When you think of the word “honeymoon”, endless drinks on a warm sandy beach is usually the image that pops into people’s minds. While I certainly love a mean margarita, the typical beach vacation did not really sound like my husband’s and my idea of THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME. So where do two busy professionals, who just wrapped up planning the most giant (and most expensive) party for all their friends and family to celebrate their eternal love, head off to?
Why, the land of maid cafes, high tech toilets, and Hello Kitty, of course. None other than the beautiful, wacky world of Japan.
Our week long adventure took us from the sprawling, mega-chic Tokyo to the jaw-dropping beauty of the mountain town, Hakone, and finally, to the laid-back, old-world charm of Kyoto. While I wrote blog posts about all of our experiences in Japan, this post will focus exclusively on the delicious eats you can find in my boy, Godzilla’s hometown- Tokyo.
Most of my friends are really supportive of my veganism, but every single one of them that had previously been to Tokyo said it was going to be virtually impossible to sustain a plant-based diet there. Pork-based soups abound on every corner, and bonito flakes (fish flavoring) hide in the vast majority of dishes, even seemingly innocuous rice balls. So was it, in fact, hard being vegan in Tokyo? Not at all! We ate sooooo much good food while there, but given the ubiquity of seafood-based dishes, the utter massiveness of Tokyo, and the unusual hours held by a lot of restaurants (more on that below), it’s important to plan ahead and have a pretty solid idea of where you’re going to eat. Some words of advice:
·Few people follow plant-based diets in Japan and there generally seems to be a lack of understanding about it. It’s best to specify to restaurant staff exactly what your dietary restrictions are. Note that most Japanese people do not consider seafood/fish as “meat”, and I would recommend specifying that you do not eat either.
In certain, more touristy areas of Tokyo, a significant portion of the population speaks at least some English, but probably not enough to completely understand the concept of avoiding meat, dairy and egg products. So how can you avoid your veganism being lost in translation? I highly recommend downloading the (totally free!) Google Translate app. You can type out or voice-to-text whatever you want to communicate in English and the application will automatically translate the phrase in written or spoken Japanese (you can find out more practical tips about what you should pack to have a successful trip to Japan here). You will feel like a COMPLETE doofus at first, whispering into a phone and showing your screen to a server or a 7-11 cashier, but you’ll get over it pretty quickly when you realize that you can figure out what the hell you can consume.
Finally, Tokyo is ENORMOUS, so I would highly recommend figuring out which areas you’re going to be exploring that particular day and finding restaurants in the area you want to try. Or maybe it should be vice versa?
If you are a person that loves starting your day with a huge breakfast (and who doesn’t), you maaay want to adjust your expectations. One of the things that surprised me the most about Japan was how late everything got going in Tokyo, including coffee shops. Justin and I traveled to a Darwin-themed coffee shop in Shimokitazawa, only to discover it did not open until NOON (WHAT!). Japanese breakfasts appear to rely heavily on fish, rice, and meat-based soups. With the combination of jet-lag induced waking up at 4 am, restaurants that didn’t open until what we considered lunch-time, and animal-product-centric breakfast options, it was really the only meal in Japan that left us scratching our heads the first couple of days. Don’t worry, though; we did the (delicious) leg work for you!
(Ginza; 1F JR Tokyo Station, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Chiyoda, Tokyo; 7 am- 23 pm every day but Sunday, when it closes at 22:30 pm)
What to Order- Tonkutsu-fuu vege-ramen; coffee with a side of soy milk and brown sugar
Midori vegan ramen and T's tantan ramen.
Located inside the bustling labyrinth that is Tokyo Station, T’s Tantan, an eatery exclusively selling vegan ramen and curry, opens at an eye-popping 7 am. While a giant steaming bowl of ramen may not be what you typically think of for breakfast, the savory broth exploding with umami flavor and incredibly reasonable prices will have you changing your jet-lagged addled mind. Couple your ramen with a cup of coffee, with a splash of molten brown sugar and soy milk and you have a fabulous breakfast for under ¥1000 ($10). When we showed up for breakfast around 7:30 am, there were only a couple of white collar workers scattered about the space, happily slurping up their ramen before heading off to work; however, I have read that there can be lines up to half an hour at busier times (and who wants to spend their time in Tokyo waiting in line). So protip- go early and go often.
