Travelling anywhere can be stressful in itself. Adapting to a new climate, long delays and lost luggage are all potential obstacles we have to face whilst trotting around the globe. But how about food? Okay, you might struggle with differences in flavour, a spicy surprise or a quick bout of food poisoning whilst on your travels, but for some people just being able to find a meal they can eat is the biggest challenge, and Japan is no exception.
Food intolerances have risen dramatically over recent years and can cause uncomfortable, often painful digestive reactions to certain foods. Along with the discomfort, those with a food allergy have to deal with knowing which foods they can cope with, which foods to avoid completely and finding alternatives to popular everyday ingredients. Not surprisingly, all of these factors combined can make it blimmin’ difficult to eat with ease – not just at home but when eating out, too. And what about when you’re planning your trip of a lifetime? Food is a massive part of a country’s cultural identity and a must if you want to fully immerse yourself in local life. But with unknown ingredients and a potential language barrier to contend with, eating whilst travelling can be a source of stress for those with an intolerance.
So, let’s talk about gluten…
Pasta, bread, cake, biscuits – you name it, it’s probably got gluten in it.
You’ve probably heard of people voluntarily going ‘gluten free’ as a way of losing weight and avoiding carbs ready for that much-anticipated beach holiday. But for some people, living a gluten free lifestyle is not a choice. Gluten intolerance can range from a mild allergy to a lifelong illness, Coeliac disease, which sees the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue. Whatever the reason, being unable to eat gluten can be a real issue when travelling, and can make eating a headache rather than a pleasure.
If you’re planning on heading to Japan and are worried about what you’ll be able to eat whilst you’re there, then fear not! Grace, our lovely Friend of Rickshaw, has developed a gluten free guide to Japanese cuisine and some top tips on how to travel this intriguing country whilst eating to your heart’s content…
1. Bring your own Tamari
Japanese cuisine is hard for coeliacs, as soy sauce is pretty much the key ingredient in everything savoury you’ll see. My first and very important tip – bring your own tamari! I brought a big bottle with me in my checked luggage and used it on pretty much everything I ate. You can also buy small sachets and travel bottles of it on the internet if you want a more portable option. Don’t buy it in Japan – not all tamari is gluten free over there.
2. Take a gluten free translation card
Communicating your needs is very difficult if you don’t speak Japanese so getting yourself a gluten free translation card is a must. You can download them from the internet free of charge and they’ll make your life a lot easier!
3. Ask for food to be made with salt
Ask for food to be made with salt ‘shio’, instead of with soy sauce ‘shoyu’. This works for yakitori restaurants, but yakiniku restaurants (Japanese BBQ) are your best bet as you receive your own clean BBQ to grill the meat yourself. No worries about cross contamination on these grills and you can enjoy as much as you can eat – though it’s not the most exciting of food! These were the best places to go as you felt that you were getting an authentic Japanese experience without the worry of cross contamination/soy sauce everywhere.
4. Look for the kanji
I learnt two types of kanji before I went: wheat (小麦) and soy sauce (醤油). These two are the main culprits, and even if you see only one of the kanji on their own – avoid it, it could be barley or rye, foods coeliacs cannot eat. It saves your life when you’re in supermarkets and not sure what is/is not ok.