Monday, 12 December 2011


Organic Vegan restaurant 

It's been a while since I've added a new restaurant review to the blog, so when I had a rare Tuesday off a few weeks ago, I figured it was a perfect opportunity to try out a new place.  I met up with a friend in Shibuya, and we initially headed over to Vegan Healing Cafe, only to find it closed.  This is the 3rd time I've gone during supposed opening hours and found it closed.  Does anyone know for sure if it is still open?  The website is up and running, and it seems like everything is fine.  Do they just keep erratic hours?

Lunch venue plan B required a quick ride on the Denentoshi line over to Sangenjaya.  A quick walk from the station found us stepping off the noisy, highwayside sidewalk, and into a little oasis of hippie vegan calm of Ohana.

We were pretty hungry but not particularly excited by the (Japanese only) menu.  As far as I could decipher, the lunch menu choices consisted of an onigiri (rice ball) plate (780¥), a soup set (Tuesday's was a white stew with beans) with bread (880¥), a curry plate (880¥), or the daily plate served with rice (980¥), which was featuring white stew with beans.  My friend and I decided to share the soup/ bread set and the onigiri plate, as curry is a too often used fallback for the hungry vegetarian or vegan dining out in Japan.

If I had to sum up Ohana's food in one word, I would say it was nice.  The meals were simple, wholesome, and tasty enough.  It was nothing mindblowing, and nothing that one couldn't fairly easily make at home.

The dessert plate (480¥) we ordered, a little piece of chocolate cake, and a slice of (if my memory serves me correctly) banana and ginger loaf didn't pack the decadence I hope for in a dessert.  They reminded me more of the vegan banana bread I often bake for a healthy-ish at work snack when I am trying to avoid junking out on cookies and other tempting goodies.

Overall, our meal at Ohana was pleasant enough, but I can't say I'll be making any special trips to Sangenjaya to return.  I could see eating there sometimes if I happened to work or live close by, or perhaps it would be a nice stop for a traveler tired of heavy restaurant food.  

How to get there: From Sangenjaya station (on the Tokyu Denentoshi line and Setagaya line), take the south exit.  Setagaya-dori and Route 246 merge in a Y shape right at the station, so you want to head along Route 246, towards the upper left arm of the Y.  Ohana is just a couple blocks away from the south exit.

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Monday, 14 November 2011

Nan Station in Shimokitazawa

Back in Canada, particularly in Vancouver, I used to go out for sushi pretty often.  In Vancouver, sushi joints are everywhere (kind of like combinis in Japan), more often than not run by Korean immigrants, inexpensive and tasty.  What I didn't really think about back in Canada was how un-Japanese the sushi I actually ate was.  Sure I wouldn't refuse a piece of kappa or oshinko maki, but the rolls I usually ordered were usually stuffed with avocado, an assortment of vegetables, or yam tempura.  Try to find sushi like that in Japan and you're going to be sadly disappointed.   And sadly disappointed I was, and also in need of a new fallback cuisine.  Right on cue, Bollywood dancing into my heart, came the Indian restaurant.

Don't get me wrong.  I've always been an appreciator of a good Indian meal.  Living in Montreal I savored many a dirt-cheap and oh-so-satisfying thali.  But living in Vancouver or Montreal, with such an abundance of amazing vegetarian and vegan restaurants (and clearly marked options, or comprehending staff in omni places), I just didn't rely on Indian places in the same way.  In Japan they've become the safe bet that I'll take when in an unfamiliar neighborhood and not in the mood to do a lot of menu deciphering and explaining.  Indian places are also a good bet for dining with omni friends who, despite being cool about my dietary choices, would rather bite into something meaty.

By our old house in Higashimurayama, we had a favorite Indian place that we went almost once a week.  Since moving to Setagaya last December, and having a few places we liked close down or take a dive in quality, we had been on the hunt for a cheap and tasty Indian place, which also had to be in one of the areas we find our selves in often, namely Shinjuku, Shibuya, or the Shimokitazawa area.  Our hunt was over when, about 6 weeks ago, a friend and I decided to try a little place in Shimokita called Nan Station.

