Is Japanese Food Gluten Free? A Guide to Gluten-Free Diet

Actually, as a Japanese, I never heard about celiac disease, let alone the term gluten-free.

But when my Australian friend was planning to visit Japan, he asked me, “is Japanese food gluten free?”.

I was like, “what !!! what free!!!”

Well, I didn’t sit back idly then. After all, I should help my friend as he is coming to visit our beloved homeland.

I researched a lot and thought to share my knowledge with all of you who are interested.

Well, as you are here, I guess you already know about celiac disease.

But let me explain it in short.

Celiac disease is a condition when your immune system affects your own tissues if you eat gluten.

And if you don’t know, gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, rye, etc.

Okay, now let’s get to the main discussion.

Is Japanese Food Gluten Free?

Not all Japanese foods are gluten free.

The staple of the Japanese diet is rice which is gluten-free—knowing that most people outside Japan think that it will be easy for a celiac.

Japanese rice

But unfortunately, gluten is still present in lots of Japanese food.

And soy sauce causes the main problem, which is made with wheat. It is used in the preparation and consumption of lots of Japanese dishes.

japanese soy sauce

Besides these, Japanese cuisine also has an abundance of wheat, barley, wheat flour, etc. Even plain sushi rice sometimes contains vinegar that blends barley malt with rice vinegar, causing troubles for celiacs.

And it is getting hard over time to avoid gluten in Japan with instant ramen noodles, custard treats, and wheat-filled sweet buns.

raw instant ramen noodles

Yes, it is difficult to find gluten-free Japanese foods, but not impossible. So, don’t be disheartened, my dear.

If you are a celiac and want a complete guide on eating gluten free Japanese food, then just keep going through.

Gluten-Free Japanese Foods

In the crowd of foods containing gluten, you can still find a number of gluten-free dishes that you can enjoy in Japan without any worries.

gluten free diet concept

Now I am going to mention them one by one.

Rice

As I have said earlier, the main dish of the Japanese diet is rice, which is gluten-free.

Generally, we take the glutinous variety of rice but don’t be confused with the word glutinous. It means the rice is sticky, not like anything that contains gluten.

gluten free rice flour

However, you should watch out for one variety of rice called zakkoku-mai, which is cooked with barley, oats, and other grains. It is not gluten-free.

Sushi

Sushi is most probably the most popular Japanese dish. If it is prepared without soy sauce, then you can have it without any second thought.

gluten free sushi salmon burger

Sashimi and Kaisen-Don

You can also enjoy sashimi, made from fresh fish and seafood and served with grated wasabi horseradish. It is completely gluten-free.

salmon sashimi served with lemon

Kaisen-don is quite similar to sashimi. The only difference is that the ingredients are placed on top of a bowl of steamed rice, which is not cooked with vinegar.

kaisen don

Soba

Gladly, you can also freely eat soba, a kind of Japanese noodles made with buckwheat flour.

Though it sounds similar, buckwheat doesn’t contain any actual wheat.

soba noodles

This noodles dish is served in a hot soup or chilled with a separate dipping sauce.

Just make sure that the dipping sauce doesn’t contain any soy sauce made from wheat.

Tofu

Tofu is delicious, nutritious, and, most importantly gluten-free. You should look for silken tofu chilled in tofu salad or served in a hot pot.

tofu

However, avoid eating marinated tofu, which sometimes can be dressed in a non-gluten-free sauce.

See also  Can Vegetarians Eat Ramen Noodles? Get Your Answer

Yakitori

Try yakitori, if you like meat. This dish features some pieces of grilled chicken on a skewer. Generally, it is served with two options: shio (seasoned with salt) and tare (marinated).

yakitori seasoned with salt

You should go for the shio, as the tare may contain non-gluten-free soy sauce.

Except for these particular dishes, there are also some foods in Japan that are gluten-free.

Some Other Gluten-Free Foods

  • Onigiri (rice balls) that don’t contain soy sauce
  • Mochi and mochi-based sweets
  • Eggs
  • Sweet potatoes (common street snack)
  • Edamame
  • Seaweed (not flavored with soy sauce)
  • Harusame noodles made with rice, sweet potato, etc
  • Yakiniku or Korean barbecue (avoid soy sauce-based sauces)

Now that you know about gluten free Japanese dishes, you should also be aware of all the Japanese ingredients that contain gluten.