(Shibuya; 3-29-5 Jingumae Harajuku, Tokyo; 9 am- 21 pm; closes at 20 pm Saturday and Sunday).
What to Order- Fruit and granola with almond milk parfait; soy latte with an extra shot of ADORABLE
Strolling around Harajuku, I had wanted to get a ridiculous foam art latte from the renowned café, Reissue, but discovered they did not sell any plant-based milk. Undeterred from imbibing my true love, caffeine, in its most adorable form, I stumbled upon Deus Ex Machina, a café/clothing store/art studio with a plethora of vegan breakfast options (think avocado toast and various pastries). While it’s a little bit more expensive than T’s and still doesn’t open until 9 am, I’d definitely recommend caffeinating here before exploring Harajuku.
Tokyo's Not So Secret Weapon... 7-11!
When in doubt, you can always grab a quick breakfast from one of the 7-11’s, which are EVERYWHERE. When we didn’t want to wait for a breakfast place to open (… which was often), we snacked on a ludicrous amount of umeboshi-onigiri (rice balls stuffed with pickled plums); inari sushi (sushi rice wrapped inside the seasoned deep-fried tofu pockets), or natto (fermented soy beans). If you’re a caffeine nut like me, you’re in luck- the only thing there’s more of in Tokyo than 7-11 stores is vending machines, which are omnipresent and stocked full of drinks like green tea. After your 7-11 run, grab a can of hot coffee (careful- they’re SUPER hot!) and you got yourself a great breakfast!
Lunch and Dinner:
(Akihabara; 3 Chome-11-6 Sotokanda, Chiyoda, Tokyo; 10:30 am-23:30 pm M-F; 9:30-23:30 Saturday and Sunday)
What to Order- Vegan ramen with a big ol' Sapporo to wash it all down
Hands down the BEST ramen we had in Japan in a tiny, packed hole-in-the-wall. There was a bit of a line when we showed up, but it moved quickly and we only wound up waiting about ten minutes. This place was so disarmingly charming, from the passionate owner at the door directing patrons to their itty bitty tables to every square inch of wall space proudly plastered with menu pages. While some vegan ramen can lack that umami taste, the broth in this bowl exploded with flavor and although the portion was huge, it was so delicious, I would’ve happily plowed through another bowl. Order a comically large bottle of Sapporo beer on the side and be prepared to be a fat and happy traveler.
(Shibuya, 24-8 Udagawacho, Shibuya, Tokyo, 11 am- 24 am M-F; 10:30 am-24 pm Saturday and Sunday)
What to Order- Natto maki; kanpyo maki; plum wine and all the green tea-
A couple of blocks away from the world’s busiest intersection, you can stumble into this starkly white space, plop down in front of tablet, touch a few of its buttons, and have a plate of pickled eggplant sushi whizzing toward you on a conveyor belt a couple of minutes later. There is certainly enough vegan rolls here to have you leaving stuffed- try the natto (a fermented soybean) stuffed roll, inari, or kanpyo maki (a dried gourd roll), but you may have to scroll through all of the the menu pages to find them. Everything here is super reasonably priced- Justin and I gorged ourselves and didn’t spend more than ¥2000 ($20) collectively. The whole process, from the location to the ambiance to the ordering system, just screams Tokyo- order yourself a glass of plum wine and relish being in one of the coolest neighborhoods in one of the most interestingcities in the world. . Another conveyor-belt sushi experience with a few more vegan options (helllllo, avocado rolls!) but less of a “OMG, I’m in the middle of Tokyo” kind of vibe can be found on the 8th floor of Seibu Department Store called Katsu Midori. (Shibuya, 宇田川町21-1, 8F, Shibuya, Tokyo, 11:00-23:00 every day).
(Shibuya, 1-1-7 Ebisu | 117 Bldg.1F, Shibuya 150-0013, Tokyo; 11 am-5 am).
