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Gluten Free/Dairy Free/Soy Free/Sugar Free...Please help!

Gluten Free/Dairy Free/Soy Free/Sugar Free...Please help!

Old Apr 28, 18, 12:05 am
  #1  
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Gluten Free/Dairy Free/Soy Free/Sugar Free...Please help!

Hello all! Very excited to be visiting Japan for the first time this summer. Because of medical dietary restrictions, I fear my food options may be quite limited. I have a few specific questions & hope this awesome group might be able to help:
  • As I'm soy free, I'm planning to bring my own tamari (if needed.) Does anyone know if its possible to buy bottles or packets of tamari in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka & if so, is it called tamari over there too and where is it available?
  • As I'm dairy free (and love my coffee), does anyone know if sugar free/unsweetened almond milk is available in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka (and if so what is it called and where can I purchase?) If not, would this be something i would be able to bring in with me or would customs confiscate upon arrival?
  • As I'm gluten free, can anyone recommend specific food items that may be available (in grocery stores) or restaurants in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka that have gluten free options?
  • Are there specific grocery stores/shops that might have gluten free sections?
Any and all help is appreciated. Thank you in advance.
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Old Apr 28, 18, 2:13 am
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No soy, gluten or dairy foods? Is that right? (Sorry, no sugar either)

There are Starbucks everywhere in Tokyo, they have non soy dairy alternatives. You can take a little almond milk with you in your hold baggage until you get to go shopping, it’s fine to bring.

In your shoes, I’d consider making contact with a good will guide association and asking if they have a volunteer willing to go shopping with you to point out and help you identify products you can use. A gluten free section in a store won’t help you avoid soy and dairy. I think you need some proper guidance.
Another option is to visit the information desks of the large department stores and ask for an English speaker who can help you find these products in the “depachika” (food basements). If not immediately, if not in the first store, you WILL eventually find someone who can help you. All you need is a little patience, grace and persistence. Everything you want does exist... somewhere.

You are coming at a time when there’s a general push in Tokyo to better understand and cater to visitors’ needs, there’s never been a better time to go there with these particular challenges.

Last edited by LapLap; Apr 28, 18 at 3:10 am
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Old Apr 28, 18, 2:23 am
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Old Apr 28, 18, 3:21 am
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I was struggling to remember the name of a restaurant I saw on a Tokyo Eye program where customers can talk to a consultant about their requirements and get a meal tailored to their needs. Found it:
Kanoya Athlete Restaurant
lots of links on google if you want to find out more
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Old Apr 28, 18, 11:44 pm
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Originally Posted by LapLap View Post
No soy, gluten or dairy foods? Is that right? (Sorry, no sugar either)

There are Starbucks everywhere in Tokyo, they have non soy dairy alternatives. You can take a little almond milk with you in your hold baggage until you get to go shopping, it’s fine to bring.

In your shoes, I’d consider making contact with a good will guide association and asking if they have a volunteer willing to go shopping with you to point out and help you identify products you can use. A gluten free section in a store won’t help you avoid soy and dairy. I think you need some proper guidance.
Another option is to visit the information desks of the large department stores and ask for an English speaker who can help you find these products in the “depachika” (food basements). If not immediately, if not in the first store, you WILL eventually find someone who can help you. All you need is a little patience, grace and persistence. Everything you want does exist... somewhere.

You are coming at a time when there’s a general push in Tokyo to better understand and cater to visitors’ needs, there’s never been a better time to go there with these particular challenges.
Thank you so much for these awesome tips. Will pack a bit of almond milk to get me started, bring a lot of patience & kindness, and hope for a lot of goodwill along the way.
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Old Apr 29, 18, 12:09 am
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Originally Posted by susanita3333 View Post
Thank you so much for these awesome tips. Will pack a bit of almond milk to get me started, bring a lot of patience & kindness, and hope for a lot of goodwill along the way.
Patience and grace - you’ll be in a position where you have to rely on receiving kindness, and it doesn’t always come in the ways one would wish.
​​​​​​​You will be navigating the extreme edges of Omotenashi*, omotenashi can get a bit weird and inconsistent at the untested fringes.

