Embarking on a Dairy-Free Journey: Tokyo Edition

Embarking on a Dairy-Free Journey: Tokyo Edition

Welcome to the inaugural entry of our dairy-free travel series, where we set our sights on the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, Japan. My family has a special fondness for Tokyo, having visited twice in 2023 – once to witness the ethereal cherry blossoms of spring and again during the cozy ambience of Thanksgiving. While my family doesn’t adhere to specific dietary restrictions, I navigate the complexities of being both dairy-free and gluten-free. Despite these challenges, the allure of international exploration beckons, and a bit of extra planning ensures that every journey is a delightful adventure. This is particularly crucial when traveling with young children, where meal times can't be left to chance.

In this post, I’ll share some of my favorite culinary discoveries in Tokyo – a haven for dairy-free dining – and a few spots on my must-try list for future visits.

Family in Japan in front of old sake barrels

Dairy-Free Delights in Traditional Japanese Cuisine

Tokyo's culinary landscape is dotted with traditional dishes that naturally eschew dairy. Options like sushi, sashimi, tempura (be mindful of dairy in some batters), soba noodles, and edamame are not only delicious but also safe choices for the dairy-free diner. Gluten-free travelers might need to navigate a bit more carefully, but it’s far from an insurmountable task.

Rice, a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine, often comes to the rescue. It’s usually prepared without dairy, making dishes like donburi (hearty rice bowls with an array of toppings), onigiri (flavor-packed rice balls), and sushi both safe and satisfying options. For those on-the-go moments, convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, and Lawson are treasure troves, offering a variety of quick bites like onigiri and salads.

The Rise of Plant-Based Options

In the last six years, Tokyo has witnessed a significant increase in vegan and vegetarian dining options, with many establishments specifically catering to dairy-free diets. This trend extends to health food stores and select supermarkets, where a variety of dairy alternatives such as almond milk, soy milk, and coconut milk are now readily available. This shift reflects the city's dynamic and evolving food scene. However, during my visit, there were several instances where I was particularly thankful to have Nod Creamer in my bag:

  1. On the Flight to and from Japan: The journey is long, and a comforting cup of coffee is a must upon arrival. Having Nod Creamer made these in-flight beverages much more enjoyable.
  2. Early Morning Coffee in the Hotel Room: With the time difference from the US, I often found myself awake early, long before local coffee shops opened. Having Nod Creamer meant I could enjoy a cup of coffee in my room, hours before the rest of the city stirred to life.
  3. Visiting Theme Parks: At places like Disney Tokyo or Universal Studios, finding dairy-free milk options can be challenging. Carrying Nod Creamer was a lifesaver, ensuring that I could still enjoy my coffee just the way I like it.

Nod creamer and cup of coffee from universal studios Japan

How to ask for dairy-free options and alternative milks

To say "dairy-free" in Japanese, you can use the phrase "乳製品不使用" (nyūseihin fu shiyō), which literally translates to "not using dairy products." This phrase can be helpful when communicating dietary preferences in restaurants or reading labels on food products in Japan.

How to say different plant-based milk options in Japanese

  1. Oat Milk: オートミルク (Ōto Miruku)
  2. Soy Milk: 豆乳 (Tōnyū) - This is a common and traditional beverage in Japan, and it's referred to by this specific term rather than using the "ミルク" suffix.
  3. Almond Milk: アーモンドミルク (Āmondo Miruku)
  4. Rice Milk: 米乳 (Kome Nyū) - Though not as common as soy milk, it's sometimes referred to this way, or it might be called ライスミルク (Raisu Miruku), using the English word for rice.

My Tokyo Favorites – And Future Must-Tries

Below, you’ll find a curated list of my go-to spots in Tokyo, alongside a few others I’m eager to explore in my upcoming travels. Tokyo is not just a destination; it's an experience, rich in culinary diversity and cultural vibrancy.

Rice hack gluten free bakery

If you're a fan of fresh baguette bread and adhere to a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, this bakery is a must-visit. Their baguettes are so popular that they often sell out, so I recommend visiting shortly after they open. On the first day of my trip, I picked up two loaves, which made for a convenient and delicious snack in my hotel room, especially when paired with some jam from the local grocery store. Besides baguettes, the bakery also offers muffins and a variety of other pastries. A quick heads-up: this is a window-only bakery, meaning there's no seating available.


Gluten-free baguette loaf from Rice Hack bakery

Gluten free T’s Kitchen

Very allergen friendly, all items are dairy-free or can be made dairy-free. My favorite was the gluten-free vegetable tempura.


Brown Rice by Neal’s Yard Remedies

Vegan traditional Japanese set meals in a beautiful garden seating


Marugoto Vegan Dining Asakusa

Great for tempura and vegan chicken and waffles that are also gluten-free


Cafe My Banh Mi by Gluten Free TOKYO

This place is great for sandwiches with vegan options.


Shochikuen Cafe

Vegan and gluten free cakes including a rainbow cake and vegan tiramisu and gluten-free/vegan pizza


Great Lakes

When you need a change from rice and miso, check out this vegan burger restaurant with fries and a plant-based milk shake



two kids holding a candy apple from a street vendor in japan