One of my first memories of moving to Japan—back in 2006 and living in a non-touristy place—was not being able to find supermarkets. I wandered the streets aimlessly and would finally end up at my local Family Mart convenience store eating the same rice balls and yogurt.
After a while I realized that many supermarkets were on the basement floors of malls and train stations. I also found ONE import shop inside a mall—I don’t think I have ever been that happy to see some “Mexican” salsa on a shelf.
Since then import shops have popped up all over the country, and if you live near a big train station or shopping mall in Japan, there is a good chance you can find a Kaldi Coffee Farm somewhat nearby.
Here are some GF and gluten-friendly things to look for…
1) GF Crackers and Crispbread.
It’s funny how in a country with so many rice crackers, GF crackers are so hard to find. Luckily, Kaldi has recently been carrying several types of GF crackers. The labeling is clear, so no guessing through cryptic ingredients in your non-native language.
But if you see a snack you really like, you might want to stock up—different Kaldis carry different items, and sometimes your favorites disappear.
2) GF Rice flour and Pancake Mix.
Their baking section is well stocked with affordable rice flour and a couple different GF pancake mixes. I’m a big fan of the rice flour mix.
3) GF pasta and pasta sauce.
GF pasta is becoming more common in all supermarkets, but Kaldi always stocks it, including vegan/dairy free noodles. The brown rice fettuccine is really good, and they are always introducing different GF sauces.
4) Southeast Asian Ingredients.
Coconut milk, curry pastes, fish sauces, rice wraps, Jasmine rice, pho—you name it, they likely have it. They are much better stocked than most Japanese supermarkets.
Not all of these things will be gluten free, so proceed with caution and read the labels carefully.
5) Mexican and Tex-Mex products.
They carry some salsas, hot sauces, canned beans, corn chips, and spices. They do not have nearly as much stuff as my California supermarkets did, but they do have a varied selection by Japanese standards.
When I can’t find fresh jalapeños at my veggie shop, I use their pickled ones for making guacamole or fresh salsa.
6) Coffee and Tea!
Not only do they give you a little cup of coffee when you enter the door, they have a wide selection of beans for different budgets, often including bird-friendly, organic, and fair trade blends.
They also have a coffee point card, so if you’re a coffee junkie like me, you will fill up one of those and get some free coffee beans in no time.
If coffee is not your thing, they have a pretty good selection of herbal teas as well.
7) Unique Japanese Products and Seasonal Promotions
Kaldi has unique Japanese products in addition to imported ones, including things like 100% buckwheat soba and Japanese honey. They also have seasonal promotions and a stock that fluctuates, so you never know what you’ll find.
Let us know…
Honestly, sometimes I still spend too much time looking for ingredients and going from shop to shop.
The silver lining: having limited access to my favorite foods has forced me to be creative and learn how to make many things from scratch.
What do you struggle to find in Japan? Tell us in the comments, and we’ll try to help!