Nan Station is a pleasant little hole in the wall, with just two tables inside plus bar style single seating.  Outside on the patio there are two more tables, and the whole place is open air as during the warmer months.  The prices are unbeatable, with their cheapest curry and nan sets costing only 500¥ (or 340¥ for  just curry)!  The lovely staff speak English, and said they can prepare vegan curries and rice on request.

It's not the prettiest curry I've ever ordered, but consistently tasty, and undeniably a bargain.
If you go to Nan Station I highly recommend that in addition to your curry, you try an order of aloo achar.  This server translated the name of this dish into English as potato pickles.  I can't say it was like any pickles I've ever eaten, but this flavorful dish of cooked potatoes with chilies, spices and sesame oil  was a big hit with myself and both friends that have accompanied me to this restaurant.  Recently, A-chan and I have taken to splitting one order of nan between two curries, so that we can each order our own aloo achar without feeling like gluttons  You won't find this item on the regular menu they hand you, but rather on a separate appetizer list, which seems to get handed out when the restaurant is less busy.  So if you don't see it on the menu, ask for it by name (potato pickles also works)!

aloo achar (potato pickles)

Nan station is also a comfy place for a meal for one, as there are always a few singles seated at the bar.  It also seems to be popular with expats, as there always seem to be a few non-Japanese faces around, often seen chatting with the friendly staff.

So if you are in the Shimokitazawa area with a hankering for curry, do give Nan Station a try.  You just might become a regular!

How to get there:  From the North (北) exit of Shimokitazawa station, head to the right for a few blocks. When the road comes to a T, head to the left.  You'll soon see Nan Station on the ground level on your left.

Address: 東京都世田谷区北沢2−30−11北沢ビルB1F

Kitazawa Building, 2-30-11 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

telephone: 03-5454-3006

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Vi-Sand: Vietnamese subs in Shimokitazawa

(somewhat) vegetarian friendly restaurant (will customize on request) CLOSED

Youthful, eclectic Shimokita is a cool little area not 10 minutes away from Shibuya on the Keio Inokashira line.  It's only about a 15 minute walk from my house, and I'm often there on weekends, poking around, perusing my favourite thrift shop or picking up some groceries.  So it's a bit surprising to me that in the last 6 months of blogging, I've only mentioned something specific to Shimokitazawa once, in my natto vending machine post back in June.  The truth is, despite it looking very much like a place that I would imagine to be a veggie hotspot, Shimokita has failed to deliver in the veggie restaurant department.  If you know of any places, I'd be happy to be proven wrong!

In the meantime, I have had some tasty veggie meals in some onmi restaurants, including a newish restaurant by the name of Vi-Sand.  Specializing in Vietnamese sandwiches, you're not going to find a lot of veggie options on the menu, but I can recommend the tofu and vegetable sub.  This sandwich usually includes liver pâté, so make sure to tell the staff if you are vegetarian and would like yours without!  Your baguette will come stuffed with tofu, fresh veggies, your choice of cilantro or mint, and hot sauce if you so desire.  When I dined there on Friday evening, my sandwich and mini side of potato salad came to 750¥.  While it's not an especially filling meal if you are a big eater, it would be a nice size for a sensible lunch, or to compliment with dessert, or perhaps another dish to share with a friend.

Vi-sand is quite easy to find.  From Shimokitazawa's South (南) exit, head towards the McDonalds, through the archway and straight down the street for one block.  Take the first left after the McDonalds, where there is a Docomo shop on the corner.  You'll see Vi-sand just ahead on your left.

This restaurant has closed.  

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tokyo Vege Food Festa 2011

Due to some stormy weather on the morning of Saturday the 15th, day one of this year's festival was cancelled.  Lucky for vendors and festival goers alike, Sunday was a lovely day- it was even a bit hot!  Lots of people came out and I was happy to see the vendors making pretty good sales. Many of the stands even had quite long lines.  How great was it to see people lining up for vegan food in Tokyo?!

