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Vegetarian in Kyoto

My husband and I are traveling to Kyoto in mid November for the first time!

I am a vegetarian, I don't eat fish or meat. I am okay with dashi broth & miso soup, eggs are okay as is dairy.

We want to experience all the best this area has to offer. We wish to enjoy a mix of fine dining and casual cuisine. My husband enjoys meat and fish so we are looking for restaurant recommendations that can suit both of our needs.

I appreciate in advance any ideas, suggestions, and recommendations you have for us!

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  1. We are also traveling in Tokyo, if you have any suggestions there as well :) !

    1. So, just to clarify, you're mostly vegetarian, but okay with small bits of fish used for seasoning?

      >We want to experience all the best this area has to offer.

      That would include kaiseki, but I'm not sure how accommodating kaiseki restaurants are to special orders - they tend to have just a few set menus, based on seasonal ingredients. Perhaps someone with more experience in these matters can comment.

      Shojin-ryori (Kyoto-style vegetarian temple cuisine) is a no-brainer of course, but you might not want to eat it every day, and anyway most places are open only at lunchtime.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Robb S

        As requested!!! In Tokyo, the Izakaya Gomaya in Shibuya and En in Ginza can correspond to the 'multiple choice'. For example ;
        - the Izakaya En in the Ginza location can offer you a 'tofu and yuba no zen(=pot of tofu and skin of soybean milk)' and a menu at 3000.-yens for your husband.
        - the Izakaya Gomaya in Shibuya usually will have 'goma chahan(=fried rice with sesame)', 'yasai goma sauce(=vegetables with sesame sauce), 'goma tofu(=sesame tofu)'. In general, I also agree that they have a wonderful 'maguro steak(=tuna steak)'.,,

        1. re: Ninisix

          Yes, to clarify I'm lacto-ovo vegetarian. I normally do not eat any fish but am willing to eat small amounts of dashi broth since so many dishes are made with it and I don't want to be *too* difficult ;)

          Thanks so much for the suggestions! I heard that there is one stellar vegetarian restaurant in Kyoto - does anyone know the name of it?

          1. re: lavendula

            There are a few stellar shojin-ryori restaurants in Kyoto. Izusen is my favorite for food; Shigetsu has a lovely setting. Both are open only for lunch. http://www.bento.com/kansai/kc-kyoryo...

            For the rest of the time, I'd suggest upscale izakaya - they're set up so you can order lots of small dishes a la carte, both meat and non-meat items. We've talked about izakaya quite a bit on this board, so some threads should come up if you do a search. Here's a list of some of my favorites in Tokyo: http://www.bento.com/r-jap.html#izakaya

      2. Daigo, in Onarimon, is a Michelin 2-star shoji-ryori restaurant overlooking a temple; the food and ambience is fantastic. English is available, however their English website seems to have been disabled so check the Michelin listings for Tokyo or search online for details.

        Bon in Iriya is a lovely place to sample Chinese influenced shojin-ryori in Tokyo. Be warned that you must eat early, as the last seating is at 7pm and it closes at 9.

        Gaya is a stylish macrobiotic restaurant which has vegetarian/vegan and non-vegetarian menus, so both you and your husband would be well catered for. There are shops in Aoyama and Yoyogi-Uehara.

        http://www.gaya.co.jp/

        Potager is a vegetarian sushi restaurant in Roppongi. Its had a lot of press in women's magazines like Hanako, so while it may seem a little gimmicky and cashing in on the organic trend, the food is good.

        http://www.sushi-potager.com/en/menu/

        In Kyoto, if you are planning a trip to the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Shigetsu at Tenryuji temple is a great option for lunch. Its open from 11am-2pm, with ¥3,000, ¥5,000 or ¥7,000 courses.

        Kyoto is also a great place to sample yudofu (tofu hotpot). Most restaurants have vegetarian and non-vegetarian courses available.

        Throughout Japan, izakaya, soba and tempura restaurants are a safe bet for a non-meat eater, so search on the boards for recommendations.

        1. Hi lavendula,
          There is a rather large upmarket speciality vegetable shop in the middle of the Nishiki market with a restaurant upstairs in the building opposite. They have a vegetarian set with some six or seven vegetables and rice. Lunch only. Sorry to be so vague, but it is literally half way. Look for a man with an earpiece who takes the orders. He takes the reservations. The shop itself will in Octobre have amazing mushrooms.

          5 Replies
          1. re: hblnk

            It's called Yaoya no Nikai (literally the second floor of the vegetable shop). Sometimes they fill up, so it doesn't hurt to make a reservation.
            http://bento.com/kansai/rev/7006.html

            1. re: Robb S

              Thank you for all of your helpful ideas and suggestions :)!

              We want to try a Michilen starred restaurant in Kyoto and were given these 3 suggestions that would accommodate me being vegetarian and my husband eating fish & meat. Let me know if you all have a preference!

