Thursday, April 07, 2016

Gluten Free Traveling in Japan

Next month I'm headed back to Japan for a short trip with my family.  It will be my daughter's first time to see this country she's heard so much about.  At six years of age, she's already such a Japanophile.  She's been known to tell people that she's Japanese as she used to live there in her mummy's tummy.

Since moving back to Australia, wow, seven years ago, I have been diagnosed as being coeliac and so has my daughter.  Eating gluten free in Japan wasn't something I had to think about too much when I lived there except for when my mother (also coeliac) came to visit.  I have been back three times for holidays since diagnosis and learn more each time I go.  Here's what I've learnt, in hopes to help anyone else traveling over there...

Let's face it, being coeliac we've become the kings and queens of preparation and research before we go anywhere, if we want to eat without getting sick that is.  Japan can be a challenge in terms of eating gluten free and as a previous lover of all food Japanese I miss being able to just walk into a restaurant and get my favourite grilled eel or tempura prawns on udon.  That being said, there is so much more about the country to enjoy that I wouldn't for a second let a sensitive gut stop me from going.

Gluten Free Card in Japanese
I found this card invaluable.  I would use it at convenience stores, at supermarkets and at restaurants.  Wait staff would take it in to show the chef who would then let me know what, if anything was suitable and cook it up especially for me.  For Japan, the most common source of gluten will be the soy sauce that many dishes are cooked with.  For that reason, I chose to use a card from Select Wisely but if you do a web search there are other ones available as well.

Pack Snacks
To be honest, when I'm traveling over there for a few weeks I don't want to be spending valuable temple tramping and fabric shopping time on trying to find something to eat.  I always take over a lot of snacks that I can keep in my bag.  I usually take muesli bars, nuts (of course you can buy nuts over there, but if I take my own I know I don't have to worry about checking for extra ingredients or cross contamination), cereal, this trip I'm going to pack single serves of flavoured tuna, biscuits and rice crackers.  Oh, and packing your own gluten free soy sauce is a great idea too!

Book your accommodation
You've got to have somewhere to sleep of course, but I spend a lot of extra time choosing my hotels.  For the most part, I have found travel a lot easier by basing myself in one city (Nagoya for me as it's close to friends and in the middle of the main island), ordering a JR rail pass so I can travel on the Shinkansen as much as I like and booking an apartment with a full kitchen.  Sometimes these apartments are only available if you're staying for at least a week.  Booking through AirBNB is another option.  Otherwise I try to book a hotel room that at least has a microwave and a small cooktop.  When I have a kitchen I have a lot more freedom.  I go to a local supermarket and buy fresh ingredients so I still get to enjoy the local flavours but know that it has been safely prepared.  I often will also make up a Japanese "bento" box for lunch so then I only need to worry about eating out for dinner.  

The other option is to stay in a place that caters for westerners.  This trip we're staying in a hotel in Tokyo for a couple of days that has a large buffet breakfast with lots of fruit and will also cook up fresh omelets for us each day.  One place I stayed in, a Japanese business hotel, cooked me boiled eggs served with salad and tea every morning.  Or, on the flipside, if you stay in a traditional Ryokan, your host might be willing to prepare a dish of rice, pickles and grilled fish (without soy sauce) for your breakfast.  Yum!

Convenience Stores and Supermarkets
Your local 7-11 or any other of the convenience stores found on so many of the street corners in Japan can be a source for gluten free food.  Many of them sell pre-boiled eggs (choose the ones with the shells still on them) which became a standard breakfast on one of my visits.  They also have pre-cooked rice that they'll heat up for you, and salads with the dressing packed separately (don't use the dressing).  Some of the rice balls are gluten free, if in doubt check with the staff using your coeliac card.

At the supermarket, as well as fresh fruit and ingredients to cook with, there will be some pre-prepared food.  There you can usually find sushi, grilled fish and sashimi.

Another option, especially if you're in a large city, is to find a foreign food store.  There they will have foods from around the world and depending on where they originate from, there will be an ingredients list in English.  I usually go here to top up on snacks.

