When I was told that my new job would take me to Tokyo for my introductory training, my first thought was “cool!”. Quickly followed by, but what should I eat? Because the only thing I heard about gluten-free food in Tokyo was … there isn’t.
I’m here to tell you that I survived, didn’t starve, and whether I got gluten free or not … well, my hair hasn’t fallen out yet, so I think that’s a no? *
For all of my celiac / celiac / gluten intolerant allies who are considering a possible trip to Tokyo, here is everything I learned before, during, and after my trip. Oh, and go. I believe that with the right preparations, you can survive the gluten-free food in Tokyo – and you won’t regret it. The place is amazing.
* Full disclosure – My symptoms are mostly silent, so I’m never 100% sure whether I’m gluten-free or not. Sometimes my hair falls out a few months later, but this can be largely checked forensically. So with everything I mention, do your own research as always and know your own symptoms. Okay, continue with the show.
Knowing general things
- There are not many people with celiac disease in Tokyo, so knowledge of what is / is not gluten, cross-contamination, etc. is limited at best. However, I believe that it will improve.
- Gluten is found in many Japanese foods, various soy sauces (obviously), possibly the vinegar that sushi rice is made from, buckwheat / soba noodles, some teas … There seems to be a debate as well as the question Contains MSG gluten (the answer may appear to be depending on where it was made). Please refer to the sources at the end and do your own research before committing to anything.
- Because of the two points above, it can be very difficult to get a clear answer as to whether a particular food contains gluten.
- Chefs are very well respected in Japan, and asking for a change of court is considered a disregard for the chef. So it’s not so easy to ask for something “without the xyz”.
- Japanese are generally incredibly polite and excellent hosts. You categorically don’t want to make anyone sick and therefore often refuse to serve you at all rather than risk it.
Where I found gluten-free food in Tokyo
Ok, let’s get to the good things. Here I ate gluten-free food and what I found. This is in the general order of the most recommended to the least.
Gluten free cafe Littlebird
This is a tiny restaurant that leads up a random looking staircase. To be honest, it looks like you’re going to someone else’s apartment. Inside you will find four very small tables and the most extensive gluten free restaurant I have found in Tokyo.
The menu includes everything from fried chicken to waffles to pizza, and the food is decent and inexpensive. You will have seen me fangirl about this restaurant if you follow me Instagram – It should now be one of my highlights if you want to relive the joy with me. Super friendly staff; Bring a gluten-free souvenir from your home country to contribute to its collection.
Gluten free 61 Cafe & Bar
This restaurant is even tinier than Littlebird with only two tables (three if you count the outer ones). However, it’s the only other gluten-free restaurant I’ve found in Tokyo. There is a menu with some Japanese favorites like Okonomiyake:
and some western ones like spaghetti bolognese and pancakes. The menu is quite limited, but covers everything you could ask for. They even deliver, I think!
It is a bit difficult to find because it does not appear reliably on Google Maps. Unfortunately, I couldn’t describe it to you if I tried. What I can tell you is that it is 1 minute walk from Roppongi Itchōme station (Namboku line). Or a 5 minute walk from Roppongi Station (Hibiya Line or Ooedo Line). However, the pin on your Facebook page card is correct, so follow that! If it looks like a random residential street, you’ve come to the right place.
This is near a beautiful temple and although the menu is very limited, it is well marked as gluten free and I was confident that the staff knew how to take care of me. It’s obviously geared towards foreigners (that’s what the name means!), Which made me feel a little bit safer – it shouldn’t be like that, but it’s often like that.
I had a meat and salad situation with a bowl of rice that was absolutely delicious. The meat was cooked perfectly and these flowers! So beautiful.
ANA Intercontinental Akasaka
I stayed at the ANA Intercontinental in Akasaka, a very nice hotel, if a little dated. Breakfast, however, was one of the best I have ever had.
The bottom line is that they have gluten-free bread (which was actually delicious – like a cross between pitta and pancakes) so that you can get some carbohydrates into your body at the start of the day.
There is also an extensive buffet with clearly labeled allergens. I ate very well for breakfast every day and that kept me going when I couldn’t eat much else.
Kiwi Kitchen Gourmet Cafe
My company had lunch boxes delivered to us every day, and mine always came from a different place than everyone else’s. One day I had a nice packed lunch from the Kiwi Kitchen Gourmet Cafe and it seems that they also dine in facilities.
The food was decent and frankly it is invaluable to have take away food. Therefore, I can only warmly recommend her on this basis.
Gajyumaaru organic deli
Another packed lunch situation, except this one came in a cute little bento-like package. It felt a bit more Japanese than the protein and broccoli from the kiwi kitchen.
