Located in Roppongi, an area that is definitely not my favourite in Tokyo, the To-Fu Cafe Fujino is nevertheless well worth a visit. As the name reveals all dishes feature Kyoto-style Tofu or Tonyu = soymilk in some form and always at its best! I love the milky, light, pure and slightly nutty taste of soymilk and at this place you can enjoy it in most delightful ways. Be it sweet like in one of their fantastic soymilk parfaits, ice creams or even soymilk donuts, or savory as fried Tofu cubes in their vegetarian set meal - it is always such a pleasure!
As I wrote before Kyoto is the place for all things Tofu and so it does not surprise that all those wonderful dishes are prepared in the style of the former capital of Japan. The casual but stylish cafe is run by the reknowned Tofumaker Fujino who really knows how to do his job! Believe me, the parfaits are just like those in my dreams! I love their standard Tonyu Shirotama Parfait, with the clear flavour of the soymilk soft-ice and the sticky little riceballs, the sweet azuki bean jam, some cake and all drizzled with brown sugar syrup... (just have a look at the photo above^^).
But please also check out their seasonal specials! I had a Matcha Parfait there more than three years ago and I am still talking about it.. you name it: it was superb!
And last autumn I had the pleasure to make the acquaintance with their Maron (Chestnut) Parfait and it was love at the first sight.
However, as I said they do not only have magnificant desserts, the cafe also offers some savory dishes. What makes them especially great is the fact that they state all the ingrediences in detail not only in Japanese but also in English on their menu. This makes it so much easier... And the vegetarian one was absolutly awsome, with fresh, high quality vegetables, a delicious soup with cooked Tofu cubes, a fresh salad with a nice selection of fried mushrooms, pickles, rice and of course fried Tofu that was just perfect! It had a beautiful golden colour like honey, with a texture too good to be true and taste that topped all my expectations by far!
So if you happen to be around Roppongi Hills, drop by and indulge yourself with all the best that can be made of soybeans.. from Kyoto with love!
To-Fu Café Fujino
Roppongi Hills Beauty Plaza, Tokyo [click for Map!] the address changed: the new To-Fu Cafe is on the 6th floor of Marunouchi building near Tokyo Station!
open daily from 10am to 11pm.
Have great and yummie holidays and a happy new year!
This cake was from the café and shop Sunday Brunch in Shimokitazawa. Not a specific vegetarian place - but their cakes and tartes are a dream! Although they are not quite cheap, rather something for special occasions.. just right for christmas :)
They also have branches in Shinjuku and Kichijôji, but I've only checked out the Shimokitazawa café which is very nice.
2-29-2 Kitazawa Setagaya-ku [click for map]
Since I spend some time on the countryside at the moment, working at a holidayplace with a little farm, I get lots of fresh, local foods. I have some chicken here, that lay an egg for me from time to time, which I really appreciate a lot. There is a chestnut tree in the garden and although I feed most of the chestnuts to the horses, there are still a few also for me.
Unfortunatly Akebi season is over, but at least I had some of this strange but healthy and sweet fruits when I first came here.
In the last days I cooked a different dish every day with the huge squash/pumpkin (whatever it was exactly.. I don't know! It was dark green outside, whitish light green inside with lots of seeds and it was bigger than a basketball) that we got for free from farmers around and I still have some of the fantastic home-pickeled umeboshi some ladies gave us as a present...
And today I thought about doing something with the forest of Yomogi (mugwort) that is growing all over the yard. Since I don't have an oven here, I can't bake Yomogi Pan, I have no idea how to make Yomogi Mochi and Yomogi Udon were a little too much work for me today. So I made something simple and quick yet delicious: Yomogi Pesto!
I took a handful of Yomogi leaves, washed and chopped them finely. Then I mixed them with 2 big cloves of garlic that I had mashed and added a fair amount of seasalt, sesame oil, a few spoons of kinako
(which came quite handy as a subsitude for ground nuts, that I didn't have here) and a little black pepper.
I tried some of this with the squash risotto I had for lunch, just about half an hour after I made it and it tasted pretty good already. However it became even better after a few hours in the fridge, when it was really soaked and the oil is full of the fragance of the herbs. The next day I had it with pasta and it was fantastic! Such a fresh and intensive taste! Wonderful!
Another favourite of mine are the combined flavours of Yomogi Pesto and potatoes... mmmh, just a little bit of the Pesto with roast potatoes makes such a simple dish so delicate.
Don't hesitate, eat the weed and be happy ;)
Usually I prefer nice little shops with a comfortable atmosphere to big food malls and usually I am not at all a fan of theme parks and things alike, BUT how can I resist a wonderland of sweets, pastries, icecreams, puddings, cremes, cakes, shakes... You are right: I can't! That's why nothing and no one was able to hold me back when I was standing in front of the Sweets Harbor in Kobe. Dream and nightmare in one place! Dream for all the lovers of sugar in its best forms, of delicate beauties, nearly too wonderful to be edible but yet they are! Perfect little works of art, created with all the good things in this world: sugar, cream, fruits, chocolate, matcha (we are in Japan, don't forget that), love and passion - you name it!
Nightmare for everyone on a diet or short of cash, cause the prices are just about as high as the amount of calories of the goodies we are talking about. But at least the entry is free of charge unlike in other food theme parks in Japan that I avoided so far, because I think it is kind of stupid to pay to enter shops or restaurants where you have to pay for the food again!
Most sweets sold in the Sweets Harbor are European style (with a Japanese touch of course), and there are also typical Chinese sweets with Tapioca, soymilk, sweet beans and the like, but when it comes to traditional Wagashi you might search there in vain. Kobe, being a harbor city trading with the rest of the world for quite a while, is one of the more "international" places in Japan with a lively and touristy Chinatown and some European influences to be seen in architecture and cuisine. Although internationaly more or less only known for the devastating earthquake back in 1995, (and the most expensive beef in the world, but we won't talk about that here..), within Japan it is also famous for good sweets. Especially pudding (Purin - that's the Japanese pronounciation) from Kobe is said to be the best far and wide and is a staple in the range of souvenirs available there.
After at least three laps all through Sweets Harbor and long and intensive staring on all those little wonders that might not only delight me but also dentists and cardiologists near and far, I decided to take the beautiful dessert you can admire on the photo above. It was a buttery, flaky pastry filled with lots of rich custard and topped with fresh strawberries.. I think I don't have to describe the taste. I am sure you can imagine the creamy, sweet goodness with the fruity touch of the juicy berries.
Harborland [click for map
open everyday: 11:00-20:00
weekends and holidays: 11:00-21:00
Have you ever wondered where all the soy pulp ends that is left over when producing soy milk, Tofu and the likes? No? Don't worry, most people don't, I guess. This surely is due to the fact that most of this highly nutritious stuff is used to feed up animals, especially pigs as far as I know. But actually there is no reason why humans shouldn't eat this healthy soy mash, too. And by the way: vegetarians have to hear so many "jokes" like "you eat away the food for the birds/cows etc.." - so why not doing it! I love Müsli, lettuce and yes, also Okara (that is how the soy pulp is called in Japan). Here and in Korea and China people always ate it and they are right: it "is low in fat, high in fiber, and also contains protein, calcium, iron, and riboflavin." (says Wikipedia). And it can be the basis for a tasty dish! It does not have a very rich flavour by itself, rather mild and a bit bland, but you this gives way for so many possibilities.