              Kenninji Gion Maruyama ( Michelin 2 stars) http://www.gionmaruyama.com/ (Japanese )

              Kikunoi Honten ( Michelin 3 stars) http://kikunoi.jp/english/store/index...

              Chihana ( Michelin 3 stars) http://www.kyotochihana.com/e/

              1. re: lavendula

                Dear Lavendula,

                Just as a practical consideration, not as a judgement on your diet - I never eat meat myself - there are two things to take into account.
                One is that places like this are stormed by requests specially in the very popular tourist season that mid-november is in Kyoto. You should book soon.
                Secondly, restaurants in this bracket of luxury and type of cooking operate on the assumption that pretty much all customers on a given night will eat basically the same set menu, give or take two luxury items. This type of cooking concentrates on seasonal and locally sourced products and is impossibly labor intensive. Asking them to take out all fish, shellfish and birds is a bit like hoping to see a performance of Hamlet without the prince.

                Of the three restaurants you mentioned I have been to Kikunoi several times and it is one of Japan's best restaurants. Murata-sama is a role model. On top of the food you will enjoy the decoration, the gardens, the plates and vessels, the timing. The other two places you mention are indigestible to my bank account.

                Robb S rightly suggested the shojin kaiseki, which is not less refined, on the contrary. This is all vegetarian and warps the buddhist cloister cuisine into the tea ceremony aesthetics. Check Ajiro - I believe they have a Michelin star. They are located on the grounds on the Myoshin-ji temple. You could contemplate the Taizo-in garden first and then have dinner. It does not get more sophisticated in Kyoto.

                Finally, why not contact restaurant Kashin? This is a very intimate family run place with none of the luxury that Michelin rewards, but the cooking is phenomenal. They respond in English to requests on kashinkyoto@gmail.com. The owner and head chef Kitamura Keiko is an expert on the indigenous vegetables of the Kyoto area. Kashin can I am sure accomodate your request better than other more upscale establishments.

                1. re: hblnk

                  Thank you kindly for all of this help! The issue is that the rest of my group does enjoy eating fish and meat so I am trying to accommodate everyone :)

                  Right now, I am working on making reservations at Kashin & Kikunoi Honten. What would you suggest to round our our third dinner - Shojin Kaiseki or Ajiro? Or something else?

                  1. re: lavendula

                    Has anyone else dined at Kashin? I can't seem to find anything about it on the boards or online. I made a ressie there for a counter seat :)

          2. These restaurants were suggested to me in Tokyo from our concierge:

            Restaurant Name: Tempura Kondo (Tempura- 2 Star), Tempura Masa
            (Tempura), Tofuya Ukai (Tofu Kaiseki) , Soba Sasuga (Noodle), Daigo
            (Japanese Vegan- 2 Star), Esaki (Kappo - 3 Star), Beige Alain Ducasse
            (Modern French - 1 Star ), L'Embellir (Modern French- 1 Star), Ginza
            Toyoda (Kappo- 2 Star), Hifumian (Kappo- 1 Star)

            Any preferences?
            THANK YOU!

            21 Replies
            1. re: lavendula

              My mother and I were taken to one of the Tofuya Ukai locations several years ago with great reservations about a tofu only based dinner (we are not vegetarians and my mother doesn't care for tofu). It was one of the most memorable meals of my life. The setting was gorgeous and the food was just amazing. We both would go back in a heartbeat.

              1. re: Sushiqueen36

                Thanks for the review! What location did you eat at?

                1. re: lavendula

                  I honestly can't remember. I believe it was the Shiba location but can't find my notes and it was several years ago. Our good friends took us and it was within a relatively short driving distance from their home. Can't find their address either - one of these days I'm going to get organized!

                  1. re: Sushiqueen36

                    Hmm, I initially thought of Ukai Tofuya when I was formulating a reply, however, after looking at the tofu course menu, which is listed on their Japanese webpage, it included a sashimi starter, along with grilled meat/fish. Given the request, I nixed it. But, if sushiqueen has eaten a wholly tofu course, then that is insightful - though curious as it's not listed as an option.

                    1. re: wekabeka

                      I am wondering about that too. It has been several years - maybe it's different. I remember a few items that weren't tofu but I don't remember fish or non-vegetarian items. I dug through my pictures and have photos of just about every other meal during our trip but I think I was so bummed that we were going to a tofu restaurant that I left my camera back at the house. Won't do that again. Could I possibly be more vague about the meal? Maybe I shouldn't have commented since my memory isn't serving me well!

                      1. re: Sushiqueen36

                        Here is my new list of options in Tokyo. Please chime in!

                        Lunch:
                        Tofuya Ukai
                        Tempura Kondo
                        Beige Alain Ducasse
                        Ginza Okuda (3 Star Michelin Chef Mr. Toru Okuda of "KOJU"s new outlet, as he will be present only for Lunch)

                        Dinner:
                        Esaki
                        Les Creation de Narisawa
                        Ryugin

                        These choices are based on the fact that they can provide me with a delicious vegetarian meal and my husband with an equally as (or more) delicious meat/fish meal.

