Being a Vegetarian in Akita
Being vegetarian or vegan in Akita is not as hard as you might think, but it might require more flexibility and creativity than it does in your home country. The most difficult thing to do is to explain to your Japanese friends and co-workers about you dietary needs. This is best done right away when you first get to Japan. It’s important to remember that meat and fish are two completely different things to the Japanese so simply saying “I don’t eat meat” is typically not enough information.
Essential phrases for vegetarians
- niku ya sakana ya kai o tabemasen
- I don’t eat meat, fish or shellfish.
- niku ya sakana ya kai wa dame desu
- (an easier way of saying the above)
- tamago wa daijyoubu desu.
- Eggs are ok.
- bejitarian dakara osusume wa nan desu ka?
- I’m vegetarian, so what do you recommend?
- dashi wa niku mata wa sakana ekisu ga haitteimasuka?
- Does this soup/broth have meat or fish stock in it?
- so-su wa niku mata wa sakana ekisu ga haitteimasuka?
- Does this sauce have meat or fish stock/extract in it?
- katsuobushi o kakenai de kudasai.
- Please can I have mine without fish flakes on it?
Although Japan’s religious roots are traditionally Buddhist, you will find that the Japanese are unfamiliar with vegetarianism. Monks in Japan traditionally did not eat anything that contained animal products. Their diet, called shojin ryori, is familiar to most Japanese. It’s a useful word the Japanese people can relate to from within their own culture and often helps them understand and accept your diet.
If you take the time to properly explain your dietary needs to your board of education, friends, and co-workers, most people will go out of their way to accommodate your requests. It is not uncommon for vegetarians to have specially prepared meals at office parties and dinners that are far nicer than what everyone else is eating. However, sometimes you may find that your meal does contain something you do not want to eat, or it is simply rice and iceberg lettuce.
Keep these tips in mind
- Always remind people of your dietary needs before special dinners and office parties, even if you have already told them.
- Eat something before going to dinners just in case, so you don’t get hungry.
- Tell your schools that you will bring your lunch to school with you.
Places to shop and eat out in Akita
Yamaya - grocery store, mostly foreign foods, located in Akita City near Akita University and near the prefectural office, in Ōdate and in Yokote.
Yamada Foods - great restaurants located in Sennan and Hiraka, traditional Japanese tofu shop attached, serves Shojin Ryori style food, meals typically run 2000en, but definitely worth it.
Peacock - located in Akita city, the chana masala is completely safe, but stay clear of the other dishes, as they usually contain chicken broth (even the vegetable curry).
Pokara - located in Yokote on Route 13, serves Thai style food. Look for the insanity out front.
Kenseidou - sells organic products, located in Omachi (the main street) of Odate City. Website: http://www.guidex.jp/guidex_shops/kenseido/index.html
Anew - sells a lot of organic and vegetarian foods, including seitan and other “fake” meats, located many places around the prefecture, definitely in Yokote, Yuzawa and Honjo.
Kobe Bakery - located in Yokote just south of Seiryou on hwy 107 heading towards Iwate, right-hand side of the road, sign says PAN in katakana, serves organic and some lard and wheat-free breads
Albert’s - located in Akita city not far from the prefectual office, good for you and your meat-eater friends since they can grill their own meat right at the table while you enjoy the HUGE salad bar
Coco Ichiban- Although most curry has little meat bits floating around in it, there is one they sell on the shelf for taking home that is an alergy free curry sauce. The waiter was happy to substitute it in as a regular curry for us and he read through the ingrediants promising there was no meat, egg, milk, or other animal product. I could not read the label so we decided to trust him. Locations (in Japanese)
Danger foods list
Many foods which may appear to be vegetarian often contain hidden dangers.
- Conbini cold noodles (soba/ramen/udon) –- Although these contain no meat the men-tsuyu (dipping sauce) contains fish stock. The noodles may contain wheat, eggs and milk. Be careful of this tsuyu (つゆ) because it is a very common base for noodles and almost always contains fish stock. However, dashi and other noodles bases can be made with konbu, a kind of seaweed. If you are being cooked for, please tell your host and they will usually be more than happy to accommodate you, and may even enjoy the challenge!
- Conbini buns -- Some will be labeled as containing 動植物性 (doushoku bussei) derived margarine. This means margarine made from plant and animal (<動)fat. Some buns just label “margarine” and don’t specify further. It is up to you if you want to take the risk! These buns also typically contain wheat, dairy, whole egg and soy products.
- Bread and cookies -- Some may contain lard, particularly the more expensive ones.
- Packet pasta sauces / soups/ miso soup -– Ready-made products, even the “meat free” ones, will contain some kind of meat or fish extract. It is better to make your own. You can easily prepare your own miso soup from fresh miso paste. This includes the tomato sauces resturaunts use on pizzas and spaghetti!
- Instant cup noodles –- Don’t even think about it! A whole world of animal extracts!