Here in Japan you often find Okara flavoured with Mirin, carrots, Konnyaku and some spring onions, as a snack that is thought to taste good with beer. You can find it freshly packed like this in the supermarket or you can get it in Izakayas also. I don't like beer, however that doesn't keep me from loving all those savoury snacks that are served with it.
Sometimes they also have Okara in its plain form in the Tofu corner of the refrigerator section in supermarkets. Although the ready-to-eat-versions are convenient, I think they are often too sweet and so it usually tastes much better if you can get the plain stuff and spice it up yourself. You can do that the traditional way with the condiments I mentioned above and eat it cold.
Or you can use it for example to bake vegan cakes (i've never tried to make that, but I heard it works out very fine, see a picture here). Or you can make very tasty vegetarian patties. I mixed an egg with the Okara, some shredded carrots, salt, pepper and garlic and a little flour, formed patties and fried them. Utterly delicous! Especially with my favourite hotsauce that was sent to me all the way from Barbados as a present recently :)
I just love the flavour of Scotch Bonnett Peppers and mustard and of course it is spicy hot like hell and gives me an immediate hick-up, but that is part of the fun!
I just saw that it is quite a long time since my last restaurant recommendation for Tokyo. This definitly falls short of the nice range of vegetarian restaurants that can be found in the city. A real jewel is J's Kitchen, a light-flooded two-storey place located on the Gaien Nishi Dôri close to Hiroo Metro station, that keeps the promise to serve "Fine Foods" as written on the marquee over the entrance. Their own definition of "Fine Foods" is that "the vegetables used are all organic and the seasonings used are all natural, with no preservatives added. The water used is elaborately filtered [...]. Whitened sugar, meat, eggs and animal fat from dairy products are not used."* Furthermore they use the whole product whenever possible. That means they don't peel away the precious nutrients that can be found in the skin of veggies and only brown rice is served. All this deserves to be supported wholeheartedly, especially when the result is as mouthwatering and satisfying as the vegan lunch I had at J's Kitchen.
Two daily changing lunch choices are offered beside Tempeh sandwiches, Soy burgers, Curry and salads. There are more meals on the dinner menu, like Cha-zuke (brown rice in bancha-tea with some side dishes), a vegetable Fajita, Korean-style fried rice with veggies and scrambled Tofu, or Hijiki Capellini (now that sounds like interesting wafû pasta!)...
However, I tried "J's Lunch" and it was gorgeous! For 1680 Yen (which is not really cheap, but not overprized either) I got a generous pile of vegetables, roots and mushrooms with a savory Seitan sauce, a big bowl with brown rice and gomashio to season the rice, miso soup, a little salad, and three kinds of pickles and little noshes. My absolute favourite in this dish was the tempura-style deep fried Taro root / Sato-imo.
Wonderful! Lots of very fresh and good ingredients, affectionately and carefuly cooked, lovingly arranged, super-friendly served in a pleasant atmosphere - that is even more than what is necessary to make me happy! If all that is not enough for you: the vegan cakes, cookies, muffins they offer looked extremely tempting and like directly sent from sweets heaven.. and they offer some nice Onigiri, Sandwiches and so on for take-out, if you don't have the time to stay there for your meal.
I felt so good (and full!) after eating all that tasty and healthy stuff there that I went for a walk around Hiroo. This is an area that has a lot to offer on the culinary side and thanks to the numerous foreigners residing there, finding vegetarian goodies is much easier than elsewhere in Tokyo. So it is quite worth walking around there, having a look into fancy bakeries (French mainly - oh la la!) and supermarkets that offer a wide range of products from all around the world. I spotted so many unusual things (for Japanese standards) like Matzeballs, real unsugared Müsli, Cous Cous, Olives and in the end I gave some vegan "cheese" with chili a try and it wasn't bad, even melted when grilled on bread in the toaster oven..
So if you happen to be in Hiroo check out J's Kitchen! If not take the Hibiya line and go there!
Gaien Nishi Dôri
東京都港区南麻布５－１５－２２ [click for map]
Tokyo Metro Hibiya line: Hiroo Stn
open mo-sa: 11am - 9pm
sundays & holidays: 11am - 5pm
*quoted from their leaflet
Just hungry, one of my favourite food blogs, wrote about the Japanese onomatopoetikon hoku hoku that can be used to describe the tastes of most autumn specialities:"starchy, dense, sweet flavor and texture. Think of roasted sweet chestnuts, winter squash, and sweet potatoes." Yesss, all that is omnipresent here in Tokyo at this time of the year and I love it!
Last weekend I was at my favourite bakery Paritto Fuwatto again and there I bought a wonderful bread that combined two of the goodies that are in season now: Kabocha (Japanese winter squash) and Satsuma Imo (the purple coloured Japanese sweet potato). They also had other varieties of this beautifully striped bread, for example with walnuts or Yomogi (mugwort) and like always it was hard to decide what to take.. In the end I went for the one you see on the photo above and it was awesome: soft, but still chewy, luscious, moist and with a natural sweetness. Especially with a little chestnut spread (maron kuriimu) it was a heavenly combination of the best autumn flavours.
Kaki (also known as Persimmon) is another symbol of the Japanese autumn. It not only looks pretty, it is also sweet, lush and healthy. You can get them fresh or dried (then they are called Hoshigaki) or even get your coffee flavoured with a nice persimmon syrop (as seen and tasted in a café in Kagurazaka dôri - yummie!).
If you buy fresh ones here in Japan better don't take cheap offers at the moment: because of Typhoon No. 9 last month large parts of the harvest were spoiled! The fruits look perfectly fine, but when you cut them the inside is all brown and the flesh is hard and doesn't taste sweet and intense as it should. I had this problem with those you can see on my picture - what a disappointment! They are sold really cheap in big bags at the moment, without letting customers know that they are not quite the way they should be. As so often it is better to spend a few more Yen for good quality. Then Kaki are a real treat for every fruit lover.
Yesterday I came across a quite unappealing perception of my review of the Vegetarian Festival on Vegan Japan (written on the 8th of October - unfortunatly there is no direct link to the article). Here is my answer that I've mailed to the author of that posting since there was no way to comment directly.
I prefer an open discussion where everyone can speak out frankly...
this is Julia, the "vegetarian foreigner" (just like you, right?) whose posting about the Tokyo Vegetarian Festival you picked to pieces in your last entry on your website. Unfortunatly I couldn't find any possibility to comment on your website, so I had to take this way to straighten out some things. It seems like I really offended you personally, just because I wrote that at the time when I came there the Indian festival was nicer... Sorry for that, I didn't want to hurt you with my humble opinion and always try to have friendly relations to my blog-neighbours, co-vegetarians/vegans/foodies etc. That's why I link to your site for example..
I never denied, even said it openly in my posting that I might have been too late to see the best times of the Vegetarian Festival. However maybe the party there was over too soon, because at the Indian festival it was still in full swing..
