Vegetarian Travel to Japan
I'm leaving in 3 days for Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto), for 2 weeks! I'm a vegetarian (lacto-ovo, no meat, poultry or FISH), but otherwise, not a picky eater. Any ideas of what I just have to try while I'm there? Anything I should avoid because of hidden non-veg ingredients?
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i would have to agree with ben. you are pretty much screwed. japan loves meat.
my suggestion would be to maybe give in to at least fish or fish stock (dashi) as pretty much any "vegetarian dish" will have bonito flakes or dashi in it. all seemingly vegetarian noodle dishes or ramen have meat or fish-based broth. you probably will need to buy your own food like fruits, yogurt and snacks from markets or convenience stores. a cheap and filling meal are onigiri that you can find in any convenience store. onigiri are rice balls wrapped in seaweed with different fillings. some vegetarian fillings i like are preserved plum or seaweed. but if you don't read japanese always ask first as many onigiri have fish in them. and when you eat out tofu/edamame for protein... but again tofu dishes probably will have dashi in the sauce.
you can also hit up some buddhist temples to stay in. they always serve vegetarian meals to their guests. this style of vegetarian buddhist cooking is calle shojin ryori. you have to actually stay at the temples though and partake of their services. i don't think they just feed anyone. but there may be restaurants that serve this style.
you should also do some research on vegetarian restaurants ahead of time because from my experience traveling with a vegetarian most japanese restaurants are not very accomodating when it comes to vegetarians and special requests.
Here are the vegetarian listings at Bento.com:
There are several restaurants that serve vegetarian temple cuisine (shojin ryori) in Kyoto, although most are open only for lunch. It's definitely worth trying at least once.
Food writer and Chowhound regular Yukari Pratt recommended the following vegatarian spot near Meguro in Tokyo-
Sen – Na Kaiseki, Vegetarian Kaiseki
Setagaya-ku, Shimouma 5-35-5-2F
While wholly vegetarian restaurants are a bit rare in Japan, you'll find plenty of dishes to satisfy you. You are not "screwed". Tofu should be a mainstay for you while traveling in Japan. Freshly made and seasoned with salt or tea powder is very good. Fried tofu can also be tasty. There are all sort of Japanese pickles that you'll want to try as well. There was a thread on this recently. You may also want to try natto, sticky rice, different types of bean paste- some sweet, some salty. Konnyaku, a unique type of solid gelatin. Lotus root and burdock salads are also common. Kinpira gobo for example. Sweet potatos are also really good in Japan. Soba, udon, and somen noodles are also vegatarian options, though you'll want to be careful with the broths they are served with as they are usually fish-based.
At Japanese grilled chicken shops, called yaki-tori-ya, you can get all sorts of delicous veggie options- grilled garlic, grilled green onions, ginko nuts, freshly sliced and salted tomato, grilled shitake mushrooms.
There are also westernized options like potato croquet and great bakeries. There's even a bakery in Shimokitazawa neighborhood south of Shinjuku that makes tasty bread rolls with miso as an ingredient.
Keep an eye out when you're there for persimmon fruit and pumpkin, both in season. Sweet potato season is kicking in. It's the end of the pear season as well.
You should probably memorize some Japanese expressions to let people know what you can't eat. But there are still plenty of options for you.
I'm not a vegetarian but I do have a lot of friends who are. And while this a place where you could get served ham, even if you say you don't eat meat, I've discovered a lot of veggie-safe options at izakaya, particularly the more modern ones with a wide menu (often called 'dining izakaya' perhaps because there's more emphasis on getting a proper meal than nibbles to complement alcohol).
Here's a short list of links for specific restaurants. I can vouch for the quailty of most of them (but I've never been to the shoji ryori place). Most of them have English menus.
From Robbie Swinnerton's Food File (you'll have to register to access them)
--A shoji ryoji restaurant:
--If you want to splurge, Gesshinkyo:
Sora no Niwa (tofu chain; nice ambience):
Pure Cafe (map at the bottom of the page):
Yuuan (a favorite; the one in Shinagawa is a bit classier; I think they have an English menu
Hope you enjoy your stay.
(Sorry, I meant to reply to the original post, not Silverjay's. Not sure how to cancel it.)
i still say your "screwed" ;) while trying natto, bean paste, soba without broth, grilled ginnan or a roasted sweet potato from a street vendor may be tasty options, i can't imagine these items being full meals with a sufficient amount of nutrients to sustain you for a 2 week trip. also, most fried tofu dishes come with dashi-based sauce and lots of miso pastes have dashi already mixed in, so be very careful.
i still think doing research beforehand and supplementing grilled green onions on a stick meals with fresh fruit, yogurt, snacks and onigiri is the easiest way to go.
nalega, please let us know your level of screwedness when you come back. i'm quite curious ;)