Samuel

Survival Tips for Vegans in Japan

If you have been to Japan before, you might be alive to the fact that this country is generally not vegan friendly. Most foods served in this country are loaded with fish, poultry, rice, legumes, and vegetables, with some minor dairy additions. Although Japanese cuisine is known to be loaded with vegetables, it remains that being vegan in Japan can be pretty challenging.

If the general dietary practices are to go, it is no brainer than Vegetarians, if any, make a meagre fraction of the general population. The vegans in Japan tend to embrace the vegan lifestyle for health reasons and not cultural influences.

Dashi accompanies almost every meal served in Japan practically makes it impossible to be a vegan. Dashi granules could be made from seaweed sources, but it is also loaded with dried fish flakes. It is also worth noting that most regular diets contain niboshi or dried fish.

The best option for any vegan visiting Japan is to eat at a vegan restaurant. However, if you intend to stay in Japan for a long time, it is best to prepare your food using vegan sources. Best of all, there are plenty of interesting vegetables for a vegan.

Japanese Vegan Foods

Japanese foods come in various forms. While most foods served in Japan have proteins engrained in the recipe, it is not always easy to find a purely vegan Japanese diet in most eateries. That said, here are some amazing foods that Japanese cuisine has to offer a vegan.

Miso

Miso is a popular Japanese food that is made from fermented soybeans. Hardly is food served in Japan without this soup. This soup can be made better by adding Nameko Mushroom. Not only is it tasty, but it is also loaded with a host of nutritional benefits.

Kappamaki

Also known as the cucumber roll, the Kappamaki is sweet and savoury for any vegan. Better yet, the crunch factor makes it irresistible. This healthy snack is made from cucumbers, seaweed and sushi rice.

Nimono-Japanese Simmered Vegetables

The Nimon-Japanese Simmered Vegetables is a delicious assortment of vegetables comprising potatoes, carrots, daikon, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and bamboo. Usually served as a side dish, this diet provides essential macronutrients and high fibre content that promotes satiety.

Soba

Soba is a tasty noodle dish served either hot or cold. The broth, made of a combination of light and dark soy sauce, sugar, or some sesame oil, make this diet exceptionally good. For added nutritional benefits, you can add some proteins such as soybeans or tofu.

Agedashi Tofu

The Agedashi Tofu is a sumptuous Japanese dish that lets the traditional tofu stand out. This meal is garnished with an enormous amount of flavours. That is undoubtedly a flavour bomb with a distinct texture and taste. Not only is the Agedashi tofu delicious, but it is also highly nutritious. Better yet, it caters to the nutritional needs of both vegans and non-vegans alike.

Three Street Foods to Enjoy in Japan

Japan is undoubtedly a sensory wonderland for food lovers. While the street food industry is still at its early stages, the few stalls available live up to Japan’s reputation of having some of the most sumptuous and nutritious dishes.

If you want to have some dishes on the street, several small stalls known as yatai can be found in busy streets or festivals. Street food vendors offer a tasty selection of on-the-go dishes. That said, here are some common street eats in Japan.

Takoyaki

Takoyaki is a gooey ball-shaped snack made from wheat flour, chopped octopus, tempura scraps, ginger, and green onions. This food is served hot and is unbelievably tasty.

Kushiten

You can never miss Kushiten when asked to mention the best Japanese street dishes with global popularity. This skewered Japanese cake is made from a white fish paste that is steamed and deep-fried until it gets firm.

Senbei

Senbei is a savoury sweet rice cracker in Japanese streets. It is served in different sizes, shapes, and flavours. The senbei has a distinct flavour that will certainly keep you yearning for more.

A Closer Look at Japanese Street Food Trends

Almost every country you visit has an eatery on the street. As far as the street food industry goes, the street food phrase is always synonymous with Vietnam and Thailand. However, the Japanese street food industry remains relatively low, mainly because Japan does not have a pronounced street food culture.

If you happen to take a walk in Tokyo or Osaka, you will notice that the street food industry is not that prominent. The term “Japanese Street Food” does not fit the true definition of classic street food, where you have thousands lining up in outdoor carts or stalls waiting to have their favourite dish served.

Why is street food not popular in Japan? Perhaps, Japanese etiquette is one reason why the street food industry is still in its infancy. However, things are slowly changing to accommodate this “concept.” In Tokyo, for instance, it is common to see people eating while taking a stroll. If you are at a place where eating while walking is not allowed, it is best to stop, enjoy your food, and go about your business after eating.

External Influences on Traditional Japanese Cuisine

Japanese are among the few remaining nations that still cling to their traditional dietary traditions. However, as far as the names might be similar, it is also worth noting that things have been changing drastically in the kitchen. In its current form, even the celebrated sushi is different from what it used to be in the past.

It is always advisable to put out any preconceived notions about Japanese cuisine as long as traditional cousins go. Some nations or external influences have left a mark on Japanese dietary traditions over the years.

China

Many of Japan’s culinary traditions borrow heavily from China. Key among these is rice, which was introduced in Japan by the Chinese about the 8th century. It is also believed that the Chinese also introduced soybeans, which were served to Buddhist monks in the 11th century. Soy sauce, in particular, is one of those Chinese inventions that the Japanese have perfected.

Portugal

The Portuguese had left an indelible mark on Japanese cuisine. For instance, tempura, one of the most popular Japanese foods, has its origins in the Portuguese world. It was only after the Portuguese arrived when Japanese started taking this food. Other foods introduced to Japan by the Portuguese include: castilla, a yellowish cake, konpeito, candies; karumera, simply caramels. Of all the foods left, Tempura is regarded as the “greatest Portuguese legacy on Japanese cuisine.”

Besides national influences, it is hard to ignore the impact of religion on Japanese food. The Japanese mostly susbscribe to two beliefs: Buddhism and Shinto. These two religions hold purity, simplicity, and naturalness in high regard. And undoubtedly, these values are also manifested in Japanese dietary choices.

The History Behind Popular Japanese Foods

It is not a surprise that Japanese foods are popular all over the world. Japanese foods are produced from nutritious and mouth-watering ingredients, not to mention its remarkable presentation also makes Japanese cuisine highly prized. Did you know that Japanese food features in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list? Indeed, it does.

Tokyo has the most restaurants of any other city in the world, for all the good reasons. Tourists fill Tokyo’s eateries to experience some of Japan’s dishes. Here are some fascinating facts about the history of Japan’s popular dishes.

Sushi

Sushi is believed to have been first prepared somewhere between the fifth and third centuries BC. The original form of sushi was known as the narezsushi, created out of necessity when farmers working along the rivers sought ways of preserving the fish they caught. Part of the preservation meant that the fish could ferment in the process, making it tastier. While sushi remains a staple in Japan, there have been significant variations of the sushi concept.

Tempura

This mainstream Japanese food is believed to have been introduced in Japan in the 16th century. Originally from Portugal, this dish is considered classic Japanese food of vegetables, seafood, and vegetables. The Japanese quickly adopted the cooking style and later changed it to suit Japanese tastes, creating something unique in the process.

Ramen

Ramen is almost like a religion in Japan and is seen as an international icon of Japanese culture. Chinese immigrants introduced this food to Japan in the late 19th century, and how it became a favourite in Japan remains a mystery. With tourists flocking Japanese eateries to enjoy the Ramen, some museums have dedicated themselves to covering this yummy dish’s history.

Miso Soup

It is believed that more than 75% of Japanese take miso soup at least once every day. This food was first introduced to Japan by Chinese monks over a century ago in the form of a dish known as the hishio. This food was particularly popular in the 12th century when the Samurai warrior embraced it for its energy-giving properties. Its nutritional properties and the simplicity of preparation explain why it has consistently featured in Japanese tables ever since. For starters, once you try it, you might not be able to live without it.

Key Components of Traditional Japanese Food

The Japanese have remained fairly consistent in their approach towards life. Besides respect and diligence, the Japanese are known to be very mindful of what they eat. It comes as no surprise that they still observe their traditional dietary habits to date.

Notably, the traditional Japanese meal slightly differs from most meals served in the west and some parts of Europe. For instance, a typical American four-course meal could have an appetizer, salad, main course, and a dessert served separately. In a typical Japanese home, all the food is presented at once. That said, here are some food items that constantly feature in Japanese food.

Rice

Rice is probably the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they hear about Japanese food. Japanese prefer having rice steamed. Steamed white rice is locally known as hakumai, whereas genmai is the Japanese name for its brown counterpart. With rice being a staple to many, it is not a surprise that there are numerous seasoned rice dishes.

Nori or Furikake

Steamed rice is always enjoyed with some seasoned seaweed (nori). Some people prefer having a special rice seasoning known as furikake, specially made from dried vegetables, seaweeds, sesame seeds, bonito flakes, or sesame seeds.

Soup

Besides rice and the special seasoning, every Japanese meal is usually accompanied by a bowl of soup. There are different types of Japanese soup, the most common ones being the miso shiru and sumashi jiru. Miso Shiru is a miso-based soup, whereas sumashi jiru is made from seafood, vegetables, and proteins.

Protein

When it comes to proteins, any Japanese meal is highly likely to have an assortment of seafood. Japan’s proximity to the sea largely informs their centuries-old tradition of having seafood. Over the years, protein-based dishes like the kamaboko (fish cake) and the sakana no netsuke (simmered fish) have been a common feature in any Japanese meal.

Vegetables

Besides proteins, vegetables have always dominated Japanese cuisine. In most instances, Japanese vegetables are served simmered in dashi broth, sauteed, or steamed. The traditional favourite yaki nasu made from the Japanese eggplant garnished with ginger, green onion, bonito flakes, and some soy sauce remains a natural favourite.

Pickles

Japanese will always serve pickles alongside any meal, locally known as tsukemono. Pickle’s popularity in Japan is believed to have been inspired by the spread of Buddhism, which saw many people turn to vegetarian diets. Pickles are also a decent vegetable option in the dry season where there is insufficient fresh produce.

Most tourists visiting Japan are often left in awe after sampling Japanese food. Whether at a restaurant or a typical Japanese home, the authenticity of traditional Japanese food is impossible to ignore.