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Eating Japanese When You Have Dietary Restrictions

Eating Japanese food is a delicious gustatory experience that anyone would be happy to indulge in. In fact, even people with certain restrictions to their diet often find themselves craving popular and savory tummy-fillers from the Land of the Rising Sun.

From vegans to people with food allergies, true fans of the cuisine won’t let their dietary restrictions get in the way of maximizing this experience. If you’re one of those who wish to enjoy eating Japanese without risking an allergic reaction or violating your special diet, there are three things you can do to make your experience worthwhile.

1. Communicate Clearly With Restaurant Staff

Most authentic Japanese restaurants use ingredients that are native to the country. With this in mind, if have dietary restrictions, it is imperative that you communicate your specific food requirements to the chef or restaurateur so that they can adjust the dishes accordingly.

If you have allergies, you can still relish your meals if you ask the restaurant staff to help you choose a meal that suits your dietary requirements. You can ask about the contents of the dishes you wish to order first, then request that they omit certain ingredients that could trigger an allergic reaction.

If you’re eating at a restaurant with staff members who speak limited English, present a printed copy of your allergy information written in Japanese, if possible, to help them understand you better. Also, remember that it is always best to double-check the contents of the meal by having a companion taste test it before you take a bite to be sure that it doesn’t contain ingredients you’re trying to avoid.

2. Understand What the Labels Say

Understanding the labels on Japanese food is also a useful skill when there are limitations to what you can consume. As with any foreign cuisine, unfamiliar ingredients could catch you off guard.

Food products with larger packaging include allergen tables or icons to indicate which type of allergens the food may contain. Knowing what the tables state is the key to making an informed decision on whether the food you’re about to order is safe for you to eat.

Some of the common allergens you should look out for are:

  • Milk and dairy – Called nyuu in Japan, dairy is found in products like instant soups, crackers, and bread. While it may not be present in Japanese dishes like udon, ramen, and tempura, you still have to be careful. Western influence on the cuisine may lead to food innovations that incorporate the use of milk and other dairy products like cheese.

    This ingredient is most commonly found in soups, salad dressings and toppings, egg omelets, egg sandwiches with mayonnaise, and potato salad. Japanese burger buns and pastries may also contain milk.

  • Eggs – Also known as tamago in Japanese, eggs are commonly used as toppings for salads, light soups, and even on rice. Since this fact isn’t usually indicated in the dish description on the menu, make sure to ask first before you order.

    There are also certain dishes that include eggs in a less obvious manner, like fried dishes (or those meals ending in katsu) and foods that are made to follow a specific shape with the help of egg and flour.

    If you are allergic to eggs or avoiding these for any reason, you might want to avoid eating chirashi bowls, tamago-yaki sushi, chikuwa, and chawan-mushi (a savory egg custard dish). Foods that use batter such as tempura, okonomiyaki, and tonkatsu may also contain this ingredient.

  • Fish – Fish like salmon and tuna are commonly found in soup broth, seasonings, food flavorings, and toppings. Always ask whether fish in any form is present in your meal’s ingredients. It is often hidden and sometimes unacknowledged by vendors, so be sure to re-check your meals before consuming them.

    Some dishes which frequently use fish include onigiri, ramen, crackers, fish cakes, and bento boxes. Certain salads also contain fish ingredients.

  • Crustaceans – When reading food labels or speaking to a waitress, you should look out for the terms kairui and kokakurui, especially if you are allergic to shellfish and crustaceans. The words ebi and kani – the Japanese terms for shrimp and crab, respectively – should also raise a red flag if you have this specific dietary restriction. Like fish, these ingredients are also commonly found in flavorings in snacks, toppings, and seasonings for Japanese dishes like hot pot and fish cakes.

  • Sesame – Also called goma, sesame is another typical ingredient found in Japanese dishes and cannot be easily detected. To be more specific, many Japanese fried meals are cooked using sesame oil. This includes almost everything – from fried rice and sautéed vegetables to dumplings.

    Sashimi bowls and salads may also contain sesame seeds as a garnish for added aesthetic and flavor. But since they are not considered a main ingredient, they may not be listed in the dish description on the menu. Black sesame can also be found in many Japanese desserts like steamed dumplings and red bean paste.

3. Be Wary of Street Food

Although Japan is popular for scrumptious street foods, you must try to avoid them if you have restrictions in your diet because food stands don’t often indicate what ingredients are used in their offerings. Be extra wary of food stands where all the ingredients of a dish are being cooked together. You can use your allergy card in this scenario, but always be cautious with this type of food.

Enjoy Japanese Specialties Safely

Although Japanese cuisine leans largely on seafood, having allergies and other dietary restrictions shouldn’t keep you from relishing the mouthwatering dishes popular in the East.

As one of the most recommended Japanese restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Koi Restaurant serves not just authentic Eastern food, but also customer satisfaction. We make sure you enjoy a genuine Japanese experience, even if there are restrictions in your diet. Let us know your specific needs and we’ll definitely deliver a delicious, satisfying meal.