I knew Japan wasn’t going to be easy from the get go; I’ve been to Tokyo before and am fully aware that eating gluten free in Japan is no easy feat. As most of you know I’m allergic to dairy, so add to that a dairy free diet, and you get a bit more difficult. I also don’t eat red meat, so add that to the mix and it gets even more dicey. I prefer to eat as plant based as possible, and wanted to explore whatever vegan options I could find to share with you guys, so I’m here to highlight my favourite finds for vegan and gluten free food in Japan!
The first thing you have to know of course is the kanji for any allergies/restrictions you may have. Write it down, memorize it, and peruse labels for it. I’m not going to go into detail and will instead link helpful articles like this one for you to check out for Japanese translations and for allergy card information. Just know that you shouldn’t trust any processed food unless it has an allergy label and always check that.
My first stop on my trip was Osaka. I stayed near dotonbori which was an awesome area but as expected, it was hard to find food. Street food in dotonbori is pretty much off limits, however I did see a sign for coconut milk bubble tea, so I asked about it and after he made it without any milk, it was just straight up coconut milk with tapioca pearls. Aside from that, I did spot fruit smoothies, and some matcha to go.
I made a point of going to Raw8 Cafe as it was one of the only places I could find in Osaka that did gluten free and vegan. It’s a really cute little cafe with a massive menu.
I’m not going to include every page of the menu because it’s pretty extensive! But just know that they have more options than what is here, including waffles, smoothies, lattes, and more cooked food. Every page on the menu is said to be gluten free, but upon asking the server had to double check that the curry I wanted was gluten free. So, I wouldn’t recommend ordering blindly and instead take precaution and show an allergy card just in case.
I wanted the pizza but it was only available for dinner, so I opted for the curry. I was looking forward to having Japanese curry, but this was not quite how I remembered it. The curry had lentils and beans in it, and the flavour was closer to chilli. It was still delicious though and since the portions are not huge here, I had tons of room for dessert.
I ordered the ice cream and raw cheesecake combo, both in berry. The cheesecake was amazing! It’s tart, full of flavour, and super rich. Although probably not made fresh, it was still delicious. The ice cream tasted like the regular soy milk soft serve but was really good.
The only drawback about Raw8 is the portion sizes for the price; the food is good but I could have easily ordered and eaten two curries. This is coming from someone who eats a lot though, so take that with a grain of salt.
Raw8 also has a very small selection of grocery options including kombucha, and raw chocolate. An awesome option for a fully gluten free and vegan meal.
The real highlight of Osaka for me, was a cooking class I took from Vegan Gluten Free Lab. Osaka is famous for Takoyaki; it’s everywhere you turn in the streets of dotonbori and looks and smells so good. I somehow managed to find a gluten free cooking class for it, with a vegan option (!) which was absolutely insane and so so exciting.
Sayuri was a great teacher, and taught us all about the ingredients, technique, and appropriate substitutes. The end result was unreal! The other two students both agreed it tasted just like the original which was really exciting for me as I’ve never had it before. We used konyaku instead of octopus and the takoyaki was soft, moist, and full of flavour. We even topped it with Sayuri’s homemade vegan mayonnaise and gluten free takoyaki sauce.
I wanted to try the bonito flakes on them for the real effect but these are obviously not vegan so do obmit these if you are.
As I write this, I can’t help but drool about how good it was.
I expected to only be able to sample the takoyaki, but she was extremely generous and we made two full batches each! We couldn’t eat all of the takoyaki ourselves and had to take some home with us.
Sayuri is soon moving to Kyoto, so you can reach out to her via Facebook or instagram regarding any potential classes she may be having. I highly highly recommend her classes, and this was a highlight of my entire trip in Japan.
I headed to Kyoto after my short stay in Osaka, and the options here are way more plentiful. I’m only going to include my recommendations as there’s quite a lot!
Hands down, the highlight of food for me in Kyoto was Choice Cafe. Choice is a gorgeous cafe close to Sanjo station, across the river in Gion.
The ENTIRE menu at choice is gluten free and vegan. I was in heaven! The options here are seriously drool worthy. I had the hardest time choosing between pancakes, quiche, pasta bologna, and risotto. I ended up opting for the pasta and then pancakes for dessert.
The pasta was so amazing and the homemade vegan mozzarella was insanely good. So soft and tasted just like the real thing!
The pancakes were another show stopper. I wasn’t sure about these at first – for some reason in the photos they look dry, but they are anything but. Moist and rich and filling with perfect texture. Topped with a scoop of vegan butter and real maple syrup. They were to die for!