If you are gluten-free in Tokyo, it is almost a matter of course that you eat western food. Wherever it still seemed vaguely Japanese, it was a win for me.
I am pretty sure that this is a ring / email in advance and that ordering, taking away / delivery is just some kind of place. It could be pretty expensive. I’m not sure … but if you plan ahead and have some food delivered to your AirBnB or work place, this could be a really good option for you.
Rainbow bird rendezvous
Apparently, all gluten-free cafes have names related to birds – cool.
This is a vegan cafe that also offers some gluten-free options. Be careful because not everything is. However, I had a packed lunch from this place one evening and it was delicious. I have no idea what half of it was, but I didn’t miss any meat at all!
This was the only time I winged it, so I’m not sure I can 100% recommend it to others – I think what I ate was safe, but please do your own research with this place!
As every good gluten-free traveler knows, Mexican food is often a safe bet. I was approaching the hanger and had eaten all of my emergency snacks when I stumbled into Chronic Tacos and waved my gluten-free menu around. They handled it very well, just looked pretty nervous and advised me to only have a salad bowl with garlic shrimp. Okay for me.
The food was as good as the Mexican in Tokyo will ever be, and it kept me from the hanger. Oh and they had free wifi. Job done.
Ha, like 7-11 made the list. Ok, this isn’t a gourmet restaurant, but 7-11 in Japan sells a pretty good selection of snacks. For example onigiri (rice triangles with different fillings – gluten-free status varies, so check!), Mochi (sweet rice balls – delicious) and pre-cooked edamame beans, to name just a few. One evening I had a pack of Edamame beans cold out of the bag and a tray with chocolate mochi. I was as happy as Larry!
If you are in an emergency and need a quick pick up and you are not that fussy, I can recommend Mos Burgers. They have a special allergy-friendly menu that is prepared and packaged outside the premises and then microwaveable on site for customers. Sounds good and I have no doubt that it is gluten free.
The thing is, it’s the only option for you on the menu and it’s very small. And a little strange. It is literally just a very simple pork patty sandwiched between a very sticky gluten-free bread. It was no bigger than the palm of my hand. Strange, but if you need to eat something, this is a safe option.
I just discovered this on Google Maps when I was looking for Chronic Tacos. I didn’t go there myself, so I can’t be sure it’s safe, but I was in the same chain in Paris (please follow these directions) link, if only to see how different I am in the pictures look 😮) that I and other gluten-free travelers rave about.
It is said that their galettes are made from 100% buckwheat flour. So if you can check if this is actually the case, you may be a winner here. Galettes! In Tokyo! What a time to be alive.
- BYO gluten-free soy sauce / Tamari. I took a couple of these little plastic fish with gluten-free soy sauce that you can get in Australia (I just asked for my food court sushi before I left – cheeky but effective) to cart around an entire glass to spare bottle of the stuff wherever I went out.
- If you can, stay in an AirBnB or at least in a serviced apartment. It may be expensive, but you will feel much happier if you can cook your own food if necessary.
- If you get an AirBnB or have an address where groceries can be delivered, check out some of the above-mentioned cafes with delivery service and order in advance to cover at least your first few days.
- Bring a lot of your own food and be prepared to eat it.
- Complement your own food (probably processed and in the area) with extras from 7 to 11 where possible.
- This should go without saying, but be patient. If you don’t speak Japanese, you may find it difficult to convey your needs without receiving a polite but blanket denial of service. Don’t be frustrated. Just always have a plan B.
- Be sure to check opening hours to avoid disappointment and always check with Google / however you can that a facility is actually still running. Gluten-free places in particular seem to have a relatively high turnover.
- I used the (free) Celiac Travel Card once with reasonable success. Fortunately, for most of the rest of the time, I either went to a special gluten-free restaurant or had a Japanese colleague with me to translate (she was AMAZING). If you need a card, I recommend buying one from Jodi (link below) as it sounds much better than the free one.
Jodi’s blog never failed to deliver. This time is no exception. I didn’t buy your translation card, but I would do it next time. The free one was unfortunately not up to the task this time.
this article was useful for a general background on the gluten free situation and some foods to avoid / avoid as well as a couple of restaurant recommendations.
I have not found this list of restaurants before my visit, but I wish I had! There’s even a place where gluten-free French toast is served …!
Are you celiac and hope to visit Tokyo someday? I hope this gave you the confidence to make this dream come true one day. It’s worth it, and with some preparation, dedication, and good luck traveling to Celiac Disease, I think it’s possible to find a fair amount of gluten-free food in Tokyo!
If you have celiac disease and have already visited, have I missed something somewhere? Are there any tips that you would pass on to other potential visitors?
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