                        1. re: lavendula

                          Ah, if you're including French, may I suggest Pierre Gagnaire as a possible alternative to Beige? I've had a very inspired vegetarian menu there.

                          1. re: Robb S

                            Thanks, I will look into Pierre Gagnaire.

                            Here is my list of Kyoto dinner reservations:

                            Chihana
                            Kikunoi Hoten
                            Kashin

                            Thinking of lunch at Shigetsu one day and maybe at Komameya. Please let me know how I can round out my dining in Kyoto with other lunch suggestions or any changes to the dinner selections.

                            Your help is greatly appreciated!

                            1. re: lavendula

                              dear lavendula,
                              looking at your very spectacular list I ought to tell you that Kashin is not in the area of rarified luxury that you seem to have focused on. I recommend the restaurant all the same, because I find meals there more approachable and relaxed, plus they understand how to pair sakes with the dishes.

                              1. re: hblnk

                                Thank you, I appreciate your input! I think it will be a nice change of pace and she seems so sweet and accommodating by email.

                          2. re: lavendula

                            Okay, here is the actual list of reservations I was able to get :)

                            Tempura Kondo - lunch
                            Ishikawa

                            Tofuya Ukai lunch
                            Pierre Gagnaire

                            Les Creation de Narisawa

                            Need another dinner!

                            1. re: lavendula

                              I don't know how locked in your lunch schedule is but I would suggest leaving a day open to have lunch in one of the department stores. The bigger stores (Takashimaya, Daimaru etc) have amazing food offerings on their lower levels - grocery as well as prepared food. You both should be able to find foods that you'll be happy with. The stores usually also have traditional restaurants but I would seek out the food court and/or grocery areas. These are NOT like our department stores in the U.S.!

                              1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                Department store food floors are interesting places to see, and you can buy lots of different kinds of food and bring them back to your hotel (or sit in a park). They're not particularly good for in-store eating though - the few places where you can sit and eat are not especially exciting.

                                It's hard to believe you're suggesting cancelling someplace like Tempura Kondo and sitting in some depa-chika tempura food-stall instead.

                                1. re: Robb S

                                  I didn't tell her to cancel any reservations. Simply a suggestion to leave open a lunch for a more casual experience.

                                  I'm guessing that you've spent a considerable amount of time in Japan and no longer see the uniqueness of the depa-chikas that a first time visitor to the country would be fascinated by.

                                  Some of the most memorable meals of my life have been experienced in casual eateries in environments completely foreign to what I would find in the States.

                                  1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                    >no longer see the uniqueness of the depa-chikas that a first time visitor to the country would be fascinated by

                                    Quite the opposite - I love depachika, and I make a point of showing them to visitors whenever I can. They're great places to shop or just explore, and it's fun putting together a take-out meal from several different take-out shops.

                                    On the other hand the in-store eating stalls tend to be average at best, and seldom as good as the restaurants in the same department store's upstairs restaurant floor - the main thing they have going for them is the novelty value of being in a depachika. Kitchen facilities are very limited, so they might offer a small subset of the menu from the food stall's parent restaurant, with much of the food prepared elsewhere and assembled on site.

                                    I always encourage visitors to see a depachika, and shop in one if they can. I just think there are many far better options for having a meal, or even a quick, cheap snack.

                                    1. re: Robb S

                                      And on a slightly different topic, I'm always mystified when foreigners talk about getting so many free samples in a depachika that they can make a meal of it. I think it must have been written in a guidebook once and all the other guidebook writers thought it was true and people have been repeating it ever since.

                                      1. re: Robb S

                                        Just to be clear - that is definitely NOT what I was suggesting.

                                  2. re: Robb S

                                    I could use some help with a suggestion for dinner on my first night in Tokyo, a Sunday. What do you think would round out the experience?

                                    Here is my list again of reservations that I do have:

                                    Tempura Kondo - lunch
                                    Ishikawa - dinner

                                    Tofuya Ukai -lunch
                                    Pierre Gagnaire - dinner

                                    Les Creation de Narisawa - dinner

                                    1. re: lavendula

                                      Been having an amazing trip and will check in once back in the states! Getting a little kaiseki-ied out, I must admit. I'd like to pair down my Tokyo reservations to just 1 kaiseki. Which dinnervwould you eliminate??

                                      Also looking for a delish lunch spot in Kanazawa!! Arrigato!

                                      1. re: lavendula

                                        If you want to try the regional cuisine of Kanazawa in a gorgeous setting, I highly recommend the teahouse at Mishoan: http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/9608....

                                        I have no idea if they can do a vegetarian version though - I guess you can ask your hotel to call. Here are a few more options in town: http://www.bento.com/kansai/ka-kanaza...

                                        1. re: Robb S

                                          Thanks, I'll check out your links. I'm very into izakaya and ala carte options after 10 days of Kaiseki!