Thursday, 30 June 2011

Pure Cafe

vegan restaurant

Pure Cafe ranks as one of my favourite vegan restaurants in Tokyo.  Tucked on a side street off Aoyama Dori, close to Omotesando, Pure is a calm little oasis to head to for a break from the bustle of Harajuku or Shibuya.

After a morning yoga class, I headed to Pure for a solo lunch.  It's a comfy spot for a meal for one- they have plenty of little tables, books and magazines for perusing, and a counter facing out to the street so you can watch the stylish passers by.  The ambiance is lovely, earthy, and stylish.

I have only ever been to Pure for lunch, but it's an ideal time to go.  Though many of their individual items are on the pricy side (a muffin will cost you 472¥), the lunch specials are quite reasonable (1150¥ - 1360¥).  They always have several choices of lunch sets- a few sandwiches, a grain salad, or perhaps a curry as the main dish.  With your main, you get a little soup (today's was a lovely Thai curry soup), a salad, and a drink (organic tea, coffee or juice).  Pure's food is consistently delicious, and often creative.  My sandwich (named "my favorite sandwich") was avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, celery, and peanut butter(!) on rye bread.  I was skeptical about how well those ingredients were going to get along, but somehow it worked out!  True to their name, Pure serves up food that is tasty in a distinctly healthy way, not from an overload of salt, sugar, fat, or artificial flavors.

I haven't tried their desserts (630¥ - 715¥), but have heard great things about them!  Do any Tokyo friends want to accompany me on my next visit for some "research"?

***If you want to take items out, make sure to bring your own cup or bag!  They don't offer disposables.

Menu: both Japanese and English.  The main chalkboard is English only.  Also, the staff speak some English.  All menu items are vegan!

おすすめ / recommendation: Everything!  Order a set for better value.

good points: lovely atmosphere, delicious, healthy

bad points: portions may be small for some, can be pricy

how to get there:  The first time I ever went to Pure, back before I moved to Tokyo, I wandered around for 2 frustrating hours getting lost even though I had a guidebook with a map.  I have no idea how I managed that, cause it's quite simple to find.  Take exit B3 of Omotesando station on the Ginza, Hanzomon, or Chioda lines.  When you exit, take a left, and head down the little street.  The road soon comes to a T, and you will see the Aveda salon just to the left in front of you.  Pure cafe shares the building with Aveda, with the cafe on the left and salon on the right.

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Monday, 27 June 2011

T's Tan Tan: vegan ramen in Tokyo station!

vegan restaurant 

I don't even bother going into ramen shops.  The vegetarian in the know can find a decent meal in an izakaya, soba shop, sushi restaurant, and even yakitori (grilled chicken) place, but generally, ramen in a non-vegetarian establishment is a lost cause.

How exciting is it, then, that there is now an all vegan ramen shop in Tokyo station!  Now vegetarians and vegans in transit can enjoy hot steamy bowls of delicious greasy noodles!

On a rare Monday off, I made my way over to Tokyo station, miraculously managed to not get lost on the way to the shop, and ordered up a lunch special.  I opted for the white ramen (on the advice of a friend I requested it less spicy), which comes topped with beansprouts.  The lunch special offers the choice between mock meat karaage or a mini curry, and I opted for the latter.   While the ramen didn't come close to challenging my current favourite (Cafe Proverbs 15:17 in Kyoto) for the top spot, it was yummy and filling.  I would have loved a bigger serving of vegetables in exchange for some noodle volume, but T's Tan Tan's proportions are true to the classic ramen form, with veggies acting as a topping to a big serving of noodles.  It was a treat to get to eat Japanese curry for a change, as Japanese curry is usually another fight not worth fighting (as it will nearly always contain a meat base). I'm a big fan of Indian curry but also enjoyed the sweet, smoother Japanese version.

For dessert, I had a little serving of sweet and simple tofu pudding to finish off my meal.

T's Tan Tan is an interesting place cause the target market is not vegans or vegetarians, but rather health conscious commuters and business people.  The meals are definitely designed with a mainstream Japanese taste in mind (I doubt you'll be finding any genmai here anytime soon).  If you want to get a stress free taste of what regular Japanese people eat on the go, this is a great place to try!


