Are you vegan or vegetarian? Are you also travelling to Tokyo soon? Well, here’s how you can not only survive but also savour in the capital city of Japan.
Do you believe that Japan as a country is not particularly vegetarian-friendly? If yes, you’re not the only one. But, you might be wrong. Let’s just say that – now more than ever – the world’s “original mega-city” offers more vegan and vegetarian food choices than you would have expected.
It was late autumn when my husband and I had started our week-long stay in the Tokyo metropolis. We had been sauntering through the amber – the fresh foliage of this splendid season – for hours and hours. It was the kind of chilly one couldn’t possibly mind and so, we didn’t either.
Even amidst skyscrapers hovering over us and the silent whistle of the Japan Rail in the background, it was romantically glorious. And, just as we found ourselves blown off course, smitten by the city, we resumed our search for some sustenance, online.
As vegetarians, it required research but eventually, we discerned some tips and tricks on how to sustain ourselves – rather effortlessly.
Our recommendations on being vegan or vegetarian in the Land of the Rising Sun:
– Dine Out Cards
– Dashi or Fish Broth
– Convenience Stores
– Cook for Yourself
As an epicurean and tourist, chances are you would be consuming most to all meals at cafés, bistros or even pizzerias across the city. It’s important for you to carry ‘dine out cards’ that aid in representing your diet orientation.
These cards – also printed with the Japanese translation of the text – would express your allergies or food preferences.
– Look Out for Dashi (Broth)
If you’re reading this before your visit to Tokyo, you might be luckier than we were. Dashi or fish stock forms the base for a wide range of dishes in Japanese cuisine.
So, these food items are inclusive of miso soup, noodle broth, and grilled foods, where the dashi is stirred into its flour base. It’s crucial to be alert about the existence of this ingredient at all times. All you have to do is ask!
– Konbini or Convenience Stores
Whether its twelve o’clock at noon or night, your go-to for anything would be a Konbini or convenience stores across Tokyo. In fact, that less-than-a-mile long walk from your rented apartment, hotel or Ryokan (inn) is nothing but bliss, as the light breeze of November kisses your face.
It did ours and I assure you it was divine. Here are the most popular convenience stores you can spot on almost every street corner of Tokyo:
1. Seven Eleven
An international chain, Seven-Eleven is known to be Japan’s first whilst also boasting the highest number within the country. It was also our first ‘Konbini splurge’ of many through that week in Tokyo.
From Macaron ice cream sandwiches to Wasabi flavoured potato chips, there’s endless vegetarian options for you to pick from. In fact, the White Fromage – baked cheesecake with a smooth texture and rich flavour – is especially recommended at the Seven Eleven.
You could either be craving for healthy superfoods or desserts, Lawson has an outstanding range for both. As vegetarians, you could checkout the basic yet savour-worthy onigiri (rice ball), which is available in plain rice and pickled plum flavours. In fact, if you’re looking for a ‘ready-to-eat’ snack, edamame should be on top of your list. This veggie-munchie is sprinkled simply with salt and sold in triangular-shaped packages, easy to consume on-the-go.
3. Family Mart
Are you thinking of hash browns or french fries? Get these idyllic midnight potato treats at Family Mart, where they are cooked in plant-based.
The second-largest chain in Japan – Family Mart will also have vegan candy and chocolate options. You could also grab moisturizer or shaving kit on your quick run to the store.
Cook for Yourself!
If you have a kitchenette or sharing kitchen at your temporary residence like we did, you could always cook! Bonus: Your accessibility to konbinis (as mentioned above) will allow you to source fresh fruits and vegetables, sauces of all sorts – mustard, marinara or mayonnaise, and even bread.
Hence, it might be a struggle to starve in a city like Tokyo, even as a vegetarian.
Best Food of Tokyo: What and Where
It’s obviously no secret that Tokyo is known for good food. In fact, we’re guilty of holidaying for this very reason – the fluffy soufflé pancakes, matcha latte, and assorted KitKats.
Although this coastal city is more popularly recognized for its seafood, it has underrated vegan as well as vegetarian versions of these delicacies. Let’s shinkasen (bullet train) our way into some of these fantastic food options:
A budget-friendly and easily-accessible noodle soup dish, Ramen is the ideal choice for travellers, especially vegan or vegetarian. You can spot a ramen-ya or ramen shop that offers vegan ramen in the busier wards of Tokyo such as Shibuya or Shinjuku. According to us, you must try the enlisted restaurants for this slurp-worthy delicacy:
– T’s Tantan: An exclusively vegan restaurant, T’s Tantan serves ramen without any meat, fish, egg or milk products. One of the better known outlets is situated at the Tokyo Station in Chiyoda’s Marunouchi business district. If you’re specifically looking for a delicious yet spicy meal, head over to T’s for a bowl of vegan tantanmen – made with soy meat and sesame broth.
