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Ordering Gluten free in restaurants? 2005/3/7 03:28
My high school aged daughter will be visiting/studying in Japan for 2 weeks this summer. She has celiac disease, which requires a Gluten-free diet. Gluten is the protein found in Wheat, Barley and rye; so breads, noodles, fried dishes, and soy sauce is out. (soy sauce is brewed with wheat) She is fluent in Japanese, and we had felt very comfortable in allowing her to go on this trip. The Japanese teacher who is accompaning the students, told my daughter recently that it is very rude, and that she would be very embarrassed if my daughter tried to order things made specially gluten free for her. She also said that the waiters may say that they will prepare something gluten free but that the cooks in the back will often ignore the request, thinking that an American is just being picky. She has told my daughter to either bring her own food or plan on eating mostly fruit for 2 weeks. Several other Japanese teachers here disagree with this teacher, and say that my daughter will be able to safely eat out in Japanese restaurants. Does anyone have any experience or suggestions to help us?
Thank you.
by worried mom  

Allergy is a serious problem here too! 2005/3/7 15:13
I'm quite furious with the first teacher you mentioned.

My son is and has been allergic to eggs all his life and luckily we have never encountered any teacher nor chef as harrassing as that. However, I do hear stories about these type of people, and I just have to say they completely lack understanding on the allergy issue.

It's a well-known story that a boy passed away after his teacher encouraged a meal with his allergen a few decades ago, and since then people have been very understanding about allergy.

You should keep in touch with the other teachers you've mentioned that are understanding, and let them help her get the right diet.

As a parent, I think it usually works better if you can notify the chefs in advance, and if that is not possible, let her carry some emergency food for her own, or make sure that she can exchange some dishes with other students or teachers.

To tell you the truth, avoiding soy sauce is indeed a rather difficult task in Japanese cuisine, but allergy is a serious problem, and there is no reason to let one teacher get in your way.
by Uco rate this post as useful

gluten free in Japan 2005/3/19 19:53
I lived in Japan until I was diagnosed a coeliac. I`m going back in June for a visit and am a bit worried myself. I cook Japanese food at home outside of Japan and I use a product called `tamari` which is a gluten free soy sauce. Japanese friends have heard of it but I don`t know how you would go in restaurants etc. Buckwheat noodles would be okay because they are gluten free, they are not of wheat but rather in the same family as rhubarb. There are many Japanese foods where vegetables etc are cooked only with mirin and not soy sauce. She could have konyakku without the soy sauce in the broth which is available. Please look up `wheat` in a kanji dictionary and write a card out saying your daughter cannot eat `mugi`. Forget manners ! If your daughter`s teacher understood the pain we go through , she`d rethink her flippant response.
Your daughter`s health is more important than `saving face` and any Japanese person would understand that. good luck !
by brenda rate this post as useful

could be difficult 2005/3/21 15:36
I have a friend who is allergic to fish. Even if she eats soup broth made with fish, her throat gets itchy. When she was in hospital last year, the nurses didn't understand the extent of her allergy and thought she just couldn't eat fish meat. All the dishes they brought her had been made with fish broth! My friend had nothing she could eat. She phoned me and asked me to explain to the nurse, and when I explained, "not even broth!" they understood, but after that they only brought her bread and milk for the rest of her stay in hospital! Poor girl! Another time, we were in a restaurant, and I had to explain many times to the staff about her allergy - but they still brought food with fish-derived ingredients in it.

So, I think your daughter will have to explain in extreme detail the extent of her allergy. Fish is a fairly easily-explained ingredient - gluten could be much harder! It could be very hard to find food that is not made with shoyu (soy sauce) especially. But this shouldn't stop her from coming to Japan, of course! But it may be a good idea to carry extra food around, just in case she has trouble getting restaurants to comply with her requests...
by sazae-san rate this post as useful

ps. 2005/3/21 15:39
Many buckwheat noodles (soba) are not made with 100 percent buckwheat - they can also include some wheat. If you are shopping for noodles in the supermarket, it's possible to check this, but not so easy to do so in a restaurant!
by sazae-san rate this post as useful

Thanks & 1 more question 2005/3/24 02:20
I thank all of you who have written your thoughts and advice. My daughter's Japanese teacher (not the one going on the trip) has made up cards in Japanese that describe in detail my daughters needs. She saids that even though my daughter knows how to communicate this verbally having it written down might also help. She has also done a lot of research and has send numberous emails to friends and family in Japan in the past few weeks to get their thoughts and advice. I think we understand now that my daughter is going to have to be EXTREMELY cautious, respectful(which she always is) and be absolutely positive that the restaurant staff totally understands. Fortunately she will only need to eat in restaurants (or find food elsewhere) for one week. The second week she will be staying with a host family and my daughter's old Japanese teacher who is now living back in Japan has offered to contact and help the host mom plan her meals. I am also sending "meal replacement" bars and dried meals which can be prepared with hot water, along with gluten free soy sauce. This is Not what my daughter wants to eat, (she truly wants the whole Japanese culture experience) but she realizes that any accidental ingestion could keep her from experiencing everything else.

