Big in Japan: 5 tips for eating veggie in Japan

From beef, chicken and fish to horse, jellyfish and whale, the Japanese are fierce carnivores that love their meat raw, red and occasionally bloody…

Of course, this can present something of a problem for vegetarians in Japan, especially since fish stock is a classic cooking staple that can appear in the most seemingly meat-free dishes – we’re looking at you, miso soup!!

Fret not however as it is in fact possible to eat cruelty-free meals in Japan. And, you can still enjoy the high level of quality that makes Japanese cuisine justifiably famous the world over.

So, without any further adieu, here are some author-tested tips for eating veggie in Japan:

1) Learn to love the convenience store. You don’t have to look very far in Japan to find a convenience store, which is a good thing as these one-stop shops are packed with non-meat goodies. You’ll certainly want to stay away from the pre-packaged dinners, though salads are decidedly meat free, along with most chips, cookies, crackers and candies. With that said, shrimp-flavored snacks are popular with Japanese kids, so give a product a pass if it’s got smiling crustaceans on the packaging.

Keep reading as the list goes on…

Here are some more tips for eating veggie in Japan:

2) Find the local Indian restaurant. Indian food in Japan is surprisingly popular, which means that you can find a local curry house even in small cities and towns. Although a good number of dishes are meat based, they’re fairly easy to avoid, especially since Indian restaurants [generally] stock English menus and [generally] employ English-speaking staff. When in doubt, ask for dal, a hearty stew of spiced lentils, or saag paneer, a blend of Indian-style cheese and braised spinach.

3) Dust off your cooking skills. If you’re either staying in a hostel, or living in your own apartment or guesthouse, you can easily continue your veggie lifestyle by self-catering. If you want to pack on the protein, extremely high quality tofu is available at supermarkets everywhere in Japan, and it’s much, much tastier than your average North America garden variety. Miso paste, which is sold in small tubs, can quickly spice up a pan-fried block of tofu, and you can top off your dish with fresh bean sprouts and bamboo shoots alongside a bowl of brown rice.

4) Slurp down some soba, but skip the soup. Soba, a high-fiber buckwheat noodle that is as delicious as it is healthy, is available in shops all over Japan. Unfortunately for vegetarians, soba is often served in a fish stock made from dried tuna flakes. However, you can always order zaru-soba (ざるそば), which is simply cold soba noodles served with spring onions and a soy-based dipping sauce.

5) Sample some authentic shōjin-ryōri (精進料理). While Buddhism might have lost its hold on the younger generations, there are still some remnants of this ancient Asian religion, particularly on the menu. At a good number of temples throughout Japan, you can sample shōjin-ryōri, which is traditional Buddhist cuisine that is completely cruelty-free, and designed to be both physically and spiritually invigorating.

Got any tips for eating veggie in Japan? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

** All images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media project **