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.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Design Festa jihanki

Another specimen for the jihanki (vending machine) drawer.  We encountered this colourful anomaly in front of the Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku.  We loved the details, like making the money in and out openings into mouths, and the equally cool containers for recycling empties.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

More Yoyogi Park Festivals

Hello!  It's a national holiday in Japan today (Respect for the Aged Day) and I am spending the day resting and recovering from a busy weekend and getting things in order for the week.  It's so nice to have a day to clean, do yoga, make onigiri for the week, and catch up on some posts which I've been wanting to share with you.

The last few weekends I've had the chance to pop over to Yoyogi Park and check out the festivals taking place in the event area.  On September 10th and 11th, the Sri Lanka festival was on, and on the 17th and 18th, Vietnam took over the main event area, with Nepal rocking the pedestrian road that leads up to Yoyogi Park from Shibuya.  Looking back at my own Yoyogi Park event listing post, I found that I had listed none of these events!  Not sure if this was a result of the events not being listed when I compiled the info for that post, or perhaps a result of my less than amazing Japanese reading ability.  Anyway, I thought it was about time to update my list.

Yoyogi Park event schedule for September and October 2011

September 24th (Sat) - 25th (Sun): Namaste India

September 25th (Sun): Tokyo Earth Day Market (along the pedestrian walkway leading to the park)

September 30th (Fri)- October 2nd (Sun): Hokkaido Fair

October 8th (Sat)-10th (Mon): Come, See, Eat, Be Moved! Kyushu Sightseeing Fair

October 15th (Sat)- 16th (Sun): Veggie Food Festa

How much do you love this tea vendor's sign?  Spotted at the Sri Lanka festival.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

veggies strut their stuff at Vegetable Sushi Potager

vegetarian restaurant 

I'd been wanting to go to this place for months, after reading a review printed in Metropolis magazine.  Vegetable Sushi Potager's concept is one inherently appealing to vegetarians: to celebrate seasonal vegetables, making them the heart of the meal, rather than simply side dishes to meat or fish.  This restaurant is entirely vegetarian, and they can also prepare a vegan selection if you let them know in advance.

Their dinners are a bit pricy, at 5,250¥ and up, so we opted for a lunch visit, where meals start at 1,575¥.  We arrived at 2:00 on the dot, exactly the time for their last lunch order.  Their closed sign was already up, but when I squawked to the staff member showing 2 customers out, we were let in.  They had already sold out of the chirashi-zushi (1,575¥), so we ordered two nigiri-zushi (2,100¥) sets.

While the restaurant does have some tables for larger groups, smaller parties are seated at the counter around their gorgeous open kitchen, where you can watch your meal being carefully assembled on a stretch of ample counter space that (as fellow Tokyoites will understand why) we looked upon with great envy.  While we waited, we took in the carefully constructed decor.  This place oozes an oshare (stylish)-natural, modern vibe, with green and neutral colouring, and seasonal displays decorating the shelves forming the backdrop behind the kitchen.

Our first plate of nigiri arrived, and we were given a brief explanation of each of the 5 spectacular looking morsels laid out before us.  Each piece was unique, and sauces and seasonings used sparingly to play up but not overwhelm the natural flavor and texture of the vegetables. Many of the nigiri looked an awful lot like regular sushi: the uni, for example, was rather convincingly played by a lovely carrot mousse.  Despite the visual resemblance, many of these little bites proved to be rather un-sushi like in flavor, delving into rather un-Japanese kinds of delicious.

Along with the 10 pieces of nigiri we were also served a little bowl of (combu, not katsuo-based) miso soup and a lovely cup of tea at the end of the meal.

Vegetable Sushi Potager is not the kind of place that I'd become a regular.  The places I frequent tend to be a bit noisier and a bit less polished, so I can feel at ease being my noisy, not so daintily eating self.   We were, however, thoroughly impressed with our meal, and I'd love to return from time to time to sample another season of vegetables or celebrate a special occasion.  If you are a vegetarian living in or visiting Tokyo you have my recommendation to give this place a try, as they offer a unique dining experience you will not soon forget.


おすすめ / recommendation: Though we sampled no other dish to compare, the nigiri-zushi was delish and reasonably priced

good points: unique, delicious, healthy, seasonal, all vegetarian, beautiful food 

bad points: dinners are a bit pricy 

hours: Lunch 11am-3pm (Last order 2pm), dinner 5-11pm (last order 10pm).  To keep everything at its freshest, they have a limited quantity of dishes available so making a reservation or arriving early may be wise!

address: Roppongi Keyakizaki Dori, Roppongi Hills, 6-9-1-1F, Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

六本木ヒルズ 六本木けやき坂通り1F

From Roppongi Station (on the Hibiya Line) take exit 1C
From Azabu Juban Station (on the Oedo Line) take exit 7

Head to the green arrow!