Japanese Foods to Eat
Sushi becomes my staple diet while I'm in Japan.  Not all sushi is gluten free though. Check with the sushi bar first that they aren't using sushi vinegar that contains wheat.  I also check on the mayonnaise and the wasabi.  Most places the soy sauce will be a no-go, but if you're in a high-end sushi bar they may actually use a wheat-free tamari sauce instead so you can check if you like.  Then check with the staff (again, whip out that card of yours again), to check which ones are ok.  If you stick with the prawns (ebi) and sashimi ones you shouldn't have a problem.  Even if you're in a sushi train type environment, you can often get them to make it especially for you.

Yaki Niku
Also known in Japan as "Korean BBQ".  This can be a bit of a splurge but is so delicious. You will be given a menu of raw meat to choose from and to be honest, they all look the same.  You can also order plates of vegetables.  Here though, make sure that you ask for no marinade, no sauce and just salt and pepper only.  Then they bring the raw food out to you and you cook on your own grill.

Buckwheat Soba
Just be careful to check that it is a 100% buckwheat noodle and that it isn't served up with soy sauce.

Yaki Tori
This is delicious char-grilled chicken on a stick and you can order it with just salt (no marinade).  Be careful though, it may be cooked on the same grill with other gluten-containing foods so there is a higher chance of cross-contamination.  

A traditional rice cake sweet with a marshmallow-like consistency.  It's filling often contains red beans but my favourite during strawberry season comes filled with the sweet.  Be careful to check that it isn't the version with sponge cake and get someone to help you check the ingredients.  I found some use wheat starch, some don't but if you find the right one and you have a sweet tooth, these are heavenly!

Kyoto's Yatsuhashi
You'll find these all over Kyoto and especially in souvenir stores at Kyoto station.  They are a traditional sweet made from rice flour, sugar and cinnamon.  They come in two versions - "Nama Yatsuhashi" (raw) which will be a in a triangular shape with a filling (often bean paste, but check ingredients as newer versions may not have a gf filling) and the cooked version is a little, hard biscuit with a curve to it.

Places to Eat
Outback Steakhouse
This is an "Australian themed" steakhouse and found in a number of places in Japan.  It's my go-to place to eat in Nagoya.  The staff usually speak good English and I can get a steak and vegetables gluten free.

Tony Romas
Another western restaurant with locations around Japan where I've always been able to get a delicious gluten free meal made for me.  It's my go-to place in Kyoto. 

Japan Crepe in Harajyuku (Tokyo)
I haven't actually been here yet, never knowing the countless times that I passed it that their crepes are gluten free.  This one is booked in for my trip next month.

If you get desperate, McDonalds is a fall back.  In most outlets the fries are cooked in their own oil (check first though) and you can get a meat patty on its own.  Be aware though that often in Japanese culture they don't like veering from the menu so I had a bit of explaining to do and one store was happy to do it while another one I could only get the fries.

As most Indian curries are naturally gluten-free I've found this can be an easy place to eat out.  Just explain (often here English is better than Japanese) your dietary needs and they will be most accommodating.

Family Restaurants
Dotted all around the country, they often have basics on the menu so check to see if the cook is willing to make something gluten free for you.

Coco Ichiban
This is a Japanese curry chain resturant that is dotted all over the country, I'm told they have menus in English and now have an allergy free curry.  You can read more about it here.

Little Bird Gluten Free Cafe - Tokyo
I haven't tried it but would like to on this trip.  You can find out more about them here.

Things to watch out for

This tea is not to be confused with green tea, as it looks similar.  Mugi-cha is made from barley so to be avoided.

Ahhh... rice cakes.  You'd think they'd be an easy option right?  Sadly no.  Many of them had soy sauce in their glaze.  There certainly are some gluten free ones but you have to search a bit and don't assume that they naturally will be.

Mixed Rice "Healthy Rice"
When I was last living in Japan, "healthy rice" was a bit of a fashion.  It actually contains barley grains, so stick to plain white rice.