When it comes to liking or not liking Indian or Japanese curry - well, that is just a matter of taste! I think it is quite exaggerated to tell me I were in the wrong country and should go to India just because I like Indian curry! Too bad for you that you can't appreciate spicy dishes (if you can't stand the heat... ).
I don't believe one has to love everything here and be more Japanese than most Japanese people. I love being here in Tokyo, I love Japanese food (I wouldn't dedicate a whole blog to it otherwise..) but I don't think EVERYTHING is perfect here. But fortunatly the internet as well as Japan are places where you are allowed to have different oppinions and should tolerate other's and even more fortunatly Japanese immigration officers don't ask for the love of Japanese curry before they grant a visa for Japan...
By the way: I am not from the "country of the supersized Hamburgers" (oh, I feel honored that you thought I am a native English speaker, maybe my English isn't as poor as I thought..), I have never been to the US and I am not interested in supersized fast food, but I don't like the generalizations you uttered about the people there, just as I don't like generalizations about people from anywhere else: Japan, India, Germany, The Netherlands..whereever!
And don't tell me Japanese people in general eat less than people from somewhere else! I had very generous servings in Japanese restaurants and I ate with Japanese people who managed to eat enormous amounts of food while others where just nibbling a few bites.. just like people anywhere else in the world!
Finally I suggest that you leave a comment or trackback under articles you refer to in the future, that is part of the netiquette in my eyes. It is quite gutless to pick on someone without letting that person know and without giving that person a possibility to answer.
I will post this letter in my blog, with open comments of course.
Well, aside from all that I wish you good luck promoting fine veggie foods in Japan, that at least is one interest we have in common.
Edit: he is just carrying on and on with his backbiting, smattering and generalization.. I take him off my link list now and stop bothering you with this pain in the neck.
by Julia at 10/12/2007
Beside all the much beloved Matcha treats you can find in Kyoto en masse, there is one other culinary favorite of mine Kyoto is famous for. I am talking about the most wonderful, utterly fresh, highest quality Tofu ever.
You definitly do not have to be a sworn in vegetarian to love these perfect white cubes and all the great things made out of it, you just have to have an understanding for the goodness of real pure taste: unspoiled, clean, refreshing and fantastic to relax our overstrained senses. Don't get me wrong: I love spicy food, chili, garlic, herbs and spices, a fair amount of sesame or olive oil, all those wonderful things. However, from time to time nothing is better than the unaltered, straight taste of simple things - nothing can be more sophisticated than that. The preparation of the simplest things is the highest art of cooking in my opinion and deserves a lot of respect. Only ingredients of the highest quality are to be used and everything must be well thought out. Just like a typical Kyoto-style Tofu Ryori Set.
I have to admit that at first I was a little reluctant to go to a Tofu restaurant, because the prices are quite high and there is so much nice and inexpensive food around, so that you start asking yourself: can this Tofu meal really be worth more than threetimes as much as a Soba/Udon/whatever set somewhere else? The answer is yes! And I am very grateful that my friend Angie told me so and made me have a perfectly marvelous Tofu Ryori at a Restaurant specialized on Yudofu called Junsei. It was one of the most delightful food experiences I ever had!
The restaurant itself is a grand old building, a former medical school, established in 1839 and remodeled to a restaurant after WW2. It is located just a few meters from the entrance gate to the Nanzen-ji, a famous Zen Buddhist temple. This area is famous for its Yudofu meals and you will find quite a few restaurants there dedicated to these Tofu dishes, but Junsei is not only one of the more famous ones, but also the only one with a completely vegetarian set.
Because the day of my visit there was rather hot and I was eager for something refreshing I decided to order the cold version of Yudofu: Hiyashitofu, that is plain
Tofu blocks floating in spring water accompanied by some icecubes and maple leaves. This is also the option for everyone who wants to be on the safe vegetarian side, because the broth used for boiling the Tofu in a Yudofu set might be made with Katsuobushi.
The sight of the white cubes, the icewater and the lush green leaves alone is a benefaction and naturally eating it is even more one.
But as a matter of course I didn't get the cold Tofu alone, it was just the core of an array of treasurelike little dishes my set meal consisted of.
There was beautifully crisp vegetable Tempura - although a deep-fried dish light and with the flavour of the veggies absolutly ostensible, not at all spoiled with the taste of oil and other things fried in it before.
In my little Tempura basket I found a slice of Japanese sweet potato, eggplant, kabocha (a Japanese squash), green beans and myoga (if I remember correctly) all with the characteristic fluffy, crisp crust.
Then I came upon a little plate with slightly sweet, stewed cold vegetables (celery, bambooshoots and something undefined) and a shiitake hat, presented with a pretty maple shaped and coloured piece of wheat gluten.
On yet another plate a small cube of a firm and intense sesame-tofu, with a little Wasabi on top swimming in its own special dipping sauce waited to be enjoyed by me. Of course I didn't let it wait too long..
Last but not least I savoured the Tofudengaku, two blocks of firm Tofu glazed with a special Miso-sauce and grilled on sticks and served on a wooden tray.
All this came alongside a bowl of rice and there was a plate with savory things to be eaten with the Tofu: chopped springonions, freshly grated ginger and thin stripes of dry seaweed (Nori I guess) as well as some tiny dried fish which I happily relinquished to my non-vegetarian friends who enjoyed this fantastic feast with me.
As you might be able to imagine after reading this and having a look at the pictures that this was a meal that just makes happy, satisfied, with the warm feeling of having experienced something very special, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It is clearly not an everyday dish, even if I had the possibility and could afford it: it is nothing to be eaten on a daily basis - this is supposed to be something extraordinary. And that it definitly was! Well worth the 3000 Yen it costed.
If you ever have the chance to have a something as amazing as that - don't hesitate!
Sakyo-ku, Kyoto [click for map]
Ever had a purple croquette? No? Me neither, before I visited Kamakura a few weeks ago. One of the souvenir and food shops close to the Kôtokuin (the temple with the enormous outdoor Amida Buddha statue) was specialized in all kind of sweet potato treats. They had wonderful sweet potato cakes, ice cream and those funny looking and delicious tasting kuroke (that is the Japanese pronunciation of croquette). Just right: crispy outside, creamy inside with a sweet and savory taste... and they were vegetarian of course. You'll find it on the lefthand side if you walk down the street coming from the Kôtokuin.
This kuroke was one of the very few snacks (icecream is ok too) I found here so far that can be eaten while walking here in Japan without feeling like doing something wrong and rude. Food to go is pretty unusual here. You are supposed to sit down and enjoy the food (nothing wrong about that), instead of walking, dribbling and bothering others with the smell of your food and your disturbing appearance while gulping down stuff. I guess I lived in Berlin for too long where it is the most normal thing in the world to grab a Falafel or something on the way to care about what others are thinking about seeing me eating. It is quite annoying to search for a appropiate place to sit down and eat store-bought snacks here in Japan when I don't want to go in a restaurant and am not around my appartment. Well, at least I got to know many parks and parkbenches like this...
