If you’re a strict vegan or vegetarian, bear in mind that most Japanese dishes contain dashi, a fish-based broth. This broth is made from bonito flakes and hot water and is the foundation of Japanese cuisine. It’s used in everything from miso soup to ramen and curry, even when those dishes don’t otherwise contain meat or fish.
Interestingly, as we learned from Tomomi-san at Le Coccole in Osaka, most Japanese people who self-identify as vegan or vegetarian very likely eat dashi on a regular basis. In addition to dashi, they’re probably eating fish on occasion as well.
While it may feel like dashi is everywhere and in everything, don’t fret; just ask in advance if the restaurant or café can prepare your meal dashi-free. More often than not, most restaurants are willing to accommodate your request as long as you give the kitchen same advanced notice.
If you choose to consume dashi, you’ll have a broad range of “vegetarian” Japanese food from which to choose. However, if you’re planning to go dashi-free in Tokyo, Lima Cafe and T’s Tantan should be on your list of go-to places.
Lima is a small, light-filled vegan café and grocery store located near Shinjuku station. The café offers a simple set menu as well as a small selection of freshly baked items. While the café’s dishes are a bit heavy on rice, fortunately they’re still well-balanced with a variety of vegetables and legumes.
The barbecue soy protein over rice was sweet and salty, reminding me of a more traditional simple “gyudon” which would typically contain meat and rice.
The “plate of the day” (below) was milder in flavor, yet the flavors and textures were well balanced. It contained a cabbage slaw, brown rice, black beans and a few rice balls.
We finished our meal with one of Lima’s baked items in a nearby park. This vegan matcha, dried fruit and nut roll was light and airy without being overly sweet.
Be sure to check out Lima’s organic, vegan grocery for an extensive selection of packaged Japanese plant-based products, an array of brown rice and other low-processed grains as well as yummy raw treats and a wide variety of homemade, plant-based ice creams. The golden sesame ice cream made from rice milk was smooth, creamy and full of that delicious, savory toasted sesame flavor. It was one of the best vegan ice creams we have come across in our travels.
Here are the details for Lima:
Address: Shinjuku-ku, Yoyogi 2-23-1, Tokyo, Japan 151-0053
Hours: Monday – Sunday, 11:30am-7pm
If you’re looking for a vegan and dashi-free version of traditional Japanese “fast food” such as ramen, donburri (rice bowl with meat) or curry, head to T’s Tantan in Tokyo Station. The causal, full-service restaurant offers quick and efficient service, making it a perfect stop for commuters coming and going by train.
The restaurant’s signature ramen (below) is made with a spicy sesame-peanut broth. Unlike most Japanese food, the broth has a bit of a kick, but the heat from the chili and sweetness from the sesame provided a nice balance of flavors.
For those diners wishing to sample a few different dishes, you’ll have the option of creating your own set menu by pairing a main dish with a small side curry or rice bowl. If you prefer traditional ramen, no strings attached, go for the standard shoyu ramen (below).
If you’re a fan of Japanese eggplant. be sure to try the miso-barbecue glazed eggplant over rice. The eggplant was perfectly cooked and the accompanying miso sauce added a lovely sweet and smoky flavor without dominating the dish.
If it weren’t for the signage plastered on the walls, you wouldn’t know this place was free from animal products as the dishes look and taste just like the standard Japanese fare.
T’s Tantan has a sister restaurant, T’s, located near the Jiyugaoka station. This 100% vegan restaurant has a more formal vibe and offers some traditional Japanese dishes along with a handful of Western vegan dishes (salads, pizzas, veggie burgers).
Here are the details for T Tantan’s:
Location: Tokyo Station
Phone: 03 -3218-8040
Hours: 7am – 11pm, 7 days a week