Breaking with Bread

After some unpleasant minor health issues, sneaking paranoia and much research, there is a new anti-allergen diet for me: no gluten, no dairy. For someone who loves baked goods and pasta as much as I do, it is an especially annoying diet. Living in Japan, where gluten and dairy intolerances are not the norm, it is even more difficult to stick to. And yet, for about over two weeks, I have – apart from my glorious day of cheating (Thanksgiving). Technically, the diet is an experiment and I can stop any time I like so there will be no boo-hooing self-pity. I just figure it’s worth a shot. And, yes, I do intend to get myself to a doctor but I’ve been busy lately; writing, part-time job hunting, early stage apartment-hunting, planning for my trip back home, and studying for the 4-kyuu, which is, incidentally, on Sunday (!) Settle down, sugar; I’ll get to a real doctor. In the meantime, no one ever died from giving up baked goods and eating tons of leafy greens for a few weeks. No one ever died from itchy palms, an upset tummy and breakouts, either.

In between classes and 4-kyuu study, I made myself useful today and learned the kanji for “wheat,” “flour,” “gluten,” and, while I was at it, “sugar.” “Butter” is written in ingredient lists in katakana and I already knew the kanji for “eggs” and “milk” so I figure I am set, at least when it comes to reading ingredient listings which, incidentally, is my new hobby. As I wait for trains, I linger by the conbinis in the station, fervently reading the Calorie Mate and Soy Joy nutritional bar labels in hopes that I can comfort myself with one between meals. Alas. Butter and eggs in both. I have a friend who actually does suffer from coeliac disease, so through her I already knew to be on my guard for the evil hidden glutens in things no one would suspect; stamp glue, most processed foods, and non-wheat grains. Soy sauce, too – usually quite high on the ingredient list. Later, I browsed through a supermarket and decided some sushi would do quite nicely. I had read that a non-gluten soy sauce called “tamari” exists and since the word sounds Japanese, I thought it might actually be a Japanese invention.

“Sumimasen,” I said to the man by the sushi counter, once he had stopped to catch his breath while hollering to attract customers. “Do you have tamari?”

The “stupid foreigner!” glance and grunt of “Ehhh??” I received in response suggested that no, tamari might not be a Japanese thing.

I tried again, from another angle, holding up my desired sushi package, pointing to the soy sauce nestled on the spiky plastic grass. “There is gluten in soy sauce” I said boldly. “I don’t eat gluten.” An even more intense stare. Getting nowhere fast, as usual, and my wretched Japanese did nothing to help matters. Pass the 4-kyuu – sure!

Withering under that impatient stare, I grew impatient, too, and, to my own shame, buckled – pulling my cell phone out of my pocket, the way I did when I first moved to Japan and spoke no Japanese. I pulled up the kanji for “wheat” in my Japanese-English cell phone dictionary and showed it to him, pointing again to the soy sauce. “Do you have soy sauce with no wheat? I don’t eat wheat.”

“Ah!” said the sushi man, adding, in English, “Is good! Rice, no wheat!”

Thanks. Ah, for America – where not only are most people aware of most dietary concerns but I don’t have to resort to pulling out my cell phone dictionary like a tourist jerk every time someone gives me a puzzled look. I was homesick for the second time in a week.


Fragrant, heavenly, and deliciously abundant, baked goods haunt me. Though bread products are not Japanese in origin, the Japanese have become ingenious in the art of spinning fluffy doughy clouds out of wheat, milk and eggs. The vast array of cozy bakeries rival what I saw in Paris, and their pain du chocolat is absolutely worth blogging home about. I never wanted bread before but now, of course, I do – thick, white, and gorgeous, it winks at me from cellophane wrappers in the 100 yen store, behind the glare of bakery windows; heaps upon heaps of crusty baguettes, savory curry donuts, delicate croissants, crunchy sausage rolls, airy sesame balls. Sean brought home a slab of luscious soft country bread from his calligraphy class last week; his teacher is an elderly woman who often gives him small gifts – fried rice in a wooden box, fragile flowering branches in a small glass jar, free tickets to art galleries. I usually am delighted when Sean reports a new gift from Chika-san but I eyed this small loaf of bread with despair.

“Too bad,” said Sean.

A new entry for the One Burner Cookbook – one of my favorites these days:


  • 1 serving of (gluten-free) soba noodles
  • several tablespoons of 100 yen store (dairy free) sesame dressing
  • 2 cans of tuna
  • 2 servings of spinach
  • 1 can of mixed beans (includes garbanzo, kidney and soy)

Boil soba. Combine with other ingredients. Serve. Devour. Forget that it’s not semolina.

A few more weeks and we’ll see what we’ll see. At the moment, no change – the itchy palms and ugly face persist.


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