When I was told I’d be going to Tokyo for my induction training with my new job, my first thought was, “cool!”. Swiftly followed by, but what am I going to eat?? Because the one thing I had heard about gluten free food in Tokyo was… it doesn’t exist.
I’m here to tell you that I survived, I did not starve, and as to whether or not I got glutened… well, my hair hasn’t fallen out yet so I think that’s a no?*
For all my fellow coeliacs/celiacs/gluten intolerant allies who are eyeing up a potential trip to Tokyo, here is everything I learned before, during and after my trip. Oh, and go. With the right preparations, I believe you’ll be able to survive eating gluten free in Tokyo – and you won’t regret it. The place is incredible.
*Full disclosure – my symptoms are mostly silent, so I’m never 100% certain whether or not I’ve been glutened. Sometimes my hair falls out a couple of months later, but that’s far forensically auditable. So with everything I mention, as always, please do your own research and know your own symptoms. Alright on with the show.
General things to know
- There aren’t many coeliacs in Tokyo, so knowledge about what gluten is/isn’t, cross contamination, etc is limited at best. I do believe it is improving, though.
- Gluten is found in a lot of Japanese food, variously soy sauce (obviously), possibly the vinegar used to make sushi rice, buckwheat/soba noodles, some teas… There does seem to be some debate around this, as well as the question of does MSG contain gluten (the answer seems to be possibly, depending on where it was manufactured). Please refer to the sources at the end and do your own research before committing to anything.
- Due to the two points above, it can be very difficult to get a clear answer on whether a particular food contains gluten.
- Chefs are very well respected in Japan, and to ask for a modification to a dish is seen as disrespecting the chef. So, it’s not just as easy as asking for something ‘without the xyz’.
- Japanese people are generally incredibly polite and excellent hosts. They categorically do not want to make anyone ill, so will 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 stuff. Here’s where I ate gluten free food, and what I found. This is in the general order of most recommended to least.
Glutenfree Cafe Littlebird
This is a teeny tiny restaurant up some random looking stairs and to be honest it looks like you’re walking into someone’s apartment. Inside, you’ll find four very small tables and the most extensive dedicated gluten free restaurant I found in Tokyo.
Their menu covers everything from fried chicken to waffles to pizza, and the food is decent and reasonably priced. You’ll have seen me fangirling over this restaurant if you follow me on Instagram – it should be on my highlights now if you want to relive the joy with me. Super friendly staff; bring a gluten free souvenir from your home country to contribute to their collection.
Gluten-Free 61 Cafe & Bar
This restaurant is even tinier than Littlebird, with just two tables (three, if you count the outside one). However, it’s the only other dedicated gluten free restaurant I found in Tokyo. It’s got a menu that includes some Japanese favourites like Okonomiyake:
and some Western ones like Spaghetti Bolognese, and pancakes. The menu is fairly limited but covers everything you could want. They even do deliveroo, I think!
It’s a little tricky to find as it doesn’t reliably appear on Google Maps, and unfortunately I couldn’t describe it to you if I tried. What I can tell you is it’s 1 minute walk from the Roppongi Itchōme Station (Namboku Line). Or 5 minutes walk from the Roppongi Station (Hibiya Line or Ooedo Line). The pin on their Facebook page map is accurate though, so follow that! If it looks like a random residential street you’re in the right place.
This is near a beautiful temple and whilst the menu is very limited, it’s well marked as gluten free and I felt confident the staff knew how to cater for me. It’s obviously geared to foreigners (it’s what the name means!) which made me feel a bit more safe – it shouldn’t be that way, but it often is.
I had a meat and salad situation with a bowl of rice which was absolutely delicious. The meat was cooked to perfection, and those flowers! So pretty.
ANA Intercontinental Akasaka
I stayed at the ANA Intercontinental in Akasaka which was a perfectly nice hotel, if a little dated in places. The breakfast however was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Crucially, they have gluten free bread (which was actually delicious – like a cross between a pitta and a pancake) so you can get some carbohydrate in your body at the start of the day.
There’s an extensive buffet as well, with allergens clearly marked. I ate very well for breakfast every day, and that kept me going when there wasn’t much else I could eat.
Kiwi Kitchen Gourmet Cafe
My company had lunchboxes delivered for us all every day, and mine was always from somewhere different than everyone else’s..! One day I had a lovely lunch pack from the Kiwi Kitchen Gourmet Cafe and it appears they have dine in facilities as well.
The food was decent and honestly having food you can take away is kind of priceless. So I’d highly recommend them on that basis alone.
