A vegetarian in Japan – La Liberté

Even if it means breaking the suspense, let’s get straight to the point: eating vegetarian or vegan in Japan is complicated. We are never completely safe from a beef or fish sauce, dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and most importantly, unless you’re a Japanese expert, you’re never safe from misunderstanding a label or menu. However, thanks to social networks and the internet in general, it is now easy to find good advice for particular diets in a few clicks.

  1. Each region has its own culinary specialties

Japan and food are a beautiful story. I would like to add: “like everywhere in the world”, but that would not be entirely correct. In Japan we talk about food almost as we talk about time, we come back from holidays with “memories” (omission) in the form of culinary specialties for family and friends, even if you have spent your holidays in the nearby prefecture (the Japanese cantons), and if, indeed, you are not from the area, the locals will not fail to give the visitor the long list of dishes that they absolutely must have tasted before returning. Be ready. In Kumamoto, my adopted city, we eat, for example, karashi renkon, a boiled lotus root stuffed with mustard and miso and wrapped in a flour and egg batter, all fried (watch out, it stings!). So remember to discover every new city you visit; the Japanese are so proud of their heritage that you will often find this type of information in the official online guides provided by the prefectures themselves.

  1. Vegan parenthesis

A parenthesis for vegans: since dairy products are almost absent from traditional Japanese cuisine, it is easy to avoid them. Also beware of mayonnaise, used in certain dishes. On the other hand, it is more difficult to ignore the eggs. Whether it’s in a ramen dish, in okonomiyakiThey takoyaki (which can be cooked without octopus) or sweet side dishes such as omelette (tamagoyaki) often present next to rice, they are omnipresent. In the following tips, however, some examples of vegan dishes are included. Do not give up !

  1. The smartphone, an essential tool

If you are planning a vacation to Japan soon, your smartphone will be your best friend. The Google translation application allows you to scan and translate texts at the same time very reliably. If this method is not recommended to read the latest chapter of One Piece published in Weekly Shōnen Jump, it will save your life in the
restaurants and shops. Note that some restaurant chains provide menus in English. The application requires you to be connected to the Internet, consider equipping yourself accordingly, although it is easy to find free wifi almost everywhere in Japanese cities.

Another good plan: the HappyCow application, which will show you wherever you are vegan, vegetarian or “vegetarian options” restaurants as long as they are registered in the application.

If you understand some English, also consider downloading the Takoboto Dictionary, which can be used offline.

  1. Dishes that save a day

Sometimes you are hungry and you simply don’t have the energy to wander the crowded streets of the city center for an hour before you find what you are looking for. Here is a non-exhaustive list of vegetarian food and places to know if you want to spend a good stay in the land of the rising sun:

  • CoCo Ichibanya restaurant chain, which offers various vegetarian and vegan curry dishes.
  • The fast food chain MOS Burger, which generally offers vegetarian or even vegan burgers.
  • The onigiri available in all small shops (konbini), rice balls wrapped in seaweed foil and stuffed, for vegetarian and vegan options,umeboshi (macerated and salted plum), macerated mustard leaves, an egg yolk, or natto, sticky fermented soybeans that divide even the Japanese. Personally, the nattoI adore.
  • Vegetable tempura (vegetables rolled in flour and fried)
  • The sobabuckwheat flour pasta and water
  • Noodles udon made from wheat flour and ramen, usually available without meat. However, the sauce may contain beef broth or fish sauce. If you speak a little Japanese, the chefs of the small restaurants are happy to adapt to the wishes of the customers.
  • Miso soup, a fermented soybean noodle broth that usually contains tofu and some vegetables.
  • Indian restaurants
  1. Patience and respect for others

The list could be supplemented by many other Japanese dishes, fruits, pastries and other culinary specialties, perhaps in a future episode. But I would like to give one last piece of advice, perhaps the most important: patience! What we consider normal in Switzerland or in Western cultures in general does not necessarily apply elsewhere. Therefore, some Japanese have a hard time understanding the concept of vegetarianism. Avoid the moralistic tones, rarely welcomed in this culture where you prefer to avoid conflicts, explain with patience and … discard only the flakes of dried bonito that have just been sprinkled on your “vegetarian pizza” which still looks more like a lasagna. In the vast majority of cases, we will do everything to please you.

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