I purposely ate a light breakfast that morning, and A-chan and I hopped off the train early, so we got a good 30 minute walk on the way to the park.  I wanted to make sure I'd have a good appetite for sampling the festival's offerings.

We hit up the ingredients/ cook at home section first, did a lot of browsing, and picked up a jar of my favourite organic peanut butter and a Viana "Picknicker" veggie pepperoni stick.  I was also tempted to buy some agave syrup, as I see it pop up so often in tasty looking vegan recipes.

After heading over to the read-to-eat area,  I couldn't resist trying a nikuman from the Loving Hut stand.  I've noticed this item on the menu in the restaurant, but I think they don't actually offer it anymore.  No surprise, it was delicious, with a soft, doughy exterior and chewy little chunks of salty-sweet mock meat inside.  I'm always curious to hear how mock meat dishes compare to the original, and my omni co-tester said our nikuman was a convincing fake.

 We did some browsing to see what other goodies were on offer.  This stand had an interesting concept.  Apparently aiming to cash in on 萌え (moe) appeal, these girls dressed as cheerleader/ furry animals would shake your karaage with spices while saying "furi-furi" (shake-shake) and flashing sugary smiles.  It's not really my thing but I can see it working in Akihabara!

A-chan tried some harumaki (spring roles) from Chein-Fu's stand.  This amazing Taiwanese vegetarian food company used to have a restaurant in Osu, Nagoya and one in Tachikawa, Tokyo.  As far as I know both closed down.  Did they open up new locations?!?  I really wanted to ask the people working at the booth, but they were pretty busy serving customers.  I'll have to research this, as the Chien-Fu restaurants served up some of my favourite veggie meals I've enjoyed in Japan.

My next order was a bowl of colourful taco rice from Blue Cafe, which featured a pickled beet and onion topping.  I'd never heard of this restaurant before, but according to the flyer they gave me, this place is an Okinawan and Mexican food joint in Fujisawa, Kanagawa.  As far as I know, the restaurant isn't actually vegetarian (though I imagine they offer some veg-friendly dishes), but it looks pretty cool and laid back.

Alas, by the time I saw this Indian place grilling up (what looked like) veggie versions of tandoori kebabs, I was already pretty full. 

I also wanted to try these tasty looking veggie burgers from Ain Soph.  Lucky for me, I bumped into a friend who was about to bite into one, and was kind enough to offer me a taste.  Don't you love friends who share food?  It was a pleasant bite, and I've put Ain Soph on my list of restaurants to try. 

 All in all, I was satisfied by my experience at the Vege Food Festa.  It was great to see lots of public interest in vegan food, many happy faces of people chowing down on their meals, and also to pique my own interest in some new restaurants.  For those of you who made it to the festival, I'd love to hear what you thought of it!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

What does a vegetarian eat at Oktoberfest?

I've never met a pickled vegetable I didn't like.  Getting friendly with my sauerkraut, was a chewy pretzel, and of course a mug of beer.  It's not usually my alcohol of choice, but it was fun to try a few new kinds at this year's Yokohama Oktoberfest.

Monday, 10 October 2011

hisashiburi veggie dog

Sunday morning we rolled out of bed and over to Spiral Aoyama to catch the film Romeos, presented by  the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.  We really enjoyed it, and it was great to see such a crowd come out on a Sunday morning to support queer film.  After the show was over, A-chan had a craving for soymilk ramen, so we hopped on the subway and made our way to Yotsuya-sanchome to pay a visit to Loving Hut.  

If you've been following my blog for a while and have read my original Loving Hut review you'll know I'm a big fan of this place.  While I was tempted to order up a bowl of soymilk ramen myself, I opted for the veggie dog plate, as it was one of the only Loving Hut meals I haven't tried.  While I don't really think of veggie dogs as restaurant food, they're not something you can buy in a grocery store in Japan.  In fact, I think this was the first veggie dog I've eaten since I moved to Japan three years ago.  Crazy!  While they're certainly not my favourite vegetarian meal, a veggie dog is such a tasty, simple comfort food that it's hard to believe I went so long without eating one.  The Loving Hut version was satisfying enough, but I have to say the star of that plate was one of the tiny side dishes.  This morsel of sweet and sour mock meat packed a punch!  I hope to see it appearing as a main dish someday soon.  

