Where to Find the Best Gluten-Free Food in Tokyo

Theres no reason for gluten-free folk to miss out on Japanese classics when in Tokyo
There's no reason for gluten-free folk to miss out on Japanese classics when in Tokyo | Janesca / Unsplash
Rebecca Hallett

Freelance writer and editor

At first glance Japanese food might seem perfect for people who can’t eat gluten, with plenty of dishes based on rice rather than wheat. But you’ll quickly realise when travelling in Japan that, actually, it’s surprisingly hard to find gluten-free food.

Not only do most Japanese dishes contain soy sauce (which has wheat in it), but not many people have dietary restrictions in the country, so there are few allergy-friendly options. But things are changing, especially in the capital. Here are our top tips for finding gluten-free food in Japan, and some of the best gluten-free restaurants in Tokyo.

Vocabulary

The language barrier can feel intimidating in Japan, but luckily the key phrase here is borrowed from English: “gluten free” is pronounced “guruten furī”. To ask whether something is gluten free, simply ask “guruten furī desu ka?” To say that you’re allergic to it, the phrase is “guruten ni arerugī ga arimasu”, while “I’m coeliac” is “seriakku desu.”

You may find that the word “gluten” draws blank looks, though, in which case you can try asking about specific ingredients. Wheat is “komugi”, rye is “raimugi”, barley is “ōmugi” and oats are “ōtsumugi”. Also useful to know is “shōyu” for soy sauce, usually made with some wheat, and “tamari” for the traditionally gluten-free variety of soy sauce. To ask whether a dish contains a specific ingredient, the simplest sentence is “[ingredient] ga haite imasu ka?”

You can find Japanese allergy cards online, which explain exactly what you can’t eat; showing one in restaurants and cafés can be really helpful. Just make sure that it specifically mentions soy sauce, as many establishments may overlook this.

Apps and websites

There aren’t many comprehensive online resources for gluten-free travellers in Japan, but there are a few apps and websites which might help. Find Me Gluten Free is a good starting point, though note that it does include places which aren’t exclusively gluten free. It gives details of what you can expect, such as a specific kitchen area for handling gluten-free food, an allergen menu, and so on.

Another useful resource is Happy Cow, a site and app dedicated to vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Though not specifically aimed at allergen-friendly spots, you can search by keyword to find places with gluten-free options.

Tours

One of the best ways to remove the worry about where you can eat is to ask a tour guide or knowledgeable local, like the Local Insiders on Culture Trip’s Japan by Train Grand Tour. Obviously, package tours with rigid pre-decided itineraries are usually tough for people with allergies, but plenty of companies offer bespoke trips, tailor-made to meet your needs. Some, such as InsideJapan, can also work with you to create a self-guided itinerary, finding places where you can get delicious gluten-free food at each stop along your route.

Restaurants and cafés

Among Tokyo’s Michelin-starred restaurants, standing bars and neighbourhood cafés there are a few gluten-free gems. There may not be as many as you’d expect for a capital city, but the numbers are growing, and some districts are already forging ahead. Setagaya is a great place to base yourself, especially Shimokitazawa (just four stops from Shibuya on the Keio Inokashira train line), with its profusion of trendy coffee shops and independent cafés serving gluten-free food.

Falafel Brothers

This local Middle Eastern food chain has branches throughout Tokyo, but the original is in Roppongi. As well as the perfectly spiced falafel itself, the all-vegan menu has plenty of gluten-free options, and staff are generally well informed. You can eat in the store, or just grab a quick bite to take out – the falafel salad is the perennial favourite, unsurprisingly, and there are usually gluten-free cakes and cookies too.

Ramen Kousuke

Kousuke is one of the best spots for gluten-free ramen in Tokyo – unless you’re vegetarian, as like most ramen places, it uses broth based on a meaty stock. At the vending machine inside the small shop, select the tamari soup and hearty brown-rice noodles (both marked in English) for your gluten-free ramen, which will arrive quickly and with a large slice of chashu pork on top. The restaurant is just a few minutes’ walk from Sangenjaya station, with the entrance at what looks like the back, just up a side road.

Yakuzenshokudo Chabuzen

This small, friendly spot in a residential part of Shimokitazawa is focused on serving hearty, healthy meals – the name means “food therapy diner Chabuzen”. Everything on the menu here is vegetarian or vegan (and halal), and the many gluten-free options include ramen made with rice noodles. Try the “dragon” gluten-free ramen if you can’t decide.