We couldn’t help but order the cheese platter after, knowing that the quality here was top notch. The cheese were a variety of cashew and soy milk based (as we guessed – we did not confirm this) however they really were so delicious and full of flavour. My favourite was the smoked cheese. It was rich, creamy, tart, and fully of smoky flavour. So good!
Choice is a place you do not want to miss in Kyoto. Whether you’re vegan, gluten free, both, or none, the food here is good as is the price point.
The next highlight for me was Premarche Gelateria. Premarche is a gelato shop that makes regular, dairy free, and vegan varieties of gelato in delicious and unique Japanese flavours. The people there were so so friendly, and the girl working at the counter happily explained to me how to order, helped me choose flavours, and made recommendations. It was tough to choose with so many options, but I ended up going for two of the vegan flavours – yubu (tofu skin) and pistachio. They also offer regular waffle cones, AND a gluten free mochi cone! I’m not sure of the vegan status of the cones though so do double check those if you go.
Both were amazing, but the pistachio is out of this world. Seriously. This gelato is the richest and most delicious I have ever had in my life. I can’t explain how creamy and divine these flavours are. Regardless of your dietary restrictions, this gelato shop is out of this world awesome. Do not miss this place if you’re a fan of gelato, and let’s be real, who isn’t? Everyone should go!
The mochi cone was soft and chewy and perfect for scooping up the remaining gelato.
Not only was it delicious, but it was so worth the price! You can get a very generous scooping of two flavours and a gluten free cone all for around 600 yen.They also have a grocery section with both Japanese and imported organic, gluten free, and vegan goods.
I highly highly recommend going to Premarche if you’re in Kyoto. Also a plus, close by is Nijo Castle so you can make an outing of it and explore the castle while you’re in the area!
For ice cream and lattes, I recommend stopping by Cafe Matsuontoko. I was not planning on having a meal here due to the lack of gluten free options, but I am glad I went for some ice cream. They have a few flavours including matcha so I ordered that and a hazelnut latte. Both were delicious! The matcha ice cream was definitely a highlight for me and it was the only one I could find on my travels that was fully vegan. Nishiki advertises a lot of soy milk matcha ice cream but unfortunately they contain dairy and wheat.
The cafe itself is quite dark, and not the coziest. I recommend stopping by if you’re in the area for ice cream or coffee, but they do not have to-go options so you will have to sit to enjoy these as well. I ate with my friend, and they weren’t blown away by their meal. Matsuontoko is near central Kyoto on the way to Gion so it’s quite convenient to stop by.
Other highlights of my time in Kyoto were definitely the snacks. I fell in love with yatsuhashi which are soft rice cake triangles filled with the most delicious flavourful filling. You can sample a ton while in Nishiki market in Kyoto. They come in flavours like soda, peach, chocolate, strawberry, matcha and more! They’re cheap at 250 yen/pack and so delicious.
I also loved the baked version of yatsuhashi which is like a cinnamon cookie in the shape of a bridge. You can find a lot of these near Kiyomizu-dera but I also spotted both versions at Omiyage stores elsewhere in Japan and at the airport. They’re hard and crunchy and make for a yummy and quick snack!
I also loved the variety of soy milk available at most larger convenience stores. The flavours available are insane! Vanilla ice cream, matcha, melon, tangerine, etc. Be extra careful with these though as some may contain dairy based emulsifiers and there is also a flavour called Malt Coffee which contains malt extract, (brown one in the top row of this photo) so it’s definitely not gluten free. Check out this post for more details about vegan dairy products in Japan. Matcha was one of my favourites!
The soy presso latte was also amazing and is vegan! Convenience stores in Korea are stocked full of coffee and to go lattes, but we don’t have any dairy free versions aside from Americano. This was so so exciting for me, although unfortunately I only found it one time in a grocery store at Shin-Osaka station. I should have stocked up while I had the chance!
I also spotted some Made Good products at a small grocery store at Kyoto station. It doesn’t hurt to peruse the imported food section for some safe options. I wish I’d stocked up on these as well, but I was sure I could find the same store again later and definitely couldn’t. The stations are a bit confusing and connect many transit lines, so my advice is to grab it if you do see something you want!
Japan wasn’t easy but so worth it. I recommend checking out Happy Cow for up to date reviews and recommendations. Typically when a place is vegan, there is a good chance they at least have gluten free options as well or are knowledgable about it. There’s a lot of places I wish I visited if I’d had the time. If you have any recommendations for my next trip, please let me know!
If you’re interested in more about any of these places, comment below and I’ll write up a full review with more details!