While I was in Tokyo, I was travelling with one of my friends Tori, who is strictly vegetarian and has been all her life. As you may or may not be aware, a lot of Japanese food has fish or meat in it in some form, whether it’s fish/meat based or just has sauce and stock with fish as one of the many ingredients. This makes it pretty bloody hard for vegetarians to eat in Tokyo, as you can imagine. I’m not veggie (despite many attempts lol), but everywhere that we ate had veggie options which can be quite rare, so I thought I would give you a round up of some of the most delicious food I had there.
Firstly I would like to credit this fantastic website: https://www.neverendingvoyage.com/vegetarian-restaurants-tokyo/ where we found most of the restaurants.
On the first night we wanted somewhere relatively close and easy so we went for the curry house CoCo which is a chain so you can find lots of the restaurants throughout the city. The particular one we went to was by Shinjuku station. CoCo does the classic Japanese katsu curry, however, although lots of places offer a vegetable curry, the roux often contains meat, whereas at CoCo you can get entirely vegetarian options. We had to wait a few minutes because the restaurant is one of the typical Japanese ones where you sit at a long bar and you can see into the kitchens. This also means that they’re relatively small but have a pretty high turnover so you get seated quite quickly. I went for a pork cutlet with cheese. It definitely wasn’t all that healthy but my god it was delicious, especially after a long day of travelling and sightseeing/getting accustomed to the city. I’m a bit of whimp, and I don’t really like rice (very weird considering how much time I’ve spent in Asia), but it had the option of going for no spice and a smaller portion of rice which suited me down to the ground. The sauce was perfectly spiced and so full of flavour; and the pork cutlet was perfectly crispy on the outside with gloriously tender meat. I never really thought of cheese as being something used in Japanese cuisine but it went perfectly. It felt pretty northern, like fried meat, curry sauce, and cheese, but I would highly, highly recommend. They also had a selection of pickles and chilli and extra bits to go with it that just added to the flavour.
Okonomiyaki is by far my favourite Japanese food, and maybe even one of my favourite foods in general. It’s like a pancake batter but you mix in prawns, salmon, pork, cabbage, pickled ginger, anything you like really, and fry it on a hot plate in the middle of the table. I first got taken to an okonomi yaki restaurant in London when I was learning Japanese called Abeno and I’ve loved it ever since. The particular restaurant we went to was called Sometaro and is in Asakusa, within walking distance of the Senso-ji temple. The restaurant was very traditional, you had to take your shoes off upon arriving and everyone sat on tatami mats. It’s pretty warm because of the hot plates in the tables so each table had a fan too, AND they gave us little handheld fans. The food was absolutely amazing. I got an okonomi-yaki with cabbage and pork (I think) and Tori went for one with cabbage and pink-pickled ginger. The waiter spoke English and told us what to do, and showed us how to do it, then left us to try and cook it ourselves, and came back about ten minutes later to check it was all going okay. Once you’ve cooked it, they have some different sauces like bbq and mayo to go on the top, as well as seaweed and fish flakes. They’re so simple but taste SO GOOD.
Whilst in Japan, we wanted to make sure we tried some tempura. It was harder than you would think to find entire veggie tempura dishes as they often come as part of a set with meat in even if the actual tempura is veggie. We ended up going to a restaurant called Sorento, which specialises in tofu but also has some amazing tempura. The restaurant was kind of tucked away down the side of a railway line. When looking for it we were pretty close to giving up and turning around, then lo and behold it was the last building in the row, and I’m SO GLAD we didn’t. Inside it was amazing, we didn’t make a reservation but they still found seats for us at a bench. We had to go over some stepping stones through a water feature to get there and it was so calming and atmospheric. Neither of us had a massive food budget and this was slightly out of our budget so we just got a few bits. I had a prawn and a croquet (which are surprisingly popular in Japan) which I think had crab and tofu cream in it. It was fried to perfection, a thin, crispy layer on the outside, and creamy on the inside. The prawn was also amazing, as you would expect. Tori had a tempura fig, baby eggplant, and a dish which was like cold rice and veg with a creamy tofu sauce. I’ve never seen tofu done in so many cool, interesting and delicious ways. I do much prefer it in Asia to in the UK, but I still tend to think of it as a block that’s slightly wobbly instead of a smooth, cream-like texture that it was here.
Although not strictly Japanese, I’m going to pop this in here because Tokyo is the only place I’ve eaten it, and I had it after the tempura because I was still a bit peckish. So, as I mentioned in my last article, we were staying in Shinjuku in the Korean area, so I think this is a Korean speciality – fried chicken and cheese (I think it’s called buldak). I just got this one from a street stall that did it like a late-evening snack. My heart actually starts to beat faster when I think about all the calories and fat but that didn’t stop me going back the next night for more. It is amazing and definitely worth a try! The chicken is done in a kind of sweet and sour, slightly spicy sticky sauce which goes beautifully with the cheese.
Finally, Ramen! I don’t think I could go to Japan without eating ramen (although I managed not to eat sushi). Ramen is one of those ones you have to be careful about because the broth often has fish or chicken in it. We went to a restaurant called Gyoen Ramen Ouka which I would HIGHLY recommend. The restaurant was on a relatively quiet street and was Halal, but had veggie options. We got seated fine but I think it can get quite busy, and there was a sign outside saying the queue could last ages. We ordered from a vending machine at the front of the restaurant. I got chicken ramen with this kind of meatball starter thing which was absolutely amazing. The meat was all cooked to perfection and had that perfect umami taste. I must admit I don’t really like noodle soup like pho but this was next level. The staff here were amazing and so friendly, they chatted to us about where we were from and all about our holiday.
All in all, I ate some absolutely incredible food in Japan. The country as a whole has so many Michelin stars and so many people rave about it that I was expecting good things, but it was just incredible. There are so many things I want to try and recreate here but I just know it wouldn’t be as good.