As written in my previous posting last weekend was the Tokyo International Vegetarian Culture Fair and although rain was pouring heavily all day, I made it there on sunday. However I have to admit I didn't eat anything there. How is that possible you might ask? A veggie foody at a vegetarian fair who doesn't pamper her taste buds? Well, yes and no. I ate, just not at the vegetarian fair.
Just a few meters beside the Vegetarian Culture Fair, that made a rather dull and grey impression and where the foodservings were quite small, there also was a much livelier and more colourful fiesta called Namaste India.
You have three guesses what was served there! Right! Curry, curry aaaaaand curry! I couldn't resist the intensive scents of spices and freshly baked naan breads.
Sorry vegetarians of Tokyo, the Indian chefs upstaged you! Their food was not only smelling nicer, the portions were not only bigger, they were also much more fun and really seemed to enjoy being there - and so did I!
While at the vegetarian fair it was kinda lame, most of the offered food was also curry, that smelled and looked rather bland compared to the Indian originals, and one of the sellers made a not very charming remark about my friend and me after we had a look at his food and decided not to take it, the Indian chefs were joking and performing a percussion show on the tandoori oven AND managed to serve a fine curry! It was loud, with Bollywood soundtracks blaring from the boom boxes and sellers shouting out their offers, it was hot and spicy, with my fingers yellow after eating with them, it was monsoonlike, with the rain pouring and it was a hell of a time!
After having a nice chai (Indian milk tea with spices) to warm up and finishing off a nice mixed vegetable curry and a naan each, we decided to go for another round and checked out the veggie curry of another foodstall, also with naan - and it was even better! They were more generous with the vegetables - I just loved the eggplant chunks inside, and the curry was spicier. The naan was slightly buttered, crisp on the edges and soft inside, so that it was perfect for shoveling the sauce and veggies into the mouth. This is just one of the best comfort foods in the whole wide world..
Maybe I just came to late for the good vegetarian fair food, some stalls were already closing down when I arrived - so maybe I do them wrong. However, all in all Namaste India won my favours!
Okonomiyaki is a typical festival food in Japan - at every Omatsuri you can be sure to find at least one or two okonomiyaki stalls (except for the Namaste India festival and the Vegetarian Culture Fair maybe..). Osaka is famous for this dish that consist mainly of shredded cabbage and a pancake-like batter, spiced up with beni shôga, pickled red ginger, all fried on a hot plate and topped with a special dark brown sauce and oftentimes mayonnaise. The version from Hiroshima contains fried soba and the ingrediences are not mixed up, but first the batter is fried to something like a pancake and than the other ingrediences are all piled up on it to one tower of okonomiyaki that shrinks during the frying but it still looks like an artistic feat to turn it over..
Unfortunatly the usual okonomiyaki is not vegetarian, but made with fish-based dashi (stock), often with those tiny kind of shrimps and topped with my friends the katsuobushi (fishflakes)..
Actually it would be no problem to leave those little beasts out, but as it often is in Japan you make people very uneasy if you ask to modify a traditional, original, century old recipe even the slightest little bit. It seems to be a sacrilege, impossible because the dish is just perfect as it is - I don't dare to doubt that, but I prefer an imperfect veggie dish to a perfect one with dead animals in it. Usually it still tastes great and for me personally it tastes better when there are no little sad eyes staring at me from my plate!
But it seems like there is no way to make it any different, although the name okonomiyaki implies "fry whatever you want"... Well, yet there is a way: just do it yourself! A few days ago I was invited for a fantastic, homemade, vegetarian okonomiyaki and monja dinner - and a feast it was! Monja (also called monjayaki) is the softer, more liquid and mushy sister of okonomiyaki - a dish originating from Tokyo, to be eaten directly from the hot plate it is fried on, for example in one of the countless monja places in shitamachi. There you also should be able to find veggie versions, but it is also easy to make it at home - you only need a hot plate. There are special ones for okonomiyaki (and monja), but I think it should also work on those hot plates on top of raclette ovens, maybe even in a good not-sticking pan. Although making it in a pan is not an ideal solution, cause the sociable, comfortable and fun aspect of sitting around the hot plate waiting for the next piece of food and watching the batter sizzle. You can easily spent two hours eating like that - nice!
Now to the recipes. I don't know exact measurements, but I think it is a dish that does not require exact measurements. Just try to fry one okonomiyaki and if it is too soggy add some more flour before you fry the next one or add more stock if you think it is too dry - easy as that.
Cut about half of a cabbage in thin slices.
Mix about 3 cups of flour with 1-2 eggs and some veggie stock (less than 1 cup should be enough), add a little salt.
Mix the cabbage and the batter and add as much beni shôga as you like (don't take too much, otherwise you won't taste anything else anymore).
Now you can add whatever you like, for example: thinly sliced shiitake, okra, green asparagus, onions or leek, pieces of mochi (sticky not-sweetened ricecakes), corn, even cheese is not unusual and tastes fantastic with it.. Our okonomiyaki-host also added Agedama (also called Tenkasu), that is something resembling the German "Backerbsen" (are they called soup pearls in English? Until that night I didn't know they exist outside of Germany).
Than fry a big spoon of it on the hot plate with very little oil and turn it over when it is still soft on top but golden brown on the underside and fry it on the other side for a short time.
Afterwards top it with a thick and sweet soy sauce (since okonomiyaki sauce is usually with oyster extract and worcestershire sauce, that resembles it a lot contains anchovies as far as I know), mayonnaise (if you like it - I hate mayonnaise so I don't use it), sprinkle with aonori (dried seaweed). Part it in four pieces with a wooden spatula and serve hot. While eating the next serving is put on the hot plate.
For making monja you make the same batter, just add much more water or veggie stock and grated yam and stir it a bit longer. Then put the cabbage and whatever you want to have with it (I recommend asparagus and cheese) on the hot plate and let it stir-fry for a moment, make a hole in the middle and add the batter. Then everyone spreads out bitsized pieces of it thinly with a wooden spatula, so that those pieces become brown, a bit gumlike and crispy on the edges - these portions are to be eaten directly from the hot plate with chopsticks. Here and here you can see pictures of monja.
Have a nice meal, share it with friends and enjoy a great foody-night, like I did - thanks again Nishi-san and Yuko-san :)
It seems like there are more vegetarians around here than I ever thought! Just a few days ago I found out about the Japan Vegetarian Society(JPVS) (founded in 2001) and that they organise a Tokyo Vegetarian Week every year since 2002. The funny thing is the 2007 Vegetarian Week lasts from sept.1st to sept.30th - well, sounds good! Particularly interesting sounds the Tokyo International Vegetarian Culture Fair 2007 (pooh, what a name). It will be held on the 29th and the 30th at Yoyogi Park, in front of NHK Hall (close to Harajuku stn), between 10am and 8pm on saturday and 10am to 5pm on sunday. There will be a flea market, live music and much more. I am hoping for nice food, books and interesting people. See you there :)
If I had to name one really essential and omnipresent ingredient of the Japanese cuisine, I would say: the soybean! There are about one trillion variations how to prepare and eat it: just cooked, fermented as in natto, miso or tofu, as soymilk, mashed as filling of sweets, ground and roasted as kinako flour, etc.
