Vegan Japan Part 1 - Kyoto

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Vegan Japan Part 1 - Kyoto

Postby stateofflux » Sat Dec 12, 2009 6:05 pm

When we told people were were visiting Japan, the standard response was 'but you are vegan aren't you?'. In reality, the cities we visited- Kyoto and Tokyo offered a great many culinary opportunities to vegan travellers. The biggest problem facing a vegan traveller is the absence of English labelling, so unless you understand Japanese or have friends who can translate you will need to rely on shy locals who literally speak no English or locals who do their very best but you may still be none the wiser.

We started our travels but heading from Tokyo to Kyoto, we had limited time to catch our connection and there was a frantic run around the station trying to locate some of the onigiri listed in the vegan guide - onigiri are rice triangles stuffed with a filling- the vegan options being umeboshi plum paste and konbu (kelp), they are covered in a sheet of nori that you wrap around the rice and eat in one gulp.

It was hard finding the right one- see pics below of the vegan ones

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JP with onigiri

We arrived in Kyoto quite hungry, and embarked on a long search in a tiny area to find macrobiotic cafe Sibayo , it's mostly vegan- they serve some cow milk and offer bonito flakes in one of their rice balls, and we think they may offer fish sometimes. The food is typically beautiful, small and appetising. There is a great attention to detail in preparing and serving food, and in the cafe it was right down to the handcrafted doily decorating the tea cup, no two items were the same. We found elements of this almost everywhere we ate, someone later explained the aesthetic to me as Wabi-sabi, the 'underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered.' I found this everywhere, even in the food.

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First proper meal in Japan, Sibayo.

Later we ate at Mikoan It's run by a quiet Buddhist woman called Mikoan, who speaks no English. You can point at the menu and she'll start buzzing around, deep-frying soymeat balls and scooping rice and finally present you with a multiple course vegan feast for a humble 1000 JPY. If you are a clean freak you'll need to avert your eyes from the cats climbing on the counter, but it's all part and parcel of the Mikoan experience, which really is just her living room/bar/kitchen. During our meal 4 other people came in, including an American couple from Arizona. They had just spent a week in Tokyo where they couldn't find any vegetarian food (they are vegetarians) and had lived on some mushroom burgers all week. They were thrilled to get a solid meal and like many had found Mikoan through Happy Cow- a great travel resource for vegans. They also said they had made several attempts to enter Mikoan, but were scared off by the alleyway and the darkness of the room, it really does look like no one is home, but rest assured if the door is unlocked, Mikoan is in there somewhere, waiting to serve you some delicacies from her tiny open kitchen.

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Fantastic spread, I can ever remember everything we ate but we had the same daily set but each set was different.

The next day we visited Cafe Proverbs for brunch, many places are closed on Monday and sometimes Tuesday, so we were relieved to find it open. It's modern Japanese vegan food, influenced by macrobiotics as most of the food we ate is, but less strict.

I had the Soymilk Ramen, this was very filling and rather unusual, I've never thought of making ramen in a soymilk broth but it makes sense, we eat creamy pasta sauces so it just a variation on a theme. Dessert was a tiny but sumptuous and wintery pumpkin pudding, with a scoop of rum and raisin ice-cream, swirls of maple syrup and cashew nuts roasted with herbs and maple. I took a deep green matcha-mochi muffin away for later and it was a unique blend of sweet and savoury.

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JP with the daily special- BBQ tofu and a grape smoothie

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Soymilk ramen

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My matcha muffin

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Pumpkin pudding and rum and raisin ice-cream

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Home-made vegan ice-cream- I think this was a scoop of caramel, a scoop pf pumpkin and maybe vanilla.

For dinner we returned to Sibayo, again it was delicious and delicate.

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Sibayo's open kitchen

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Sibayo's daily set, love the pickles! The plate included vegetable tempura, hiziki with sesame seeds, pumpkin pickles, steamed sweet potato sticks, miso and root vegetable soup.

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matcha soy latte

For dessert we spent a fair bit of time walking up and down a street trying to locate Kairas, which was under our nose but with signage in Japanese so we kept missing it. There is a tiny English sign opposite the cafe, but if you blink you'd miss it. Don't blink, because it's worth visiting even if you don't eat anything.

It was typically quaint and has an upstairs and downstairs, upstairs had a live band on so we stayed downstairs and had a cup of tea and some desserts, they also offer what looks like a a good lunch, in the typical 'set meal' style seen in many Japanese places we visited.

Japanese desserts, cakes and biscuits are petit wherever you go, so don't be shy to try a wide variety of desserts in a cafe or restaurant if your budget allows. I shared a Tiramisu, custard pastry cone and apple tartlet, and took away from wholesome cookies including one made with sake lees. The first flush Moon tea, grown in Japan went down well with the desserts, and was served in handmade tea cups with a cute edible cookie spoon. As we left the owners stopped and chatted with us a bit, asking of we are vegan and if we had found it hard in Japan. Locals are very shy as a rule, extremely helpful but rather shy, so it was exciting to manage to strike up any kind of conversation with a local.

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Hand written and drawn menus

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Cute tea cup and edible spoon

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Apple and pear custard tartlet

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Custard cone with smiley face

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Tiramisu
Last edited by stateofflux on Thu Jan 14, 2010 8:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby helmut » Sun Dec 13, 2009 1:06 pm

friggen awesome :)

that is cool, so glad your hard work locating restaurants was worth the effort!
*take me to the mediocrity dungeon*
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Postby xrodolfox » Sun Dec 13, 2009 3:10 pm

That looks so awesome!

My wife's cousin just went to Japan to live for a few months. His mother (my wife's aunt), wondered out loud if it was possible to be vegan in Japan. Of course, her son never ate one single vegan dish while there. He was a guest, and EVERYTHING that they fed him was animal based.

Of course, I countered that vegan diets have been around in Japan for centuries, but I had nothing to counter with practically. This is the perfect counter! Post more! Post more!
"The worker has the right to leave his boss, but can she do it? And if she does quit him, is it in order to lead a free life; where she will have no master but herself? No, she leaves to sell herself to another employer. She's driven by the same hunger. Thus the worker's liberty is only a theoretical freedom, lacking any means of realization; an utter falsehood."
-Bakunin
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Postby JP » Sun Dec 13, 2009 7:18 pm

[quote="xrodolfox"] Of course, her son never ate one single vegan dish while there. He was a guest, and EVERYTHING that they fed him was animal based.


wonder if that was the case... looking at non-vegans food around there it looked like there wasnt all that much animal products in there. Veg, rice, tofu and couple half a finger size slices of meat or fish. Of course many of the dishes could have been done in fish sauce etc, but still, japanese eat relatively little animal products when compared to what i am used to see in western countries.

One thing to add! It was weird to go through the countryside in a train and not see any animal production! All you see in countries like UK and most european countries is grazing animals, and animal production units. There must be a lot of it in japan as well but we saw none of it, not a single grazing animal! It was a shock to realise how used to the animal farming view we were...
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Postby stateofflux » Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:03 am

It is unfortunate that we have to bow to bullies, but due to both legal and personal attacks against myself and Vegan Fitness we have decided to remove the recent posts regarding the unfortunate ongoing drama in the vegan movement in Japan.

Herwin Walravens, who writes the Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide has my home address thanks to me purchasing one of the guides, and is using this information to threaten both Vegan Fitness and me personally. The joys of being an admin ;)
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Postby Heinrich » Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:48 am

Sounds like there was something right in that post after all...
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