Vegan/Vegetarian Travel to Japan: The Ultimate Guide
It seems like an impossible mission for a vegan/vegetarian to travel in a country where the food emphasizes seafood. However, in history, the Japanese diet was plant-based. Therefore, there are plenty of vegan-friendly Japanese dishes. Recently, with veganism growing in Japan, vegan food is becoming easier to find. With a little research and planning, you can enjoy your journey to Japan even though you are a vegan/vegetarian.
Is Japanese Cuisine Suitable for Vegans?
Actually, except for seafood and beef, the most common ingredients and seasonings in Japanese cuisine appear suitable for vegans. Rice, Soba, and udon (two kinds of Japanese noodles) are the vegan-friendly staple food. Bean-made products, such as Tofu, Miso, and Natto can be used to cook a variety of dishes. Seasonings used in Japanese dishes, such as Tamari and Wasabi, are normally made of natural plants. Japanese cuisine also attaches importance to fresh seasonal vegetables, such as mushrooms, asparagus, and sprouts.
However, though these Japanese foods seem vegan-friendly, they often contain hidden ingredients that make the dishes not suitable for vegans/vegetarians, such as meat/fish stock, broth, and bonito flakes. Moreover, most menus and ingredient lists in Japan are written in Japanese only, increasing the difficulty to figure out whether a dish is vegetarian.
The Carefree Choice for Vegan/Vegetarian Travelers
Shojin Ryori cuisine, also known as Buddhist cuisine, is the traditional meal of Japanese Buddhist monks. Following the Buddhist doctrine of abstention from killing living beings, Shojin Ryori is all vegan and contains no fish/meat products. Therefore, Shojin Ryoriis is a carefree choice for a vegetarian in Japan.
Shojin Ryori is served exclusively in Buddhist temples. Normally, this simple yet elegant cuisine consists of soup, rice, and an array of side dishes, including tofu, seasonal vegetables, and pickles. The dishes will be presented on a set of beautiful japan lacquer tableware. There is only one thing that needs to be noticed - according to Japanese Buddhist doctrine, the process of acquiring dairy is considered to be unharmful to animals. Therefore, the use of dairy in Shojin Ryori cuisine is allowed. Please check with the chef whether the Shojin Ryori contains dairy products before eating.
Other Japanese foods Worth a try
In Japan, the definition of vegetarian is broad: chick/meat/fish stock may be considered to be vegetarian. Once you learn more about the hidden non-vegan ingredients, you will know how to avoid them and have more options for edible vegan Japanese foods. Here is a list for you:
- Bento box: Some convenience stores and train stations provide vegan Bento boxes that contain rice and vegetables only. Remember to check out the ingredients lists before purchasing - Google Translate is always a good choice if you cannot read Japanese.
- Sushi: Not all sushi contains seafood. There is sushi made of eggplant, cucumber, natto, tofu, and mushroom. Be cautious with egg sushi because it may contain dashi (fish stock).
- Curry: Curry is popular in Japan. Many Japanese curry restaurants will provide vegetable curry, whose roux may contain meat.
- Miso Soup: Miso, produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (a fungus), is usually used to make soup. You can ask for a vegetable broth to replace the fish broth, then you can get a vegan version of Miso soup.
- Soba/Udon Noodles: The noodles soup normally contains fish broth, therefore, make sure to order it without broth. You can add diluted soy sauce as a replacement.
- Shabushabu: As long as you avoid the broth soup base, the Japanese hot pot is perfect for a vegan/vegetarian!
- Tempura: Vegetable tempura is available in almost every restaurant that provides tempura. However, the batter is normally made with eggs.
- Ramen: Most Ramen, with or without meat, is dipped in the broth made of fish, chick, or meat. Remember to check the ingredients of the broth before eating.
- Okonomiyaki: It’s a Japanese pancake made of flour, oil, vegetables, meats, seafood, eggs, and mayonnaise. Meat and seafood can be omitted, however, eggs are a necessity. If you are a strict vegetarian, remember to avoid this.
- Gyoza: The Japanese dumpling is various. If you can find a vegetable version, it’s safe to have a try!
- Onigiri: Onigiri is made of rice balls and seaweed, normally with fillings of red beans or pickled plums. It’s a good option for vegetarians.
If you are tired of finding the dishes safe for a vegan/vegetarian, here is some good news. Most Japanese snacks and sweets are vegan-friendly, such as mochi, wagashi, and seaweed snacks. They are accessible in every convenience store!