– Halal Ramen Ouka: The Halal Ramen Ouka, more popularly known as Shinjuku Gyoen Ramen Ouka is a 10-minute walk from its namesake national garden. Whether its spring or autumn, you could inhale the beauty of this garden incessantly and then noodle over to this halal/vegan joint for some impeccable ramen.
– Afuri: With branches all over Tokyo, Afuri offers a signature vegan ramen with vegetable soup that is shadowed by a ‘rainbow of vegetables’ such as squash, cauliflower, turnip and the greens. The food is light-giving “heavy eaters” the opportunity to gobble down two or three of these ramen bowls.
Sushi – likely to be the first Japanese dish tasted by a vegetarian – is just as artistically appealing as it is appetising.
One of the most common vegetarian sushi you must look out for is kappa-maki (seaweed rolls with cucumber) and takuan-maki (pickled radish roll).
– Gonpachi: A minimalistic yet modern sushi place, Gonpachi has the most succulent vegetarian sushi in all of Tokyo. From shiitake mushroom to avocado sushi, there is nothing you wouldn’t savour to your truest senses. It smells good, it looks good and it feels good. There are two outlets: Shibuya and Nishiazabu.
– Nadeshiko: This joint in Akihabara is not vegetarian but serves an essentially palatable vegetable sushi set. At the end, you could only be in awe of the pleasing presentation and the satisfying service as well. Our suggestion would also be to meet with the female head chef, which is still quite rare in Japan.
– Itamae: If you’re looking for “vegan sushi” in flavours such as avocado and paprika, Itamae (which also means ‘sushi chef’) serves it all. There are also different kinds of sushi with green onion sprouts, eggplants, soaked pickles, Japanese gingers and radish sprouts rolled with kelp.
If you are Indian, you probably are not looking to dine your own cuisine in a foreign country. But, I believe that one meal through your vacation should be at an Indian restaurant.
We felt something greater than satisfaction watching people from parts of Japan indulge in Dal Makhani, Paneer Butter Masala and Garlic Naan.
– Milan Nataraj: After hours of shopping and sightseeing at Shibuya, we were exhausted beyond definition to pick one of too many restaurants to have dinner at. And so, we found ourselves ordering for Indian food at Milan Nataraj. It has a vibrant atmosphere and simply sweet service. I think that when you get there, you will know what to order.
– Priya: A typically fine-dine Indian restaurant, Priya has incredible curry, naan as well as desserts. If you are from India, it is highly likely that you would feel nostalgic as soon as you enter this authentic Indian bistro.
– Dhaba India: A South Indian joint, Dhaba serves three varieties of dosas and curries: plain dosa, masala dosa and mix veg paneer dosa. There is also an assorted platter with food served on a banana leaf. You might not agree with the excessive pricing of the food as compared to India, but it’s worth trying.
They say, “There’s nothing better than pizza; that you can’t really go wrong with pizza.” I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, even if there isn’t anything vegetarian enough for you to eat in Tokyo, there will be pizza. I’m vouching for the fact that my husband and I feasted on some delectable Neapolitan pizzas four times that week at these pizzerias:
– The Pizza Bar on 38th: On the 38th floor of the famous Mandarin Oriental hotel in Tokyo, this pizzeria is literally heaven on earth. And, we can assure you it is worth every penny. There’s nothing you wont love about the 8-seater; from the marble slabbed table to the food being cooked right in front of you. I loved this place and I think you will too.
– Pizzeria e Trattoria Da Isa: A crowd puller, Da Isa gets rather lively at night – a time you could enjoy a margherita pizza as well as a margarita drink. You would think Italians flew down to share their authentic recipes. Some call it: “the best pizzeria in town.”
– Seirinkan: A place with interiors as homely as its pizza makes you feel, Serinkan gets busy for the right reasons. The owner, Susumu Kakinuma travelled to the source, Naples with the objective ensuring that each pie of the pizza he creates is a memorable experience. If that is just what you’re looking for, you know where to go!
Fun Fact: Did you know that Tokyo holds its record as the city with most Michelin starrers at 230 restaurants? Well, you do now!
I hope you have the best time and the best food in Tokyo.