Japanese Foods or Ingredients That Contain Gluten

By this time, you got to know about wheat, soy sauce, and vinegar. I will talk about them first.

Wheat Flour

Wheat flour is used in many traditional Japanese dishes, including ramen, tempura, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki.

wheat flour

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is obtained from soybeans, and it is a quite essential seasoning ingredient in the history of Japanese cuisine.

You can purchase tamari soy sauce which is made with 100% soybeans, to be on the safest side. No wheat is used in it.

tamari sauce

However, you won’t know whether soy sauce served in a restaurant is gluten-free or not when dining out. Hence, I suggest you carry your own packet of tamari soy sauce.

Vinegar

All the Japanese vinegars don’t contain gluten, but one variety of vinegar called kokumotsu does. It is a cheap grain vinegar made from rice, corn, and wheat. You should only use vinegar that is made from rice if you are a highly sensitive celiac.

gluten free rice vinegar

Panko

Panko is a kind of flaky breadcrumb, which provides the crispy coating for different breaded foods like tonkatsu, croquettes, and deep-fried shrimp.

tonkatsu battered with panko

Miso

Miso is one of the five main seasoning ingredients in Japanese cooking. It is obtained from fermented soybean paste.

Some miso brands contain gluten, while some varieties are made from wheat, rye, and barley. To avoid these varieties, don’t purchase those brands that list 麦 (‘mugi’ or wheat) on the ingredient chart.

different types of miso

Fu

Fu or wheat gluten is a traditional Japanese food. As it is a vegan and vegetarian-friendly food, you need to avoid it if you are a celiac.

wheat gluten cake Fu

Some other most common Japanese ingredients containing gluten are:

  • Udon noodles (made from wheat)
  • Yakitori prepared with soy sauce-based sauce
  • Ramen noodles (made from wheat)
  • Mugi-cha (barley tea)
  • Okonomiyaki (the sauce the batter usually contain gluten)

By this time, you got to know about gluten-free Japanese foods and the foods that contain gluten.

But it’s not like you will cook your own meal while traveling to Japan. You may need to dine in various restaurants or purchase foods from departmental stores. So, how will you know if the food you are buying or eating is gluten-free or not?

Well, don’t worry. I am showing you the easiest way possible.

Complete Guide to Ordering Gluten-Free Japanese Food

It is not easy to look for gluten-free eating in Japan. Even though they are unfamiliar with gluten intolerance, the restaurants in our country will take allergies seriously.

However, you should also note that it is not common in Japan to modify food the way you want in the restaurant. Some will not keep your request.

So, the best option is to call them and ask beforehand if there is something you can eat or if they can modify your food.

But as a tourist, it will be difficult for you to explain in Japanese. In that case, I suggest you carry a card that has some simple explanations in Japanese.

For example, I am including a sample card for your easy understanding. You can just show this card to the restaurant staff before ordering.

Useful Phrases and Celiac Warning Text

  • Gluten (麩 質, グ ン (ふ つ) fushitsu
  • Soy sauce (醤油) shoyu
  • 味噌 (み そ) miso
  • Wheat (小麦) komugi
  • No soy sauce (醤油抜きで) Shoyu nuki de
  • Is there (name of the food you cannot eat) in this? (〜 が入っていますか) ~ ga haitteimasu ka?
  • I have a wheat/gluten allergy. 私は小麦、グルテンアレルギーです (Komugiko, Gluten arerugi desu).
  • I absolutely must not eat it. 絶対に食べれません (Zettai ni taberemasen).
  • Can you do shio-yaki (salt-flavored)? 塩だけで焼いてもらえますか。(Shio dake de yaite moraemasu ka)?
  • If I eat it accidentally, I will become sick. 間違って食べると具合が悪くなります (Taberuto guai ga waruku narimasu).
See also  The Fascinating History of Japanese Cuisine

So, this was it.

Okay, as I mentioned earlier, many restaurants may refuse to keep your request. Then what will you do?

Okay. No worries, my dear.

There are plenty of restaurants in Japan where you can sit back, relax, and safely enjoy gluten-free dishes.

Where Can You Eat Gluten Free Foods in Japan?

