EAT: Vegan Japan 2016, Part 1 - Tokyo

I wrote on Instagram recently - following a two week holiday/reunion with my beloved adopted country - that I'm an omnivore when I'm in Japan.
Two reasons: 1) when I moved to Nagasaki five years ago, no one had even heard of vegetarian food, let alone veganism. I don't love starving to death. And 2) food culture is such a big part of a place. I wanted to experience my new home fully.
Trust me. When you've spent two hours walking around Tokyo Disneyland trying to find vegetarian food that isn't french fries, cake, or plain white rice (Disneyland! You'd expect it to be relatively Westernised, right?), you'll understand.

I realise this trip is going to be different when I walk through the food hall of a Shinjuku department stall on Monday and a guy on the obento stall points out his menu board to me. The third best seller. 'Vegetable only!' he says, several times.

I'm pretty sure I'm not wearing like, a sign, so I have no idea how he can tell from looking at me that I am a 'vegetable only' girl.  But he can, and I am. Three years ago, if I'd be looking for a 'vegetable only' bento, I'd have starved to death before I left the airport. Now I'm being solicited, and I'm overjoyed.

 I was only in Tokyo for two days, but listen, I did my best by you guys. I gotta walk you through it.

TOKYO: Places I visited

Ain Soph Journey
Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku, 3−8−9 新宿Qビル

Like a lot of restaurants in Japan, this place is pretty hard to find unless you're looking for it. It's pretty hard to find even when you are looking for it. At one point, Google Maps was pretty sure that I was standing in the middle of the kitchens, and I had to sit on the edge of the pavement wondering if I was going crazy.

Nope. This place exists. And it's adorable.

I got the set menu, which started with the salad parfait and tomato soup. Look up there, okay. You're like, how delicious can this vase full of salad be? SO DELICIOUS, friend. Literally more delicious than the 'Monster Rainbow Extreme Ice Cream Parfait' that I'd eaten the day before. Walnut and miso dip! Whatever that dressing is!

Japanese vegan food! It's a thing!

As a main: wraps, dips including houmous (THAT didn't exist in Japan when I lived here. I bought a food processor just so that I could make my own) (...that wasn't the only reason. I love food processing), salsa, and whatever that green stuff was, and what is described on the menu as 'deep fried veggie meat' - I think probably wheat gluten based. 

Reader, I demolished it.

These waffles! Goddamn! And whatever that cream was - soy, I think. The dessert plate was part of the set menu, but I knew instantly that I wanted waffles, and (accidentally) ended up with both. The dessert plate was white cake with ice cream and fruit and whatnot - I never do too well with vegan white cake; I've yet to find one that doesn't err on the drier/denser side. This one did, but it put up a good fight. Also worth noting that that homemade ice cream was as good as any dairy one I've eaten.

By this point I am ludicrously full, and equally determined to make it to my next target in a few hours for vegan venture #2. If I had more pride (or less pride, maybe) I would spend the next few hours doing star jumps to try and balance it out. WHATEVER. I'm doing RESEARCH. It's super necessary.

Cori Vegan Food Stand @ Commune 246
3 Chome-13 Minamiaoyama Minato, Tokyo, Japan 東京都港区南青山3丁目13

Okay, I didn't actually get to try the food here - this one was a flying visit. But I've heard great reviews of this place, which serves veggie bowls, falafel and vegan sandwiches. Commune 246 is a super cool creative space in Omotesando, where you can visit for music and art events, find brilliant food and drink trucks, and even rent Caravan Tokyo via Air B&B, should you in fact be the coolest person alive.

Which I am, obvs. But I was also budgeting. So that I could eat more vegan food. You get me.

Restaurant 8ablish
Japan, 〒107-0062 Tokyo, Minato 南青山5丁目10-17 2F

I had also planned to hit up Pure Cafe while in Tokyo, which was owned by the same people as 8ablish, but Pure closed down/combined with the bigger restaurant last month - you can now buy cakes and desserts from 8ablish to take away, plus there are vegan ingredients and foods available to buy in the shop. I'd seen Pure Cafe on Instagram, where I was charmed but not particularly blown away by the look of their cakes/muffins etc - however, 8ablish way exceeded my expectations.