Menu: Japanese only, with photos

おすすめ / recommendation: I haven't tried enough to compare dishes, but the shiro tan tan (白たんたん) was nice.  Apparently quite spicy as is, can be ordered "plain" for less spice.

good points: convenient location if you are passing through or work by Tokyo station, stress free (all vegan), authentic ramen taste!

bad points: tricky to find

how to get there:  T's is inside Tokyo station, in a shopping/ restaurant area called Keiyo street.  Check a map in the station, or ask for Keiyo street at one of the information kiosks.  Look for Uniqlo once you've found Keiyo street.  If you face Uniqlo, you will see a New Days combini on the left, and beside that, an information booth on the corner.  Walk towards the information booth, and turn to the right.  Walk past an omiyage (souvenir) shop, and you will find T's Tan Tan next door.

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Natto vending machine!

Japan is famous for its ubiquitous jihanki (vending machines).  Drinks are of course the most common (with both hot and cold beverages available), with cigarette machines holding firm at second.  When I first came to Japan, I was amused to see alcohol jihanki, which, unlike the cigarette machines, require no proof of age.  You can occasionally find machines offering oden, ramen, bread and onigiri, and apparently there is a banana vending machine somewhere in Shibuya station!  You've probably heard of the worn ladies' underwear machine- this is one I haven't seen myself, but as I have seen other racy items sold in vending machines, I don't doubt that it exists.

Some months back, while strolling the streets of lively Shimokitazawa, we came across vending machine that exclusively sells natto and related products.  Even my koibito (sweetheart) was surprised to see it, so apparently the natto jihanki is a rarity.

For newbies, and those of you that don't live in Japan, I should probably explain what natto is, as I don't think I was acquainted with it before living here myself.  Natto is basically fermented soybeans. It's usually eaten on rice, especially on a breakfast food, and sometimes can be found rolled up in sushi.  Natto is inexpensive (about 40¥ per serving) and fantastically healthy, being high in protein and probiotics, but low in fat.  To those familiar with natto, it has a lovely savory, beany, nutty flavor.  To the uninitiated, however, natto's particular taste, strong (stinky cheese or stinky foot-ish) aroma, and slimy texture can be rather off-putting.  I think it may be the texture that is the most challenging for westerners: in North America there aren't really any popular foods that have this texture.  We associate sliminess with rotting garbage, pond scum, or mucous, not with something you'd want to eat.  In Japan, however, neba-neba is a food texture category (like, say, chewy or crunchy) that includes yama-emo, okura, and nama-tamago (raw egg!).  Though I'll admit that natto is an aquired taste (it took me a year of living in Japan before I started to like it), I think it's worth the effort and not-so-pleasant first tastes.

Natto is an excellent food for vegetarians in Japan (and elsewhere if you can find it!), with only one small drawback.  Most packages of natto come with little packages of sauce that contain katsuodashi (bonito fish stock).  If you are a pescatarian, or someone who is ok just discarding the sauce pack, this will pose no problem.  If you're not cool with buying something with fish sauce in the first place, there are several specialty types of natto you should look for.  They're not available at every grocery store, but if you check a few places you can probably find them!  The first (and my favourite) is 黒豆 (black bean) natto, which comes with vegetarian friendly sauce.  (Other brands may not be veg friendly, so scan the ingredients for かつお or カツオ or ) You only get 2 little styrofoam packs for the price of the usual 3, but it's still quite reasonable.  The second option is to buy sauce free natto, which is packed in a thin, rectangular paper container, wrapped again in plastic, rather than the little styrofoam squares.

Natto is most delicious with a little sauce mixed in (try the one in the black bean natto or throw in some shoyu / soy sauce), and lots of people like to sprinkle on some chopped green onions too. Make sure to mix up your natto until it is good and slimy too!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Tofu restaurant Sora no Niwa

vegetarian friendly restaurant

Friday night I met up with a group of former students at the lovely Sora no Niwa restaurant.  Located next to the train tracks connecting Shibuya and Ebisu stations, this swanky place specializes in tofu dishes.  While not a vegetarian restaurant, there are plenty of dishes that veggies can eat.  Make sure to do your vegetarian explanation, though, as a number of otherwise veggie friendly dishes come with katsuodashi (fish base) containing sauces.  The staff is quite helpful and will bring you alternative sauces upon request.

