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Vegetarian in Japan Report

Day 1

Hi all... thank you for your tips for my vegetarian travel to japan... i'm doing the best i can, but of course there's almost no way to know if i've eaten something that i "shouldnt". that said, heres what ive eaten so far:

breakfast: in hotel, buffet - eggs, bread, salad, rice, fruit

lunch: kamameshi with chestnuts / eggplant with "sweet and sour sauce" (the sauce was more like hoisen sauce)

dinner: chinese restarurant - fried noodles with veggies (reminds me of the noodles i ate all over hong kong)

snacks: flaky pastry filled with red bean paste (i think thats what it was - whatever it was it was good!), coffee, fried doughy green tea flavored pastry filled with um, maybe more red bean paste?

I've been ordering by pointing, their broken english but great desire to help, and a note that a business associate wrote that says some version of "i am a vegetarian and dont eat meat, poultry or fish". So far so good!

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  1. Day 2 - tokyo / kamakura

    breakfast - in hotel, buffet...salad,rice etc

    lunch - tempura (they understood that i didnt want shrimp, just veggies!), soba (i didnt eat the sauce that it came with, tasted a little fishy), salad, miso soup

    dinner - i didn't do very well for dinner - was taken out to dinner by locals, and though they knew i was veg, thought it would be ok to just scrape the bonito off everything we ordered ( i swear it was on everything!) i picked at my food, but didn't really eat any of it - im the type of vegetarian who wont eat someones french fries if theyre even on the same plate as the hamburger. thanked them profusely, and swore i was too full to eat another bite. went back to the hotel and ate a stale danish i took from breakfast.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Nalega

      remember miso soup has dashi in it. some miso soup that is just made with water still has dashi in it because it's often mixed in the miso already. be careful!

    2. Thanks for the report.
      Remember: to most Japanese, ham is not meat!

      1. day 3 - tokyo

        breakfast in hotel

        lunch - taken out by locals, the place was not "japanese" as i would have preferred - it was a cafe, the type of place i would eat at home in NY. Tofu burger, salad, rice, raw egg on top of the rice.

        snack - crepes with bananas and caramel - there are tons of take out crepe places in harajuku

        dinner - robatayaki restaurant - my new favorite! grilled potatoes, eggplant, green tofu, scallions - ordered by pointing to each veggie while sitting at a bar-like area. Watched them grill it, and they passed the plates to us on a wooden paddle (looks like what they use to take pizzas out of the oven in a pizzaria in the states)

        dessert - hagan daaz green tea ice cream sandwich that i came across while wandering around a supermarket just for fun!

        today was the only day that i didnt at some point wonder "is there fish in this?"

        1. day 4 - tokyo

          (cant wait to print all this out when i get home... good way to keep track of it all for myself)

          breakfast in hotel

          lunch - at a tempura restaurant - veggie tempura, rice, lots of green tea

          dinner - started at a place that had all kinds of grilled veggies and meat, so i ordered 4 kinds of vegetables (ginko nuts, asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms), which cost a small fortune for enough food to barely even be considered an appetizer. Still hungry and not wanting to completely break the bank, decided to follow in a tradition I always follow when I travel - try the local pizza. Found a tiny italian restaurant - dark, smokey, red checkered table cloths. Had a salad and pizza. Not ready for the night to end, stopped in a pastry shop overlooking the street and had a chocolate cake / mousse with chestnuts.

          snacked during the day on a pastry that i cant for the life of me remember the name of but haveit written down somewhere - about the size of my hand, shaped like a fish, and outer shell that tasted like a soft ice cream cone (wafer), filled with that red bean paste that i am now so in love with. Made in front of me while waiting on a line that went all the way down the block, and served hot. Totally worth the wait...

          Tomorrow, Kyoto. Thinking that it may be harder to eat there, and the it may be harder to find English menus, but we'll see!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Nalega

            That snack is called "tai yaki" which means "grilled snapper"- obviously a playful name for a sweet snack. It's a popular street stall food. Have fun in kyoto- tofu capital of the world.