I mentioned that the veggie dog was one of my few remaining yet to be sampled Loving Hut dishes.  Lucky for me, my friend ordered the only other meal I hadn't tried, which was the curry plate.  Given that Indian food is an often used safe bet for me when dining with omnivore companions, I hardly ever order curry when I make it to a vegetarian restaurant.  So I was quite pleased when my friend opted for the curry plate and put up no resistance when I demanded a spoonful for my "research".  It was a nicely spiced, but not too spicy curry, peppered with chewy, ground meat-like TVP.  

We finished off our meal by sharing a piece of vegan cheesecake, topped with blueberry sauce, between the four of us. Very impressive!  I've tried a number of vegan cheesecakes in my time, and generally they are tasty enough as long as one doesn't try to compare them to an actual cheesecake.  (Which is probably easier for long time vegans!)  Loving Hut's vegan cheesecake was truly delicious and didn't have that tofu taste that vegan versions sometimes do.  This guy has won a place on my Loving Hut recommendation list!

 Now that I've tried all the main dishes, I can confidently recommend the veggie burger plate, soymilk ramen, and cheesecake as my top Loving Hut picks.  What are your favourites?

*Language note: hisashiburi, which appeared in the title of this post, means "it's been a long time" or "long time no see!"

Monday, 3 October 2011

a veggie feast at the Namaste India festival

The weekend before last was a delicious one for Tokyo vegetarians.  Yoyogi Park's event area was taken over by India, and that meant a congregation of cheap and tasty meat-free meal options.  I headed over on Sunday, and before I had reached the park I'd already decided on my first course.  Friends that had gone Saturday recommended I try a South Indian meal, including a light and crispy crepe-like bread called dosa. 

According to a quick Wiki search, dosa batter is made from ground rice and lentils.  For masala dosa, they pour the batter on a griddle, spread it out, and when it's nearly cooked, a mix of potatoes, onions and spices is added.  If we can trust Wikipedia, there's an interesting story that goes along with why the mix is placed inside the wrap.  Apparently a potato and spice mix used to be served along side the dosa, but during a potato shortage, vendors started mixing in onions to compensate.  As orthodox Hindus and Jains aren't supposed to eat onions, vendors placed the mix inside the wrap to conceal the onions.  Sneaky!  

While I was enjoying my masala dosa, I noticed a lot of people around me eating little crispy egg shaped morsels. I watched a mum crack open a little hole in the top of the ball, spoon something inside, pour sauce over it, and feed the whole thing to her kid.  I decided I needed to try some for myself!

The morsel in question turned out to be a sev puri, a popular Indian snack sold by street vendors.  What a mix of flavors!  Due to the sauces drizzled on top, these guys were sweet, salty and sour.  Add that to a crunchy deep fried bread ball.  Wow!

We had to take a break from eating with a bit, so we browsed the shopping area, and tried a few glasses of 300¥ a pop Indian wine.  Not bad!  When we were ready for another nibble, we opted to try aloo tikki.  This yummy little potato cutlet disappeared quickly between the four of us, so we had to go back for a second order.

Above are two of my companions for the day.  We had such a lovely time!  It was nice to have the chance to try a few new Indian dishes.  I go for Indian food pretty often, but always order curry and nan.  Now that I know what these newly discovered dishes are, I'll happily order them if I see them on a menu.

With the Namaste India Festival behind us, the next Yoyogi Park event I'll be attending is the Tokyo Vege Food Festa on the 15th and 16th.  While the reviews I've heard of previous festivals have been mixed, I'm really looking forward to this one.  I hope to see lots of you out there!    

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

No Pork?