Dinner here was creamy ravioli with lemon and capers, followed by lemon tiramisu and a yuzu vodka cocktail (okay, two yuzu vodka cocktails). Apparently I was feeling the citrus theme. This ravioli was so ridiculously delicate and delicious - ordinarily I would have wished for a more generous portion, but as I wanted to try as many different foods as possible, it kinda worked for me. I hoped to try a pecan caramel tart for dessert, but HEARTBREAKINGLY this wasn't available, so I went for the tiramisu. Good but not outstanding, whereas that yuzu vodka cocktail! I could've drunk twenty. DAMN.

The unexpected best part of my meal at 8ablish is when I get chatting to another girl sitting next to me ('Are YOU vegan?!' she asks, her face lighting up. I'm like, well, I'm in a vegan restaurant, so you can assume I'm at least... vicurious?) (listen, this pun works better in Japanese. ビーガン, ビーcurious, bicurious, get it?) (WHATEVER). As soon as I say yes, she's sharing restaurant recommendations and tips and addresses. Listen, this girl is the hero Tokyo deserves.

Juicery by Cosme Kitchen, Shinjuku station
新宿4-1-6, 新宿区, 東京都 〒160-0022, Japan

The picture says it all. Vegan soft serve in plain, fresh berry, and matcha/moringa flavours. I literally walked past this place by chance in Shinjuku station, and I think this was when I realised how much things had changed. This place also does juice and smoothies, obviously, and I'm fairly sure there were savoury vegetarian options here, though my memory starts to fail me at this point. Find more raw/vegan friendly juice and smoothie bars here!

Other places I heard about:

  • Brown Rice Cafe, Japan, 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya, 神宮前5-1-8. I didn't make time to stop by here as I'd heard it was run by Neal's Yard Remedies, a London company... and obviously I live in London. I'm regretting it now, because this looks so cute
  • Crayon House, Minato, 〒107-8630 東京都港区北青山3-8-15. This isn't a strictly veggie cafe, but they do vegan Mondays every week!
  • Revive KitchenJapan, 〒107-0061 Tokyo, 港区Kitaaoyama, 3−12−13 1F、2F. This is a gluten free restaurant that also serves vegetarian and raw food, according to online reviews.
  • Kuumba du Falafel23- Japan, ドミールトゲツ1 神泉町 渋谷区 東京都 150-0045, Japan. For falafel and pittas.
  • Nagi ShokudoJapan, 〒150-0032 Tokyo, Shibuya 鶯谷町15-10 ロイヤルパレス渋谷 103. Another one I really wish I'd made it to, because I've heard such good things about this place! For ¥1,000 here you can get a meal set which includes rice, miso soup, and three vegan dishes from the deli counter. SIGN ME UP.
Bonus: not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, but Sora no Iro at Tokyo station serves a veggie soba made with mushroom dashi, that's actually completely vegan. Thank you Rika at 8ablish for this tip!

TWO DAYS, guys. I compiled that whole list in two days, and only covering about three districts in all of Tokyo. Listen, I was dazed and awed (and very, very full). The current Japanese craze for superfoods and health foods (you can buy acai anything, anywhere right now) has made veganism something accessible in the city for the first time in my experience. It's definitely a niche thing still - whereas in the UK it's now unusual to find a menu without at least three vegetarian dishes on it, 98% of Japanese restaurants won't have any non-meat/fish options at all, and it's even harder if you don't speak the language (which I do) or have good kanji-reading skillz (which I don't). Japan generally seems to have bypassed the concept of vegetarianism and gone straight to veganism (which I guess makes sense, as there's considerably less dairy in traditional Japanese cuisine than in Western dishes). But it exists.

And even then, I kind of thought - well, that's just Tokyo, right? That's going to be true of any capital city.

Nope. Why did you think I labelled this post 'Part 1'? I'm not finished yet.

Please share any of your own vegan Tokyo tips/recommendations in the comments!
© papillon.Maira Gall