IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT Japanese cuisine (one of the world’s favorites!), you’ll know that, sadly for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, much of it is off limits due to the presence of gluten in many common Japanese ingredients. Notable among them: soy sauce, most types of noodles, and sometimes even sushi rice. So, on a recent trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, I took it as a delicious challenge to spend a week finding amazing Japanese food free of or with minimal gluten. Here’s my guide to dining gluten-free (GF for those in the know) in Tokyo.
Otsuna Sushi, located in the buzzing district of Roppongi, delivers a wonderful omakase for those avoiding gluten. While not a dedicated gluten-free establishment, with advanced notice the chef can prepare an outstanding tasting menu. Nearly all of the nigiri are adapted with GF soy, and anything that can’t be is replaced. Even the classic chawanmushi steamed egg and dessert were provided. Not too far away in Roppongi, Gluten Free T’s Kitchen offers a whole range of adaptable and allergen-free Japanese food. More than one visit may be required to sample the amount of comforting favorites on offer, including their fantastic deep fried chicken and takoyaki.
Dreaming of jiggly, soft and fluffy soufflé pancakes? Situated in the achingly cool Jingumae district off Omotesando Street, Rizlabo Kitchen is here to deliver, ensuring you don’t miss out on this Instagram-required eating experience. The small kitchen is part of a shared restaurant space on the ground floor of a traditional Japanese house, and they also do crepes on certain weekdays – be sure to check their Insta for the latest. RICEHACK Gluten Free Bakery in the side streets of Cat Street, a small hole-in-the-wall operation, serves a range of delicious curry buns, sausage rolls, bread, baguettes and pizzas to-go (including vegetarian/vegan options); these make for excellent sustenance while touring Tokyo. And tucked away on a quiet lane off well-known Takeshita Street, My Bánh Mì by Gluten Free TOKYO offers a simple menu of sandwich options, also including vegetarian and vegan variations, with a small outdoor-dining terrace providing the perfect place for a light lunch.
Another fantastically popular Japanese dish is okonomiyaki, a type of savory pancake containing cabbage and various meat or seafood cooked on a teppan grill. Steps away from Shinjuku train station, the lively Teppan Baby specializes in Hokkaido-style okonomiyaki, which is cooked with yakisoba noodles as opposed to the more commonly found flour batter. While not suitable for celiacs due to the likelihood of cross-contamination, those with mild gluten intolerances may enjoy this dish as they are able to swap the yakisoba for rice noodles (cooked in a separate standalone pot of water).
The restaurant Sû (a.k.a Gluten Free Kushiage Su, for googling purposes) in Ginza delivers an exceptional tasting menu of Kushiage, also known as Kushikatsu: skewers of breaded and deep-fried meat and vegetables. This modern and intimate eight-person restaurant is hard to find on the second floor of an anonymous building, however, it is truly unmissable on your gluten-free tour of Tokyo. Multiple courses of intriguing flavor combinations to start lead to wonderfully tender and crunchy sticks prepared before you and served at the counter.
Finally, for those craving the ultimate bowl of hearty goodness, Soranoiro NIPPON is conveniently placed at Tokyo Main Station to energize the weary traveler. Once you’ve located the establishment along “Ramen Street,” you can order from a machine outside the restaurant and choose a bowl of gluten free salt ramen; a deep broth with brown rice noodles, soft chicken breast, and a fudgy-yolked soft boiled egg. Slurping is highly encouraged!
Lede and hero image courtesy of Sû.