*Omotenashi - the spirit of Hospitality, but through a Japanese prism.
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Old Apr 29, 18, 12:37 am
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Originally Posted by susanita3333 View Post
Thank you so much for these awesome tips. Will pack a bit of almond milk to get me started, bring a lot of patience & kindness, and hope for a lot of goodwill along the way.
Bear in mind that "I cannot eat/drink/consume....X,Y,Z" is frequently construed as "A little bit is ok" or "Just don't tell me that's in it".
There is nothing malicious in it. It's just that attitudes and expectations can sometimes be different from what you're used to. Language also plays a part in that the meaning, and relationships between concepts are often different across Japanese and English.

Vegetarians being served fish and fish products (because "they're not meat!") or not being told that the vast majority of mass market bread in Japan includes pork fat are the classic examples. (Side note: don't get your hopes up about asking restaurants to modify dishes you order. *That* is one of the few things I've seen people get thrown out of places for in Japan.)
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Old Apr 29, 18, 5:39 pm
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Originally Posted by susanita3333 View Post
Hello all! Very excited to be visiting Japan for the first time this summer. Because of medical dietary restrictions, I fear my food options may be quite limited. I have a few specific questions & hope this awesome group might be able to help:
  • As I'm soy free, I'm planning to bring my own tamari (if needed.) Does anyone know if its possible to buy bottles or packets of tamari in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka & if so, is it called tamari over there too and where is it available?
  • As I'm dairy free (and love my coffee), does anyone know if sugar free/unsweetened almond milk is available in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka (and if so what is it called and where can I purchase?) If not, would this be something i would be able to bring in with me or would customs confiscate upon arrival?
  • As I'm gluten free, can anyone recommend specific food items that may be available (in grocery stores) or restaurants in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka that have gluten free options?
  • Are there specific grocery stores/shops that might have gluten free sections?
Any and all help is appreciated. Thank you in advance.
The first thing I would want to know is how vital this is for you. Are you gluten-free because you're a true celiac or are you able to tolerate small amounts? I assume your avoidance of dairy and soy is due to allergies. How severe are these allergies? Are you lactose intolerant, and therefore able to tolerate fermented dairy products (I have a niece who can tolerate cheese and yogurt, for example), or will any form of dairy be dangerous to you? This will determine how flexible you can be, and sometimes you have no choice but to be flexible unless eating or drinking something would cause severe illness or would be life threatening. (I used to know someone who went into anaphylactic shock if he ingested the least bit of egg.)

Your main challenge will be foods that come already prepared with soy sauce, which is a lot of them. Most sushi should be OK, except for eel, which is made with soy sauce. Miso soup is made by dissolving miso paste in fish broth, so that's a problem, too. In a pinch, you can find Western-style restaurants all over Japan these days, except in very small towns.

Here, at least, is some information on avoiding gluten:

https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japa...ting-in-japan/
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Old May 1, 18, 12:02 pm
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By the way, it just occurred to me. If you have to avoid soy, shouldn't tamari be just as bad for you as regular soy sauce? Some kinds of tamari are gluten-free, but they all contain soy, as far as I know.
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Old May 1, 18, 1:31 pm
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Originally Posted by ksandness View Post
... If you have to avoid soy, shouldn't tamari be just as bad for you as regular soy sauce? ...
Perhaps worse.

