Japan’s diet is largely based off of fish and seafood products, so being a vegetarian/vegan in Japan can be difficult sometimes.
But now that we have a lot of tourists from all over the world, the number of vegetarian/vegan-friendly restaurants are increasing to meet the demand.
With pre-planning and checking what and where to eat, vegetarians and vegans can fully enjoy their stay!
Here’s the vegetarian/vegan survival guide to Japan.
What to be careful
You need to avoid 出汁/Daishi as fish (usually Bonite Flake) is used to make it.
It is the foundation of Japanese cuisine and is found in everything from brought to sauces, etc.
There are some vegetarian friendly kind of Dashi which is based on seaweed or dried mushrooms, but they are not very common.
So you need to be careful every time you see soup or sauce as Dashi is usually in them.
But don’t worry, we have a lot of rice ,vegetable, and bean products.
Below are the recommended food for vegetarian/vegan.
It is a Zen Buddhist temple cuisine and is entirely vegan (no fish, meat, or other animal products are used).
Tofu and wild plants, and various seasonal food are used to make this beautifully decorated cuisine.
漬物 Tsukemono/Japanese pickled vegetables
There are many kinds of pickled vegetables, or Tsukemono in Japan.
Tsukemono appeared long time ago before refrigeration to preserve food.
Salt,vinegar,rice bran, sake lees, miso, and soy sauce are usually used to make Tsukemono ,and the most popular kinds are Daikon (Japanese radish. This tsukimoto is called Takuan), Cucumber, Eggplant, Carrot, and Ume plums.
蕎麦 Soba/Buckwheat noodles
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and they are thin.
Soba is served either chilled (called Zarusoba) with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth.
It often comes with onions, sesame, and wasabi.
As hot broth contains Dashi, you need to order Zarusoba.
Note that うどん (Udon/wheat noodles) is also popular, but it is usually comes in hot broth with Dashi in it.
If you would like to try Udon, you should find つけ麺 (Tsukemen/Dipping noodles) that comes with noodles and sauce aside.
As long as you avoid dipping in the sauce, it will be OK!
It is probably the most popular kind of noodle in Japan.
Ramen shops are everywhere and every place has its own style so it’s really fun trying the different shops.
For vegans, it is hard to find the one to eat as almost all broths contain Dashi. However, there are some vegan friendly ramen restaurants.
If you would like to try Ramen in Japan, check these places below.
Veggie Ramen Yuniwa
Japanese curry is different from Indian curry.
Less spice is used and rice and roux come together.
You can find vegetable curry at most curry restaurants, but it’s likely that roux was made with meat.
Coco Ichibanya, one of the largest curry chains in Japan, offer an entirely vegan curry so this is the place to go.
For details, check the link here: Coco Ichibanya
It is not easy to find vegan/vegetarian sushi, but it’s possible to find some.
At a sushi restaurant, you can order Kappamaki (seaweed rolls with cucumber) , Takuan-Maki (pickled daikon radish roll), and Inarizushi (Vinegared Rice stuffed in a fried tofu pouch. You need to check it wasn’t made with dashi).
Here are some vegan/vegetarian friendly sushi restaurants.
※For other places, check the link of the recommended restaurants at the end.
おにぎり Onigiri/Rice ball
Onigiri, or rice ball is made from white rice and often wrapped in 海苔 Nori/Seaweed.
Many kinds of Onigiris are available at convenience stores and supermarkets.
Make sure you find the ones that don’t have any fish or meat inside.
焼きおにぎり (Yaki onigiri/Grilled rice balls with soy sauce on top) can be found at most 居酒屋 Izakaya/Japanese pub.
It usually comes with cold green onions and pickles on the side. Perfect food for vegans/vegetarians!
You could also try 赤飯おにぎり (Sekihan Onigiri/Red rice and Azuki bean balls) at a convenience store.
It used to be a sacred food and we traditionally eat it on special occasions through out the year such as birthdays, weddings ,and holidays and it is believed that the food ward off the evil spirit.
