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.
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.
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.
I had a fancy meal.
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.