I do have one more question: A friend who lived in Japan for a few years told me that she thought that the prepared meals (box lunches, etc.) for the most part did not have soy sauce already in them. She thinks that she remembers that they were mostly rice, vegetables and maybe fish, and came with a packet of soy sauce, but no soy sauce in/on the food. She said that you could find this type meal in 7-11's and other convenience stores and perhaps from street vendors. Is my friend remembering correctly? Might this be a safe food option for my daughter?
Thank you again for all help.
by worried mom rate this post as useful

sushi, onigiri probably OK 2005/4/11 12:15
Some foods in convenience store o-bento may have been cooked with a soy sauce glaze, and they also sometimes include deep fried chicken, pork cutlets or fish with batter or breadcrumbs, so your daughter would have to look very carefully at the contents.

Some things that should be safe for her would be most things at a sushi restaurant if she avoids their soy sauce (maybe carries a small bottle of tamari? sushi without soy sauce is a bit odd...); also at convenience stores most of the onigiri (rice balls with various fillings like cooked salmon, fish roe, pickled vegetables etc, wrapped in seaweed) should be gluten free.

But it is true that Japanese restaurants are not very understanding of special requests - I'm vegetarian, and have to explain very carefully what that means, but my food still sometimes arrived with bits of bacon or fish flakes sprinkled on it.

Does she react to even microscopic traces(less than 0.1 per cent) concentrations of wheat? Many things in Japan will involve soy sauce at some stage in the cooking process, or the same utensils will have been used with things being cooked with soy sauce or other ingredients containing gluten, but the actual amount of wheat that would make it onto her plate because of that would be tiny.
by tokyomother rate this post as useful

Health food shops 2005/4/11 21:26
Surprisingly, no one including myself hadn't mentioned health food shops.

With my son being allergic to eggs all his life, health food shops, or "natural food shops (shizen shokuhin ten)" as we call them here, have been a greatly informative help in our lives.

The shopkeepers are often keen on allergen-free materials and either have stocks in their shops or will pre-order them for you.

Perhaps you can have her teacher help on finding out whether there are reliable natural food shops in the area your daughter is going to stay.

Also, scroll down the following Japanese language website for details on quite a balanced NPO allergic people's group I used to belong to.
by Uco rate this post as useful

wheat free in Japan 2005/5/24 11:08
When I moved here I memorized the words "kumugiko allellergi" (pronounced arerergi) to which Japanese people will react with horror...and then ask "rice, ok?". I recently moved to Japan and plan to live here at least a year....whilst not officially coeliac, my mother and sister both are (and I am diagnosed as 'wheat intolerant'). So I've found I cook a lot at home, or if I need fast food seven eleven salads (no dressing), plain rice or gyu don (probably has low level of gluten in it) and I think pringles (check in your home country on exact gluten level) are ok from convenience stores. Sushi and sashimi is your best bet for restaurants (if you can bring wheat free soy sauce from home...its probably best..in Australia Fountain makes a wheat free soy sauce) or lots of salad...some chinese/korean restaurants are a better option than Japanese. I've found that the red bean jellies (in the small narrow packets from the supermarket) are gluten free but avoid everything from the 'gift stores'. Icecreams are an amazing experience over here...
and absolutely avoid the Japanese curry/rice phenomenon!
Check as many foods before you come as you can because its possible to get a lot of the same foods (but with an ingredients list in hiragana/kanji).
My supermarket has a section of "asia at home" foods which have ingredients written in english...and most don't have any wheat/gluten products. But that will have you living in Japan eating Indonesian/Indian/Vietnamese every night.
If anyone has any help for me please post it....has anyone written a book on this topic yet?
I would love to find out if Japanese mayonnaise is gluten free....it seems to be all the same stuff...the stuff that I used to see used in california rolls in Japanese restaurants back home....
by inika rate this post as useful

Celiac in japan 2005/7/3 12:35
I, too, suffer from Celiac Disease though I didn't realize it until recently. I currently live in Shiga Prefecture which is near Kyoto on lovely Lake Biwa. I have had a lot of difficulty adjusting to life without gluten in Japan. Many of the foods at the local supermarket are off limits to me now, and shopping at the local supermarket involves me going from food to food while carefully scanning the ingredients of each. I quickly learned the characters for wheat, rye and barley. Unfortunately, gluten is not always so easily discovered, and I've had unpleasant surprises.

