Eating gluten free in Japan can be tricky. This post is going to outline what I did for food on-the-go. Although, I should mention that “eating on the go” is considered a faux-pas in Japan. In Japan, it is considered rude to eat while walking, in fact, some stalls won’t even let you leave until you have finished the food that was purchased there. The expectation is that you eat the food you buy huddled with everyone outside of the store/stand/kiosk. While stopping to eat is a bit hard to get used to, we did appreciate being forced to slow down and the lack of litter in the cities. The cities in Japan are seriously spotless!
Ried and I hit up convenience stores every day. Most commonly we visited 7-11’s and Family Marts, however there are a number of other popular chains. Convenience stores are literally everywhere in Japan. It’s super easy to find one by your hotel, on the way to the train station, etc. We often found 3 or more on the same block, so no worries there!
I ate onigiri frequently. Like…super frequently. I love the stuff! Rice in Japan often contains vinegar with barley malt so take that into consideration. I never had a reaction as this doesn’t seem to bother me but obviously be careful if you are celiac! Different onigiri have different fillings. Some of the convenience stores have pictures on the wrappers which can help you figure out which ones to stay away from (I avoided anything with omelet style eggs as I know they often contain soy sauce). When in doubt use a translation app to figure it out. My favorite onigiri was the tuna and mayo combo which I never reacted to.
Other good foods I found at the convenience store include various juices/teas, hardboiled eggs, rice, fruit, and salad (specifically a coleslaw I really enjoyed). Of course we also enjoyed the wide variety of candies that could be found in convenience stores as well.
Convenience stores and street vendors also often serve yakitori (meat skewers), I would get whichever one had salt (shio) and avoid anything with soy sauce or any other type of sauce. I tried crab, beef, and chicken yakitori while in Japan and I enjoyed all of them. I also had some sort of grilled sweet potato from a food vendor by the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.
I’ll be honest, I don’t require a lot of variety in my diet while travelling. I never want my allergies to get in the way of travelling so I’m pretty okay with eating the same thing every day if it means I get to see all of these cool places without having to deal with an upset stomach.
Note: I am lucky that although I have a gluten allergy, I am not celiac and can handle some contamination. I get an upset stomach and all that comes with that (thank goodness for Imodium!) if I ingest too much, but no anaphylaxis for me! So as you are reading our blog posts, take that into consideration and adjust as necessary for your dietary needs 🙂
Note from Ried: Convenience stores in Japan are definitely worth visiting as I am sure you will read on countless other blogs. Travelling with Rachel, I ended up eating from convenience stores just as often as she did. I however had a much wider variety of choices when deciding what to eat. Don’t picture your local 7-11 food (unless of course you live in Japan), the food at Japanese convenience stores offers many more options, both hot and cold, and is the easiest place to find a steamed bun or karaage (Japanese fried chicken). Convenience stores offer a cheap alternative when buying lunch and often have a place to sit while you eat. Just because you’re at 7-11 doesn’t mean you can’t eat a tasty Japanese meal.