Being pescetarian in Japan is a difficult task, as it is the breed between vegetarianism and being an omnivore; however, it is certainly easier than being full vegetarian or vegan. The Japanese frequently use katsuobushi, which are dried bonito flakes, in their cuisine. It is almost impossible to avoid eating katsuobushi while attempting to enjoy Japanese cuisine simultaneously. I am going to talk about my experiences weaving through the streets of Tokyo, finding vegetarian and pescetarian dishes that are inherently part of, if not essential, to the Japanese cuisine.
Although Japan is a meat-heavy culture, due to its primary religions being Shintoism and Buddhism, a lot of places offer a traditional dining style called shojin ryori. This is a cuisine that is made without any meat, fish, or other animal products, which means that not only pescetarians or vegetarians, but vegans can enjoy it as well. Typically, shojin ryori is incredibly popular within the borders of Kyoto and its many temples, but it’s harder to find in other prefectures.
In Tokyo, through the help of Happy Cow, an app that’s truly a lifesaver for vegetarians and vegans who want to travel all across the world, we found a shojin ryori restaurant called “Komaki Shokudo” in the heart of Akihabara. Though the price range is fairly high, I can say that it was an experience for my friends and I who had never tasted food eaten by Zen Buddhist monks: best described as earthy and subtle flavors, meant to satisfy your palate and not to overwhelm.
With the help of Happy Cow, we found another vegan place called “Kyushu Jangara” located in Shibuya. Originally, the ramen is vegan, but I requested an egg in addition to the ramen. Compared to the original ramen, vegetarian or vegan ramens are quite pricey in comparison, but I have to say that this ramen was definitely worth its money as it was an incredible meal. Of course, throughout my trip in Tokyo, I had more incredible vegetarian/vegan ramens in “T’s TanTan” located inside Tokyo Station and Ippudo ramen, a chain restaurant that’s spread out everywhere in Japan. I definitely recommend T’s TanTan as it is a restaurant that caters to everybody, including vegetarians, vegans, those with allergies, people with restrictions on meals, and of course meat lovers who are able to eat anything. They do not use any animal ingredients, but with the use of vegetables and soy milk they are able to replicate and enhance the Japanese cuisine that are sought after by foreigners and natives alike. Ippudo, on the other hand, is a ramen chain that has a single vegetarian ramen. It is definitely the most affordable ramen, a sigh of relief for vegetarians travelling in Tokyo, and definitely a ramen as delicious as the other ramens.
Other pescetarian options
Aside from ramen, some of the dishes that I found pescetarian were takoyaki (octopus balls), yakisoba (noodle stir-fry dish), okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake). Since these are so ingrained as part of the Japanese cuisine, they are typically found everywhere as street food or inside small wooden restaurants. Since takoyaki would lose its very nature without the octopus inside of the ball, you cannot find these being vegetarian; however, I think some yakisoba and okonomiyaki dishes can actually be vegetarian if you find a restaurant through Happy Cow or specifically ask the chef to avoid putting meat or fish into your dish. As a caution, you have to ask what the sauce for the okonomiyaki and yakisoba are consisted of, as a common ingredient found in both can be anchovies or bone marrow as bases.
Don’t forget the sweets!
Lastly, I want to say that the best part about being pescetarian is enjoying the sweets in Japan, as there are so many varieties. As a vegan, I would recommend mochi (rice cakes), luxury fruits (only found in Japan), candied sweet potatoes (as well as other vegetables/fruits), and puffed rice snacks (puffed rice glued together with sugar). For vegetarians, they can explore the breads, parfaits, and ice creams found only in Japan. In fact, some ice creams found in convenience stores can cater to vegans as well.
Although it was a difficult task being pescetarian in Japan, with enough research and with the help of some apps (like Happy Cow), it became possible to eat and explore the Japanese culture simultaneously.