Helpful Blogs
Celiac Travel has a great post including the Kanji for gluten-containing ingredients here.

Legal Nomads has a comprehensive guide on eating gluten free in Japan including a list of restaurants that I'm going to enjoy testing on my upcoming trip here.

Ctrl Alt Eat has a lovely read on gluten free eating in Japan here.

If you've traveled to Japan and eaten gluten free, I'd love to hear your tips and favourite places to go.  I will try to update this post after my next visit too and add in anything I new I have discovered.  Happy travelling!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The One Where I've Been Spending All My Time Over On Instagram

 Psst... I won't mention how long it's been since I've posted on my blog if you won't...

Life has been happily plodding along in the Kimono Reincarnate world as I continue to play with my rapidly growing girl, with colour and with different mediums.

I've been experimenting with using resin in different ways but for the first time since university, I've picked up a paintbrush and have been playing with watercolours and acrylics.

I'm trying to get outdoors as much as possible, breathing in the fresh air and being inspired by all around me.

In the shots above there are some sneak peeks at a few exciting things to come!

And while I've been neglecting you dear blog reader, I do apologise.  I spend so much of my time on my phone and have loved the convenience of quick uploads to my instagram account.  Are you on there?  Please pop by and say hello if you are!

Noticing my instagram obsession, BriStyle have asked me to do a (free!) session on Instagram photography this weekend.  I'd love to see you if you can come!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

What I've been playing with and Pre-Christmas Market Dates

I've been really inspired lately and have been having lots of fun playing in the studio.  

I've started creating one-off sterling silver and resin wearable paintings.  These will eventually be under my Melanie Augustin label that I'll be launching properly next year!

And to give the Christmas tree a bit of Kimono Reincarnate love this year, I have crane ornaments in "Peace", "Love" & "Joy".

I've been tap, tap, tapping away working on lots of Rock Pool stacking rings. 

And returning to my love of textiles and surface design, firstly with some new summer scarves coming soon...

I won't be doing many markets this Christmas, but you will find me at...

The BrisStyle Bazaar.  As well as some Kimono Reincarnate goodness, I'll be taking along kimono fabric ready for you to create gifts yourself.  I'll also have a selection of samples and seconds for the only time this year.

I'll also have a few pieces in the Etsy Pop-up Shop and am hoping to get along to the opening preview night.

And my final Brisbane market will be huge!  I'll be at the QAGoMA Store Christmas market, it's such a wonderful market, filled with fabulous artisans.

Then finally, a trip down to Melbourne!  Oh how I've missed my Melbourne jaunts.  I'll be at The Big Design Market and there will even be one of my Crane ornaments in one of the showbags.

And of course, both my web-store and Etsy store will be open until Christmas and my lovely stockists will have work available too.  Happy Christmas shopping!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Please Vote for Me in the Etsy Design Awards! Pleeeease!

I'm over the moon today!  I've just found out that my Sterling Silver Origami Crane Pendant is a finalist in the Etsy Design Awards!  As a finalist, I have the chance of winning not only exposure in Inside Out magazine, but the people's choice winner also gets a trip to New York to visit Etsy headquarters!  How amazing would that be!

The origami crane holds a special place in my heart.  When I was in primary school, my teacher read us the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and it was my first connection to Japan, a country which I would later call home for six years.  When I was in my 20s, I went to Hiroshima and visited Sadako's memorial and was so touched by all the paper cranes folded and sent from children all around the world.  When I was teaching in a high school in Japan, if ever a student was sick in hospital, the school would get together and fold 1000 cranes which would then be delivered to the child's ward.

The crane also has other symbolic meanings attached and I love how a simple square piece of paper can be folded into a message of peace, love, health and longevity.

To create this crane, I first folded the paper, coated it to make it waterproof, had a mould made and then I get it cast in sterling silver by a local company.  I then finish it off with a brushed finish to give it a paper-like texture and burnish the folds to a lovely shine as a contrast.

