If you are following a gluten-free diet or need to eat gluten-free foods due to celiac disease, then you are probably already aware of many foods that do not contain gluten. Additionally, many supermarkets now have extensive gluten-free sections for ease and convenience of shopping. However, when it comes to enjoying gluten-free International cuisine, there are likely many questions and uncertainties.
For example, there is indeed a great deal of Japanese gluten-free food you can enjoy. The two main components of a Japanese diet, white rice and sashimi, definitely do not contin gluten. But you also have to be careful when ordering many other Japanese dishes, as soy sauce, a common flavoring component, is not gluten-free. Of course, there are now gluten-free soy sauce brands available. However, they aren’t common in restaurants unless the menu specifically advertises that option.
Additionally, even sushi rice may sometimes contain gluten if it is made with a combination of barley malt and rice vinegar (the barley malt being the culprit). So how does one make sure they are eating gluten-free Japanese food? Follow the tips in this guide to ordering and purchasing gluten-free Japanese food, and you’ll be able to enjoy Japanese cuisine safely and confidently.
1. Carry a Translation Card
Ordering gluten-free Japanese food in a restaurant will be a lot easier if you carry a translation card. While some restaurants may already cater to gluten-free patrons, not all of them will fully understand the requirements of a gluten-free diet.
Additionally, the chefs may not always speak English well or at all. The translation card provides them with a clear understanding of what ingredients you cannot have, and can be purchased for a small fee. Written by a celiac and translated by a native Japanese speaker, it is very detailed and of great help in both Japanese restaurants in the United States and when traveling in Japan.
2. MSG is not Gluten
MSG, also known as monosodium glutamate, is an ingredient used in many Japanese sauces and condiments. While it did indeed used to be derived from wheat flour, in North America, MSG has not contained wheat flour since the 1960s.
However, the same cannot be said about products made and imported from Japan or China, although the main Japanese MSG producer also eliminates wheat flour from the process. So in America, MSG should be safe to consume, but you may want to avoid it when traveling in Asian countries just to be on the safe side.
3. Buckwheat Noodles Do Not Contain Wheat
Buckwheat noodles, also known as soba noodles, do not actually contain any wheat at all. However, to ensure that any noodles you purchase are indeed safe to eat, they must be 100% buckwheat. If they aren’t, there is a chance that the noodles contain some type of wheat flour and make them not gluten-free.
4. Ingredients and Dishes to Avoid
- Soy Sauce and any sauce with soy sauce as a component: teriyaki sauce, noodle dipping sauce, tare, etc.
- Unagi (Japanese Eel): Typically marinated in a soy-blend
- Miso soup: usually made with barley and fermented soybeans
- Anything with malt as an ingredient
- Okonomiyaki (savory pancake): contains wheat flour
- Most noodles unless 100% buckwheat
- Tempura: contains wheat flour
- Takoyaki: contains wheat flour
- Anything fried in panko
5. Gluten-free options
As you can see from the list above, eating gluten-free Japanese food is possible but selections can be very limited. However, you can purchase many gluten-free ingredients online and in Asian supermarkets, including gluten-free soy sauce. It might not be a bad idea to carry a small bottle of soy sauce with you.
Additionally, many Japanese restaurants, both in America and in Japan, are well aware of celiac disease. They can try to provide a great selection of gluten-free dishes for patrons that are on a gluten-free diet.