            1. re: Nalega

              oh, in kansai region you might find a takoyaki (octopus balls) restaurant and some of them offer cheese/mochi balls that are vegetarian. they might be cooked in the same griddles as the takoyaki though, but they are just mochi balls filled with cheese. not bad. they have another version that is made with an egg batter.. basically tamagoyaki (egg omelette) but shaped like a takoyaki.. or you can get omelettes pretty much anywhere with any type of fillings. another regional favorite is okonomiyaki, a pancake basically with all sorts of meat and veggies and sometimes noodles in it. i'm sure you can order one that is veg and noodles only.

            2. I'm glad you're enjoying Japan. Please feel free to mention the names of any restaurants that you like - it's allowed here.

              1. Here's a brand-new place in Kyoto: Veggie Table. They just opened last month, and they serve brown-rice-centered meals that feature lots of Kyoto vegetables. (Kyoto is famous for its vegetables, but ordinarily they're prepared with standard dashi.) It's just a small counter shop, and I don't think there's an English menu, but all the choices appear to be vegetarian.

                From Kawaramachi-Shijo intersection (Hankyu/ Takashimaya) walk north on Kawaramachi a few minutes and turn right at the Haagen-Dazs. 075-241-0359.

                1. Hi all... No free internet access in Kyoto, so I never had a chance to update, but I wrote everything down. First off, I did give up on miso soup, not realizing that it has fish - I've been eating it at home for years, and everyone has always told me it was veg - looked it up, and now realize all along I've been wrong. Good to know.

                  I ate as carefully as possible, but always knowing that things were being cooked on the same surface as meat and fish - they are at home too, and it's nearly impossible to avoid, unfortunately. I was slightly more lenient there (eating things put on the same plate as fish or meat etc, because they didn't understand when I asked to put it on a different plate, but that's really as far as I would change!)

                  I did try the omelettes as someone mentioned above, with the noodle filling with vegetables - sounds weird, tastes great!

                  I'd love to give names of places, but most of the places we went to were slighly off the beaten track, and didn't have english names. If they were reccomendations, the person telling us about it simply drew a map (addresses are nearly impossible to figure out), or we just walked into a place that looked good. There was one robatayaki place in Tokyo that was a reccomendation - NO English spoken, no one there but locals, and one of the most fun meals I've ever had (inexpensive too!) - If anyone needs info I have pictures of the place, and enough info to get you there (near Asakusa).


                  lunch - very helpful waitress in train station understood the veg thing, and reccomended soba with tofu (but thought it was odd that I didn't want it in broth). I added some soy sauce - simple but good.

                  dinner - kyoto seems to be known for their tofu, and this dinner didn't disappoint. Many restaurants have on their menus "shojin-ryori" - a vegetarian temple meal. Found one this night in the Gion area, and enjoyed knowing that I coule eat everything on the plate as it was served. It was a pot of water based broth with tofu and vegetables, with a fire below keeping it hot. As the vegetables cooked in the broth, I ate the marinated leafy green vegatables (bok-choy, maybe?), vegetable tempura served only with soy sauce rather than their usual fish sauce, a clear soup with various wild mushrooms, pickled vegetables, rice, and sweet creamy silken tofu like I've never tasted before. (How the heck do they eat silken tofu with chopsticks??? I'm good, but not THAT good!)

                  Wednesday -

                  lunch - had to have lunch at the train station, which actually has some great options, but more language barriers than anywhere - had a fresh green salad (which at this point I was kinda craving anyway...)

                  dinner - looking to recreate the robatayaki dinner that we loved in tokyo, asked at the hotel for a reccomendation. It didn't measure up to the meal we had in mind, but still good - ordered onion, potato, eggplant ( I can't get enough of the eggplant in this country - so soft, and so sweet). Also ordered 2 things on the list of "vegetables" that I don't know what they are (i'll look them up when I'm done here, but if anyone wants to share, please feel free - namafu (this was more like a rice product than a vegetable I think), and konnyaku. Both had kind of odd textures, but not bad - just wanted to try something new.

                  thursday -

                  lunch - hard time finding a place, and ended up eating tempura (again). But the place was worth it - small tatami rooms, garden view. Bought some dried soba to take home before I left.

                  dinner - wandered down some side streets off the Gion area, until we got the feeling we shouldnt wander anymore. Found a small place with hot stone grills built into the tables, that you cook the food on yourself. Exhausted and not very hungry, just enjoyed the atomosphere, and had some grilled mushrooms and a salad.

                  afternoon snack - at an outdoor market, they put frozen pebble size flavored (we got chocolate) chunks in a cup and poured milk over it - was kinda like chocolate milk with chocolate ice cubes in it.

