Having a gluten sensitivity makes finding edible foods extremely cumbersome. Even something as simple as going out with friends can be a difficult task of finding a place that has gluten-free menu items. However, Japan has many options for those who stay away from gluten.
Meals in Japan are commonly gluten free since rice is a staple food in the Asian diet. Sushi and classic Japanese set meals, called ‘teishoku’ (shown in the photo above) are a couple of my favorite food options. Teishoku is usually made up of a main protein (meat or seafood), rice, pickles, and miso soup. These hearty meals are nutritious, delicious, and financially propitious – prices can be as low as ¥500 but usually average around ¥800 to ¥1000. Finding cheap sushi is easy, too. Kaiten-zushi (conveyer belt sushi) restaurants charge by the plate and often have gluten-free soy sauce available free of charge. For about ¥1000 to ¥2000, you can expect to get a full meals’ worth of delectable sushi.
If you’re not fully on board with traditional Japanese food, there are other options as well. Curry served with rice is a popular meal in Japan, but be careful – traditional Japanese curry has flour in the roux. If I’m in the mood for curry, I usually opt for Thai, Indian, or Nepalese restaurants. Thai and Vietnamese restaurants also often serve rice noodles and spring rolls wrapped in rice paper, so those who have gluten-free diets can comfortably eat a full meal at establishments such as these.
Although snacks are all too often packed with flour, there are plenty that you can find at convenience stores that are in the ¥100 – ¥300 range and gluten free. Potato chips are a common favorite, but be aware of the fact that soy sauce, which contains gluten, is a common flavoring agent in many Japanese foods. You’ll be able to check ingredient lists on packages, so be sure look out for the following:
小麦 (komugi) – flour
麦 (mugi) – wheat
麩質/グルテン(fushitsu/gluten) – gluten
醤油 (shoyu) – soy sauce
味噌 (miso) – miso
Although all miso does not necessarily contain gluten, small amounts of wheat is commonly used to make it.
When I’m craving something savory, my go-to is onigiri. Onigiri is a rice ball wrapped in seaweed and filled with fish, vegetables or meat. They can be bought in any convenience store and are the perfect in-between of a meal and a snack. Veggie chips, prepackaged salads, pickles, nuts, and jerky are also great options. If you’re looking for a sweet treat, ice cream, mocha, and energy bars are available as well. My personal favorite are Soy Joys – small gluten-free energy bars that come in a flavors such as Banana, Chocolate, and Berry.
The Snack Mecca
Natural Lawson, a convenience store chain, is my number one recommendation for gluten free snacks. This chain caters to customers that have dietary limitations and stocks many gluten free foods that can’t usually be found in typical supermarkets or convenience stores. In Japan, snacks that are conventionally made with flour (ie. biscuits, cookies, bread) typically don’t have gluten-free versions. Therefore, Natural Lawson is the perfect place to satisfy cravings for those who maintain a gluten-free diet.
Although eating gluten-free can be difficult and at times inconveniencing, a wide array of food options is accessible no matter your budget or location. Japan is a place where delicious meals and snacks can be enjoyed by everyone.