Japan is an excellent destination for the traveler on a gluten free diet. With these simple gluten free travel tips, no Celiac or gluten intolerance sufferer need feel deprived while visiting Japan.
Avoiding Gluten in Japanese Food
There are relatively few wheat based foods in Japanese cuisine. The gluten free traveler should avoid noodle dishes (including soba buckwheat noodles, as they are seldom made solely from buckwheat), fried foods such as karaage (fried chicken) and tempura and batter based foods such as takoyaki (an octopus dumpling-like dish) okonomiyaki (a savory pancake-like dish). Further, to avoid hidden gluten in the guise of soy sauce, the traveler on a gluten free diet must be wary of most foods prepared with sauces, including salads and greens with dressing, simmered dishes (nimono, in Japanese) and stir-fry dishes.
Finding Gluten Free Japanese Food at a Restaurant
Unlike Japanese restaurants in other countries, restaurants in Japan frequently focus on one type of food. Sushi restaurants and restaurants offering teshoku set menus are most likely to offer gluten free meals. The gluten free traveler will find few options in noodle shops, okonomiyaki restaurants and curry houses.
Most Japanese restaurants are furnished with a display containing plastic models of the different menu items, located either outside the shop or just inside the entryway. This handy display can help the visitor determine if there is any safe food to be had within. A few of the dishes that can relied upon to be gluten free include:
- sushi prepared with raw fish
- sushi prepared with raw vegetables
- shioyaki salt-grilled fish
- chilled tofu
Many restaurants offer a teshoku set menu, in which rice, soup and a number of small dishes are served together. Rice, unless flavored or mixed with barley, is sure to be safe, and miso soup is usually gluten free (miso is sometimes made with barley, so showing a gluten free traveler card to the server is a good idea). To avoid soy sauce, skip any simmered dishes, stir fries or dressed salads. Pickled vegetables are usually gluten free, but it is wise to ask if they have been seasoned with soy sauce.
Gluten Free Meals at the Japanese Supermarket
Japanese supermarkets have a section devoted to take out food and bento boxed lunches. These can be a good place for the gluten free traveler to find a quick meal. Look for:
- shioyaki grilled fish
- raw vegetable and raw fish sushi
- potato salad
- edamame young soy beans
- white rice or rice steamed with adzuki beans
- onigiri rice balls containing ume boshi pickled plum, takuan pickled daikon radish or tuna salad
- green or mixed salad with dressing packed separately
With a selection of these foods, a balanced meal can be pulled together at any supermarket and many convenience stores.
Gluten free travel can be a challenge, but a little preparation will go a long way. By choosing restaurants with gluten free menu items like sushi and grilled fish, Celiac and gluten intolerant travelers can enjoy some of the best Japan has to offer by way of food. What is more, visitors can bring back a love of Japanese cuisine and, upon returning, incorporate Japanese dishes into their own gluten free diets.