V for Vegetarian Food- Shojin Ryori in Japan

I’ve always been a vegetarian. People often ask me how I manage to stay vegetarian when I travel. Frankly it helps when you are not fussy- when you are just grateful that there is food you can eat rather than whining about taste or texture.

Certain parts of the world are obviously more friendly towards vegetarians than others. Whenever I think I’m travelling somewhere that might push my vegetarian preferences to the limits I do a bit of advance research.

Japan is one of those places that can makeyou feel very lost when it comes to finding vegetarian food – they sell potato chips with fish flakes :(( so when I realized I was travelling there I scoured the net for vegetarian restaurants and options. This was when I found out about Shojin Ryori.

Shojin Ryori is Buddhist style vegetarian cooking that was brought into Japan from China a few hundred years ago. Shojin Ryori believes in using a lot of seasonal vegetables, soybeans, nuts and fruits. I discovered this restaurant called ‘Bon‘ that serves one of the styles (Fucha) of Shojin Ryori in Tokyo.

The closed down appearance on the exterior
The closed down appearance on the exterior

The restaurant is tucked away in a residential neighbourhood near the Iriya metro station- Tokyo (I printed out the directions from their website and gave it to the taxi driver). From the outside it looked like the restaurant was closed for the day and was beginning to wonder if starvation was really an option. However a couple of local women helped out and it turned out all that needed to be done was to be brave and just open the door and walk in.

Japanese Style Room with Tatami Mat
Japanese Style Room with Tatami Mat

On the inside we were taken inside (after a few minutes of waiting in a really nice waiting room in a garden) to a Japanese style room with Tatami mats. If there had been any protocols about how I should have behaved and eaten I probably broke every one of them.

Tea and Sweet
Tea and Sweet

The first thing that arrived was a cup of hot tea with the traditional sugar sweet.

Shao Ping- The Appetiser
Shao Ping- The Appetiser

This was followed by what was called ‘Shao Ping’ or the appetiser course. More than anything else, what captivated me was the care and effort that must have gone into preparing each component of the dish. The vegetables carved carefully and then prepared.

Potato Soup
Potato Soup

Next was a course of hot soup made from potato flour. This just tasted divine and exquisite and not just because I was extremely hungry.

Cooked Veggies- That stick is actually a stalk of ginger
Cooked Veggies- That stick is actually a stalk of ginger

After this was what was called ‘Shun Kan’- a course of cooked vegetables. Colourful, delicate and exquisitely tasty at this point I thought I was still hungry enough to be able to go through the many courses that remained. And because this was spring there were adequate representations of Sakura or the cherry blossom. There was this one particular item that was some sweet flour coated with nuts and then fried- tasted delicious.

Tofu soup
Tofu soup

Next was another course of Chinese soup with tofu. This was nourishing and filling. At this point I thought my tummy was slowly filling up.

The beautiful bowl in which the food was served
The beautiful bowl in which the food was served
This is how it looked
This is how it looked
The Rice Unwrapped
The Rice Unwrapped

This was followed by a course of rice and vegetables. Now I thought I was definitely done but the menu card still listed at least 3 more courses to go!

Chilled Sesame Tofu and Tempura
Chilled Sesame Tofu and Tempura

Next was a bowl of chilled sesame tofu and a basket of tempura (even the fried carrots had been carved in to look like french fries).

Rice and Green Tea
Rice and Green Tea

This was followed by a bowl of rice and green tea. Now I must say the Japanese have a habit of having everything in green tea flavour. Can you imagine Kitkat in green tea flavour? I must say I didn’t very much warm up to the idea of chocolate in green tea flavour (tasted like complan) though the rice tasted great.

Soup Again!
Soup Again!

Anyway the rice was followed by another course of clear soup and tofu (are you guys going what??? by this time- yes there was THAT much food).

The ensemble
The ensemble

The last item on the agenda was a bowl of fresh fruits. There was also a bowl of pickled vegetables as a side course.

Of course the flip side of Shojin Ryori is that it doesn’t come cheap. The entire course of meal described above cost 5000 yen (INR 2500/ USD 40). But it is quite an experience and definitely something worth trying at least once!

Ladies and Gents we’ve got just 4 alphabets left in the challenge! How are you all holding up?

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21 Comments Add yours

  1. Anabel Marsh says:

    I am also a veggie and regarded Japan as too difficult. But this, and Alex Hurst’s posts, make me think it might be possible.

    1. Alex Hurst says:

      You’ve totally got to try it, Anabel! There are a lot of friendly restaurants in Kyoto (so many temples!) And there are always international food restaurants too. We have a falafel restaurant near our house that is amazing.

      1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

        That list is super useful. I’m going to use it to recommend to all my veggie friends who might visit Kyoto!

      2. Anabel Marsh says:

        You are tempting me! Not this year, we are fixed up, but soon maybe.

      3. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

        Anabel- Japan is difficult but not impossible and as Alex says there’s tons of international restaurants- Indian, Italian and Turkish restaurants that’ll make sure you won’t go to bed hungry!

      4. Anabel Marsh says:

        It’s becoming very tempting!

  2. Nice blog on Vegetarian Japanese food.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Thanks Jyothin!

  3. Nirmala says:

    Vegetarian Heaven?!!!!!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Indeed!

  4. I haven’t been to Japan. It’s actually interesting to hear your perspective, living in the United States, I’ve always imagined Japan being the home of veggies and rice, etc. I didn’t realize animal products were abundantly added (unneededly) to food products there too. I’m actually Vegan – and here, I’ve found it surprising that sometimes milk is even added to Barbecue potato chips! Why? 🙂

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Hi Anthony, I can so imagine your frustration with the chips- my friend and I bought a bag of what we thought were just plain potato chips but they turned out to have fish flakes on them- it was certainly crushing. There are a lot of veggies and rice but it’s just mixed with some kind of animal product all the time which is why Shojin Ryori was such a relief! Was it hard for you to get food when you travelled there?

      1. Not really but it’s like you said, you kind if have to lower your expectations.

  5. Apar says:

    If and when I travel, as I have said before… You will be my travel guru. 🙂 I also agree that it is not difficult being a vegetarian if you are not fussy about texture & taste.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Happyto give tips anytime!

  6. nivs24 says:

    I agree, vegetarians always have the toughest time while travelling. Here is my secret: fruits, fruits and fruits. I make sure I get a lot of them. There is no way that can be ruined for us.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Oh yeah- except I can’t really have ripe fruits- allergies- need to be very careful, so its a bit dicey but I managed 🙂

      1. nivs24 says:

        yikes. allergic to ripe fruits? that’s new to me.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Thank you!

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