Reflections on Cooking & Dining in Japan, and World Travel as a Celiac

Thankfully, I stayed healthy the entire time I was in Japan.  Pretty impressive for my first trip outside of North America since my diagnosis.  My sister-in-law, Alden went to great lengths to make sure that I had plenty of food options in their home (rice cakes, peanut butter, Chex, M&M’s) and she even researched dining options out.

At work in the kitchen.

At work in the kitchen.

There is something a little sad about no longer being able to be a culinary adventurer when I travel.  I miss being able to say “Sure, why not?” when something is put down in front of me.  Now there is lots of research to be done, questions to be asked, and restraint to be used.  I have never been tempted to eat gluten or break my diet.  I remember how miserable I was when during the height of my illness so no piece of pizza or cookie is worth purposefully feeling crummy.  In Japan, I was pitifully unadventurous in my cuisine, when dining out.  For the most part, I stuck with cucumber rolls, pickled plum and shrimp sushi, with my GF soy sauce.  Nothing fancy but still yummy and at least felt a little “Japanesey”.

Just because I couldn’t partake in all of the sampling fun, didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy watching every plate go by me on the sushi conveyor belt at a restaurant.  And one of the highlights of the trip for me was going to a department store in Tokyo and taking in all of the sights in their version of a ‘food court.’  Did I know what anything was?  Nope.  Were any ingredients listed?  None in English.  Could I try it?  No.  But that’s ok.  Glass case, after glass case, full of beautiful dishes was still a sight worth seeing.

Just a taste of a Tokyo department store food cart.  No Sbarro here.

Just a taste of a Tokyo department store food cart. No Sbarro here.

At home we ate delicious “ovenless” meals, and one night we even made our own version of ramen, using rice noodles that Alden thoughtfully purchased.  We followed Gluten Free Girl’s recipe for Spontaneous Pork Ramen.  We made a few changes, but for the most part stuck to the original recipe.  It was yummy!  I was particularly proud of myself because I navigated the Hayama grocery store, solo, to pick up some of the ingredients for the dinner.  You should have seen me trying to identify pork and bok choy with no English for guidance.

We spent our last two days of the trip in Tokyo, and on our final night, we went out to an amazing dinner at Nobu.  That name might sound familiar to you because this high end restaurant has locations in New York, San Diego, Dallas and other cities.  I brought my card that explained celiac/gluten in Japanese and the folks at Nobu were very receptive.  (They even made a photo copy of the card and brought me back my original copy!)



At Nobu, we shared some veggie rolls and for my entrée, I ordered the salmon, which was delicious, and one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of meat I’ve ever eaten.  The dish came with a mango salsa rice and the flavors complimented the salmon perfectly and uniquely.  The staff was so attentive, clearly explaining everything to me, my options and what substitutions they would make.


For dessert, we shared the trio of crème brulees: green tea, brown sugar, and black sesame.  The crowd favorites were brown sugar and black sesame.  Green tea seemed a little too much like spinach.  (Side note: green tea is a very popular flavor in Japan.  Hagen-Daas even makes a green tea ice cream.)

Our dinner at Nobu was the perfect finale to our Japan trip.  A beautiful, delicious meal that kept me healthy.  Success!  While I left Japan without trying many of their staples, I boarded the flight back to the States with a full, and healthy, belly.  You can’t ask for more than that!

  1. Anne Steib says:

    Yum, I love Nobu! I have been to the one in Miami (pre-diagnosis) and loved it!

    I totally understand what you mean about loosing our sense of adventure when traveling. Like you, I miss being able to just eat whatever mystery dish is put in front of me in some foreign land. But regardless, I will be sure to have fun no matter what. I also enjoy to live vicariously and look and smell the dishes I can no longer eat!

  2. Alden says:

    Lovely post, Bets! It makes me nostalgic for how well we ate that week–your rice noodle ramen is the best thing to ever come out of the galley kitchen and I am craving Nobu. Might have to go get myself a rice ball to tide me over. Anyway, whatever we didn’t get to eat was more than overshadowed by the excellent company with whom we ate–I am so so glad you all came out!

  3. Betsy says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Anne. I do feel like my other senses are heightened when I can’t taste things. I so much more appreciate looking and smelling when sampling is not an option. Have you done much traveling since you were diagnosed? I’m sure your little one limits your travel some!

  4. Betsy says:

    Rice balls are yummy, but they’re no Nobu! Can’t wait to be back with you guys in 6 weeks. It’s hard to believe there will be another Watts at that point!

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