Traveling as a vegetarian is challenging, having to explain chicken isn’t a vegetarian diet (looking at you, Europe). Traveling as a vegan is even harder. Especially to Japan that places non-vegetarian produce at the center of its gastronomy. You can taste a refined fusion of different Umami in Japanese food culture, accentuated by meat and seafood extracts. What that tells us is that Japanese cuisine isn’t vegan-friendly.
Does that mean you must search high and low to find restaurants which serve vegan meals? Yes, on most days. Will you always have to settle for salads or Indian food while in Japan? No, you won’t. All’s not lost. There’s now a slow but steady rise in veganism in Japanese cities, including Tokyo and Kyoto, offering healthy food options.
This post covers 5 Japanese restaurants you need to visit to savor vegan food in the comfort of elegance. So, you can satiate your guilt-free hunger without breaking a sweat.
Tudore Tranquility, Tokyo
Two–time Restaurant of the Year winner by Luxury Travel Guide, Tudore Tranquility celebrates gourmet vegan and vegetarian cuisine. The plant-based restaurant serves business travelers, tourists and residents in Tokyo's Shibuya district.
Tudore takes you on an experiential journey of artistic textures and flavors. The elegant ambiance created with soft lighting, soothing music, and abstract art captivates you from the moment you step in. Personal attention by its head chef, Mamta Reid makes your healthy meal extra appetizing.
Every single dish on the menu is an intricate mixture of flavors which can only be described as magical. The 8-course dinner offers palate cleansers, naturally sweetened fruit and vegetable-based desserts and vegan wine options. The restaurant is open from Wednesday to Sunday. Note that if you have small children with you, you must contact the staff before reserving through its website.
Little-Heaven is a must-visit for vegans wondering what to eat in Kyoto. The exclusive restaurant is accessible on the way to Arashiyama. It offers traditional and experimental cuisine enhanced with absolute freshness and impeccable service.
The vegan restaurant highlights Kyoto’s seasonal vegetables, traditional dried soy milk skin, wheat gluten and love (tons of it!) to offer three-course lunch sets that are insatiable. There’s also a vegetable sushi course that boasts of happy stomachs.
You can expect the owner and chef to come and explain the ingredients to get you comfortable. The restaurant provides a page-long description of vegan meals in English. Make sure you call them at least 3 days ahead as it’s not open every day.
Ise Sueyoshi, Tokyo
If you’re looking for a traditional Japanese dining experience, Ise Sueyoshi needs to be on your list. Love Tokyo Awards 2017 winner of Best Restaurant—Kaiseki serves meat and vegan food options in an intimate setting.
The sheer amount of love and hospitality you get to experience is divine. Head chef Tanaka san and his apprentice prepare all the dishes for the 12-course menu in front of you. Chef Tanaka’s wife Mary gives you a small booklet of where each ingredient is sourced from. Every bite puts you in a trance of tasty, sublime culinary creations infused with exquisite traditional Umami. You can feel each dish come alive due to the subtly developed flavors that pack tons of oomph.
The ‘gastronomical delight’ — per TripAdvisor — is a beautiful ode to Japanese cuisine. The small kaiseki restaurant only does 2 sittings each night (5 seats in total) from 5:30 and
8:30 pm. It requires a one-week prior reservation and payment through its website.
What’s more poetic than enjoying a delicious vegan meal amidst the serenity of a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Founded in the 1300s, Tenryuji Temple is a delight for travelers who come to Japan to seek inner peace. The temple also runs Shigetsu—a Shojin Ryori (Buddhist Zen vegetarian restaurant) — from 11am to 2pm.
The restaurant practices the faith of Zen. The polite staff ensures you’re cozy from the get-go, guiding you to traditional tatami rooms overlooking a koi pond and the garden.
You can sense temple teachings as the highest quality food is served, so you can savor stunning tastes of tofu, yuba (tofu skin), miso soup, vegetables, and Japanese tea. An elegant harmony of vegan food and side dishes prepared with the well–balanced, exciting tastes. Please note you must pay a ¥500 fee to enter Tenryuji Temple which doesn’t redeem against or reduce Shigetsu’s lunch prices. They also provide chairs and stools if you aren’t used to sitting down.
Restaurant 8ablish, Tokyo
Tucked in the Minato district of Tokyo, you’ll find 8ablish serving Italian and Mediterranean cuisine in a sophisticated, creative setting. This restaurant comes from the owners of vegan establishments — Pure Café and 8ablish Café of Tokyo.
This restaurant created an identity by combining a great selection of complex, flavorsome vegan food with unique culinary style. 8ablish offers full-fledged vegan dining options for lunch, tea time, and dinner. The meat-free restaurant is the perfect place to experience mouthwatering sensations in an inexpensive and luxurious way, whether you’re a vegan or not.
Not exciting enough? This Tokyo restaurant also sells vegan ice cream takeaways.
It wouldn’t be an overkill to say most of us associate Japanese cuisine with sushi. Even signature dishes like ramen, donburi, okonomiyaki, and udon contain meat and seafood. That doesn’t mean you can’t experience and explore Japanese cooking as a vegan.
These restaurants (and many others like these) are a positive sign of a culinary shift in Japan… one that will motivate vegans to witness an extraordinary adoption of tasty gourmet food made with eco-friendly ingredients.
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