Gosh! I'm sorry guys! I didn't mean to go missing in action on all of you! Once I got to Japan and got into school (after suffering jetlag for 2 weeks)... I totally forgot to keep this group up! I'm so sorry! I dove back into school in Canada head-first and became busy AGAIN!
So, anyways, I'd like to give you all a heads up if you're moving to another country or even visiting, however, this information typically pertains to East-Asian countries as most of their policies are quite similar. For the last few months of 2012, I lived in Sapporo, Hokkaido Japan and learned to deal with living in a country that does not have a "gluten free" or "organic" section. In Asia, they eat a great degree less factory made items, especially bread. Where I was staying, in fact, the grocery story ONLY sold homemade breads, croissants and other pastries. Because of the little amount of gluten-intake, Celiac is almost non-existent. My school in Japan had never head of such a disease.
So, here I'll answer a few Q&As about Asian (specifically Japanese) living.
Q. Is Japan an easy place to find places to eat for gluten-free individuals?
A. No. It's nearly impossible to find restaurants whose food is not contaminated with gluten. Regrettably, egg noodles (udon noodles) aren't all that common in restaurants. In various non-wheat flours in Asian, usually there is a certain percentage of wheat in them. I was FORTUNATE after days of looking to find pure rice flour amongst bags and bags of rice flour with 10% wheat flour because Asians like the taste of wheat. In restaurants (and homes), they cook ALL FOODS in the same tiny kitchen, wheat noodles and udon are cooked the the same place and almost everything is flavoured (they call it "tasted") with soy sauce, which, 99.9% of the time in Asia is made with wheat. Meat is almost ALWAYS tasted with soy sauce prior to cooking. In Japan, I ate at restaurants twice my entire 4 months there.
Q. Is it rude to ask if there is wheat in restaurant items?
A. Never! In fact, you NEED to tell the waitress of any allergies prior to ordering and they try their absolute BEST to make sure your meal is satisfactory and won't cause you pain. You're bringing them your business and they, as part of their inherent, surviving, traditional culture and mindset, will serve you spectacularly. If anything has soy sauce, DON'T EAT IT because it contains wheat in Japan. It surprises Japanese people when you tell them it contains wheat because they never give the ingredients much thought.
Q. I can't eat dyes, or harshly processed foods. Will I be okay in Japan?
A. Most likely. I found on Japanese products that foods had a surprisingly minimal amount of ingredients.
Q. In Japan, what ingredients do I have to look out for?
A. Only soy sauce (醤油）and wheat (小麦 or 麦). Wheat is found in almost everything in Japan, even things that are gluten free in North America, such as M&Ms, Doritos, Cheetos, certain chocolates, rice cakes, SOME supposedly plain ice creams and the like. Sometimes it's difficult to tell where on the back the ingredients list is and you need to scan the entire back of the product. I made myself sick several times because I should have read the product over an 8th time. My trusty digestive enzymes that I get from eating a banana ASAP kept me from A LOT of pain.
If you want to ask someone in Japan if something contains wheat, and you're allergic to it, ask the following: "Sumimasen (excuse me) Sore wa komūgi ga arimasū ka? Watashi wa komugi no arerūgee ga arimasū". If you're more comfortable with showing them some writing, here is the same thing in writing: すみません。それは小麦がありますか。私は小麦のアレルギイがあります。
Q. Should I bring food with me if I'm visiting Japan?
A. If you're living there, no. You can find foods that you can cook from scratch (i.e. homemade foods), such as a huge variety of veggies, cheap meat, a TON of Japanese fish (absolutely delicious), oils, sticky rice (that's pretty much all you can buy) and other "yummies". Those of you who have a hard time with carbs... might have a tiny bit of trouble with finding things to eat besides rice. Potatoes are small and a bit more expensive then we're used to.
If you're visiting? Hmmm.... I can only see it as being cumbersome. If you love fresh veggies or fresh rice, you should be okay. Sushi without nori (seaweed paper) is 100% fine to eat!! There are lots of places to eat it. You can also find the odd foreign restaurant. I had the greatest German sausage ever in Japan.
NOTE: Sausages and typically processed meats with preservatives, from restaurants for sure, are made IN THE STORE!! They're, as far as I know, without wheat!! YAY!!
Q. I don't/can't eat meat/fish, I can't eat carbs (like rice) and I can't eat wheat. How will I fare?
A. All I can say is I hope you speak enough Japanese to fully explain yourself and are able to ask and completely understand what you're eating before you eat it. If you can't eat meat, that's probably okay most of the time. You can't/won't eat fish? Good luck... you're going to be in a position, especially with a hostfamily where you're gunna have to eat fish. You're also gunna have a bad time if you don't like rice. Very few restaurants have potatoes or fries. And wheat, that's self explanatory thus far.
Q. I'm a pick eater. What do I do?
A. I hope you will eat foods that are strange to you. They eat some odd stuff.
Q. What is the typical Japanese meal and is it gluten gree?
A. Typically, the Japanese meal consists of cooked fish from that prefecture, sticky rice with either soysauce (not gluten free), nori (sometimes gluten free) or sesame seeds, and maybe a soup (miso or kabocha/squash; latter has lactose) or steamed veggies (often mushrooms). So, without the "stuff" added on top of your rice (you usually put those on yourself), it's pretty much gluten free. Fish is often just cooked on a small BBQ.
A. I personally wouldn't risk it. Most take-out contains wheat or is a breaded (or bread with stuff in it) item.
This is all I have to say for now. Feel free to ask more questions.
I'll be submitting a traditional Kabocha-squash soup recipe from Japan later on.
Thanks for tuning in!
Happy Valentines Day!