Fortunately, there is some help for me. There is a local grocery delivery service called Coop (pronounced "cope" in Japanese) which lists whether or not the foods have wheat in them (note: they list wheat, not gluten which still leads to some unpleasant surprises). Another possiblity is Foreign Buyers Club which imports (expensive) gluten free foods from overseas and will deliver right to your door. Meiji-ya (a store which has many locations in large Japanese cities) is another possibility since they also have a lot of imported foods with labels in English. It's a lot easier for me to decipher the labels to find out if the food is OK or not. Another possibility is Tengu Foods near Tokyo. They are a foreigner-owned health food shop which seems to have gluten free foods, but I haven't tried them yet so I can't vouch for them. They will deliver anywhere in Japan.
I find that I eat a lot of tofu and rice now since I know it's safe and easily available(beware the fried tofu. I've had bad celiac reactions to it). Sushi is generally OK but beware the ones like unagi (eel) which generally come dipped in a sauce made from soy sauce. Some onigiri (rice triangles) are good, but read the label and look for the wheat kanji (I really like the sake fish onigiri but tuna and mayonaisse is generally OK too). Most nuts are generally safe, but some have wheat powder in them.
I find that I rarely eat out now, and I seem to eat the same safe foods again and again. When I'm away from home, and I need to eat, markets and convenience stores can be a life saver because they have ingredients I can read. I miss having a variety of foods, but at least I feel better now.

Btw, be careful if your doctor gives you medicine because there are quite a few which have gluten in them.

I wouldn't mind finding a restaurant or market in the Kyoto/Osaka area which has a selection of gluten free foods. Does anybody have a suggestion?

by eric rate this post as useful

Coeliac Association in Japan 2005/10/9 18:02
Hello all together,
I wanted to know if there
exists an official
Coeliac Association
in Japan?
by Dagobert rate this post as useful

Nagano 2005/10/31 11:25
I am celiac and living in Nagano. My wife manages to cook without gluten, and I only eat Indian or Thai curry, and sushi with my own soy-sauce when I go out...It is limiting , but doable.

I am thinking of doing up a list of known gluten free products here in Japan. As you all probably know, all food products must now list if wheat products are used, and most companies confirm that they take this as meaning any time of gluten as it is also the main cause of allergies (I think). They would no doubt no be as strict as say, Australia, when Gluten speficially has to be listed now. This may come one day in Japan hey.

There are more and more products coming out with out wheat as it is becoming more well-known in Japan, even if a little late ;-)

But I must say, I usually just grin and bare it when I go out for business dinners.
by Jason Frisch rate this post as useful

Any up to date information 2006/6/9 07:26
I was just wondering if anyone has any up to date information on eating gluten free in tokyo? Also what is the best way to explain the allergy in Japanese if anyone knows? Thankyou.
by Anna R rate this post as useful

.. 2006/6/16 17:23
I just stumbled across a company that supplies "food translation cards" in multiple languages:


Although I get by reasonably well in Japanese, I'm considering special-ordering a "no negi please" card, if only to remind me that so many Japanese foods contain green onions, which are a powerful migraine trigger for me, and I don't always remember to ask about them....
by Onibaba rate this post as useful

Free Japanese Restaurant Card 2006/6/27 00:45

I've just read this thread, and wanted to let you know about the free gluten free card I have on my website. I hope it helps:

All the best

Roger Elliott
by Roger Elliott rate this post as useful

Bamiyan 2006/9/13 19:43
Recently visited Bamiyan a chain restaurant. The manager extremely helpful returned in a second with a print out of the menu and you could easily see which items contained flour, egg or wheat. I suggest eating at this restaurant. The service was exceptional.
by Mick rate this post as useful

Also want to go to Japan 2006/10/16 00:46
Another website, not mentioned is www.triumphdining.com
Although, the book is for the U.S. it does have a gluten free restaurant card. We use it here in the states at sushi/japanese restaurants. I hope this helps.
by Mommy of Celiac rate this post as useful

Good international restaurant guide 2007/2/2 13:57
Check out http://www.celiachandbook.com

I'm not sure if they have anything in Japan, but they do have a lot of listings all over the world. I would imagine they will have Japan added soon.
by Chris Armstrong rate this post as useful

celiac byou 2007/2/2 14:54
by chottochotto rate this post as useful

Allergy cards 2007/2/11 21:17
Things have obviously moved on greatly in Japan since the first question posted in 2005. I am a coeliac and I don`t speak Japanese but I am on holiday here and finding staff in restaurants and shops are extremely helpful and have always found me a suitable option. I have a card which list my allergens and explains in japanese the problem, asking for help chosing - you can order classic coeliac or custom made cards tailored for any allergy you have from the website. They are not expensive and mine was delivered in 24 hrs. It fits in a wallet or pocket. The link is www.dietarycard.com
I would be lost without it!
by Lindy Jordan rate this post as useful

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