Monday, July 06, 2015

Vegetarian in Japan

After a few days in Tokyo, we moved on to beautiful Kyoto. We arrived in the afternoon and it was raining, so we had a bit of downtime, and enjoyed the different feeling of our ryokan room - tatami mat floor, sliding screens between room areas. Some of us dragged multiple spare mats from the cupboard to make their beds more cushy.

Sleeping on the floor was actually pretty comfortable, until the morning I happened to roll over and stretch while half awake around 5am and pulled a muscle in my neck. The next couple of days were a bit painful.

Overall the stay in the ryokan was lovely, but after three nights I was ready to return to a western style hotel. Stern warnings about spilling any fluids (tell us right away! it will damage the tatami!) or dragging suitcases on the floor, the feeling that we needed to leave our things tidy and each of the screen doors closed when we went out, all made me feel a bit anxious.

But back to that first evening. After a lounging couple of hours writing postcards and drinking green tea, we started to think about dinner and so we went out to wander the immediate neighbourhood.

Now, we are not serious foodies (I'm definitely not, anyway) and we never did any research or planned or booked anywhere. We always just wandered, and chose somewhere that looked good. It was helpful, but not essential, when they had an English menu displayed or at least a menu with pictures.

The vast majority of meals we ate during the whole two weeks in Japan were really good to amazing quality, and usually quite cheap as well. We learned to clumsily navigate a couple of complications in ordering, one of which was my stubborn vegetarianism.

I know some people make exceptions when they travel, in part to experience other cultures more fully and to enjoy the experience. I get it, but I also can't imagine doing this myself. I did a little research beforehand and I learned a few words to explain, and I don't think I ever had to go to quite the lengths that one website recommended, to specify: "I don't eat meat or fish or ham or bacon or chicken etc".

fancy food
Sashimi - not mine.

sit at counter
The place we happened upon that rainy night in Kyoto turned out to be amazing. As we didn't have a booking, they regretted that they could only seat us at the counter. We ended up thinking we had the best seats in the house, because the chef was working right in front of us and he was an artist to watch.

I was so surprised to see that the menu included a vegetarian version of the multi course set meal that I ordered it (around $50 - I'd expect the equivalent in Australia to be much more than that). My sister went with a set meal too.

Delicately arranged tofu, with wasabi. This might be the only time I ate tofu in Japan. Maybe it's true that tofu is usually part of meat dishes, not seen as an alternative.

Grill I'm always suspicious of those cook it yourself deals. Why would I want to pay to cook it myself? (I know, I'm lazy) This one was part of my sister's meal. In fact, though the grill was placed in front of her, the restaurant staff were very attentive and mostly cooked and served the food for her.

I had one of these things too - mine had a pot of water with tofu, mushrooms and greens. And a wire scoop to pluck items out and dunk them in my sauce.

There were plenty of shallots and crunchy seaweed to go with it, too.


This was the most delicate tempura. All of the tempura I had in Japan was better than any I've had in Australia. And this was the pinnacle, I think. I actually had tempura at an old local favourite the other day and it just didn't do it for me any more.

I was too busy eating to photograph everything, but I think there was at least one more savoury dish, and dessert too. It might have been green tea sorbet.

1 comment:

Donna Lee said...

I am not an adventurous eater but all of that looks so beautiful. I love tempura when it's done well (easier said than done). Unfortunately, it often gives me indigestion-probably too much oil.

I love the idea of a "cat house" (which of course has a much more risque meaning here). I miss my cats but don't want to adopt any more right now.