No wonder there are restaurants specialized in products made of these little superbeans, even in one kind of soybeans, like the Kuromame Café in Kyoto which serves only black soybean dishes. Since these are all vegetarian (except for a little extra plate with dried fish, but this was easy to avoid), I had to check out the kuromame (black bean) set meal of course. And it was amazing! There was the obligatory miso soup, here made of black bean miso, with some vegetables inside. Then there were wonderful, crisp, tempura-like rolls of a thin sheet of seaweed, stuffed with mashed black beans, dipped in a light batter and fried - extraordinary delicious and a taste I never experienced before. They were to be eaten sprinkled with strong sea salt, that came with them.
Soft and fresh were the two kinds of homemade tofu, one made of black, the other one of white beans. This creamy tofu tasted gorgeous with the sweet preserved black beans. Accompanied and accomplished was all this with rice that was cooked together with - surprise, surprise: black beans. During lunchtime this set costed 1050 yen, definitly good value for the money.
On every table were big grindstones (you can see a part of one the first photo, on the right side), that are to be used for making fresh kinako just a few seconds before eating. Interesting, fun, and yummie!
For sure a place very worth a visit and conveniently located in the Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka area not far from the Kiyomizudera.
Kuromame Café 黒豆茶庵北尾 清水店
京都府京都市東山区清水寺門前産寧坂北入ル [please click for map and infos in Japanese]
I love Kyoto. It is a totally touristy place, I know, but it is just sooo awesome. It is Japan like you know it from pictures - it just is picturesque! There are more temples and shrines then you ever wanted to see, there is Gion, with its oldfashioned wooden town houses, shops, (overpriced but nice to look at) restaurants and Maiko shooing by, some of them real ones on their way to customers, others faked (tourists that pay for getting dressed and styled like a Maiko what takes around 2-3 hours, just to go for a little walk and take some photos), but not less beautiful in my humble eyes. There are lush green mountains with bamboo groves and maple trees that change to the most intensive reds in autumn and cherry trees that are like fluffy pink clouds in spring surrounding the city.
And there is the food: the famous Kyoto ryori! Lots of natural flavours, extremely fresh and tasty vegetables, an abundance of wonderful pickles, lots o tofu in all forms and matcha wherever you look at. My culinary heaven for sure!
I have been there just a few days, but I could write a dozen articles about the food in Kyoto.. Let's start with a recommendation of a great vegetarian restaurant.
Mikoan is the name of this bar-like little restaurant that is hidden in a backyard of a narrow alley.
I saw a photo of the food served there on flickr and decided that I have to find it - and it was a very good decision!
Mikoan is strictly vegetarian (not vegan, but I guess you will find vegan dishes there too) and everything that is served there is supposed to be natural and healthy - except maybe for the array of shochu that is waiting for you at the bar...
On their menu you'll find a huge bowl of vegetable curry, of which I was told that it was very delicious. And they serve wonderful typical Japanese sets with all kinds of little dishes. That was my choice of the night! Arranged maybe not 100% strictly according to the Five Principles of buddhist vegetarian cuisine, but it was visible, tasteable, noticeable that the Five Colors: go shiki - red, yellow, green, black and white, Five tastes: go mi - salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy and the Five ways of preparing: go hou - simmering, broiling, steaming, frying and raw/pickled (if i remember correctly) were kept in mind. But to tell you the truth: I don't care much about that - it was a very diverse, healthy and most of all delicious meal!
Not only were there five dishes (plus rice), but also several different ways of preparing: my set consisted of a miso soup with vegetables (= something boiled), deep fried crumpled yuba (tofu "skin")balls (= something fried), pickles, a kind of salad with seaweed and cold tofu (= something raw), simmered greens with aburage (fried tofu) and mushrooms and some other fried veggies. My friend Angie also ordered the set and got some different dishes, so that we could share and try even more things! She had other veggies and some wonderful vegetarian gyoza...mmmmh!
It was such a satisfying dinner in a very homey atmosphere, with books, cats and all kind of knickknack around. The ladies who are running the place were friendly and so was the only other guest, a yoga-loving middle-aged lady sitting beside us and chatting with us in Japanese-English lingo.
Great food, nice place, friendly people in a beautiful city - there is nothing else to ask for! Please go there, whenever you have the chance to do so.
Teramachi-dori, Shijo-saguru, Kyoto [click for map and description of the not-so-easy-to-find-way with photos :)
Mo-Fr: 5pm - 11pm
Sa: 12 - 11pm
So: 12 - 8pm
As I said in my last posting, I was travelling in Kansai and Kyushu in the last weeks and of course the local cuisines were (beside climbing a volcano, swimming at a wonderful beach (although I quite often heard I should forget about beaches in Japan, except for I go as far as Okinawa..), strolling through bamboo groves and paddy fields etc) the highlights of my vacation. Especially in Kyoto I had spectacular meals, but today I start with something small but not less delicious. Like everywhere in Japan omiyage (souvenirs) are a big thing in Kumamoto, the lovely city on western Kyushu. And also like everywhere in Japan most of these gifts are edible. Beside all kinds of the ubiquitous sweets filled with sweet beanjam, you can also get quite different specialities in Kumamoto, that I've really never saw somewhere else before. One is karashi renkon: lotus roots (=renkon) generously filled with a mixture of mustard (=karashi) and miso and baked covered with a batter that is also made with mustard. You can buy big pieces of karashi renkon in every supermarket or omiyage shop and cut slices of it that look like a fantastic yellow-beige flower. However, don't trust the harmless looks of it! It is hot! I never had more intensive mustards than Japanese mustards! Karashi renkon feels tangy on your tongue, tickles your nose and can bring tears to your eyes and the sweat to your forehead - but in a wonderful way! It feels like cleaning your pores and refreshing your mind, especially on a hot summerday with more than 35°C, like the days I had in Kumamoto.
The lotus root itself is crisp and tingly and like the thin batter, it only does very little to lessen the sparkling feeling of the smooth mustard-miso-paste that is filled in its naturals holes. You eat this goody just like this with a beer or some other drink, if you can eat hot stuff. If you are not that strong, you can also have it with rice and other vegetables, tofu or whatever you like. I even made myself sandwiches with slices of karashii renkon on it! It tasted great, but I guess people from Kumamoto might be horror-stricken to see this westernized version to eat their wonderful traditional delicacy - so better try this only at home when nobody watches. And please don't tell anybody that it was my idea ;)
Another tidbit from Kumamoto is filled with red bean paste, but it is so different to most other anko-sweets that I want to present it here.
It is ikinari dango, a slightly sweet dumpling stuffed with potato and, as I said, a little anko. It is steamed, so that the "pastry" that covers the potato-anko-filling still has a very dough-like texture, what I like a lot. And unlike many other Japanese sweets the anko does not dominate the taste of the whole dumpling. It was not that much inside and it was not that high on sugar so that the earthy potato flavour comes to the fore. I bought it at a nice little shop where they sold it still warm.. very delicous!
Another speciality from Kumamoto is a kind of stew with all kinds of vegetables and something in it that appears to be somewhat between noodle and dumpling, reminding me a bit of Spätzle. But to be honest: temperatures were to high to eat a steaming hot pot of stew, so I have to admit I did not taste this dish. It looked very good however and if I ever come to Kumamoto during a cooler season I will definitly try it.
