A gluten-free Japanese meal

Gluten-free education

Hitoshi and I were asked to make a Japanese dinner for New Year’s Eve.

My friend and one of our guests has gluten intolerance. The real deal.

I’m skeptical with the whole gluten-free thing. If you have an allergy to gluten or celiac disease or something else along those lines, that makes sense to me. Otherwise, I figure it’s a trend. This meant that I didn’t know much about gluten-free foods.

Along with food dislikes, other allergies and restrictions with salt and raw egg amongst the other guests, Hitoshi and I had our work cut out for us.

Japanese gyoza

turkey and turkey-kimchi gyoza – unfortunately not gluten-free! (Credit: Hitoshi)

Things to watch out for cooking gluten-free Japanese food

If you are asked to prepare a gluten-free Japanese meal and have no clue where to start, you’re not alone. Hitoshi and I had no idea either. But we learned a few tips.

Shoyu or Japanese soy sauce – luckily gluten-free versions exist but finding them might be a challenge and they aren’t cheap. Try organic or whole food stores. We found that Kikkoman makes a gluten-free Japanese soy sauce that may be at more mainstream grocery stores.

Mirin – if a bottle does not say gluten-free, carefully check the ingredients. We didn’t think ours would be a problem. Mirin is usually rice wine with sugar and sometimes salt. Unfortunately, we discovered our mirin is more of a mirin “seasoning” and has malt in it. Malt is not gluten-free!

Sake – sake should be fine. It’s supposed to only be rice wine but you never know. Check the label.

simmered pork belly

gluten-free super fatty simmered pork belly (Credit: Hitoshi)

The menu

We did our best to accommodate everybody and have enough food for a family style meal where dishes were laid out on the table and people helped themselves.

  • turkey and turkey/kimchi gyoza – this was not gluten-free due to the wrappers but we got around the pork dislike with the turkey. We bought the kimchi and the rest was from scratch.
  • unagi maki (eel rice rolls) – this was bought from a local restaurant and deemed to be safe
  • udon fish-based (bonito) soup – this was made from scratch with gluten-free shoyu and real bonito flakes from Japan. Once we discovered our mirin was not gluten-free, we skipped it. We cooked gluten-free rice noodles for our gluten-free guest. The rest of us had regular Akita-style udon noodles.
  • simmered fatty pork belly on rice – this fabulous dish boiled on the stove for six hours. We made it from scratch and used gluten-free shoyu.
  • chicken yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) – Another guest made this and substituted gluten-free shoyu in the sauce.
  • Caesar salad – I have no fear mixing food types! I adapted a very basic recipe to make it egg and gluten-free. We kept the croutons separate as we didn’t have gluten-free ones.
  • Finger veggies – cut up mini cucumbers, celery and grape tomatoes
  • Fresh fruit – berries, melon and other delights
  • Greek desserts – my friend’s mom brought a wild and delicious selection of homemade treats. My friend knew which ones to avoid.
Japanese fish-based udon soup

gluten-free udon soup broth with udon noodles – our gf guest had her own gf rice noodles (Credit: Hitoshi)

The recipes

I’ll get to these over the next month or so. Stay posted!


With some research and sticking with simple recipes with as few ingredients as possible, we put together a meal that was tasty and safe for all.

Thankfully the Japanese dishes didn’t have a lot of gluten in them to begin with other than Japanese soy sauce. If you’ve got access to gluten-free soy sauce though, you’re set.

Have you adapted a meal or a dish to make it edible for someone with dietary restrictions? How did it go (or not)?

17 thoughts on “A gluten-free Japanese meal

  1. Congrats on rejoining the working world! And yes – schools are notorious for being germ incubators. 🙂 I adapt a lot of typical meat dishes to veg versions. Favourite is a veg taco made with extra firm tofu that even my partner admits is his preference to the ground meat version. (Cus beef is now banned in Bombay so tends to be some kind of mystery buffalo meat…. maybe)

    • Thank you! Except I lasted a whole SIX days back at work. How pathetic is that?!