What to Order- Irodori Yasai No Vegan Ramen
Burn a lot of calories while late night crooning karaoke or got the munchies after dancing your ass off at Arty Farty but can’t find anything open late enough? Perhaps more bewildering than most of Tokyo’s establishments’ late opening times was the fact that they ALSO closed early, with few restaurants open past 22:00 pm. So where the hell is a brother supposed to get a fourth meal from? AFURI, with various locations closing at 3 am at the earliest, is the way and the light, my hungry friends! Order from a vending machine (again, another distinctly Tokyo experience), hand your ticket to the chefs, and watch these wizards of deliciousness cook up a tasty bowl of ramen in the open-kitchen concept. The vegan ramen has a lighter broth than the other recommendations on this list, but the stunning rainbow of veggies topping the bowl, from squash to turnip to greens, offers an refreshing alternative to the more traditional options (and is oh so Instagrammable). Bonus- While waddling our swollen bellies back home at 3 am, Justin and I witnessed a deejay spinning in a random store window with two dudes losing THEIR MINDS on the street in front of them.
We honestly didn’t have a bad meal in Tokyo, with the above-mentioned simply being stand-outs. Other places we tried, ranked in order of my completely subjective worthiness:
First two photos are from Takemura- Mitsumame with fruits; the delicate and beautiful tea that greets you upon arrival; second two photos are from Nomin Cafe: wonderful details on doorway; tasty lunch curry set.
Takemura - Incredibly charming sweetshop with out-of-this-world traditional sweets and untouched architecture since its founding in 1930. Perfection. (Akihabara, 101-0041 Tokyo, Chiyoda, Tokyo; 11 am- 20 pm Tues. through Sat., closed Sunday- Monday).
Nomin Café - This is sort of like having a quiet lunch in your grandma’s warm, cozy living room, while you simultaneously thank the lords that Nana can whip up such a tasty, traditional (and inexpensive) curry set. While it’s probably not worth a pilgrimage to Shimokitzawa solely to try this place out (the food was teetering on the bland side), I’d definitely recommend it if I were in the neighborhood. (Shimokitzawa, 2 Chome-27-8 Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo; 11 am- 23 pm every day but Tuesday, when hours are 11 am- 17 pm).
Cori Vegan Foodstand - Vegan stand in a food truck park amidst the towering, glittering skyscrapers of the Ginza neighborhood. Soy nuggets, falafel sandwiches, and other standard vegan fare. Although it’s a fairly unique setting for Tokyo, it’s really only distinctive because of its Western-ness. Definitely inoffensive, but relatively unremarkable food and mostly tourist clientele. (Ginza, 3 Chome-13 Minamiaoyama, Minato; 13 pm- 21 pm every day but Monday)
Restaurant 8ablish - All vegan eatery, with an emphasis on Mediterranean and Italian food. Decent, but a bit on the pricy side relative to the portions and uninteresting menu offerings. (Omotesando; 5-10-17 2F Minami Aoyama, Minato-Ku, Tokyo; 11:30 am- 14:30 pm; 18:00 pm- 22:00 pm M-F; 11:00 am-22:00 pm).
Ain Soph Ripple - While I want to support all vegan restaurants, this burger and fries shop was probably the most disappointing, touristy, and overpriced meal of the trip. This would be perfect if you are super craving Western food, but I’d otherwise probably skip this one. (Shinjuku, 2-46-8 Nissho Building 1F, Tokyo; 11 am-22 pm, every day but Sunday when it closes at 21 pm).
Brown Sugar 1st- Love the location (right off the main drag of Harajuku), love the vibe (completely vegan eatery in a pink, ruffly setting? Be still my heart.), but this was single-handedly the worst ice cream I have. "Frozen sand with mildly offensive aftertaste" may be a more appropriate term. There's way too much delicious mochi lying about to waste stomach real estate here. (3 Chome-28-8 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo; 10 am-18 pm every day).
From top left- Traditional architecture at Takemura; the most Pinterest-worthy falafel (A+ for the accouterments, C- for falafel unfortunately) from Cori Vegan Foodstand; vegan breakfast at Restaurant 8ablish (it appears this is no longer offered, although lunch and dinner are still served); Cori Vegan Foodstand; dinner set at Umi Cafe (I did not review it as it closed shortly after we visited, but the food was too cute not to post); Commune 246, Ginza's very own food truck park; keeping it 'merican at Ain Soph Ripple; black sesame ice cream/icy grit from Brown Sugar 1st.
Have you been to Tokyo? Any killer recommendations on where to get vegan noms? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.