Vegetarian Ramen

Vegetarianism is a tricky concept in Japan. The words vegetable and vegetarian get mixed up, and you’ll order a vegetarian something and it will arrive with shrimp on it. The recommended meal for many veg visitors to Tokyo is … Indian food. It is not impossible to be a vegetarian here, it is just more work. Vegetarians who are able or willing to eat dashi, a broth made from dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna (also known as bonito and katsuobushi) have a much easier time. As a visiting-vegetarian friend said, she didn’t realize that dishes made with dashi would be so heavy. You mean flavorful? That, my friend, would be the animal.

I eat meat but trend vegetarian, so when I find a great vegetarian anything I get excited (like this shojin ryori). This week I found vegetarian ramen.

VegeRamen Nana8

Real deal vegetarian ramen. That’s lotus root, okra, mushrooms, radish, grated daikon, tomato, onions and greens in a flavorful vegetable broth. Even the noodles are green.

VegeRamen Nana

They are made from spirulina. I don’t actually know what that is, but I trust my man James. Every year the ramen chain Kagetsu Arashi offers a vegetarian ramen as a healthy alternative to the fat-packed kind. A vegetarian friend here admitted to eating it every day for a week straight, and I assume he is still going strong. Keep it up man! They’re offering it until May!

Since it’s healthy, why not get the veggie gyoza? Vegetarians need junk food, too.

Vege gyoza

Shojin Ryori

I had a fancy meal.

shojin ryori

It was a 3 hour endeavor, and by the end I was so stuffed I couldn’t finish my strawberries. I begged my friends to eat them so I wouldn’t offend the chef.

This is shojin ryori, vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. No animals were harmed in the making of this meal, my friends. Unlike the multi course kaiseki ryori meals I have had in Kyoto, which are very rich from miso and fish, this meal was light and flavorful. Almost refreshing.

Starting at the top left: tea with brown sugar sweets; sesame greens, pickles, and sweet black beans; walnut tofu and soup with yuzu and something that looked like grass but didn’t taste like it. Second row: vegetables and tofu made with a rice batter that puffs when it is fried, dipped in salt rather than a sauce; shitake sashimi that were incredible and tasted like they could have been fish; more mountain greens, a fruit similar to an apricot, and the only konnyaku I have ever enjoyed. Last row: hand-cut soba served in a basket; rice, miso and mushroom soup, and more pickles; finally, strawberries for dessert. I missed snapping a photo of one course, a baked soup with vegetables and a ginko nut, probably because I was getting behind on my courses and was focused on eating everything before they took it away.

This dinner was pricey, but one of the best meals I have had in Japan and the casual yet elegant environment was perfect for a Sunday evening with friends. And who can put a price on that, really.

Itosho いと正 is located in Azabu juban. Check here for a map.