Our cottage cheese, black bean and snow pea salad (680¥) was followed by avocado tofu (350¥), cheese tofu, vegetable tempura, and grilled fu (wheat and rice gluten cake) sticks topped with walnut miso sauce (750¥).  Though mild in flavor, one of the most notable dishes they serve is the fresh tofu (large 1800¥), which cooks from soymilk to tofu in a wooden box at your table in about 20 minutes.  The lovely, mellow tofu flavor can be enhanced by sprinkling on a little salt, but avoid their original soy sauce as it does contain some fish.  I love their tofu tiramisu, which tastes as rich and delicious as a good tiramisu ought to.

Sora no Niwa is also a good place to drink, as they have a nice selection of alcohol (most drinks around 600¥).  There are some interesting varieties of umeshu (plum wine), as well as less common offerings like yuzushu (alcohol made from yuzu, a small citrus fruit) and umeshu wine.  Fans of sweet drinks should try the fresh squeezed apple cocktail,  tested and approved by several members of my dining party.  

Overall, I give this place high marks.  I thought every dish I tried was delicious, and also they also got the approval of my non-vegetarian friends.  While not a budget restaurant (we paid around 3500¥ per person, although this included an average of 3 drinks each), considering the quality of the food and the beautifully crafted setting, I think the price is quite reasonable.


menu: ours was in Japanese only but according to the website, they have an English menu available

おすすめ / recommendation: cheese tofu, avocado tofu, grilled nama fu sticks, tofu tiramisu

good points: lovely ambiance, delicious, healthy, helpful staff

bad points: not a vegetarian restaurant so requires a bit of effort to ensure a veggie meal

how to get there: From the east exit of Shibuya station (near the Tokyu Toyoko line entrance), take the overpass on your right.  Take a right on the overpass, and head down the stairs.  You should be standing in front of a bookstore.  Facing the bookstore, head to the right, which will take you through an underpass.  At the end of the underpass, there is a Japanese restaurant with a yellow sign and white and red lanterns.  Take a left at the small street that passes between this restaurant and the drugstore.  Walk straight down this street.  During the day, you'll see an area with some big trees further down the road, and that's where you will find Sora no Niwa.  It's literally right across from the railway tracks.  There are two restaurants side by side, this is the one on the left.  There is an off white sign with the characters 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 written vertically.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


When you think of summer drinks, what pops into your mind?  In Japan, most people would probably answer mugicha.  This summer will be my 4th in Japan, and it's hard for me to imagine a summer without a jug of mugicha chilling in my fridge!

Mugicha (麦茶) is a tea to made from roasted barley.  As it doesn't contain leaves from the tea plant, it's technically a tisane, and contains no caffeine.  I'm not sure about bachelors, cause I used to teach adult students who told me they literally had nothing in their fridges but beer (they ate all meals at restaurants or bought them from convenience stores), but I'm pretty sure just about all families always have a jug of mugicha going.  Being caffeine free, it's a staple drink for kids in this country.  Japanese people don't seem to drink a lot of water, but they are big on their teas!

This cooling summer drink is tasty in kind of an earthy way, and fantastically cheap.  A pack of 54 large teabags (each makes a kettle full of tea) costs about 300¥ (less than $4).

Another great thing about mugicha is that it is calorie free.  I think that liquid calorie overconsumption is one of the things that the North American diet typically does wrong, and the lack thereof in the traditional Japanese diet is one of the things that they got right over here.  So you can drink all the mugicha you want, and save your calories for the things you really want to be savoring, like scones.

I'm sure you can buy yourself some mugicha in a Japanese grocery store like Fujiya in Vancouver, but how  about a regular grocery store?  Take a peek for me next time you are shopping.  So go hunt for some, brew up a pot, serve over ice, and let me know what you think!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Sofa Vegetarian Cafe

vegetarian restaurant

To celebrate the birth of this blog, I thought it fitting to try out a new vegetarian restaurant.  After a quick ride on the Inokashira-sen, we were in bustling Shibuya, crowded with Tokyoites trying to squeeze a few more hours of play time into their weekends.