So now excuse me while I beg.... please vote for my beloved crane!  Pretty please!  You can do so over here.  Oh, and there's also a chance you could win yourself a $250 Etsy shopping voucher while you're at it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Taking Stock :: September

I've always loved reading Meet Me at Mikes' Taking Stock posts, so this month I thought I'd join in.  A little about my life right now...

Making : A new range of silver jewellery, inspired by the scales and colours on Koinobori.  I've also been making some Kanzashi again.
Cooking : A birthday cake for my mum, yesterday actually.
Drinking : Tea, lots of it, all day long.
Wanting: Some more free time.
Looking: At the mountains on my morning walks.
Playing: With my daughter, we're loving the beach in this weather and our year-long pass to the zoo.
Deciding: On designs for my bathroom renovation.
Wishing: I could clone myself.
Enjoying: The weather and my garden.
Waiting: For a night time cough to go away.
Liking: My life.
Loving: The "Tuesday Adventures" that I have with my daughter.  We're trying to make the most of the time before she starts school next year.
Considering: A bit of change in the direction of my work next year... 
Watching: Reign.  Oh how I love a historical drama, especially one with gorgeous costumes. And my guilty pleasure, The Block.
Hoping: That I can arrange another trip to Japan next year.
Marvelling: That our new nectarine tree is fruiting so well already.
Needing: A good night's sleep.
Smelling: The jasmine flowering outside my studio.
Wearing: Right now, pajamas.
Following: Lots of people on instagram.
Noticing: How much better I feel by cutting out certain foods that my body doesn't like, which sadly includes chocolate and strangely enough, cauliflower.
Sorting: Wholesale and online orders. 
Buying: Locally grown produce.  The strawberries are delicious at the moment.
Feeling: Content.
Snacking: On left over birthday cake.
Hearing: Right now, a wonderful silence which means that my little one has fallen asleep.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Etsy Design Awards

Happy September!  The Spring, in my part of the world, has started off beautifully and put an extra little bounce in my step.

Talking of September, have you heard about the Etsy Design Awards open to Australian sellers?  With prizes that include a trip to Etsy's headquarters in New York, a business coaching session with Clare Bowditch and coverage in Inside Out magazine, it's pretty amazing!

Entries close on September 12th.

There is a category especially for new stores, called "New Talent", so if you've been thinking of opening an etsy shop, now could be a perfect time.

If you're new to Etsy and are in the Brisbane area, BrisStyle have many great, free session filled to the brim with tips and tricks to get you going and running smoothly.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lately, in the Studio

Lately, I've been having lots of fun playing with new work in the studio, tinkering around with bits of silver and dashes of colour, just the way I like things.

I've started playing with a new range inspired by the scales on Japanese Koinobori banners.  I want the pieces stackable with variations in colours that will blend together, these are some of my results so far....

I've also started extending my "Rock Pool" range.  My scarlet Rock Pool drop earrings are my go-to earrings, they go with most things in my wardrobe and I feel instantly more glamourous just by slipping them on.  I'm now working on some stacking rings to add to the range in a variety of different hues.

And of course, the main purpose of my recent trip to Japan was to source new fabric and handmade papers for the Kimono Reincarnate signature ranges.  I really love the treasures I found and how they're turning out.

And pssst... there are some new "Quilted" designs being added to my Kyoto Collection.

Recently I took an online drawing class with Lisa Congdon on Creativebug.  Even though I have a degree in Visual Arts, I realised that other than quick not-good-enough-to-show-anyone sketches of jewellery design ideas, I haven't done any pen sketching since my second year of university, which was a very long time ago.  While I'm still feeling rather rusty, it's been great to get pen back on paper and to doodle away.

I have plans for some of those doodles too.... and have been getting a few prototypes made which hopefully I can show you in the next couple of months...

This week the work in the studio is all about getting ready for the GoMA Winter Design Market.  It's on this Saturday, 19th July at the entrance to the Queensland GoMA gallery, South Brisbane.

Then, for a couple of weeks after the market I'll be working on a big update of my website to include the new designs.


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