Since going gluten free, my food life has changed dramatically. I have been forced to give up bread, most desserts, and most of my favorite sushi dishes. Anyone who knew me pre-gluten free would not believe what comes out of my mouth now when I order at a sushi restaurant—no more creamy salmon handrolls, no crispy spinach, and no tempura anything. As you might imagine, eating gluten free in a sushi restaurant can be tricky, given that gluten seems to be a staple in Japanese food. From the rice to the soy sauce, gluten seems to be present in everything. Thus, after years of experimenting, and many nights suffering from gluten poisoning, I have finally become a gluten free sushi guru. Here are some helpful hints that will make your sushi dining experience more enjoyable.  

1. Soy sauce

The most important step is finding a restaurant that actually understands and makes gluten free sushi. As soon as you sit down ask for gluten free soy sauce. If the restaurant does not have gluten free soy sauce or the waitress looks at you like you are speaking a foreign language, put your washing towel down and cancel your tea order because you won’t find anyone in the place that can or will make your sushi gluten free.

2. Salmon

Stay away from the salmon. Most Japanese restaurants cure their salmon in vinegar, and not all vinegars are alike. Most Japanese vinegars are derived from a celiac’s worst nemeses—wheat, barley and rye. That’s why I had to say adios to one of my all time favorites, Creamy Salmon Handrolls. Now Spicy Tuna Handrolls fill that void.

3. Rice

Have you ever wondered what makes Japanese rice sticky? Unfortunately, I found out the hard way at dinner when I first discovered that I had celiac disease. Like salmon, the rice may also be spiked with vinegar. Because of this, it is important to ask before you eat. I have found that the best sushi restaurants for gluten free are those that have both gluten and non-gluten rice.

4. Sauce

Gluten may also be hiding in your favorite sauces, so make sure to ask. I usually ask whether the chef can make it with gluten free soy sauce. If you want to be extra careful, then ask for the sushi without any sauce. That way, you can go back to the basics and just dip it in the gluten free soy sauce you asked for earlier.

5. Fried anything

Never eat tempura or any other fried foods that are dipped in a batter. Tempura batter almost always contains wheat flour, making it one of the major sources of gluten found in sushi. Need I say more? 

6. Faux fish

If California rolls are your roll of choice, be sure to avoid the imitation crab. Imitation crab is usually made by grinding white fish up with starch and other ingredients to make it taste like real crab, but unfortunately, wheat is one of those ingredients. Order the real thing or don’t order it at all, your body will thank you for it. 

If you follow all these tips, your gluten free sushi experience should go off without a hitch. That being said, I leave you with on final tip—if you find a gluten free sushi restaurant that makes everything just the way you want, get to know the chef. I frequent my local sushi restaurant weekly, where Chef Jaime always makes the perfect dishes for me. He knows my favorites and has even added a separate gluten free fryer so I can once again eat spicy tuna on crispy rice. Trust me, follow these simple guidelines, your sushi dining will delicious and painless.