Tokyo was always on my bucket list, so when I had the chance to go, I didn’t think twice. It wasn’t a well organised trip, it was all very last minute, I bought the Lonely Planet book 2 days before getting on the plane.
I didn’t have time to get organised and bring any supplies either, apart from two traybakes from Lottie’s Bakehouse – it was a lifesaver on the first night.
I looked up a few places that were recommended. That was pretty much all the planning I’ve done. I had the Japanese travelcard, because I knew language could be an issue and it came in handy a few times.
I think what helped the most was my mindset though. I had no expectations when I got on the plane. When I found food, and good food at that, I was pleasantly surprised and it always made me happy.
I got glutened once. I had that coming. Streetfood, people who don’t speak english and rushing don’t mix with a gluten free diet.
Planning: I got the Lonely Planet book and wrote a list with everything I wanted to see. I googled places that were safe for Coeliacs and this list was the most helpful.
Where we ate:
Teppan Baby – that place is all sorts of weird but staff was helpful, spoke basic English and they did their best to make sure they avoid cross contamination. 1-17-4 Kabukicho Pocket Bldg. 1st basement floor, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Cafe Littlebird – 100% gluten free cafe, extensive menu and I had my first gluten free beer here. And I have to go back to try their marshmallow pizza. 1-1-20 Uehara JP Bldg. 3rd floor, Shibuya, Tokyo
Kogomebana – another 100% gluten free cafe. Amazing cakes, good coffee. Was perfect for a lazy Sunday morning. 1-1-3 Takanawa, Minato Ward, Tokyo
Metropolitan Grill at Hilton Tokyo – there is only so much sushi you can eat. So one day to save all the googling and trying to decide, the easiest option was eating in the hotel. Food was decent but nothing special and slightly overpriced. They did have rice bread though. 6-6-2 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Sushi Zanmai Ginza – this was the first place where I saw a proper list with allergens and they always checked everything. Good sushi and they seemed to have a wider selection than other places. 6-4-6 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
The best dinner we had was at a place we found when plan A didn’t work out as they didn’t have anything gluten free. Typical Japanese grill restaurant in the lower ground floor of the Landmark Plaza. The place was packed with locals – always a good sign and we had to wait to be seated. We got lucky as we were sitting at the bar and right by the chef, who cooked everything to order. The gf card was really useful, staff was amazing as they kept in mind that my food had to be “special”. The chef went out of his way too, cleaned the grill every time he cooked something for us. Took us some time to find it and despite spending about an hour trawling the internet I couldn’t find a name. How we found it: went down to the car park, turned left and walked pretty much to the last restaurant.
The best lunch was in a small village somewhere near Fuji city. It was after bungee jumping and we randomly stumbled upon it. No one spoke English and we don’t speak Japanese so the gf card was, again, a lifesaver. There was no other way to explain that my food had to be gluten free and also that cross contamination is an issue. We had really good sashimi and I had a sea snail. Explaining what I wanted, and more importantly that I wanted it cooked was an adventure on it’s own. That was by far my favourite day in Japan. Despite not being able to talk to anyone in the restaurant we had amazing food, people were friendly and welcoming. And they went out of their way to accommodate my dietary requirements.
Not food related, but when in Tokyo, the Golden Gai is a must! Narrow little alleys with tiny bars. My personal favourite is Barca, 451F, Xanadu.
Be prepared for people not knowing anything about gluten/gluten free diet and cross contamination. This is why having the gf travel card saved on your phone is important. I was told a few times that they never heard about this before but once they read it, they took it seriously. It’s not because they are rude or not interested but in parts of Asia, Coeliac disease is still unknown.
Also there isn’t as much flexibility as there is in the UK. For example we can have burgers in McDonald’s without the bun and fries are normally ok too. In Japan, they simply won’t make a burger without the bun. Tried and tested.
Google translate can be helpful when it comes to shopping in supermarkets and trying to figure out ingredients but bare in mind that labelling is not as strict and detailed as it is in the UK.
All in all, Japan was amazing. Good food, amazing places to see and awesome things to do. Culture shock in the best possible way.