神座 (Kamukura) - vegetarian beware!
The weekend before last I had the pleasure of hanging out with a dear Canadian friend of mine who was visiting Japan for a few days on the way home from an artist's tour of Beijing.  After finishing work on Friday evening, I met her at Hachiko*.  We were hungry, and I wanted to take her somewhere that would really stink of classic Japan.

This ramen shop, four blocks from Tsutaya / Starbucks on centa-gai in Shibuya had caught my eye a number of times.  Due to their use of pork stock as a base, conventional ramen shops are generally just a no go, as there are no veggie options or easy ways to modify this dish to make it veggie-friendly.  What made this place stand out was a large English sign hanging under their menu that claimed their ramen could be made without pork on request.  I consulted with a staff member on our way in, who assured me that as their soup stock was shoyu (soy sauce), based and meat free, there would be no meat or fish used whatsoever if I gave the "no pork" instruction.

We headed in, took a seat at the counter, and started to catch up, talking about how our lives had evolved in the 3 years since we'd last met.  Our ramen arrived and we dug in.  One thing I liked about this place was that there were a number of add ons you could make to your meal. I always find ramen a bit lacking in the vegetable department, so I appreciated that for 100¥, I could get a little side of bean sprouts to top up my dish.  It was fairly tasty, though I'm happy to report, I found it no match for the veggie ramen offered by Loving Hut, T's Tan Tan, or (my favorite) Cafe Proverbs 15:17 in Kyoto or their Tokyo sister  Kickback Cafe.

 I was satisfied by the experience until, near the end of the bowl, my chopsticks pulled up a little chunk of something distinctly meaty.  It was an unhappy end to the meal, but I tried not to let it kill the good vibes the evening.  I now regret leaving the restaurant without saying anything.  I was struggling to think of a polite way to explain in Japanese that I was really disappointed by the apparent lack of care that let a chunk of pork slip into a meal that was promised to be without.  Other than being upsetting for vegetarians, this kind of thing could be a really big deal for those whose religions forbid eating pork, or people with allergies.  Alas, I couldn't think of a good way to explain this without making too much of a scene, so we just left.  As for the reason the pork ended up in my ramen, my guess is that they do in fact use a vegetarian, shoyu base, but that they're not particularly careful with the utensils they use to transfer ingredients around.  Which is something they might want to work on if they're going to display a huge "we can cook every noodle without pork" sign.

On a more positive note, I'm glad to say this is only the third such incident I've had in my 3 years in Japan, and given that I've done a whole lot of dining out, I consider it not too bad an error rate.  So I suppose my conclusion is that if it's important for you to feel sure you are digging into a meat free ramen, you are advised to give 神座 (Kamukura) a miss.

* Hachiko is a popular meeting spot in front of Shibuya station, named after a famously loyal dog

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

festival bits and bites

When we were sent home from work early this afternoon I thought this typhoon holiday was going to be the equivalent of a snow day.  Then the wind and rain started looking like legitimate threats and Tokyo is now being pummeled by the craziest storm I've seen around here!  So while my windows rattle and threaten to blow in, I'll distract myself with some pretty pictures taken over the last few weeks.

I wanted to share a few images from the Sri Lankan and Nepalese festivals at Yoyogi Park.  Though most of the offerings were meaty in nature, there are always vegan and vegetarian goodies to be found as well.  Next weekend, India will be taking over the event square, so come on an empty stomach! 

Lots of people were walking around drinking coconut water (juice?) straight from the source.

Spices!  Though this tent was baking hot, I rifled around this pile until I located some hard-to-find-in-Japan goodies.

There was tea everywhere at the Sri Lankan festival.  Boxed tea, loose tea, hot milk tea, iced tea... 

This baked samosa-like-morsel was called a 野菜ゴダンバ, or vegetable godamba.  A quick google search tells me that godamba is the name of the roti.  So delicious I had to go back for a second one.

Enjoying a cool shaved ice with mango and sweet condensed milk.

The day of the Nepalese festival was a scorcher so this watermelon smoothie hit the spot.
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