Arriving at Sofa Vegetarian Cafe, my first impression was that it was more of a take out/ fast food style restaurant. The front window displayed a blown up version of the menu, and the register was directly in front of the door, so I expected them to ask us to order at the front.  Instead we were instructed to head up to the 2nd or 3rd floor and choose a seat.  Up on the 3rd floor, it looked more like a proper restaurant, although my dining companion thought that the plastic server call button gave  the place a family restaurant feel.

The menu includes a number of pastas, a few curries, sandwiches, salads, a soup, as well as a few other items like gyoza.  I went for a focaccia katsu ("meat" cutlet) sandwich (840¥) and my companion had the lasagna (840¥).  While I had no major objections to it, my dining partner was not impressed with the lasagna.  When pressed for an explanation, she said it reminded her of frozen food and she could have made something tastier at home.  The katsu sandwich, luckily was more of a hit- it was the right amount of greasy, crispy, and I was told, had the texture and flavor of fish.

For dessert, we tried the baked tofu cake (630¥).
It definitely tasted like a vegan dessert, with a light tofu flavor and not too sweet.  It certainly wasn't the most delicious tofu cake I've ever tasted, but it was pleasant end to the meal.


menu: main menu has English, specials menu in Japanese only, vegan items clearly marked with a V,
O means oriental vegetarian (no garlic...)

おすすめ / recommendation: focaccia katsu sandwich

good points: convenient location, cheap

bad points: decor and ambiance could be better, seats are quite close together

how to get there: When you exit from JR Shibuya Hachiko-guchi, directly in front of you (across the street) you will see big flashy screens and a Starbucks, (across the street) to the left you will see the 109 building. At the scramble, walk to the left.  You will be walking towards 109, but on the opposite side of the road.  From there, just walk straight up the hill (Dougenzaka 道玄坂) for a few minutes.  Sofa is right by the first traffic light (Dougenzakaue koubanmae 道玄坂上交番前) you will come across, just before the kouban (police box).


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Why VegOut Tokyo?

Why VegOut Tokyo?

My love affair with Japan has been a long one, but some of my earliest memories of trying to eat in this country are somewhat traumatic.  Ordering dishes that surely would have been vegetarian in Vancouver, my 14 year old self was repeatedly dismayed by the meaty meals I was served.  After resorting to bowls of white rice and combini yogurt to avoid gambling with restaurant food, I was cranky and disappointed to be missing out on real food in Japan.  Then, a miracle happened.  My Dad and I happened upon a vegetarian restaurant while walking the streets of Kyoto.  After filling my belly with a real meal, I started chatting with another customer, who turned out to be a vegan guy from the states.  Armed with print outs from Happy Cow (which I hadn't heard of before that day), this guy said he'd been eating well the whole trip.  I was in awe.  What a difference a little thinking ahead makes!

Before moving to Japan in the summer of 2008, I did myself a huge favor and learned how to explain what I couldn't eat in Japanese.  My language skills at that time were pretty lacking, but I made sure I had at least a few ordering phrases down pat.  With a little bit of Japanese, the Happy Cow website, and an understanding of what dishes are usually safe, modifiable or impossible, I've usually been able to eat well in this country.  Since moving to Tokyo about 2 years ago, I've found tons of fabulous vegan, vegetarian, and veggie friendly restaurants that have kept me happy and well fed. 

With this blog, I hope to share some of what I've learned over the past few years.  Japan is an amazing place to travel and live, but I highly recommend veggie travelers or soon to be Japan residents do to their homework before hopping on a plane.  I know not everyone will have the chance to study Japanese before they come, but it will help you immensely if you can memorize a few phrases and a handful of vocabulary before you visit.  I plan to include some language help content on this blog to help you with this.  Of course, you're going to want to get yourself to a proper vegetarian restaurant once in a while, so I'll be posting some restaurant reviews, maps and other practical information to help you select and find a place.

Mostly, I hope this blog will be a celebration of veggie cuisine in this fine city.  Eating in Japan shouldn't be about deprivation and survival!  If you know where to look, or how to ask, Tokyo is going to feed you well.

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