Vegetarian Survival Guide
If you do not know, I am a vegetarian. To be specific, I do not eat chicken, meat, beef, fish (any seafood), pork, etc. I eat dairy products like cheese, though. Japan is (in)famous for not having many options for vegetarian tourists. When I was planning for my two-week backpacking trip, I was apprehensive about not being able to find vegetarian food. Especially when I do not know and speak the Japanese language at all and not everyone in Japan speaks or understand English. In fact, most Japanese people I met did not understand any English or could barely understand few words. Many Japanese people consider seafood to be vegetarian so we need to explicitly specify it.
As a backup strategy, I was carrying couple packs of Instant Noodles, and a good amount of energy bars and Granola. But after spending two weeks in Japan I can say, I could have survived without backup also. I will not say it was fairly easy but if you are flexible enough you can just do fine. I will list down various options for finding vegetarian food in Japan and my experiences eating at these places.
If you love eating like me, you will definitely love those small, (shabby?) local, eating out joints at the corner of a street. Street food may not have the finesse of a luxurious dining place but has that lip smacking taste. Unfortunately, there are not much options for vegetarians in Japan as most of the street food contains seafood. But that could not stop me from trying a few options.
Indian are everywhere and so are Indian restaurants. Indian restaurants can be found in every corner of Japan in my opinion. I ate at Indian/Asian restaurants in Kyoto, Nikko, Tokyo, Lake Kawaguchiko. Especially in Tokyo you can find many restaurants serving Nepalese food. Nepalese food is very close to Indian food but a bit spicy. I also found an Indian restaurant (next to Sensoji Temple) where a Japanese chef was preparing food. In Kawaguchiko area I ate at a restaurant run by Pakistani brothers. They also put an Indian flag outside, to attract Indian customers.
But my dinner experience in Matsumoto was worth remembering. After a tiring day, I was looking for some Indian bread. A quick search on Facebook pointed me out to Doon Shokudo Indoyama restaurant. I was trying to find the location using iPhone maps. Unfortunately, it took me to the wrong restaurant. A humble Japanese lady who was having dinner here dropped me to the restaurant I was looking for. Doon Shokudo is so small that it can host only 6-8 people on 2 tables at once. But I totally loved the concept of a homely kitchen. Ashish (person in yellow Tshirt), the owner of this restaurant, is from Indian city, Dehradoon. I met a few of his folks and his wife and had an amazing time talking about local culture and life in a small city (Matsumoto). If you go to Matsumoto, I will recommend this place very highly.
Unfortunately eating at Indian restaurants is not a budget option. They charge 800-2000Y for a set lunch/dinner.
Eating out at a Japanese restaurant is very economical. Each meal I had at Japanese place set me back by 500-800Y. But it is a bit difficult as making the front desk person understand that you want a vegetarian food is tough. Thankfully most of the Japanese restaurants display a replica of an actual dish in front shop. So it’s best to read the description and contents and order the dish. As a vegetarian, I could mostly get fried vegetable, plain rice, fried rice, noodles, and soup. I had an unfortunate incident in one of the Japanese restaurant in Tokyo. They served me pork when I clearly asked them not to add any non-vegetarian item in the meal. A portion of noodles in vegetarian broth was sufficient for me, though. So better be watchful if ordering in a Japanese place.
Local convenience stores
At times we need to eat on the go. I could found a few vegetarian options in Local convenience stores like 7Eleven , Lawson and Family Mart. Local convenience stores are present everywhere in Japan. Every street has one or more stores.
These stores also sell food including snacks and sweets, such as onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches, bread, chips, candy, instant noodles(ramen). All stores have a provision of heating the food through a microwave.
The stores also sell all kind of beverages like energy drinks, beer, water, juice etc.
Coffee shops or cafes are also a great place to have some vegetarian food while avoiding a proper meal. If nothing is available, coffee shops can come to rescue. I ate at multiple cafes in my entire trip so can highly recommend to try them.
Updated 4 October :
For reference I took a screen shot of these Japanese language in my phone. These came in pretty handy while asking expilictly for vegetarian food or ordering a custom dish from local Japanese food joints. Some japanese people consider sea food to be vegetarian so its better to be explicit. Also broth for ramen is mostly contains fish so better avoid it!
|No Pork||Īe butanikumasen||いいえ豚肉ません|
|No Fish||Īe fisshu arimasen||いいえフィッシュありません|
|No Meat||Īe niku arimasen||いいえ肉ありません|
|No chicken||Īe niwatorimasen||いいえ鶏ません|
|No Lard||Īe rādo arimasen||いいえラードありません|
|No Egg||Īe tamagomasen||いいえ卵ません|
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