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