Their website has a lot of English content!  Check them out here for more information.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Loving Hut

vegan restaurant 
This building!  Head up to the 2nd floor.

On Sunday we paid a long overdue visit to Loving Hut.  Despite being impressed with this place the first time I went there, around 2 years ago, I never find myself in the Yotsuya-sanchome neighborhood.  I realize this is quite a ridiculous excuse, as it's literally a 5 minute subway ride from Shinjuku.

In the mood to take a little walk, we hopped off the subway at Akebonobashi station.  That area has nostalgic value for me, as the Ace Inn Hostel was my original Tokyo homebase, back when I was night bussing up from Mie for little weekend hits of urban life.  Walking those streets I can still feel traces of those Tokyo butterflies, and it reminded me how lucky I am to call this amazing city home.

On the way we found an alcohol vending machine, which seem to be becoming less common these days.
Booze vending machine!  And yes, that is a zebra print dress I'm wearing.  A-chan calls it my Osaka obasan dress, which is not a compliment.  
We arrived at Loving Hut and promptly ordered 3 meals to share between the 2 of us.  I felt like a bit of a glutton when the three trays arrived, but as the food is pretty light so it turned out to be a good amount for 2 hungry people.

The first to arrive was a delicious bowl of soymilk ramen topped with green onion and ground mock meat (650¥).  It had a lovely, rich flavor, though I wouldn't have minded seeing a few more vegetables involved.

Next came the zen tanpin* (500¥), a slab of mock unagi on a bed of rice.  Though I can't compare the taste to real unagi (as I've never tried it), I found this dish reasonably tasty, but a definite third place to the two other yummy meals we ordered.  As the name suggests, this can also be ordered as part of a meal plate.

My favourite of the three was the veggie burger plate (1000¥).  The very tasty, though little, burger is accompanied by an assortment of sides: a soup, a salad, pickles, a tiny side of curried vegetables, a piece of vegetable korokke and a few bites of dessert.

Loving hut is a small place with just a few tables and lunch bar type seating along the windows and back wall.  The interior is clean, bright, and homey, with little grannyish touches like handmade fabric cozies for the napkin dispensers.  You'll find copies of vegetarian magazines and other animal loving books, and perhaps not to everyone's liking, a (rather unobtrusive!) video looping religious vegan propaganda playing softly in the background.

Would it be too cheesy of me to say that I feel the love that goes into running Loving Hut?  From the decor to the carefully prepared, healthy meals, it's clear that a lot of heart goes into the finished product.

See what I mean by grannyish touches?  I love the wallpaper in the washroom.
Language note:
*tanpin (単品 or たんぴん)means a single item or à la carte.  When ordering an item that can be ordered with or without a set, this is a useful word to know.


おすすめ / recommendation: veggie burger plate 

good points: cheap, healthy, delicious vegan meals, cute decor, easy to find

bad points: the religious element may not be everyone's cup of tea, big eaters may find the portions a bit small

address: 6-15 2F Yotsuya Sanchome, Shinjuku-ku


how to get there:
Take the Marunouchi line to Yotsuya Sanchome station, and use exit 4.  From the exit, head slightly to the left (walk past Bakery Cafe Antendo).  Take a left at the first corner, and you'll see Loving Hut on your right on the second floor.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Quick Bites: Soup Stock Tokyo

This is my kind of fast food!

When I'm out and about and need a quick meal, I'll sometimes pop into a Soup Stock Tokyo.
Conveniently placed in a number of major train stations, this chain offers a rotating menu of daily soups, and one of these will usually be a vegetarian (and often vegan) option.  This Saturday, their veggie offering at the Meguro location was a lovely gazpacho. With your choice of a little bun or rice, your meal comes to about 700¥, and for 900¥ you can tack on a drink.  While not quite as dirt cheap as traditional fast food, it is a healthy and easy choice, and I like the ambience of their stores, which are easy on the eyes with a lot of stainless steel and wood.

One of the things that makes Soup Stock Tokyo stand apart from other quick bite places in Japan is the clarity of their labeling.  Under the (Japanese only) description of their soup,  you will find an allergy alert section where they will list if they've used such items as nuts, soba, meat products, milk and eggs.  When I ask to double check there are no fish or meat ingredients, the staff always check the full list of ingredients (and often show it to me), instead of giving a typically vague Japanese answer along the lines of "it should probably be okay", or "I'm not really sure".   As a vegetarian, I really appreciate that kind of openness, and I'm sure it's also good for the peace of mind of those with serious allergies.


*itadakimasu is what Japanese people say before eating.  It means something like "I (humbly) receive".  I really like the idea of vocalizing an appreciation for the food you are about to eat.  It's sort of embarrassing for me that there isn't a secular English equivalent!
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