What does it mean to be ‘veggie’? There’s no simple answer to this question! Generally speaking, a vegetarian is someone who chooses not to eat meat, which includes poultry, red meat, fish and seafood. However, vegetarianism is a broad umbrella term that describes various dietary choices – it means different things to different people. Beyond vegetarianism, there are vegans, who not only avoid animal flesh but animal products of any kind, including eggs, dairy products and honey, while at the other end of the spectrum pescatarians eat fish and seafood but no other meat. What motivates vegetarians to cut meat out of their diet? It could be anything from religious beliefs, cultural background, a desire to improve health, environmental awareness, or simply that going meat-free is cheaper. For some people vegetarianism is a life choice taken as an adult or adolescent; for others it’s a way of life they’re born into. In Japanese cooking, fish or meat is customarily used as a basis for soups, stocks, sauces and flavourings, so it can be difficult for vegetarians to find completely meatfree offerings in standard Japanese restaurants. Salads, soups and ramen frequently contain very small pieces of meat or fish, and even Japanese omelette ‘dashi maki’ is usually made using ‘dashi’, a sauce made from bonito flakes. It is also included in the dipping sauce for tempura dishes. Although the Japanese Buddhist tradition of shōjin ryōri, or ‘devotional cuisine’, does not include meat, instead featuring vegetables and foods derived from soybeans, nuts and seeds, in practice the availability of shōjin ryōri is fairly limited, and it can be expensive. If you’re a vegetarian visiting or living in Japan, you’re likely to face difficulties in explaining your dietary needs. The concept of vegetarianism is not universally understood, and so it’s important to be clear on exactly what you consider to be meat, or you may find you’re still served chicken, fish, or meat-based dishes. If your Japanese isn’t up to the job, it’s worth asking a Japanese person to write down an explanation that you can show to restaurant staff, who will usually be extremely friendly and helpful. That way you can still eat Japanese food and don’t need to resort to margherita pizza from the nearest Italian restaurant – at least not every night! Despite the challenges, eating a meat-free diet in Japan is by no means impossible, especially if you have cooking facilities available. You can buy vegetarian versions of cooking ingredients, adapt the recipes to make them meat-free, or simply try cooking one of the many traditional Japanese foods that don’t contain meat, such as tofu. Yuko, a Japanese vegetarian, says: I became a vegan 1 year ago because of my health. After I became vegan, I met many Japanese vegetarians and vegans in Japan and realized there were quite a few. I would like to care more about what I eat and also would like to spread some useful information for vegans and vegetarians in Japan. Martina, from Switzerland, compares eating out as a vegetarian in Japan with elsewhere: “Here in Japan, as in many other countries, there is often the view that a meal isn’t complete without meat or fish, and sometimes it seems that meat is added to a dish such as a salad for no reason other than this.
There’s a strong respect for using traditional ingredients in Japanese dishes, so vegetarian versions of traditional foods are harder to come by, even though providing them would make restaurants much more attractive to international visitors, who would often really appreciate being able to try a vegetarian version of a traditional dish. My recommendation to Japanese restaurant owners would be to use a ‘V’ symbol on their menus to indicate the vegetarian dishes, as is common in some other countries. Although eating out in traditional Japanese restaurants can be tricky if you don’t eat meat, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan – friendly restaurants in Kansai if you know where to look! Just try Googling ‘vegetarian restaurants Kansai’ or see below for a few ideas.
Useful Japanese phrases for vegetarians.
1 – I’m a vegetarian. What can I eat on this menu? 私は “菜食主義者(ベジタリアン)です。私が食べられるものはありますか？ Watashi wa saishokushugisha(bejitarian) desu. Watashi ga taberareru mono wa arimasuka?
2 – Can I order this dish without meat? この料理をお肉抜きでたのめますか？ Kono ryouri wo o-niku nuki de tanomemasuka?
3 – Does this dish contain any meat products? この料理はお肉は入っていますか？ Kono ryouri wa o-niku wa haitteimasuka?
4 – Do you have any vegetable only dishes? 野菜だけの料理はありますか？ Yasai dake no ryouri wa arimasuka?
Some restaurant information in Kansai
The PINK WEED cafe
Oceans coat 1F, 4-7-12, Kitanagasadori, Chuo-ku, Kobe-city, Hyogo
http://tabelog.com/hyogo/A2801/A280102/28038791/ Cute café for vegans.
Atl Abanecks Shinsaibashi 2F,2-1-24, Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka-city, Osaka
http://tabelog.com/osaka/A2701/A270201/27051568/ Great vegetable sweets and bagles available here in Shinsaibashi, Osaka.
Aju 1-10-14, Nakazaki, Kita-ku, Osaka-city, Osaka
http://tabelog.com/osaka/A2701/A270101/27017548 Vegetable “Izakaya” restaurant in Nakazaki-cho, Umeda, Osaka.
Veganscafe 4-88, Nishiuracyo, Fukakusa, Fushimiku, Kyoto-city, Kyoto
A café & restaurant for vegans in Fushimi, Kyoto. Famous because the “yakiniku” Japanese BBQ restaurant owner changed to it to a vegetarian restaurant.
There are also Japanese language only websites about vegetarians.
Kansai Vegan＆Vegetarian http://kansaixvegan.blog.fc2.com/
Tokyo Vegans Club Vegetarian restaurant information http://vegan.japanteam.net/
By Life in Kansai