If you are a vegetarian and heading to Japan, drop the ‘where will I find vegetarian food?’ question. Zip up people who tell you that in the Land of the Rising Sun, you might have to graze grass for meals. The ‘no-vegetarian- food-in- Japan’ myth has been busted. Japan has a million vegetarian, vegan, monk, temple, only-tofu options. True, things could get lost in translation here, so get ready to roll your tongue and learn one phrase: Watashi wa bejitarian des. This might still bring fish onto to your plate. So, roll again and utter: watashi wa niku toh sakana wo taberarimasen (I do not eat meat or fish). Or simply, to find all things vegetarian pick a handbook A Guide to Indian and Vegetarian Restaurants in Japan. Categorised under city heads, it lists Indian and vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, and Sapporo.
In Tokyo station, there’s Soraniro Nippon, a vegetarian ramen restaurant; Kushi Garden serves macrobiotic cuisine, or eat burritos in Frijoles. It’s Vegetable, a Taiwanese restaurant not only stays away from meat, it does not use any kind of onions, chives, garlic; Milan Nataraj, Japan’s first Indian restaurant has opened a branch in Shibuya and Vege Herb Saga that serves vegetarian South Indian food is a hit even with the locals. If you want to mix piety with spices, there’s Govinda’s, the Indian restaurant attached to Hare Rama Hare Krishna (ISKCON) temple. Their weekend dinner buffet brings the devout and foodie to their yard. If you are a vegan, check with the servers. At Govinda’s, milk and ghee flow.
Kyoto wins hands-down as the vegetarian’s paradise. The ancient capital of Japan and one of the largest metropolises in Asia was the centre of Buddhism for nearly 1,000 years and not surprisingly developed its own vegetarian cuisine – shojin ryori. Literally translating into ‘zeal in progressing along the path of salvation’, shojin is a vegan meal, made using only vegetables, beans, seaweed and grains. Obanzai is also Kyoto family-style cuisine with dishes made from tofu, nama-fu (gluten), yuba (soy bean curd) and local vegetables. Before ordering an obanzai meal, check whether it is fish-free.
Onwards to Osaka
Osaka prides itself as Japan’s ‘national kitchen’ where the air is heavy with fried octopus balls and squid pancakes. But vegetarians needn’t sulk. Green Earth, one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in Osaka, serves mock meat, hambaagu (hamburger patties), pizzas and cakes – all vegetarian. Craving to go raw? Step into Raw8 Cafe that lives up to its name by serving raw vegetarian food. Like a large count? Order veggies in Genmian restaurant – it has 39 varieties which add up to 600 calories.
Must-try Veggie Dishes
Tsukemono: Pickled vegetables
Zaru soba: Cold buckwheat noodles
Okonomiyaki: Japanese pancakes
Nasu dengaku: Grilled eggplant
Gohei mochi: Grilled rice dumplings
Oyaki : Veggie-stuffed wheat buns
Kabocha korroke: Pumpkin croquettes
Inarizushi: Vinegared rice stuffed in tofu pouches
Tempura donburi: Deep-fried vegetables