Yet another delicacy Kumamoto is famous for I will surely never ever try: basashi - raw horse meat sashimi! There even is a local basashi-themed Hello Kitty phone strap [click]... well, well...
A few days ago I was tagged by Vegetablej for writing a meme "8 Random Things about Myself". Sorry that I haven't written anything yet, I was quite busy preparing everything for some travelling I will do in the next two weeks - so I guess this will have to wait until I am back. On my trip I will meet my flickr-friend and co-foodie Angie and I am quite sure that the two of us will discover a lot of wonderful vegetarian food in Nagoya, Kyoto and Kobe together! A detailed report hopefully with lots of recommendations will follow in the next weeks. Afterwards I will travel further south to Kumamoto and Hiroshima - hoping that the local cuisine there has some nice things to offer for non-animal-eaters :)
I am so much looking forward to conquer some new territories on my personal travel-map, and of course it will not only be sightseeing but also lots of "foodseeing" (and tasting!!) which is always a major point of interest during my travels (actually not only during my travels.. uhuhu). So stay tuned for my food-travel-diary in the near future.
Kyoto is the only place on my route that I have visited before and in anticipation of the fantastic Kyoto-ryôri, a cuisine with lots of vegetables and famous for its tofu dishes, I will recommend a Kyoto-style restaurant in Tokyo today.
The place is called Tsuruhan and it is located in the stunning Tokyo International Forum, a huge modern building, with impressing architecture close to Yurakucho Stn. I have been there some weeks ago and the food was of the highest quality and best taste to be imagined. I shared some dishes with a friend - the best way to get to taste as many things on the menu as possible, and every single one of them was perfect. We had wonderful vegetable sushi, topped with fresh and lush greens, with a texture that couldn't be more right. The vegetables had still all of their juice and the rice was a dream!
Next a plate of yasai-tempura, deep fried vegetables in a light batter, was served and again it was just to the point. Deep frying always bears the risk that the food looses all its flavour, gets soaked with re-re-reused oil and only tastes like that also - but not at Tsuruhan! It was a crunchy delight, not at all greasy, with crisp and juicy vegetables like eggplant, lotusroots, beans, peppers, myoga and satsuma imo, Japanese sweetpotatoes. Those latter ones were admittedly not juicy, but had a sweet and mild taste that is surpassing. The tempura (the name derives from the Portuguese by the way, who introduced this dish to Japan in the 16th century) came with some matcha salt to dip the battered veggies in and fresh lime to squeeze a few drops on the food- heavenly!
And then we had the best thing I ever ate and I don't even know exactly what it was. It was very similar to tofu-dengaku, tofu on wooden sticks glazed with miso-paste, but I think it rather was some special kind of konnyaku (this has nothing to do with alcohol, but is a jelly-like Japanese delicacy made out of a root). Anyway, it was absolutly perfect: soft but firm enough, mild but each with different tastes and spices, with intensively-tasting pastes spreat on top of them: one with yuzu-flavour, so citric-fresh and summerly, one with black and white sesame and a dark fruity-sweet miso(?)paste on it and the third one with mugworth and even little cute flowers. It was as beautiful as delicous - only for that dish, you should really go there!
The restaurant itself is nice to, with a huge plant arrangment in the middle, surrounded by the central counter and some tables around. It is not a big place and we had to wait a while to get seated although we called in advance. So it is better to make a reservation. Prices are ok, not cheap, but not overly expensive too and absolutly fine for the quality they offer. For the mentioned dishes and two bowls of rice (and some tea that was for free) we paid all in all a little over 3000 Yen. It was worth it!!!
Tokyo International Forum B1F [click address to see map]
Open 11am-11pm daily.
Coming from Germany, a country famous for its bread, I have a very distinct idea of how bread has to be like. And as much as I love Japanese bakeries for the pastries, I have to say that the bread usually does not meet my expectations. Most of the bread is just too soft and too sweet. I like bread with a crisp crust and a moist, slightly salty and sour dough. No matter if it is a white or a dark bread - I love both, as long as they are the way I described it. I know, also in Germany there are many big bakery chains and their bread often isn't that way either. But you just have to go to the little bakeries and there you usually still find the good stuff.
And in Japan people are so crazy about food that it just surprises me that something as simple as bread of all things has to be so bland and taste like untoasted toast here! And don't tell me it is because people eat rice all the time - it is not true: bakery products are very popular, too. There are good western bakeries in Japan. French or Scandinavian they mostly want to be. They make wonderful sweet things, pastries, brioche - great!
Sometimes they also offer "German bread" and oftentimes it even looks like bread in Germany, with a brown dough and some grains and seeds on top. It happened a few times that I couldn't withstand trying one again, hoping that this one could be right. That I bought it and as soon as I was out of the bakery opening the bag hastily and covertly (because it is supposed to be rude to eat while walking on the street in Japan) ripping a piece of the bread to try it: and then it is soft and sweet and with a much too fluffy crumb again and the brown colour is just made with malt, not with wholemeal.
Lately however, during one of my countless strolls around Ya-Ne-Sen (Yanaka, Nezu, Sendagi), the downtown area where I live, I came across a tiny little bakery that looked so cute and its products so natural that I just had to go inside and check it out. The painted sign in the entrance that said: おいしいパンとお菓子の店 = "shop for delicious bread (pan - from the portuguese word for bread) and sweets", was also very promising.
To put it blundly, they do not bake "German bread", but this is absolutly fine, I don't search for that! I just search for good tasting bread. In fact I think it is much more interesting when things have a local touch. And in this lovely place called Paritto Fuwatto they do taste great!
No wonder, they are all made freshly in this neat little shop, directly behind the counter. There a very friendly lady is working, who just stops kneading the dough for serving customers. All over the place where she is baking are kabocha (Japanese squash), sweet potatoes and all kind of other good ingrediences used for the breads, rolls, cookies and cakes that pile up in little baskets on a nicely arranged table beside the counter.
It is a little paradise where it is hard to decide what to take: a wholemeal roll with dried fruits or rather an intensivly green one with lots of yomogi (mugwort), a bread with a natural yeast dough and grains or corn, dark short cakes baked with black tea... The shop is so tiny, but the assortment is quite large. And everything I tried so far was sooooo delicious! The bread has a rather light colour and also no crust to speak of, but the dough has a firm texture, is not too dry and not to soft, the crumb is just right and *thanks a lot - it is not sweet! Absolutly luscious are the kabocha rolls, also firm, with a golden colour and slightly moist thanks to the little cubes of the squash inside, which is one of my favourite veggies anyway. Also moist and just sweetend with the fruits was the dried fruit roll, with fruits and nuts - a healthy and filling snack!
The black tea short cakes had an intense tea flavour, just very little sweetness and
with a very nice dry crumb, perfecty matching a cup of milk tea.
Apropos milk tea: for everyone who does not eat eggs or butter Paritto Fuwatto is also a great choice, because on their website they list which of all their products contain these ingrediences (in Japanese only, unfortunatly. But if you are able to read katakana, you will understand most names and behind the names you find the kanji 卵 (tamago) for egg and in katakana バター for butter and o or x (yes or no)- so it is quite easy to understand). And I am sure the lady in the shop is very helpful if you ask her.