Shinbusakiya

Also known as the Samurai Noodle Company, this Hokkaido-style ramen joint is located near Shibuya station. The menu includes vegetarian, vegan, halal and gluten-free ramen and sides, including fried chicken, all ordered on a vending machine outside the door. If you need both gluten-free and, for example, vegetarian, select the vegetarian menu first and then the version with brown-rice noodles; if you click gluten-free first, only meaty options come up.

Where is a Dog?

This low-key café is in the laidback student area of Waseda. The whole menu (available in English) is gluten free, and there are plenty of vegan options. It tends towards international meals rather than Japanese, with hearty curries, pizza and rice dishes. You can also pick up cooking supplies here, helpful if you’re staying in self-catering accommodation. And as for the unusual name? The whole place is filled with pictures of cats, plus one lone dog, which you’re supposed to find.

Breizh Café Crêperie

At its several branches around the city, Breizh brings a taste of Brittany to Tokyo with its perfectly prepared galettes (buckwheat pancakes). There are both savoury and sweet versions, plus seasonal options, and you can enjoy a sparkling French cider on the side.

Pizzakaya

Though it’s not cheap, Pizzakaya is one of the very few pizza places in Tokyo offering gluten-free bases. The menu also has plenty of dairy-free and vegan options, using cashew cheese, and serves a good range of craft beers. If you order your pizza as takeout, you get a ten percent discount.

Sora no Iro

This well-known ramen restaurant has at least one gluten-free option on the menu at each of its branches. At the flagship store near Kojimachi station, you can have vegan shoyu (soy sauce) or tantanmen (with sesame paste), both rich and flavourful broths served with filling brown-rice noodles. Some of the stores have vending machines where you order, but at all of them staff can advise you on what’s gluten free.

Gluten Free T’s Kitchen

Located between Roppongi and Nogizaka stations, the clue’s really in the name at Gluten Free T’s Kitchen. Everything is coeliac-friendly, and there are also plenty of options if you’re vegan or have allergies to nuts, soy, dairy or eggs, all clearly marked on the English picture menu. The Japanese dishes, such as ramen and gyoza, are delicious, but the menu also covers everything from curries and pasta to indulgent desserts.

Minoya

A rare opportunity to have a high-end traditional Japanese meal which is entirely gluten free – just ask when you book (at least three days in advance) and they’ll happily adjust the menu. The set courses are built around fresh, seasonal vegetables, and can be made completely vegetarian or vegan on request. Try Japanese sake or shochu drinks along with your meal to complete the experience.

Para Taco

This Daikanyama Mexican restaurant uses organic vegetables to prepare a fresh, Japanese-influenced take on Mexican cuisine, featuring unexpected ingredients like burdock root. There are some meat options, but the menu is mostly vegetarian, and as well as the salads and rice dishes gluten-free diners can enjoy tacos served in corn tortillas.

Riz Labo Kitchen

While wandering through Harajuku, you’ll see plenty of cafés selling super-sweet crêpes filled with ice cream, chocolate and mountains of whipped cream. Keep going past them and you’ll be rewarded with Riz Labo, which makes impossibly fluffy, eggy rice-flour pancakes – try them with matcha, whipped cream and red bean paste topping, or just with cream and maple syrup. They also serve drinks and cakes, and run occasional cooking classes.

Otaco

Hidden away behind Senso-ji in Asakusa, this small takeout-only bakery makes light, airy chiffon cakes – and as they use rice flour rather than wheat, the whole shop is gluten free. Buy a selection of flavours, from plain to matcha or chocolate, and enjoy them in nearby Sumida Park, by the river.

Kippy’s Coco Cream

Kippy’s serves refreshing, creamy dairy- and gluten-free ice cream in Shibuya. There’s always an impressive range, including classics like strawberry and chocolate, more unusual flavours such as cinnamon and charcoal, and a few seasonal options. There are a few seats inside, but you can also get your ice cream to take away.

Posh

Over the Sumida River in Kiyosumi-Shirakawa is Posh, a café serving elegant fruit tarts and organic coffee. Everything is gluten-free and vegan, and all the desserts are raw, in keeping with their “you are what you eat” ethos.

Rebecca was hosted at OMO5 Otsuka and Hoshinoya during this stay in Tokyo.

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