I recommend it if you want to try something different!
There are plenty of Tofu restaurants in Japan and you can enjoy delicious Tofu meals.
But don’t assume that all Tofu restaurants offer vegetarian food.
Most places use Dashi , so you should check before ordering.
Below are major kinds of Tofu in Japan.
ごま豆腐 Goma Dofu
It is sesame Tofu, made from ground sesame paste, water, and Kudzu powder (starch powder made from the root of the Kudzu plant). I has the name “Tofu/Dofu”, but actually soy is not used to produce this food.
It is a popular dish served on Shojin Ryori dish.
Yuba is Tofu Skin, which comes from boiled soy milk.
Yuba is formed on the liquid surface during the boiling of soy milk.
It can be a little expensive but has a lot of benefits on health like anti-aging and good for smooth skin.
高野豆腐 Koya Dofu
It is freeze dried tofu, which is a very old traditional preserved food.
It is like a sponge, and you need to soak it in the water before eating.
When you order it at a restaurant, make sure that it is not soaked in Dashi!
This is probably the safest for vegans to order.
Yudofu is boiled Tofu. Kombu kelp is usually put in the hot water with Tofu.
It is especially popular during cold winter season.
串カツ Kushikatsu/Fried sticks
It is a kind of fried food with varieties of food on sticks.
At a Kushikatsu restaurant, you can order Eggplant, Mochi, Mushrooms, Asparagus, Onion, but don’t use the dipping sauce as it usually contains Dashi.
There are a lot of vegetable options for tempura.
Popular ones are, Katocha (pumpkin), Renkon (lotus), Satsumaimo (Sweet potato), Eggplant, Mushrooms, Sansai (wild mountain greens),
Here again, watch out for the sauce as it contains Dashi.
You can sprinkle some salt instead to enjoy this Japanese food.
At some places, tempura contains egg in the batter so you need to check before eating out at a restaurant.
It is made primarily from soy beans and salt and it is generally vegan and vegetarian friendly.
Miso is suitable to people on most diets and it has a number of health benefits.
But you need to be careful about Miso soup which again contains Dashi.
So, look for miso paste which consists of fermented soy beans, salt and optional grains like wheat and rice.
It is a Japanese dumpling and sweet, which is made from rice flour.
It is usually offered on a skewer and has varieties of flavors like sweet soy sauce and red beans.
Mochi is rice cake, and usually served with soy sauce or wrapped with seaweed.
It is popular throughout the year, especially during New year’s days.
Senbei is rice cracker.
It’s available everywhere in Japan and there are many kinds of it.
Just make sure you don’t get one with dried fish or shrimp in it.
These green, young soy beans can be found at most restaurants and convenience stores.
It is a very popular snack at pubs and people often order it with beer or sake.
Teikoku Hotel(Variety of Food)
Mothers Organic Restaurant (Organic Food)
Komaki Shokudo (Shojin Ryouri)
Veganic to go (Vegan Food)
Omusubi Chaya waseda ten (Organic rice balls)
Organic Vegan Lunch Kaimon Asakusa (Shojin Ryouri)
Ain Spot.Journey (Vegan restaurant)
Little-Heaven (Vegan restaurant)
Biotei (Fresh vegetables)
Shigetsu (Shojin Ryori)
Izusan in Daiji-in Temple (Shojin Ryori)
Dairoku-ji Ikkyu (Shojin Ryori)
Ajiro Main Shop (Shojin Ryori)
When you want to tell Japanese waiter/waitress that you are vegetarian/vegan, it is better to tell that you don’t eat any meat or fish instead of telling them that you are a vegetarian/vegan because some people don’t understand exactly what you can or cannot eat.
Here’s a sentence that might be your help.
“Watashi wa niku to sakana ga taberare masen”
“I can’t eat any meat or fish”.
If you are not comfortable saying this, you could write the sentence on a paper and show it.
Food culture in Japan is great and if you choose the right ones, you can enjoy having meals anywhere in Japan.
Eat well and have fun visiting/staying!
See you next time
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