                  **At this point, getting tired of the food. Traveling with non-vegs, I want them to be able to eat all the things they see that interest them, so we find a place we like, and I eat whatever is available. Other than the one night that we ate pizza in an Italian place (we try pizza in every country we go to!), we're determined to stick to Japanese places only. Even at home, who eats one cuisine every day for a week and a half? **

                  friday -

                  pre-lunch snack - round ginger cake, filled with sugary red bean paste

                  lunch - great little cafe with local businessmen dining alone. ate soba, but it wasn't very good.

                  dinner - arrived at airport hotel late - only restaurant that was open was chinese - had mixed veggies, and corn soup (no chicken or fish base)

                  late night snack - hagen das ice cream bar - green tea ice cream with caramel coating and wafer crispy shell...

                  saturday -

                  morning snack - walking around town of narita, near airport - there was a festival going on - sampled lots of pickled veggies, dried fruits (i skipped the dried crickets, sorry!), nuts, and bought hot cakes I wated them make filled with red beans and white beans...hot fresh, and good way to end the trip.

                  lunch in airport - veggies and rice

                  Arrived home last last night, slept for 16 hours. Woke up and ordered a PIZZA... how I've missed it... a week and a half without any cheese at all, not even at breakfast that the hotel provided!


                  -Snack a LOT , so many interesting things served along the way that definetely have no meat or fish in them.

                  - Robatayki places offer good, fresh veggies if you don't mind knowing they they're cooked on the same grill. At least you know what you're eating there.

                  - Avoid sauces and soups - none are safe

                  - If you eat fish you'll be fine

                  - If you're going with other vegetarians, try food other than Japanese once in a while or you'll get bored (or seek out vegetarian restaurants)

                  Thanks again for all your tips. I wish I would have had time to seek out all the veg restaurants. Moral of the story: I was never screwed, and I never went hungry!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Nalega

                    Great report and glad to hear you enjoyed your trip. You've probably just written a blue print for future vegatarian expeditions to Japan.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Maybe I'll start writing vegetarian world travel guides :) someone will pay me to travel and eat...hmmm....

                      1. re: Nalega

                        Also, next challenge - June honeymoon in Greece!

                  2. Great trip report. Do you know the name of the robatayaki restaurant and how to find it? Thanks!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Mint Chip

                      I'm the worst at remembering these things. Maybe this will help? http://i133.photobucket.com/albums/q8... (not much to go on, unless you can read japanese....)

                    2. It says "Robatayaki Tanuki", and there actually is a Robatayaki Tanuki near the temple in Asakusa: <http://asakusa-ryoin.jp/xoops/modules...> but it looks like it's not a match.

                      The phone number on the sign in your photo looks like "3645-7735" but it's hard to tell because of the angle. Do you happen to have a higher-resolution photo (or a different one)?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Robb S

                        (maybe near the asakusa view hotel..... but i could be imagining that....)

                      2. thats the only picture i have of the outside. i took it in 5 or 7 megapixels, so you should be able to blow it up. let me know if you'd like it emailed. i will check again with the woman who brought me there to see if she knows street names or nearby landmarks. i have a vague picture in my head of what it was near, but don't want to lead you in the wrong direction.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Nalega

                          Yes, please do mail it if you don't mind. My address is at the bottom of my profile (when you click on my name).

                          1. re: Robb S

                            Thanks. A little image enhancement revealed the phone number, and some googling got the address:
                            Tanuki (03-3845-1785), 1-8-9 Nishi-Asakusa, on a side street a few blocks south of Rox department store.
                            Map: http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/rstdtlrvw/...
                            Someone's review in English: http://blog.livedoor.jp/auberginefleu... (near the bottom of the page).

                            I love solving a mystery!

                        2. Wow. Great detective work! Thanks so much.