Monday, 16 November 2009

Off topic: TOKYO

TOKYOTori (gate) to the Imperial Gardens. The gardens, like most of Tokyo, were incredibly beautiful.

2013 Update
I'm leaving this post here because it's part of this blog's history, and this short trip in part inspired me to move to Tokyo. However if you're looking for information on Tokyo, please go to this post on life in Tokyo. Non (the vegan pub) has closed and the Vegan Pocketguide is now mostly out of date.

This will be the first “off-topic” blog post: a trip to Tokyo. Off the Taiwan topic only that is, as much of my weekend was spent finding and eating vegan food.
Japan is by no means veggie (let alone vegan) friendly, with few vegan options anywhere, and a culture of accepting things how they are, and when it comes to food, that's usually with fish. Whilst living in rural Japan a year ago, I needed to cook virtually everything I ate, and carry my bento (Japanese lunch box) everywhere I went, or live on Inari Sushi and rice balls from convenience stores, and even then, the inari sushi sometimes came with 'surprises'.
My first meal in Tokyo on the way to the Imperial Gardens: a "Zen" meal from the Loving Hut. It was, at the time if not now, the best Japanese meal I had ever eaten.
Firstly, another plug for Herwin's “Vegan Japan Pocketguide”. This book saved me hours of time searching for places online, finding their addresses etc, and allowed me to find so many restaurants and tie them in with important sights in Tokyo, virtually hassle free. I found and enjoyed three or four vegan meals a day, met Japanese vegans, and for the first time, except perhaps for one vegetarian Japanese restaurant in Bangkok, got to taste 'real' vegan Japanese food.
The "Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide", from which I found my way around the Tokyo vegan scene, including of course everything shown here, and many more left for next time.
While I must say that I have usually described the Japanese food I have managed to find as bland at best, for the first time on this trip I felt that I discovered the charm of Japanese food: through the simplicity and delicate sauces and condiments – and Japanese might even say presentation – subtle flavours of rice, vegetables and fake meat come out, making it pleasantly palatable and, usually, delicious. I'll still pass on the natto, though.
A Japanese macrobiotic curry. It was delicious.
As to be expected for Tokyo, everything was expensive (especially compared to Taiwan) but food was much less so that I had expected. My cheapest meals (including rice and/or a drink) usually ran at 1000 – 1500 Yen, and my most expensive – a sour plum (really sour) and tofu entree, tempura, beer and dessert at Non, a traditional vegan pub - hit me for almost 4000 Yen. Still, how often does one get to experience a traditional Japanese pub, all vegan?
My entree (very very sour plum and tofu and a beer at Non, a traditional Japanese pub (except for it being vegan). Unfortunately I forgot to photograph my tempura or dessert.
The only other downside (than cost) is that meal portions are rather small, and sometimes after one meal, I felt that I could eat another straight afterwards, and did just that. By the time I had navigated Tokyo's superb but somewhat overwhelming subway system and arrived at my next restaurant, I felt as if I hadn't eaten at all. Of course, the upside to that was that I could try more restaurants in a day, and with 40 odd in the Vegan Pocketguide, there were plenty to choose from. Sometimes it was necessary two fit in two lunches and/or dinners close together, as like in Taiwan, many restaurants close between 2:30 and 5:00.
Channa masala from Nattaraj Aoyama Branch. I think Taiwan could really do with a branch of Japan's Indian vegetarian restaurant chain, as most “Indian” restaurants in Taiwan are run by Pakistanis, who not surprisingly cater much better to the Halal clientele than vegan clientele (or should I say than to me?). I've stopped going to them after a few lied about what was vegan.
While availability of vegan food in Japan doesn't even come close to Taiwan for convenience – there are almost as many vegetarian restaurants in Hsinchu (population 400 thousand) as in Tokyo (population 12 million) one thing the Japan vegan scene wins hand down on is variety of vegan food available, and this made for a welcome change to someone who eats one or two typical Taiwanese veggie meals most days. In two days in Tokyo I had a Japanese “Zen” meal at the Loving Hut, a macrobiotic Japanese curry, two Indian meals, breakfast at a French-style cafe, organic pies and pizza from an organic vegan bakery, several vegan cakes and muffins and a three course Japanese pub meal.
Breakfast at a French-style cafe, one of the few vegan restaurants open for breakfast.
Taiwan has a few 'Thaiwanese” restaurants, and the Loving Huts serve a few “International” dishes (read Inter-Asian, plus French fries) but that's about as far as it goes.I hope someone will open either a vegetarian Indian restaurant (such as Nattaraj as mentioned above) or a Thai restaurant somewhere in Taiwan (probably Taipei). Given the number of vegetarian restaurants here, and other (non-Taiwanese/Chinese/Japanese) ethic food restaurants, I think such a restaurant would be very, very successful, especially of placed near a large Buddhist temple.
This "Farmers Market" was an unexpected find in downtown Tokyo, and more pleasantly surprising was that some of the too-processed-to-have-come-straight-from-a-farm products, such as cookies, were vegan.
I can't recommend Tokyo enough for a weekend trip from Taiwan, or longer. Sayoonara.
My meal on the plane - brown lentil patties. It was the first time I'd eaten brown lentils in years, and they were great. Eva Airlines aways serve good – and always vegan – food (code VGML) and unlike KLM (who fly to Bangkok) never “forget” or “lose” the vegetarian meal order. For anyone reading this blog and considering coming to Taiwan, I highly recommend the independent, Taiwanese-owned Eva Air.

32 comments:

  1. great blog! so happy to have found it! i live near Taipei in a Loving-Hut-less suburb, unfortunately, but last year I lived in Jhongli and couldn't get enough of it!

    here's my current DIY-fave (and a timely one for Americans celebrating Thanksgiving this week!)

    bake a few sweet potatoes in your convection oven, punctured with a fork several times and wrapped in tin foil.

    in a bowl, mix a few spoonfuls of tahini (sesame paste--available at Wellcome), 1 clove fresh minced garlic, the juice from 1/4 lemon, and some chopped walnuts.

    when the potatoes are baked, peel back the skins and top with tahini mixture.

    serve with sauteed veggies (any greens, broccoli, etc) and brown or purple rice.

    ta-da!

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  2. Thanks Elly!

    I'll try it - sounds nice, and something I can make with my small kitchen here (incl a conventional oven).

    I also lived in a LHless suburb last year in Taipei, but one has since appeared there...


    I'm going to post on the Jhongli one soon - great branch!

    Jesse

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  3. 你可以從外表的美來評論一朵花或一隻蝴蝶,但你不能這樣來評論一個人........................................

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  8. Hello Jesse,
    sounds like a great culinary tokyo trip. aaaah, miss the food there. >_< guess what, next mont another Loving Hut will open in Bangkok, and another vegan restaurant has changed into a "Loving Hut", so there are now three LH here in Thailand. That said, the two new one's are way out of the center of Bangkok.
    Anyway, seems like vegan things are starten to happoen here, even if ist small scale..:-)

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  9. by the way, the French Style vegan restaurant must be "Pure Cafe" ? right ? :-P

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  10. 很棒的分享~~~來留個言囉~~~~.................................................................                           

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