At Cooking Sun, we have many vegetarian customers. As we meet more and more vegetarians, we have learned what to avoid when we welcome them, and now we are quite comfortable not to violate their dietary requirements. For example, we know that dashi broth cannot be used because it is flavored with fish and that we should ask if they would like to use separate cooking utensils.
However, because there are very few vegetarians in Japan, most Japanese business owners that interact with foreigners do not know how to cater to vegetarian customers. One funny story I heard was when an American lady walked into a restaurant in Kyoto and asked if vegetarian pizza was available. The chef said ‘yes, of course’. He brought out a pizza with ham and said ‘there is so little ham, so this is ok!’.
So, I would like to share a few things for vegetarian travelers to know so they can explore Japan more peacefully.
The most important fact is that many Japanese dishes are cooked with dashi, and this soup stock contains fish broth. Japanese people actually eat a lot of vegetables. Many of our dishes are just accented by umami flavors that come from fish stock or small amounts of meat. A vegetarian meal is definitely available, you will just have to watch out for a few things!
1. Okonomiyaki powder has dashi in it!
Good Okonomiyaki is everybody’s favorite, whoever you are. It’s fun to see it panfried on the teppan (iron table) in front of you, and it delivered to you piping hot and delicious. But beware, in most cases, okonomiyaki powder contains dashi broth. And I don’t think it’s easy to substitute it with something else. So if you are a vegetarian that does not eat fish, I’m sorry, but you had better look for something else :(
2. Noodle soup has dashi but you may be able to ask for a vegetarian option!
Again, it’s dashi. In fact, Japanese foods are all about dashi. Soup stock made of combination of kombu kelp and bonito (fish) flake. You can make dashi stock with mushrooms to get that same umami taste. Ask about it in restaurants! But usually, Udon soup, Soba soup, Somen soup, Temura soup, Oden soup, etc. most likely contain fish-based dashi. If worse comes to worse, Italian and French restaurants in Japan are not too bad…
3. Convenience stores aren’t so bad
Food at convenience stores are actually pretty good! They are so advanced (particularly Seven Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart) that you will be able to find a lot of vegetarian foods such as sandwiches, salads, yogurts, fruits, pastas, etc. They even warm up food for you and provide utensils!
By the way, here are some restaurants which serve vegetarian menu.
1. Mumokuteki (7 min from Kawaramachi station)
2. Tamisa (5 min from Sanjo station, 3 min from Shiyakusyomae (City Hall) station)
3. Morpho Cafe (10 min from Marutamachi station, near Imperial Palace)
And last but not least, we can offer a vegetarian menu for both our morning and afternoon courses! Then you can learn how to make vegetarian Japanese food!