Gluten Free and Going Out for Sushi

Going out for sushi is one of the easiest dining experiences for those of us who need to be gluten-free. If you bring your own soy sauce and make a few minor modifications, you can have a delicious meal with little worry of getting sick.

Most people aren’t aware that soy sauce has wheat in it.


But sushi sucks without soy sauce. The saltiness of the soy sauce brings out the flavor of the fish, and without it, sushi is bland. Since most restaurants have the regular stuff, I bring my own gluten-free bottle. It’s on the same shelf in the grocery store and often is labeled as wheat-free tamari. Don’t worry, it tastes the same.


Steer clear of anything with tempura or listed as “crispy.” In most places, the tempura batter contains wheat flour. But even if a restaurant uses cornstarch or rice flour, remember that cross-contamination happens once the food is dropped into the fryer.

Be careful when ordering rolls as many use imitation crab which has gluten in it. It’s not even crab at all. It’s finely pulverized white fish flesh mixed with binding ingredients (aka wheat) then shaped and cured to resemble leg meat of snow crab. Sometimes it’s listed as “krab.” It’s easy to tell the difference between real and imitation crab. Real crab is off-white and a bit stringy. The imitation stuff is a perfectly formed log with that bright orange dye on the outside.

Many restaurants have fresh crab and will make the substitution, but know that it usually costs a little more.

Ask the chef to leave off the sauces. Ponzu, eel, and Teriyaki all include soy sauce.

And finally, remember standard cross-contamination risks, such as the cutting board or knife used for tempura rolls. If you’re sitting at the sushi bar and smile a lot or pour the chef a little of your sake, he will happily take good care of you.

Meanwhile there are many items for you to enjoy like this Rainbow Roll.

There is lump crab and cucumber on the inside, and shrimp, salmon, tuna, yellowtail, halibut and avocado on the outside.

Ask what’s fresh that day and get it as sushi or sashimi. This salmon belly is my favorite.


More and more restaurants are making an effort to take care of their customers with special dietary needs. Poway Sushi Lounge is one of them. One of the owners, Katie, has a relative with celiac disease, so she understands the precautions that need to be taken to keep her customers from getting sick. But she goes even further than that, she wants those customers to have a wonderful experience and chow down on great food.

Poway Sushi Lounge has an extensive gluten-free menu. They provide Tamari, and make their own Ponzu sauce with it. This opens up lots of extra options for those of us that need to be gluten-free.


I love their Protein Roll which has no rice. Spicy tuna, lump crab, and avocado are rolled in soy paper and then layered with hamachi and salmon.

Another great choice is the Tsunami Roll. It has grilled shrimp, lump crab, asparagus, avocado, and cucumber on the inside and Cajun seared albacore on the outside.


This roll is popular because of the dipping sauce made from roasted garlic, Serrano chili, cilantro, and gluten-free Ponzu. It’s tangy with a kick, but not overly spicy.


Note that the Cornstarch Shrimp Roll, Crunchy Roll, and Spider Roll on the gluten-free list are not okay if you have celiac disease. The bottom of the menu explains that the restaurant does not have dedicated gluten-free fryer, so there is a cross-contamination issue with these items.

However, the owners understand this and go out of their way to avoid cross-contamination in all other areas of the restaurant. Gluten-free rolls come out with a stick in them, also all gluten-free dipping sauces come in a white dish instead of the regular black dish. That way customers and employees know they’re getting the correct item. If you mention to your server that you need to be gluten-free they will alert the chef to use a fresh cutting board and knife when preparing your food.

Being taken care of in this way makes me feel valued as a customer. Restaurants are so much more than just getting some food—you’re also paying for an experience. When I find a place like this, I return over and over again. It’s the way I vote with my food dollars.

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