Dining out: Japanese Cuisine – Anne Willner

With many naturally gluten-free options, Japanese food can be a great choice when dining out. However, although sushi is often safe, gluten lurks in other places. In addition to the obvious gluten-unfriendly dishes such as dumplings and noodles, here's what to check for when confirming which options are gluten-free.

1. Soy sauce and wasabi

This is basic but very important to know and keep in mind – standard soy sauce contains wheat! Gluten-free soy sauce and tamari are great substitutes that taste incredibly similar. Some Japanese restaurants may have GF soy sauce available if you ask, but always double-check when dishes are made with soy sauce. In addition, some packaged wasabi uses wheat starch as a thickener.

2. Tempura

Not only is there wheat flour in batter used for tempura dishes, but tempura flakes (also known as “crunch”) that are used as a topping on sushi rolls have wheat as well. In addition, keep in mind that if a restaurant offers tempura, there’s a good chance they are using the same fryer for tempura as well as other dishes, so be sure to ask about potential cross-contamination.

3. Imitation Crab

Imitation crab (also known as “crab stick”) almost always contains wheat starch as a binding agent. This is why California rolls – which usually use imitation crab – are almost never gluten-free. Always ask about ingredients if there is any sort of imitation crab or fish in a dish.

4. Sauces and Dressings

Soy sauce and wheat starch are often in dressings and sauces. Watch out for seaweed salad especially – it almost always has soy sauce in the dressing.

5. Fish Roe

Some fish roe (e.g., those orange fish eggs used as a sushi topping) have an added wheat thickener to help bind the eggs together. This isn’t always for the case, but it’s worth checking.

6. Edamame

Believe it or not, some restaurants use steam from boiling wheat-based noodles to cook edamame and other vegetables. This can potentially cause cross-contamination. While this practice won’t be used at all Japanese restaurants, it is worth double-checking to be sure.

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Anne Willner

Born and raised in New York, I relocated to Sydney, Australia in 2018 for work. I love exploring the incredible gluten free food scene in Sydney as well as experimenting with gluten free cooking and baking.  I was diagnosed with Celiac when I was 12 years old and in the 14ish years since my diagnosis, I‘ve maintained a strict gluten free diet. I love sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned through my experience and showing how a GF diet can be exciting and delicious.

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