Here are the types of restaurants where you can eat without any concern.

Sushi Restaurants

Head to any sushi restaurant and ask if they use any wheat-based vinegar in preparing the sushi rice. If not, you can enjoy most of their dishes, especially sashimi.

preparing sushi at restaurant

However, don’t order any eel dish as it contains sauce, and you never know what ingredients have been used to make that sauce.

Tofu Restaurants

You can enjoy tofu at any tofu restaurant, but be sure that it is not served with soy sauce.

Yakiniku and Teppanyaki

These are tasty grilled meats, vegetables, and seafood dishes. You just need to avoid marinated meat and sauce while enjoying these dishes.

yakiniku and teppanyaki

You can eat it using your own sauce or ask them to season your platter with salt and lemon juice.

Konbini (convenience stores)

Buy gluten-free foods from convenience stores. They are packed with various options.

You may look for onigiri (rice balls) that are made without soy sauce. Salads are generally served without dressing. So, you can have it too. Boiled eggs, bananas, and yogurt are also healthy choices.

onigiri at convenience store

However, don’t forget to check the list of ingredients before buying anything.

Department Store Basements

You will find lots of delicious gluten-free dishes like fruits, vegetables, ready-made sushi, etc. But I recommend Japanese sweets mochi and daifuku that are made from Japanese rice and red bean paste.

daifuku

You may also ask if there is something else gluten-free.

Indian and Thai Restaurants

You may try Indian curries, which are made without flour. Yes, you cannot eat naan bread, but rice makes a good combination with these delicious curries.

indian chicken curry

Thai dishes are also gluten-free.

However, some dishes in these restaurants may contain soy sauce or other ingredients to meet the Japanese taste. Be careful to avoid those dishes.

So, now you are informed of the types of restaurants you should head to to eat gluten-free foods.

However, won’t it be more convenient for you if I mention some certain restaurants in particular areas?

List of Gluten free Japanese Restaurants

To make your task easier, here I have enlisted some gluten free restaurants in certain areas.

1. Gluten Free Restaurants in Tokyo

Address: 2-3-18 Sakai, Musashino-shi, Tokyo Zip 180-0022.
Opening hours: 10:00 to 20:00.
Closed: Monday.

Address: 7-8-5 Roppongi, Minato-ku 7-8-5 2F.
Closed: Tuesdays.

Address: 222-0033 Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama, Kohoku Ward, Shinyokohama, 2-14-21.
Opening hours: 11am-10:30pm. (The last call for food is at 9:30 pm.)

Little Bird Café

Address: 3F, 1-1-20 Uehara, Shibuya, Tokyo 1510064.

Otaco Sweets (Bakery)

Address: 3-5-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0032(Just above the Senso-ji temple).
Tel/Fax: +81-3-6458-1375.

Address: 1F Enomoto-building, 1-16-24 Setagaya, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 154-0017.
Tel: +81-3-6413-6363.

Address: 5 Chome-1-8 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001.

Address: 〒106-0031 Tokyo, Minato City, Nishiazabu, 3 Chome−1−19 Koyama Building 2F.

Pizza Firenze Omotesando

Address: 5-52-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan Aoyama.
Closed: Monday.

Address: 1 Chome-33-4 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 111-0032.
Tel: +81-3-3847-3461.

Gluten Free 61 Cafe and Bar

Address: 3 Chome-4-4-6 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0032.

Revive Kitchen Three Aoyama

Address:  3-12-13 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo.
Tel: +81 3-6419-7511, +81 3-6419-7513.

Address: 〒180-0004 Tokyo, Musashino, Kichijoji Honcho, 2 Chome−24−9 SUNO Ecru 103.

2. Gluten Free Restaurants in Kyoto

Daimaru (department store)

Address: Japan, 〒604-8124, 581 Obiya-cho, Shijo-dori, Takakura-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto.
Tel: +81 75-231-0799.

Kerala Restaurant (Indian food)

Address: Japan, 〒604-8006, 2nd floor of KUS Building on the west side of Sanjo Joru, Kawaramachi, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture.
Tel: +81 75-251-0141.

Yak and Yet (Nepali food)

Address: Gokomachi-dōri, Nishikikōji-sagaru Kyoto.

Hotel Anteroom Kyoto (restaurant)

Address: 7 Higashikujo Aketacho, Minami Ward.
Tel: +81 75-681-5656.

Teuchi Toru Soba

Address: Japan, 〒604-0831 Matsuya-cho, Higashinotoin, Nijo-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 35-1 (On the corner of Nijo Dori and Higashinotoin Dori)
Tel: +81 75-213-1512.
Opening hours: 11.30am-3pm.
Closed: Tuesday & Wednesday.

Address: 8-29 Saganohirakichou, Ukyo, Kyoto, 616-8313.
Tel: +81-75-7772500.

Address: 05-0009 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, 89-Ohashi-cho, Higashiyama-ku.
Opening hours: 9 am through 5 pm or 8 pm, depending on the day.

Kitten Company

Address: Kamisuwa-Cho 294-1, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi.

3. Gluten Free Restaurants In Osaka

Kiyomura Sushizanmai (Sushi restaurant)

Address: 1F, Nakaza Cui-daore Bldg., 1-7-21 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku.
Opening hours: 24 hours a day.

Address: 2-2-3 Shimamachi, Chuo ward, Osaka, near the Osaka Castle.

4. Gluten Free Restaurants in Hakone

Onsen and Ryokan Kijite Hoeiso

Address: 227, Yumotochaya, Hakone-Machi, Ashigarashimo-Gun, Kanagawa, 250-0312.

5. Gluten Free Restaurants in Fujikawaguchiko

High Spirits Izakaya Bar

Address: 1167 Kodachi, Fujikawaguchiko Town, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0302, Japan.

Shaw’s Sushi Bar & Dining

Address: 3632-7, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0301, Japan. Near Kawaguchiko train station.

6. Gluten Free Restaurants in Nara

Izasa (Sushi restaurant)

Address: 16 Kasuganocho.
Tel: +81 742-94-7133.
Opening hours: 11 am-7 pm.

Kamameshi Shizuka (Kouen-Ten)

Address: 59 Noborioji-cho (close to National Museum).
Tel: +81-742-27-8030.
Opening hours: 11:30 am – 7:30 pm.

Nara Hotel

Address: 1096 Takabatake-cho, Nara 630-8301, Japan.
Tel: +81-742-26-3300(Main Line).

7. Gluten Free Restaurants in Miyajima

Address: Minatomachi-1162-4 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-0504, Japan.
Tel: +81 829-44-0700.

8. Gluten Free Restaurants in Takayama

Address: 6-7-2 Tenman-chou (Kokubunji street).
Tel: +81-577-32-3078.

Well, these are some of the renowned restaurants in Japan that serve gluten free dishes. You can enjoy delicious and savory platters in these restaurants without worrying much.

I have nothing more to inform you. Let’s call it a day.

Conclusion

You have already found your answer to this question, “is Japanese food gluten free?”

I also included a lot of information that is related to this question.

Hopefully, this write-up will help you a lot in maintaining your gluten-free diet while traveling to our country.

Lastly, have a good day.

Frequently Asked Questions:

No, Japanese ramen noodles are not gluten-free. In fact, they are full of gluten as their main ingredient is wheat flour. Besides, the broth with which the noodles are served most often contains a soy sauce base, and this sauce contains gluten as well.

However, nowadays, you can find a few gluten-free ramen noodles brands in Japan, which you can include in your gluten-free diet.

Yes, Japanese mirin is gluten free. It is made from fermented rice. Hence, it doesn’t contain any gluten.

Japanese rice cake or mochi is made with sticky rice. So, it might be sticky, but it doesn’t usually contain any gluten. However, cross-contamination can happen during production. Hence, if your mochi is not precisely labeled as gluten-free, it may not be so.

Japanese fish cakes are made from flour or starch. Besides, all commercially processed fish cakes contain wheat, msg, and low-quality fillers. So, it can be said that Japanese fish cakes are not gluten-free. However, you can prepare gluten-free fishcakes at home by following some simple recipes.

MSG or monosodium glutamate is gluten-free. It doesn’t contain any gluten. It is used in many manufactured foods to enhance flavor. However, sometimes it can be made from wheat, but the wheat protein is completely hydrolyzed or broken down during processing. So, you can eat it even if you are a celiac.