As part of a PR lecture in Yoga Teacher Training, the teacher asked us to write down what the one thing that people – from all different areas of your life, come to you to ask about. Some struggled with this, but for me it was easy. I’m going to Japan! What should I do there!? I am thankful this is my question (my answer could go passionately, for days) However, I’m still trying to work out how that will help me become a better yoga teacher… Anyway. I am asked a lot of questions about travelling in Japan. A new one that has started to pop up a little more is “how do you eat healthy / vegetarian / vegan in Japan?”
“it’s easy!” I say, flipping my hair and laughing, “It’s not a problem at all!”
But that’s not actually true.
I do a lot of letting go around food in Japan. I try to do this everywhere I travel – and I encourage everyone to do the same. I feel that many of us have such a hold on our ideas of being “healthy” it can end up not that healthy at all… But I know struggling to find simple, fresh food can be challenging. When I was in Seoul, I longed so desperately for a green smoothie as I picked spam, once again, off something I thought was only vegetables and scraped what I can only describe as toasted sugared-glitter-butter off what I thought was plain white bread. It sounds hilarious and brattish now, but at the time, when making it through an entire day without my lunch coming back to visit me was to be celebrated, it was not so funny. Arriving back on Japanese soil after this particular trip, I literally cried with joy as I stepped foot into a 7-11. Bananas. Plain rice. Green Tea. Boiled edamame. The packing situation might not be ideal, and to be sure, msg makes an appearance more often that we might hope – but it is simple, easy, fresh.
My key to eating in Japan is this: I do dashi. Dashi is in everything. Either used as a stock or in powder form. At home, I make a vegan dashi stock from konbu seaweed and dried shiitake mushrooms. In Japan, unless you’re in one of the cafes below, the dashi is definitely not vegetarian. It’s worth pointing out – for better or for worse, a lot of dashi is the powdered variety and probably doesn’t contain a lot of actual fish. For me, making peace with dashi, is key not only to having a stress-free food trip, but also to enjoying the hell out of all the Japanese food you could ever want to eat. I should say that I don’t have a gluten intolerance (soy sauce is a big one for some people), and ethically, I would much rather eat dashi over commercial dairy. So this works for me.
It has now been 18 months from the last time I was in Japan (the longest I have been away since my first trip!) and I was only at the beginning of this health journey at the time. I was going out to the smoky izakayas by night, and practicing shaky asana as I woke up in the morning. Looking back, there were some interesting obstacles at this time (I have (luckily) never really been interested in junk food, except in Japan. And then there’s the cheap alcohol, the matcha flavoured everything, and so on.) Of course, eating healthy overseas takes a little prep, a little leniency, accommodation with a kitchen and the happy cow app, but today I want to focus on places you can go and eat delicious and healthy Japanese food. It’s worth going out of your way to find and experience these places. Because when healthly food is done in Japan, it is done really, really well. Really inspiring, and delicious stuff.
I wrote previously about healthy cafes in Osaka. Last time I was there I didn’t spend too much time in Tokyo, so I have asked the gorgeous Kamila Kunda, who lives in Tokyo, to share her recommendations with everyone. Kamila is perhaps my first real instagram friend (!!) Her account immediately caught my attention. She posts photographs of Japanese gardens, delicate teas and pottery, books and brown rice lunch sets accompanied by captions of poetry and her own insights. I love the personality that speaks through her images of daily life. I also admire her honesty in speaking about life in Japan (which many of us, myself definitely included, tend to over-glamourise) In particular though, I love the images of Kamila’s food. I love (LOVE) Japanese food and it is rare to see it captured through the lens of someone who has a similar outlook on eating well. Kamila, originally from Poland, has lived in many cities over the last 14 years (Sydney, Berlin, Oxford, London, Paris) and has now been in Tokyo for 3. She has very kindly allowed me to post a few of her favourite vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Tokyo, which I strongly recommend you check out (and are all on my list for next April!) ENJOY! x
Follow Kamila here.