Gajyumaaru Organic Deli
Another boxed lunch situation, except this one came in cute little bento-esque packaging. It felt a bit more Japanese than the protein-and-broccoli from the Kiwi Kitchen.
If you’re going gluten free in Tokyo, it’s almost a given you’ll be eating Western food. So anywhere that seemed even vaguely Japanese-esque was a win for me.
I’m fairly sure this is a ring/email ahead and order, take-away/delivery only kind of place. It might be quite expensive. I’m not sure… but if you plan ahead, and you want to get some food delivered maybe to your AirBnB or place of work, this could be a really great option for you.
Rainbow Bird Rendezvous
So apparently all gluten free cafes have names to do with 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 dinner one night from this place and it was delicious. I have no idea what half of it was but I did not miss meat at all!
This was the one time I kind of winged it so I’m not sure I can recommend it to others 100% – I think what I ate was safe, but please do your own research with this place!
As any good gluten free traveller knows, Mexican food is often a safe bet. I was nearing hanger and had eaten all my emergency snacks when I stumbled into Chronic Tacos and waved my gluten free card around. They dealt with it very well, only looking fairly nervous, and advised I could have a salad bowl with garlic prawns only. Fine by me.
The food was as good as Mexican in Tokyo is ever going to be, and it kept me from hanger. Oh and they had free wifi. Job done.
Ha, as if 7-11 has made the list. Ok so this is no gourmet restaurant, but 7-11 in Japan sells quite a good range of snack type items. For example, onigiri (rice triangles with various fillings – gluten free status varies so check!), mochi (sweet rice balls – delicious) and pre-cooked edamame beans to name a few. One evening I had a pack of edamame beans cold straight from the bag, and a tray of chocolate mochi. I was as happy as larry!
If you find yourself in a pinch and you need a quick pick me up and you’re not that fussy about it, may I recommend Mos Burgers to you. They have a special allergy friendly menu which is prepared and packed offsite, then microwaved on site for customers. Sounds great, and I have no doubt it’s gluten free.
The thing is, it’s the only option for you on the menu and it’s very small. And a bit strange. It’s literally just a verrrry plain pork patty sandwiched between some very gluey gluten free bread. It was also no bigger than the palm of my hand. Odd, but if you need to eat, it’s a safe option.
I just spotted this on Google Maps while I was looking up Chronic Tacos – I didn’t go there myself, so I can’t vouch for certain that it’s safe, but I’ve been to the same chain in Paris (please follow this link, if only to lol at how different I look in the pictures 😮 ) which I and other gluten free travellers rave about.
It says their galettes are made with 100% buckwheat flour, so if you can verify that’s actually true you may be onto a winner here. Galettes! In Tokyo! What a time to be alive.
- BYO gluten free soy sauce/tamari. I took a bunch of those little plastic fish full of gluten free soy sauce you can get in Australia (I just asked for extra with my food court sushi before I went – cheeky but effective) with me, to save me carting around a whole glass bottle of the stuff everywhere I went out.
- If you can, stay in an AirBnB or at least a serviced apartment. It may be expensive, but you’ll feel so much happier being able to cook your own food if necessary.
- If you get an AirBnB or have an address where food can be delivered, look into some of the cafes above with delivery services and order ahead so at least your first few days are covered.
- Bring lots of your own food and be prepared to eat it.
- Supplement your own food (likely to be processed and ambient) with extras from 7-11 where possible.
- This should go without saying, but bring bags of patience. If you don’t speak Japanese, you may find it hard to convey your needs without getting a polite, but blanket refusal for service. Don’t get frustrated. Just always have a plan B.
- Take note of opening times to avoid disappointment, and always check on Google/however you can that an establishment is in fact still operating. Gluten free places in particular seem to have fairly high turnover.
- I used the (free) coeliac travel card thingo once, with reasonable success. Luckily, for most of the rest of the time, I either went to a dedicated gluten free eatery 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 ever fails to deliver. This time is no exception. I didn’t buy her translation card but I would next time; the free one wasn’t quite up to the job this time unfortunately.
This article was useful for a general background on the gluten free situation and some foods to go for/avoid, plus a couple of restaurant recommendations.
I didn’t find this list of restaurants before I visited, but I wish I had! There’s even a place that serves gluten free french toast…!
Are you coeliac and hoping to visit Tokyo one day? I hope this has given you the confidence to turn that dream into a reality one day. It is so worth it, and with some preparation, dedication and good coeliac travel luck I do think it’s possible to find a reasonable amount of gluten free food in Tokyo!
If you’re a coeliac and you’ve already visited, did I miss anywhere? Are there any tips you’d pass on to other prospective visitors?
Pin me so other coeliacs can have hope: