Sunday, 25 November 2012

vegan ramen at Chabuton!

Hello there!  It has been a long time, hasn't it?  Pardon the extended silence, I've been busy with a number of other projects including researching grad school options, and contributing to another blog.  The latter deals with a rather old Japanese law (from 1948), and a recent police crackdown on the crime of dancing in clubs, which you may be surprised to know is more often than not an illegal activity in Japan.  I was pretty upset when NO DANCING signs (backed by staff enforcers) started popping up in the clubs I frequent, as cutting loose on the dance floor is one of the best natural highs I know.  If you're interested, please check out Dance Out Loud Japan.

Enough about that, what you're really after is the vegan ramen, isn't it?  If you've been a VegOut Tokyo follower for a while you'll know I share your love for a good bowl of ramen.  I've blogged about the delicious offerings I've tried at It's Vegetable, Loving Hut, T's Tan Tan, and shared a bad experience I had at Kamukura.  Today I'd like to add another veggie ramen option to the basket: a steaming bowl of green noodles from Chabuton.

Though I'm not usually a fan of chain restaurants, there's something satisfying about the lack of pretentiousness involved in a place like this.  Come inside to a greeting of "irasshai!" make your selection at the ticket machine, take a seat at the counter, and hand over your tickets to the chef.  I like the everyman feel of these places, the fact that one can just as easily come solo as with a friend.  Cheap, relaxed, and satisfying, this is the gaishoku (eating out) comfort food of Japan.

When I first saw the "vegetable-only" vege ramen posters outside Chabuton, I was skeptical.  A vegetarian seasoned to life in Japan sees this and thinks, "oh, maybe the noodles are made with vegetables, but of course their stock will be made with pork!".  It was worth a try though, and a chat with the staff ensured me that there are no animal ingredients used in the making of their vege-ramen.  Hurray!  An added delight was when I discovered that they also have vege gyoza!  Double GETTO!*

The vege gyoza (300¥), also green, were pleasantly greasy and chewy.  We split a plate of them between the two of us, and with a glass of cheap beer, it made a nice appetizer to start us off.

The vege ramen (780¥) itself is green due to the addition of spirulina, which a quick online search informed me is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids.  As this ramen doesn't contain any other obvious protein sources like soymilk or TVP, I'd say this is a thoughtful addition.  I liked that Chabuton's vege ramen was topped with a sizable portion of vegetables including mizuna, carrot, daikon, and red pepper.  The crispy topping sprinkled over the veggies, which for a moment looked alarmingly like something meaty or fishy, was in fact dried onion flakes.  

The Chabuton we went to was the Shimokitazawa location, though as it's a chain you'll find many of them around.  If I've understood the Japanese on their Wiki page correctly, there are 267 locations across Japan, and 7 overseas!  The one in Shimokitazawa is easy to find.  As you come out of the south exit (南出口), head to the left, passing under the tracks.  Follow the road for a minute, it's right after the open air fruit and veggie shop on the right side.

address: 東京都世田谷区北沢2-10-10

 2-10-10 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

hours: This location of Chabuton is open daily from 11am to 11pm.  

You'll find Chabuton right after this wonderfully chaotic fruit and veggie shop. 

*Language note: Getto (ゲット) is a Japanese expression adapted from the English word "get".  As Japanse is a verb final language, you'll find it stuck to the end of the thing that has been gotten.  It's often used in a triumphant way when one has won something, or when something desirable has been obtained unexpectedly.   

Monday, 2 July 2012


Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant 

After reading about Kohrinbo in the Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide I'd been meaning to check out this little place for quite some time.  When the lure of Nakano's used camera shops brought my companion and I to the area, I finally got my chance.

Located on the second floor of an aging mall, Kohrinbo's neighboring shops are filled with the stuff otaku and collectors' dreams are made of: Gundam models, cosplay getups, old movie posters, and original figurines from 1980's kids shows that are now worth more than I make in a month. Although the merchandise ignites no yearning in me, I loved the atmosphere of the place, living in a city where so much is shiny and new, there's something comforting about a place where most shops look like they haven't changed in decades.   

Kohrinbo is a tiny place with a small menu.  Check out the photos and (if your Japanese is decent) the 本日の定食 (today's set meal) board outside to see what's being served.  Step inside, take a seat at the counter, and the owner will pour you a cup of tea and take your order.  While all food is vegetarian, some dishes are made with eggs, so let the lady know if you'd like yours without. (For those who don't speak Japanese, a simple way of saying this is "tamago nashi-de onegaishimasu".)     

One of the things that struck me about Kohrinbo is the feeling that I was having dinner at someone's long lived in house rather than at a restaurant.  In the family photos on display, I recognized a younger version of the lady cooking our dinner, and wondered about the laughing baby- a grandchild perhaps? whose photo sat on the shelf amongst cups and an accumulation of trinkets.  A TV mounted in the side of the shop was playing a reality TV show about a 12 member (nuclear) Japanese family, and I let go of my tendency to irritably resist the television's lure, and allowed my mind to slip into that confortable zone of passive entertainment.

My meal, the 精進カツ定食 (shoujin katsu teishoku 1100¥), was a pleasantly salty omelette with renkon chunks tucked inside, a sweet miso eggplant dish, a simple clear soup of enoki mushrooms and wakame, and a delicious katsu (breaded cutlet) stuffed with mushrooms and vegetables. Accompanied by a bowl of rice and pickle slices, this made for a filling meal with the satisfying level of fattiness I associate with Taiwanese veggie cuisine.

My companion's set, the 日替わり定食 (higawari teishoku 940¥) included goya chanpuru, a popular Okinawan dish of stir fried veggies and tofu, featuring the squash known in English as bitter melon.  A hijiki, bean, and vegetable salad, a bowl of the enoki and wakame soup, rice, and pickles were served aside a few slices of vegetable tempura.  Both meals had a definite home cooked taste, and being a real one-dish-dinner cook myself, I left with great admiration for the lady that whips everything up singlehandedly in Kohrinbo's small kitchen.  

Practical Information:

how to get there: From Nakano station, take the north exit, head straight out and into the shotengai (covered shopping arcade).  After a few minutes, the shotengai ends at a mall called Nakano Broadway, head inside and take the stairs to the 2nd floor (avoid the escalator as it goes straight to the 3rd floor!).  Once you get to the 2nd floor, take a right from the stairs, then the next right shortly after, and follow the lane to the very end.  

address: 東京都中野区中野5−52−15ブロードウェイ2F

Nakano Broadway 2F, 5-52-15 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 

hours: 11:30-3pm (last order), 5pm-8:00 (last order), closed on Sundays 

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

more Yoyogi Park weekend festivals

Yoyogi Park event schedule

As mentioned in my last post, there seems to be a lack of English information available online on this topic, so here's the gist of what's available in Japanese here.  I'll try to keep this updated as more events are added through the summer.

June 2012

June 16th (Sat): 1000 Person Field Trip (bring your own obento (packed lunch)!) in the main park

June 17th (Sun): Earth Day market on the pedestrian road

June 30th (Sat): Summer Earth Garden in the event area and on the pedestrian road

July 2012

July 1st (Sun): Summer Earth Garden in the event area and on the pedestrian road

July 8th (Sat): Earth Day Market in the event area and on the pedestrian road

July 14th (Sat): Earth Love Matsuri (Festival) in the event area

July 28th (Sat) - 29th (Sun): Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia Festival in the event area and pedestrian road

August 2012

August 11th (Sat): Tokyo Pride Parade (This event has been cancelled)

August 25th (Sat) - 26th (Sun): Super Yosakoi Matsuri in Harajuku, Omotesando, Meijijingu, and Yoyogi Park's pedestrian road

September 2012

September 8th (Sat) - 9th (Sun): Sri Lanka Festival in the event area

September 15th (Sat) - 16th (Sun): Vietnam Festival in the event area

September 22nd (Sat) - 23rd (Sun): Namaste India Festival in the event area

The event area is across the road to the south of the main park.  Check out my last post on the topic for a map.  The pedestrian road is the street leading up to the event area from Shibuya.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Yoyogi Park weekend festivals 2012

If you've been following VegOut Tokyo since last summer, you'll know I'm a big fan of Yoyogi park and the weekend culture festivals that are held there in the warmer months.  They're a fun, cheap way to get outside and spend a summer afternoon.  While the vegetarian friendliness varies from week to week, you'll always find a relaxed atmosphere with Tokyoites enjoying their food and drink out on picnic tables and leisure sheets.

Online English information about the schedule tends to be limited, so here's a rough translation of what's available in Japanese from this blog.

Yoyogi Park event schedule for May 2012

May 12th (Sat) - 13th (Sun): Thai Festival in the event area

May 12th (Sat): zombie walking in Yoyogi Park

May 16th (Wed): NICO Touches the Walls - free concert at the stage in the event area

May 19th (Sat) - 20th (Sun): One Love Jamaica Festival in the event area

May 20th (Sun): the 15th Kagoshima Ohara Honmatsuri at Dogenzaka Bunkamura-dori

May 26th (Sat) - 27th (Sun): Laos Festival in the event area

May 27th (Sun): Tokyo Earthday Market in Kouen-dori (the pedestrian road leading up to the event area from Shibuya)

I'll post information about events in June and beyond soon!

The event area is across the road to the south of the park.

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Thursday, 10 May 2012


vegetarian restaurant 

It had been a while since I'd ventured out of my comfortable rotation of conveniently located veggie friendly favourites to try out a new vegetarian restaurant, but Golden Week offered a bit of time and motivation to go the extra mile.  A friend who had done some dining out with a visiting vegan pal recommended I try Alaska, a place that's been on my radar for some time.  Sunday afternoon brought a bizarre storm involving horizontal rain and hail (and a tornado in Tochigi!), but when the skies cleared, we took the walk from Shibuya station to Nakameguro.  

I started off my Alaskan experience by ordering a glass of sangria (750¥).  When it came, a conspicuous lack of floating fruit or the appearance of fruit juice led me to wonder if they'd just brought me a glass of wine instead, but the taste- sweet, fruity (lime-y?) was a pleasant sangria indeed.

The menu was fairly limited- a list of sandwiches (mostly cream cheese based) on one side and some à la carte items and a handful of sets on the other.  They have four set choices (1260¥): pizza, curry, a brown rice (genmai) plate, and a homemade bread plate.  My companion's first choice, the curry, was sold out, so we ordered a brown rice plate and a pizza set.

The margarita pizza was nothing special, though the focaccia crust was a nice variation.  As a vegetarian in Japan, I often find myself ordering margarita pizza because it's the only non-meaty option on a menu, so perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for this meal is due to a sort of margarita pizza fatigue, no fault of this particular restaurant.  The accompanying salad was a nice mix of greens and thinly sliced vegetables with a zesty balsamic vinaigrette, much more satisfying than the pathetic butter lettuce and corn (or just shredded cabbage!) piles that pass for salads in many Japanese restaurants.  I loved the little bowl of homemade pickles included with this meal.

Our other set, the brown rice plate, would be my recommendation of the two.  A serving of genmai (unrefined rice) was flanked by the same lovely salad as the pizza set.  Next was a small bowl of abura-age (thinly sliced deep fried tofu) strips, mizuna (a Japanese leafy green),  kiriboshi daikon (dried, then rehydrated daikon strips), kurogoma (black sesame seeds) with a hint of mustard.  The mock meat karaage, deliciously fatty, impressed my dining companion, who happens to be a vegetarian cook and no stranger to veggie karaage preparation.  This set had a more traditionally Japanese tsukemono in place of the pickles, with daikon, combu, and chopped greens.

Alaska's menu doesn't push any boundaries with its small selection of typical Japanese vegetarian restaurant fare, but what they serve is fresh and well made.  Many dishes include cheese so aren't vegan, but they do have a number of vegan options, the brown rice plate being one of them.

Ambiance is something that Alaska does well.  A visually appealing space is created by light walls, concrete floors, big windows letting in lots of sunlight, and the repetition of wood surfaces.  Pretty lanterns, dangling plants, art and knick-knacks add to the chill, natural vibe.

Practical Information:

how to get there: Alaska can be accessed from Nakameguro station (Tokyu-Toyoko line, Hibiya line) or Ikejiri-Ohashi station (Denentoshi line). From Nakameguro station, turn left as you exit the station, walk straight along Yamate Dori (山手通り) and you will pass a Baskin Robin "31" after a few blocks.  After about a 10 minute walk from the station (maybe 11 blocks), you will see an old fashioned hamburger shop called Golden Brown at the end of the block.  Turn to the left here, and you'll see Alaska on the right-hand side of the first block.

address: 東京都目黒区東山2−5−7

2-5-7 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

phone: 03-6425-7399

hours: I neglected to make note of this when I visited the restaurant and information available online has been inconsistant, so I present you with a summary of what I found:

open daily from 11:00am (or perhaps 11:30?), last order at 9:30pm (10?), closes at 10:30 (11?).

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Tuesday, 1 May 2012


vegetarian friendly bakery and cafe
Hello!  Has it really been nearly 2 months since my last post?  Yikes!  Well, it's Golden Week, a week long holiday for many in Japan and the perfect opportunity to be a less neglectful blogger.  The place I'd like to introduce you today is a sweet little cafe-bakery in Shimokitazawa.

With nice coffees, tasty sandwiches including a number of vegetarian options, reasonable prices, and the option of taking a loaf freshly baked bread home, this cafe is a nice stop if you are in the Shimokita area.

We first discovered Mixture after a disappointing trip to a nearby cafe that had been featured in a Shimokitazawa / Sangenjaya Cafe magazine.  Despite looking very cool in the the photos, we found the other cafe had quite unpleasant coffee.  Though we won't be making any return trips to the original shop, it was fortunate that our search took us up a then unexplored road in Shimokitazawa, where we spotted what was soon to be a new local favourite.

Mixture is a cozy place with a small line of tables on one side, and shelves of take-home bread and goodies on the other.  Veggie sandwich options include the cream cheese and dried fruit bagel (330¥), mozzarella and basil sandwich (390¥), hummus and veggie sandwich (300¥), veggie baguette sandwich (390¥) and sora mame (fava bean) and green pepper baguette (330¥). If you order a set (700-900¥) you get your choice of drink, a little salad (with homemade vinaigrette dressing), a slice of baguette dressed with tomato sauce and cheese, and a daily mini-salad.  Vegetarians should ask what the day's mini-salad is, as this may be an egg or (as it was on my first visit) a tuna salad!

watch out for that sneaky tuna salad in the lunch set!

 野菜たっぷりのバゲットサンド (veggie baguette sandwich)

If you're in the mood for pizza, you can try their margarita pizza (900¥) or the mozzarella and tomato pizza with basil sauce (1100¥).  If you prefer, they'll whip yours up using whole wheat dough!

mozzarella tomato pizza with basil sauce with a wholewheat crust

If you stop by just for a snack, you can choose a sweet or savory goody from the bakery wall and they'll serve it for you with your tea or coffee.

practical information...

how to get there: From the north (北) exit of Shimokitazawa station, head to the left around Mizuho Bank and up the little hill where bikes are parked.  When the road comes to a T at Muji  (無印良品), turn right.  Walk straight for 3 blocks, passing a Starbucks, and at the bottom of a small hill there's an intersection with a Lawson on the far right hand corner.  Turn to the left here, and at the end of the second block, you'll find Mixture on your right.    

address: 東京都世田谷区北沢3−31−5

3-31-5 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

telephone: 03-5453-7677

Shop hours: open everyday from 7:30 to 10pm

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Monday, 5 March 2012

Tsuchiya: okonomiyaki for veggies too!

vegetarian friendly restaurant

I realize that of all the restaurants I've posted about, very few actually serve what I'd call Japanese food.  This may be fine for those veggies that, like me, are living in Japan longer term and have incorporated Japanese staples into their home cooking, and can usually get their fill of them there.  For those just visiting Japan, I can imagine that getting a good dose of Japanese cooking is in order, so I'd like to share with you some places where a vegetarian can do just that.  If you're new to the blog, you might want to have a look at my posts on Vegetable Sushi Potager, T's Tan Tan (for ramen), Loving Hut (for ramen), and Sora no Niwa (for tofu and izakaya food).  Today I want to tell you about my favourite place to go for okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) is a Japanese savory pancake, made with a batter of flour, egg, nagaimo (a kind of yam), and shredded cabbage.  Into this batter, one can throw their choice of ingredients, for most people this includes meat and/or seafood, vegetables, green onions, tenkasu (deep fried batter bits), and sometimes cheese, mochi or kimchi.  With a name literally meaning "what you like"(お好み) "grill"(焼き), okonomiyaki is an innately customizable dish.  The main stumbling block to being vegetarian friendly, is that okonomiyaki will usually contain katsuodashi (a fish based stock discussed further here).  Most okonomiyaki restaurants, and chains in particular, will have a premixed batter containing katsuodashi, and can't or won't whip you up a fresh batch dashi-free.  If you do find yourself dining in a "we use dashi, take-it-or-leave-it place", you may want to switch gears and order yakisoba with vegetables instead, which, if you fry it yourself with shoyu (soy sauce) should be a veggie safe option.

Tsuchiya is one of those rare places that does not use katsuodashi in their batter, making the vegetable okonomiyaki on the menu safe as is.  This restaurant is unusually foreigner-friendly, with an English menu available, and they even have one of those maps of the world with push pins available for guests to mark where they're from.  The staff is very friendly and helpful, and kindly checked the ingredients of various sauces for me to determine which one I could eat.  Tsuchiya is very popular with the locals, and their walls proudly display the signatures of famous people that have come to dine over the years.

When I dropped by last week, I ordered the vegetable okonomiyaki (680¥) opting to add mochi for an extra 300¥.  The ingredients are promptly served to your table in a little cup, which you mix up and then pour out on the teppan yourself.  Just like a pancake, you wait until the underside is cooked enough to be  flippable (about 5 min), then use the 2 metal spatulas provided to turn it over, and cook the other side too.

Okonomiyaki is especially tasty if you add some sauce, mayonaise, and a sprinkling of aonori (seaweed).  Vegetarians should approach okonomiyaki sauce (and, well,  all sauces in Japan) with caution as they are often made with a fish or meat base.  As I mentioned before, the staff was kind enough to check the ingredients of the sauces for me, and it was determined that the sauce in the little pot with the brush was in fact veggie-friendly (while another on the table contained pork-based ingredients).  At Tsuchiya, mayonaise must be ordered separately at a small additional cost, but this time we didn't bother cause they were tasty enough without.  You are also likely to find katsuodashi with the condiments (more info in the  dining out toolkit), but I doubt you would mistake these thin shavings of dried fish for something vegetable based cause they look and smells distinctly otherwise.

Maybe it was the cold glass of lemon-hi (450¥) that had gone to my head, or perhaps the teppan-smoky relaxed atmosphere, but I'm pretty sure this was the most delicious okonomiyaki I've eaten in my life this far.

practical information...

how to get there: From Nishishinjuku station on the Marunouchi line, take exit 2 and head down the hill.  At the second traffic light, you'll take a left, but first cross the road (continuing in your original direction) so you'll be walking on the right hand side of the road.  Walk down this street for a few minutes, and you'll see a few Family Marts on the opposite side of the street before reaching the restaurant.  If you hit another traffic light, you've gone too far.  I don't recall seeing any English signage outside the restaurant, so look for the red lantern, yellow awning, and these characters: つちや.

address: 〒160−0023東京都新宿区西新宿5−5−6

5-5-6 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 〒160-0023

telephone: 03-3373-8206

Tsuchiya is closed on Mondays.

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