat, rye, or barley. That means that I cannot eat soy sauce that contains wheat or miso that contains wheat.
I cannot eat food that contains gluten. So, I cannot eat anything made with wheat, rye, or barley. That means that I cannot eat soy sauce that contains wheat or miso that contains wheat.
Click here to download r a more comprehensive translation card. This can be printed or saved on your phone for easy use.
I recommend staying at a hotel with its own little kitchenette so that you can prepare gluten-free food and snacks. It can be a little daunting going grocery shopping and trying to decipher a list of ingredients in a foreign language. Below is a list of kanji to look for when grocery shopping:
グルテン (Guruten) – Gluten 無グルテンの (Mu Guruten No) – Gluten Free
醬油 (Shoyu) – Soy Sauce 小麦 (Komugi) – Wheat
大麦 (Oomugi) – Barley ライ麦 (Raimugi) – Rye
オーツ麦 (Otsumugi) – Oats 味噌 (Miso) – Miso
There are so many convenience stores in Japan and they are quite different from what we are used to in Australia – the food is of a higher standard and affordable. They sell onigiri rice balls and while not all the flavours are gluten-free, the salmon and plain ones are. The pain onigiri is actually my favorite and I would eat them for breakfast or for a quick snack!
Soy sauce is used in the vast majority of Japanese dishes. It is definitely worth bringing your own bottle of soy sauce to ensure that it is gluten-free while also not being contaminated with other gluten products. Avoid buying tamari in Japan as not all tamari is gluten-free!
If you really want to experience some local Japanese cuisine then I highly recommend going to yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) restaurants. Here you can ask for the food to be made with salt (shio) instead of soy sauce (shoyu). At yakiniku restaurants, you are seated at your own clean grill so there is no risk of cross-contamination while also having an authentic Japanese experience. Sashimi is another famous Japanese dish that can be gluten-free. It is thinly sliced raw food, mainly fish (but can also be other meats and tofu), available at many types of restaurants and izakaya. Sashimi is seasoned with soy sauce but this is done by the diner’s discretion, just use your bottle of gluten-free tamari!
Little Bird Café is a wonderful café in Tokyo that focuses on gluten-free versions of Japanese and Western food! The chef is a Coeliac and has taken care to provide delicious gluten-free dishes to other gluten intolerant people. Just a 6-minute walk from Yoyogi Hachiman Station, you can try some gluten-free versions of classic Japanese dishes like ramen, gyoza, and chicken karaage. The menu is in English and you can finish off your amazing meal with some incredible gluten-free pancakes or waffles!
Japan can be a pretty tough country to navigate without the troubles associated with gluten intolerance. Do not let this deter you from visiting this stunning and unique country. I hope that this has provided you with some useful information to enjoy a gluten-free adventure in Japan! Please do not hesitate to contact us at JTB or your local Travel Agent and we can assist with making your travel plans as stress-free as possible!
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