I couldn't really find out whether the ingrediences they use derive from organic farming, would be nice if someone whose Japanese is better than mine could check that... but with the special atmosphere in the store, the interior with lots of wood and baskets, the fact that they use brown paper bags instead of vinyl, the emphasis on natural flavours and healthy ingrediences, etc. all that point pretty much in an organic direction. Anyway: it tastes great, that is the most important fact in my opinion. Organic ingrediences would just be a nice bonus.
And has anyone an idea what the name means? パリットフワット Paritto Fuwatto? Seems like a foreign word, because of the use of katakana.. I racked my brains but couldn't think of anything French, English, whatever that sounds similar and all dictionaries I consulted didn't help either... ideas anybody?
Update: I have been there today again and checked out the yomogipan (bread with looooots of mugwort) and a delicious mikan (tangerine) pastry and both are highly recommendable! The yomogipan has a very refreshing and (at least for me) unusual taste and a fantastic emerald colour! See the top right pic in the new photo mosaic i made.. The tangerine pastry was not too sweet and had plenty of little candied tangerine pieces on top - delicious and such a summerly taste!
The address is:
Tokyo, Bunkyo-ku, Sendagi 1-19-7 [click address to see map]
about 5 min walk from Sendagi Metro stn, Chiyodaline.
It is open from 9am - 7pm. Closed on mondays.
Today was a bright and sunny summerday! It seems like Tsuyu, the rainy season is finally over! It was very hot outside, but clear and not that humid anymore. It really felt like summer!
So what to eat for dinner on a summer evening? Something light and refreshing! How about Tofu Somen, a new favourite of mine, since I found it in my local supermarket just about two weeks ago. This dish looks like very thin noodles (sômen), but actually these "noodles" are made out of tofu. Traditionally they are eaten chilled with tsuyu-sauce - but this is often made with bonitoflakes(katsuobushi - my nightmare, see my first posting here), so we better take light soysauce and add a little mirin. I also like to put some salad on top- for example tomato-cucumber-nira sprinkled with lemonjuice, sesame oil and black pepper. Although this might not be very authentic, when it is hot I am often starving for salads and fresh, raw vegetables and fruits. I don't care about recipes, I just care about the taste! However, just a little finely chopped myoga and sesame on top of the Tofu Somen also tastes great, for all the purists among you ;)
You can find Tofu Soumen in the refrigarated section of Japanese supermarkets, where it usually is ready-packed with the matching tsuyu-sauce (which might not be vegetarian, as I said before). No cooking is required - just drain the Tofu Somen a little, put them in a bowl and pour the sauce over them. This is just the most perfect thing to eat - fresh, tasty, light, healthy, vegetarian - super easy to prepare for a lazy evening after a hot day!
There are so many wonderful things to find in the huge tofu section of Japanese supermarkets - and most of them are the general vegetarian's friends. You just have to go there and take them home ;)
PS: If you like it a bit more elaborate or are searching for a good idea for the next garden party, try "flowing somen"! Looks like fun!
Shortly after I arrived in Tokyo I read about Kichijôji, a very pleasant town in the west of Tokyo, with lots of nice bars, restaurants, shops, even some streetart (I couldn't find much though) and the beautiful Inokashira park. Close to the park, I also read, is a very veggie-friendly place called Monk's Food. That had to be checked out of course! So I spent a day roaming through the streets of Kichijôji, looking at the shops, listening to street musicians in the park and watching the turtles relaxing at the pond there.
With an empty stomach I started searching for the mentioned restaurant and found it so fast, I couldn't believe it! Usually I need so long to find something here with Tokyo's weird address "system" (I am not sure about calling it system at all..). It is a very small, oldfashioned and rather dark looking place and weren't there the Monk's Food sign outside, I never expected great vegetarian cuisine. Because I came alone they asked me to sit down at the bar, not upstairs at the tables. This was fine, I had a look at the wall filled with Jazz CD (the restaurant seems to be named after Thelonius Monk) behind the counter and a sign that says that they use mainly organic veggies from farms around Tokyo.
On the menu were three sets: one vegan, one with fish, one with chicken and some smaller dishes, I was to lazy to translate or ask for translation - because I was starving and a set with a variety of dishes just came right. So without knowing what I can expect I took the veggie set and I can say: it was so worth the 1000something yen it cost. First I got free water and a tasty tea and after a short while a great array of dishes came out of the kitchen! There was Genmai (brown rice) sprinkled with kurogoma (black sesame), a miso soup with lots of vegetables like cabbage and carrots etc., cold pickled greens (sorry I don't know, what kind of leaves - but they were good), a generous serving of tofu with grilled and very juicy eggplants topped with grated radish and crisp pak choi and a bowl with sweet potatos and big red beans.
Oooh, it was so! extremely! delicious! I will definitely go there again. Great food: vegan, organic, healthy and so tasty and filling also (not tiny Japanese style portions you might get at other places), good music in the background and the service was fast and friendly, too. Perfect!
And there was just one more customer, so it was not at all crowded there.
By the way: the lady who served me ate one of the sets too - I see this as as a good sign! I know of some people who were working at restaurants and told me they would never eat there themselves... Monk's Food is not such a place, so I can recommend it with all my heart to anyone who happens to be in Kichijôji.
Tokyo [click address to see map]
Since vegetarians who stay in Tokyo for a longer time will surely not be able to eat out in the few but fancy veggie restaurants every day and some (like me) might also love to rummage local supermarkets and do some experimental cooking, I will present some of the vegetables that are worth to be explored here from time to time. The first one will be Goya - bitter melon (aka bitter gourd). It is an Okinawan speciality and I heard and read that it might be the reason for the longevity of the Okinawans. The other theory is that the extremely strong sake that is so very popular on the southern islands "preserves" the people and let them live long.. However, to clarify this myth is not my intention, but to introduce this healthy and as you can tell by its English name bitter vegetable.
Yes, I know bitter is not quite everyones favorite taste. Most people love sweet or savory, some people still like sour or spicy, but when it comes to bitter there are not many left who think that's mouthwatering.
Except for coffee and maybe grapefruits I can't think of anything bitter to be found in a regular German kitchen. In Japan this is a little different: Matcha, the finest of all green teas, is not only bitter, but also omnipresent, as a drink as well as in chocolate, icecream, pretzels (yesh!), mixed with salt to dip in vegetables, etc.
And there is Goya! And now in the summer month this healthy vegetable, that is high in Vitamin C, is in season and its bitterness is also considered to be refreshing in the heat.
The most famous and popular recipe for it from Okinawa is Goya Champuru. Here in Tokyo it is sometimes served at Okinawan-style izakayas as a snack you have with your drink. Unfortunatly there it comes with pork in it usually, if you can't convince the waiter to bring you one without. I cooked a nice'n'easy veggie version of Goya Champuru at home and had it with rice, but I can also imagine that it is quite nice with some fresh baguette.. for the breadlovers among us.