Ain Soph. Journey
This restaurant is one of very few purely vegan places, open for lunch and dinner. It seems that the owners are into shabby chic when it comes to interior design and especially in a little gritty Shinjuku this place is a refreshing haven for health-conscious customers. The selection of dishes is limited mainly to curries, vegan pancakes and some vegan desserts, and the pancakes are to die for. They are served with cream, ice cream, fruits and nuts – you can share them with your companion or if you feel particularly indulgent devour them all by yourself.
3-8-9 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
Eat More Greens
The motto of this Azabu Juban’s restaurant is “All we need is love and vegetables”. Contrary to the image of the Japanese cuisine outside of Japan as being very healthy, Japanese modern cuisine is very heavily meat-based and many people do not eat vegetables on a daily basis. This restaurant has a mission to show the Japanese that vegetables can be very well incorporated in a daily diet and to cater to the international community living in this rather affluent neighbourhood. They serve a selection of salads and curries. 2-2-5 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo Tokyo
Tamana Shokudo is 100% organic and vegetarian. They serve a variety of dishes but their signature one, Tamana Teishoku, is most people’s dish of choice. It includes about 40 different ingredients and is packed with goodness. The dressing, sweet and salty fermented soy sauce rice malt, apparently takes 2-3 weeks to prepare and here it accompanies fried tofu. Brown rice sprinkled with black sesame and five kinds of nattō beans, pickled vegetables, a salad with tempeh and a miso soup are all parts of this delicious lunch set. 3-8-27 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku Tokyo
Omotesando area is pretty good when it comes to healthy and vegetarian/vegan food. Brown Rice is a minimalistic in design restaurant with the focus on simple cooking resembling what a traditional Japanese mother would do. Their signature dish, Monthly Brown Rice Bowl is a selection of various root vegetables, served with brown rice, a vegan miso soup and pickles. There is also coffee or hojicha (roasted green tea) served as part of the lunch set. Brown Rice also serves vegan Japanese desserts. 5-1-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
This is another excellent vegan option in Omotesando, just one minute from the station. They have delicious breakfasts: smoothies, muesli with soy yoghurt, scones and muffins, toasts with peanut butter. Nothing fancy outside of Japan but in Tokyo such breakfasts are definitely not common. Salads and sandwiches for lunch are healthy and wholesome, however portions could be bigger.
5-5-21 Minamiaoyama, Minato, Tokyo
Going for a burger in Tokyo is usually quite frustrating for a vegetarian. Very few places serve a vegetarian option, therefore stepping into Island Veggie one can feel spoilt for choice. This Hawaiian macrobiotic restaurant in Hiroo serves a selection of eight yummy vegetarian and vegan burgers, served with French fries. If you are keen on acai bowls, this place is the one to go to to have the best choice. Finish your meal with a healthy smoothie and you may feel you have found your vegan heaven in Tokyo.
CAS Bldg 1F, 5-3-9 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
This is a must for any health-conscious traveller passing by busy Tokyo Station. Plenty of favourite Japanese staples (ramen and curry included) are off-limits for vegetarians and vegans alike. This small and friendly restaurant is a bit hard to find at first in the maze of the station’s alleys (go to the end of Keiyo Street inside the ticketed area on the way to Keiyo Line platform) but when you succeed you will be rewarded with a delicious, reasonably priced and healthy meal. Vegan ramen (Chinese-style noodles served in a broth with sesame and peanut oil with tofu and bean sprouts) is my personal favourite, but the menu is pretty extensive and one can choose other varieties. There is a detailed menu in English and the staff speaks English, which is still rare in Japanese cafés and restaurants.
Keiyo Street, Tokyo Station, 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Tokyo
Rainbow Raw Food
This is a very unassuming and unpretentious gem near Ebisu station, serving 100% vegan raw food (cooked to 48℃). Most of the vegetables used here are organic. Bagels with lots of veggies are mouthwatering, but what is really rare in Japan is vegan and raw nori wraps – I believe the most popular dish here. They also serve good Mexican burritos and salads, desserts and healthy smoothies. Don’t expect a fancy decor – this is a good and honest eatery that every neighbourhood in Tokyo should be proud of.
Grace Aoyama 2F, 2-3-11 Ebisu-Minami, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
Thank you SO much Kamila for sharing your favourites. If you have anywhere to add, please do comment and let us know!