      Mmmmm! I would love to try your veg versions of meaty dishes. Frankly, I can only take so much tofu but I think it’s from not knowing how to cook it right. And because I love my meat and the meatless versions make me grimace. (I ate far too much in a health-conscious stage a long time ago.) The exception is Japanese food where I gladly eat a fair bit of tofu *and* know what to do with it.

      Now, tell me more about beef being banned in Bombay. I’m curious!

      • Six days til the germs got ya? Not bad! 🙂

        Ah… beef ban…. short version is cows are sacred for some, longer version is imagine fascists being in power and imposing their beliefs on everyone else – deliberately penalising minorities like Christians, Muslims and the poor.

        Even in some parts of the country eggs, which are an excellent source of protein, were removed from schools. Why is this important? Let’s just say malnourishment is a serious issue in some parts of the country and sections of society. NGO supported mid-day meal programs are vital to helping the next generation not have stunted mental and physical growth. Not being permitted to serve meat or eggs seriously undermines this aim.

        To these same guys, even using “Bombay” must be censured! (colonial hang-over) It must be Mumbai… not that they’ve changed Bollywood to Mullywood. 😉

  2. The menu sounds delightful. I also tend to think that all this gluten free is just a trend and unless you suffer severe conditions, you don’t need to deprive the gluten from your diet

    • Hi Mutsumi! I’m finally getting over my two-week illness and looking forward to checking out your posts! You know, that Japanese meal didn’t seem like too much work. Hitoshi and I split things up and made what we could ahead, like the gyoza. Man, Hitoshi is soooo fast making gyoza.

      As for ingredient cost, I think the whole thing worked out to about $100 to feed 7 adults and 1 toddler. We had a lot of things at home already like the rice and cooking seasonings and Hitoshi found a great hunk of meat for $10 at a small Korean market near his work!

      Oh yes… accommodating allergies and food preferences can be really tough, leaving me wondering if a group should just go see a movie. Ha ha!

  3. On New Year’s Day, my husband, a group of friends, and I went to a Thai restaurant like we always do [it is kind of like a New Year’s Day tradition now.] We ordered several dishes to share, most without any shell fish as I am allergic to it. One of my friends commented that we would have been very limited if another guy had to come as he is allergic to peanuts.

    The meal you served sounds delicious and I admire your effort to accommodate everyone. I hope you are enjoying being back to work.

    • Oh, yes! Peanuts are a tough one. It seems almost impossible to bring peanuts to anywhere where kids might be these days. Is this the same in Taiwan?

      Thanks! It was fun to do and luckily we had some standbys that we could adapt. And Caesar salad… yum. I could honestly eat that salad every single day with anything and still be happy. 😀

      It’s *great* to be back working again but not so getting sick! A necessary byproduct of teaching which I’m sure you know all about, too. 😀 I’m subbing and would love to have something regular. Maybe in a couple of months??

  4. Hi Hilary and Hitoshi. That sounds a wonderful feast. Such a challenge, but you clearly thrive on a challenge.
    I agree with your thoughts on gluten. I have a theory that once you get a bit susceptible to gluten and then cut it out, that you can then become totally intolerant. (I am not talking about people here with serious allergies or Celiac disease). Doctors tend to ask you to try cutting out gluten altogether to see if it sorts out your problems when they should maybe just suggest that you to reduce the amount or have it earlier in the day when you can cope with it better.
    I have been busy putting together a couple of posts about our wonderful Canadian experience. Should be ready soon.

    • Thanks, Annette! Yes, challenges are a good thing. And as for the gluten thing… *sigh* We had a family member who had celiac and she ended up making her own food and selling it locally in the 1980s. Fast forward 30 years and gf is all the rage yet at a premium. Perhaps it makes it easier for those with celiac disease/allergies but I wonder if it’s not bordering on insulting in some ways. It irks me when celebrities become doctors/advisers/quick fixers… and too many people follow their “advice”.
      I’m sure you’ve got quite a collection of posts! I’ve been checking out the last few of yours but have yet to comment. 🙂 I have an email on its way to you too although it’s currently in my brain drafts. 🙂

And you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.