Here is the recipe, give it a try:
1 clove of garlic
brown sugar, soysauce and pepper
wash and cut the Goya lengthwise, scoop out the soft inner part with the seeds
slice the Goya thinly and fry it with the finely chopped garlic in the sesame oil, deglaze it with a little sweet soysauce or sprinkle some brown sugar on in to milden the bitterness
after 1 minute or so add a some water or veggie stock, but not more than half a cup and let it simmer for a few minutes
meanwhile mash tofu and mix with the egg (you can also cut the Tofu in cubes, like on the photo - but I prefer the "scrambled tofu-egg" variant)and add some soysauce and pepper
add to the Goya in the pan or wok and let it all simmer until the egg congeals
and then: enjoy your meal!
The taste of Goya is considered to be an acquired taste, so maybe it won't be love on the first bite, but don't give up so easily. And don't get distracted by its look... I know a cucumber with heavy acne might not be that appealing, but it is good, believe me ;D
The famous triangular- or wheel-shaped rice balls called Onigiri are something that can be found everywhere and anytime in Tokyo. People eat them for breakfast, kids take them to school in their Obento boxes, they are the salariman's favourite for lunch break and a good midnight snack available at the conbini around the corner. Although they look pretty small, they are quite filling due to the big amount of rice that is pressed into the ball shape.
And the good thing about it: many Onigiri are vegetarian! Basically they are made out of freshly cooked Japanese-style rice, a little salt and Nori seaweed plus a wide variety of fillings. The most traditional one would be a pickled plum called Umeboshi (look out for 梅干 or 梅ぼし und you will get this vegan snack) which is extraordinary popular not only with patriots who see the Japanese flag in the red round plum surrounded by white rice. Umeboshi are also said to be very healthy despite their extreme saltiness. Most people are irritated by the salty sour little fruit when they eat it for the first time, but it is indeed a delicassy worth a second try. I love it!
Other vegetarian options are for example Onigiri sprinkled with black sesame or Shiso (紫蘇 or しそ), in English often referred to as Perilla - a dark red herb with a very fresh and distinct flavour.
Another variation is an Onigiri that consists of rice that is mixed with black beans - these are usually not wrapped in seaweed. But with these you have to look out, sometimes they are flavoured with Dashi, that might not be vegetarian! A closer look on the list of ingrediences (if you buy it in a conbini and are able to read Japanese) has to be made if you want to be sure.
You can also buy Onigiri in one of the countless shops, commonly found at train stations. Here they are made freshly and most of the times are offered beside an array of other Obento specialities. These often taste better, but there is no list of ingrediences and you will have to ask whether it is vegetarian or not (unless you take the Umeboshi version that is vegan for sure). But even a positive answer is not at all an assurance of an animalfree rice ball.. The one you see on my photo above looked great: wrapped in spinach (?or something similar?) instead of seaweed, a variant I never saw before that woke my interest. So I asked at the counter in Japanese "is it vegetarian? without meat, without fish?", the vendor said "yes bejitarian", I took it, bit into it - the filling was Katsuobushi, fish flakes! When will it finally become known that fish is still fish even though it does not look like it anymore... and that it won't become more vegetarian by processing it to flakes!
Well, next time I will go on the safe side, have Umeboshi again or buy it at one of the organic food stores that spring up like mushrooms in some areas of the city. Here at least the shop assistants understand the meaning of the word "bejitarian".
Making Onigiri yourself is of course the safest way. You can find a recipe here.
The Brown Rice Café is a haven for vegetarians, vegans, organic food lovers and everyone who seeks for a pleasant place to relax after exhausting shopping excesses at Omotesandô, Harajuku or Aoyama. Just around the corner of Omotesandô station offers seats outside in their quiet and shadowly patio (and sitting outside without a street with lots of traffic right in front of you is quite rare here)or inside the nice and light-coloured café. Written on the wall you can find the motto of the kitchen: "Nothing added. Nothing taken away." What you get here is healthy, natural food as its best - and all vegan. I had a great set with a miso-vegetable-soup, tempeh that was supposed to be wrapped in the lettuce on which it was bedded and eaten with the homemade miso (extremly delicious!)and (of course) brown rice. All that for 1000 yen, nothing to complain about! Very nice was also the freshly made and unsweetend soymilk that came with a little cookie which reminds me that there also was an associated bakery in the front building.
This definitly is a place to fill up with veggie food and new energy for the craziness of the area surrounding this friendly restaurant.
By the way: they also have an English menu and my food was served by a waitress who spoke perfect English. So this place is very convenient for all non-Japanese-speakers out there, too.
Brown Rice Café
Close to Omotesandô St, Exit A1
Open daily until 9pm
Before I came to Japan for the first time three years ago, I never thought I might have problems finding vegetarian food here. Of course I expected a lot of fish everywhere and that it might be difficult to explain that I do not eat it. I had been in Southeast Asia before, where it was no big deal to get veggie food, I had learned a lot about Japan, I had had vegetarian Japanese food in Germany, I thought I'm well prepared. But uh uh, I was absolutely caught off guard with the fact that the concept of vegetarianism is pretty much unknown and completely uncommon here. There isn't even a proper Japanese word for "vegetarian"! There are words like saishoku (which is oldfashioned and not really in use) or Shoujinryori (which derives from buddhist vegetarian diet and means "devotion food", now that is not exactly what I am searching for..), but the best thing is to go with the japanized english word bejitarian.
Furthermore I was shocked that A LOT OF MEAT is eaten here: be it the famous, horrendously expensive "Kobe biifu", beef bowls at the fast food chain Yoshinoya that you can find on every corner in Japan, or a vegetarian's nightmare called "Meat Dog", a Hot Dog covered in - yes! - meat.
Even when you order a salad, you can be sure to find some ham on top of it. You want a veggie sandwich? Forget it! Onigiri? Have a close look at the list of ingredients, even if you already made sure it is without any fish, otherwise you might have chicken inside.
The omnipresence of fish is a problem that might not surprise any vegetarian visitor of Nihon. But I have to say that here fish sneaks in in all kind of nasty ways: you like to nibble some nuts? Better check them for some little dead eyes staring at you! And a constant companion is katsuobushi - those fishflakes are everywhere: on top of all kinds of dishes or also hidden, for example in dashi, the stock that is used to give flavour to almost everything that comes out of a Japanese kitchen. Believe me, katsuobushi haunt me in my dreams..
Here in Tokyo there is so much wonderful food where ever you look, but if you are strict with your vegetarianism, 90% of all those culinary options are taboo: no râmen soup (just watch Tampopo, one of my all-time favourite movies by the way, and you will see what the broth is made of..), no soba (guess what is in the sauce that comes with the noodles: dashi!) and so on..
But there are also good news: not only I am here now to help you, no, people here pay more attention to the so called "health food" nowadays, thanks to disgusting foodscandals and the better economical situation that allows the average Japanese to spend more money for and time to think about good food. That means there are now some organic foodstores, restaurants specialised in high quality "yasai ryôri" (vegetable dishes, although that does not necessarily exclude fish and meat) and even some real vegetarian and even vegan places can be found. So there is hope, there is help and there is sooo much fantastic food out there - just go for it!