Dear Diary: My experiences travelling, eating and speaking Japanese

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My Story Of Travelling Well With Allergies

I’ve recently come back from a family holiday to Japan.We went to Nazowa Onsen for skiing, Matsumoto Castle and then Tokyo to explore Ueno, Ginza for high fashion window shopping, Tsukiji Fish Markets, Hibiya-Koen and Shiba-Koen (parks), shrines, temples, Tokyo Zoo and Science Museum.

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The trip was a lot of fun. I went to Japan a couple of years ago and became addicted to the Japanese experience. I knew in that moment I would be making regular visits to Japan, as it ticked off many things on my must do holiday list, such as skiing, eating great food and experiencing the culture.

To help me keep my son allergy safe whilst minimising anxiety, I felt I needed to be able to say a few key Japanese phrases. My son has allergies to egg and cow’s milk protein (all dairy and dairy products). So for the last 6 months, I had been learning Japanese, and loved every minute ;-). I felt the lessons really did make a difference to our trip. I think my family were shocked at times at how I was able to successfully navigate some important situations like, asking for the location of the toilet, whether a shop sold bread and ordering two beers. Most importantly, my son was able to avoid an allergic reaction throughout our travels whilst enjoying the food, the culture and the people.

For those who have small children with allergies, you would know travelling is hard. The following are some ways that helped our family manage the allergy situation without too many problems.

Preparation for our trip

I prepared for our trip by talking to my sons(s) about the types of foods he could be eating. I also spoke about the foods that he wouldn’t be able to have, just so he could adjust to the idea. We also researched (looked in recipe books and on the internet) some key foods and dishes together.

We cooked up and ate some of the food we will be having. We enjoyed eating out at our local Japanese restaurants.

To help with any mind blanks that may have been influenced by all the excitement and some pressure to prove the lessons of the last 6 months had been worthwhile, I prepared a cheat sheet which I printed off (and emailed it to myself), so I could maintain my confidence in communicating my son’s essential needs around avoiding allergenic foods. Click here if you would like a copy of my free cheat sheet.

I packed full bottles of pain relief and antihistamine for just in case the boys got a virus on our trip….And yep our youngest did. Thank goodness for taking full bottles on pain relief as my confidence around purchasing medications was not very high. I obtained a letter from our local GP confirming my son’s need to fly with medications just in case we were questioned during our travels.

On the Plane

I packed allergen free snacks in the day bag in case the food provided on the flights was not suitable.

I packed an in-date antihistamine in our carry-on luggage with the letter from our GP, just in case of an allergenic reaction. Thankfully for us, exposure to dairy or egg is not life threatening, however, it is still a very very unpleasant experience for my son to go through.

In Japan

Again, I packed allergen free snacks in my day bag in case my son(s) become hungry outside of the times we chose to eat at restaurants or cafes. Allergy or not, I don’t think any parent/carer of young children would or could leave the house without food.

I stocked the hotel bar fridge with suitable food for readily available snacks.

We made ourselves aware of the local food markets, supermarkets, corner stalls, depa chika (department basement ‘food’ floor) for those times we required a quick and easy meal.

Just for the fact of having two on the go boys, I have recently become aware of hospitals and medical centres that are around where we stay or go. It is not so much the allergies we require medical attention for these days, but the virus’ or other illness and injuries. In January, we went to the hospital twice and called the ambulance once! Not a great start to the year.

I informed our waiter/waitress of the allergy and dietary needs and checked if egg or dairy were in certain food.

The Japanese people in general were so polite, genuine and very very helpful, which also helped to make our trip memorable.

Travelling with allergies takes a little extra planning than usual, but for us, all the effort is worth it as we watch our boys experience and learn things they cannot at home (the transport, people, culture, climate, snow, skiing and so on).

So what did we eat???

We had a Japanese cuisine bucket list for this trip. We were excited to tick the following off the list:

Itadakimasu – Lets eat!

Oyaki – A traditional food of Nagano. Flour dumpling filled apple or veggies seasoned with soy sauce and miso. Egg and dairy free.

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Tonkatsu – Pork cutlet crumbed and deep-fried. The crumbs contained egg.

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Tempura – Seafood, meat and veggies deep-fried in a light batter. Egg present in the batter. Dairy free.

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Soba – Traditional noodles of Nagano. Brown in colour and can be enjoyed cold (zaru soba) with a sauce or hot in a broth. Made of buckwheat. Egg and dairy free.

Udon – Thick white noodles. Egg and dairy free.

Ramen – Noodle soup. The noodles are chinese style and are made of wheat. Egg present. Dairy free.

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Japanese Curry – Contained meat and veggies served with either rice or udon noodles. Mostly egg and dairy free, unless topped with an egg as some do.

Okonomiyaki – Savoury pancake filled with noodles, meat, seafood, cabbage topped with a rich mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. Egg and dairy present.

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Chanko nabe – A big soup that was cooked on our table which we shared. The soup contained a variety of meats, vegetables and a broth. Traditional sumo wrestler food. A very lean meal. Egg and dairy free.

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Taiyaki – Custard filled waffle in the shape of a fish. Egg and dairy present.

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Yakitori – Charcoal grilled skewer. Many were egg and dairy free as mostly contained meat or veggies.

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French style bakeries – Mostly not suitable for egg and dairy allergy.

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Depa Chika – A department store basement level containing an array of food to take away. Many egg and dairy free options due to the variety of food sold.

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Gochiso-sama deshita – Thank you for the great meal(s)!

NB – From my experiences holidaying in Japan, I found that there was variance between restaurants about how they made their food so I could not assume that certain foods were egg and dairy free across the board. I always asked if the food contained egg and dairy and explained that my son had an egg and dairy allergy, just to make it clear.

Until next time Japan, I’ll keep practising my Japanese and dreaming of all the fun things we will do.

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If you have any travelling tips, please share them in the comments section.

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