- Potato chips/crisps -- A glance at the potato chips in the supermarket revealed that all contained meat extract or animal fat, even the ready salted ones. An exception is foreign brands such as Pringles and Doritos.
- Okonmiyaki sauce -- Contains meat and oyster extract
- Worster-ish sauces -- Worster sauce (Kagome brand), tonkatsu sauce (Kagome brand), yakiniku sauce (Asamurasaki brand) may be OK, but most contain anchovy extract.
- Onigiri -- In 7-11, the only vegetarian options are ume (plum-梅) and konbu (昆布 -seaweed). However, 7-11 ume musubi (onigiri without the seaweed wrap) contains fish stock.
- Soy sauce -- Most are safe, but some contain oyster sauce, especially the “heavier” kinds used to eat with meat.
Basically, if it’s ready-made or a packet convenience food, you can assume it will contain some kind of meat or fish extract or fat.
Traditional Japanese foods you can safely eat
- Umeboshi onegiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed with a pickled plum inside)
- Kurimaki / kappamaki (available at sushi shops, cucumber wrapped with rice and seaweed)
- Nattomaki (natto wrapped with rice and seaweed)
- Kanpyomaki (sweet dried gourd shavings wrapped in rice and seaweed)
- Inarizushi (sushi rice in a sweet fried tofu pocket)
- An (sweet bean paste)
- Natto (without the tiny mustard and fish stock packet inside)
- Soba (ask for it plain with a side of shouyu, soy sauce)
- Udon (in seaweed, mushroom or miso soup stock)
- Fruit cups (most are made with konbu, seaweed jelly, not Gelatin)
- Kurumi tofu (walnut tofu-usually found at grocery stores in fruit-cup-sized container)
- French bread (available at most grocery stores, does not contain lard but sometimes has milk)
- Hiyakko (cold tofu with ginger and onions-ask for it without fish flakes)
- Yasai tempura (deep fried and battered vegetables--probably; don't assume yasai, vegetable, in the name means there will be no meat)
- Edamame (boiled green soy beans in the shells; often served at bars with beer)
Essential words for vegetarians
|ソーセージ||so-se-ji||Sausage or hot dog|
|羊の肉||hitsuji no niku||lamb|
|鮭||sake / shake||salmon|
|鮪||maguro||tuna (for steaks, sashimi)|
|ツナ||tsuna||tuna (for tuna mayonnaise, on pizza, salads, etc.)|
|鰹||katsuo||bonito (for fish flakes as a garnish and in stock)|
|たらこ||tarako||cod roe (bright pink, very fine)|
|明太子||mentaiko||roe (looks similar to tarako)|
|いくら||ikura||salmon roe (transparent, bright orange balls)|
|蒲鉾||kamaboko||fish paste cakes (white slices with a pink edge)|
|'貝 shellfish'海産食品 － kaisanshokuhin seafood|
|(Note the '虫 'component in a lot of seafood related kanji. Look out for it!)|
|蝦 / 海老||ebi||prawn / shrimp|
|鶏肉 / 鳥肉||toriniku||chicken|
|鴨の肉||kamo no niku||duck|
|ラード||ra-do||lard (often found in cookies and bread)|
|油脂||yushi||fat/ oil (check if it is attached to a meat kanji)|
|エキス||ekisu||extract (look out for this one!! It’s in everything from potato chips to vegetable pasta sauce and often follows a meat word. 酵母エキス [koubo ekisu] however, is yeast extract.)|
|コンソメ||consome||consommé (same warning as ekisu)|
|卵 / 玉子||tamago||eggs|
|遺伝し組み替えない||idenshikumikaenai||not genetically modified|
|有機野菜||yuuki yasai||Organic vegetable|
Ordering food by mail order
- Foreign Buyer’s Club. http://www.fbcusa.com.
- Tengu Natural Foods. http://www.alishan-organics.com/Alishan2010_organics/about/about-alishan/
- Kansai Consumer’s Club http://www.kansai-cc.co.jp/zenkoku/efrontpage.htm.
Stores and restaurants
- Alishan Organic Center (Tengu Natural Foods) http://www.alishan-organic-center.com/index.html
- Mother’s Organic Market. http://www.mothers-net.co.jp.
- Resources for Vegetarians in Tokyo. http://www.knowledge-links.com/TokyoPlantFoodPlaces.htm.
- Happy Cow. http://www.happycow.net/asia/japan/.
- Online Vegetarian Restaurants Guide. http://www.vegetarian-restaurants.net/Asia/Japan.htm.
Japanese vegetarian food and vegetarianism
- Japanese Cookery for Vegetarians and Vegans. http://www.btinternet.com/~bury_rd/japanese.htm.
- Vegetarianism and Vegetarians in Japan. http://www.purifymind.com/VegeJapan.htm
- Vegetarian Resource Group. http://www.vrg.org/index.htm.
- Japan Vegetarian Society (JPVS). http://www.jpvs.org/.
- Tokyo Vegetarian Guide. http://vegietokyo.com.