I confess that I don't have to deal with food sensitivities other than lactose intolerance so don't have experience in making these kinds of choices. However, thinking back on my many visits to Japan, I can't imagine trying to enjoy such a visit while avoiding all the things listed above that are so ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine. Soy sauce is used in almost everything. Fish is in many things, frequently hidden in the preparation. Likewise gluten. It seems that the things that make Japanese food so good are the things the OP must avoid. I could make a list of my 10 favorite Japanese foods and nearly all would be on the "No" list for this thread. It all makes me a little sad just to think about it. :-(
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Old May 1, 18, 9:09 pm
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Wonder how strict the OP needs to be with those restrictions.
Food restrictions/sensitivities need to be respected, of course. Jpn has made progress in this area. Apparently there're more and more vegan options in Tokyo, and there are more items/places with Halal signs. But Jpn is still far behind other countries like US for instance. I think it'll be a really challenging trip if the OP has to adhere strictly to all of her restrictions.
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Old May 1, 18, 9:23 pm
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Originally Posted by evergrn View Post
Wonder how strict the OP needs to be with those restrictions.
Food restrictions/sensitivities need to be respected, of course. Jpn has made progress in this area. Apparently there're more and more vegan options in Tokyo, and there are more items/places with Halal signs. But Jpn is still far behind other countries like US for instance. I think it'll be a really challenging trip if the OP has to adhere strictly to all of her restrictions.
Things are changing to resemble some other countries yes, this is true and probably will benefit some folks.
That said, I see Japan as not "far behind other countries like US", but rather as different. I think the US is absurd with all the variations it offers and all the variations people seem to expect. I far prefer the food scene here. But this is all personal preference though and not necessarily something that is evolved or unevolved. It is simply a cultural difference I think.
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Old May 2, 18, 1:07 am
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OP is part of a party of 4 (two adults and two minors).
It’s possible that those in the group with a wheat allergy/intolerance are different from those in the group with soy allergy.

I do hope susanita3333 is approaching an organisation who can help with interpreting/translation help. If there isn’t a volunteer available, hiring a professional for at least half a day may be necessary. Might need to forsake a taxi from NRT to afford such a service though.

I’ve seen a LOT of requests in this forum over the past decade or so. What susanita3333 is asking I consider perhaps the most difficult of all to fulfill. I’m pretty sure I’ve never suggested that securing the services of a guide was an essential component in visiting Japan before.
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Old May 2, 18, 11:35 pm
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THANK YOU to all who have taken time to respond. Sadly, from my party, its all me that has these issues. I'm trying to plan as much as possible in advance for restaurants/shopping, so as not to interfere with the rest of our family's trip. My medical condition requires a strict diet that excludes gluten/dairy/sugar/soy. That said, i do not have celiac's disease so if (God forbid) I do have slight cross contamination, won't be as severe as for some others. I will be traveling with dozens of protein bars, plus nuts & other small snacks and will be eating breakfasts (fruits, eggs etc) in our hotels each day. I will take snacks with me during the days out, and hope to be able to find sashimi or chicken (with salt, not sauce) in sushi restaurants along the way. A friend recommended a few restaurants in Tokyo that have gluten free dishes: The Little Bird, Casa de Sarasa (gluten free tacos), Gluten Free 61 Cafe&Bar & Frijoles (Mexican). I have been advised that there is a great restaurant in Osaka called Raw 8 Cafe that has some gluten free dishes as well.
@LapLap - wonderful advice, will definitely look into a guide for a day to help shop for other items locally that i may be able to bring with us to Kyoto/Osaka.

Again, many thanks to all and if anyone has a guide they have used in Tokyo & loved, or a friend on the ground that might be willing to grocery shop (for a fee of course), would love recommendations :-)
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Old May 3, 18, 1:26 am
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There is a Costco not so far from the Disneyland area. Not somewhere I’d usually advise, but in your case...

And I really do suggest you approach the volunteer guide associations I posted a link to and start asking if they have someone who can help. You have a much better shot with them than here directly.

On the upside, if you’ve been consuming tamari until now without issue, then soy isn’t a crucial ingredient to avoid. That will help you enormously, at least for this trip.

Have you considered getting yourself a cheap rice cooker? (From about 6/7,000yen for use only in Japan). If you bought yourself one as soon as you arrived you can prepare your own rice balls (onigiri), add other grains like millet (kibi) to make your rice healthier. You could even make quinoa in it. It would make supplementing food with protein and vegetables much, much easier.
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