Always nice to find a familiar delicious face in Harajuku (I didn’t even bother checking if they have their vegan options here)
With life having slowed down, I’m spending more and more time on campus as the workload piles up. I sadly said goodbye to the free man life on Wednesday evening, as I geared myself up for uni to begin again on the 28th September. So I’d like to address one of the most important things in my life – FOOD.
If you know me, you know I’m a major foodie. Following a certain lifestyle forces you to think out the box, and I’ve been discovering so many delicious new recipes and things to eat over the past few months as a result. The Western world caters very heavily to vegetarian and vegan diets so getting started with this lifestyle was easy; in fact, just as I left England nearly a month ago (how time flies!?), Ben & Jerry’s released their almond milk ice cream range, and Bailey’s their almond milk liqueur. Hopefully many more exciting things will happen by the time I return that I’ll get to enjoy in my final year of university and onward…
So it obviously sucks really bad when you know you’re going to Japan, having been told beforehand that they stick animal products into physically anything you can imagine. (I’m an optimist, so I tend to not judge until I’ve experienced something myself, but GOD was this accurate.) I mentioned Japan’s strange phenomenon in my first post of the ‘During’ era – but it’s time to expand on it, because seriously? Why are you putting fish sauce in “vegetarian” noodles, or meat into gyoza that clearly has 野菜 written on the front of the packet?? No vegan cheese… no coconut milk… why is there egg and milk in all of this bread!?
One instance where I found something vegan randomly
Clearly, when it came to food, my first few weeks here kinda sucked. I’ve pretty easily avoided all fish and meat (minus one incident on my second day here when I bit into an onigiri that had salmon in it and quickly handed it to someone else), and thankfully there’s always been something for me to eat when we’ve headed out for group dinners. Everything I had in restaurants was delicious, and there are a considerable amount of vegan cafés and restaurants scattered in Tokyo (including one on campus), but it’s still just a bit of a struggle with regards to choosing food in shops when none of the packaging is familiar to you and supermarkets aren’t a thing, so you have to continuously prowl from convenience store to convenience store in search for what you need (I STILL haven’t found canned coconut milk which means I can’t make the chickpea curry I’ve been putting off…)
I have been super unkind to myself (and my stomach has been in an absolute state for DAYS) because I’ve been having
a lot a bit of dairy in the form of pizza. I developed a pretty mild lactose intolerance back in March, which means that milk and ice cream are off the menu – very small amounts is fine like a chocolate bar, but I’d really rather not risk the upset stomach, so I try to get the dairy-egg-free alternative (100% failing because this is Japan).
There wasn’t much cheese to begin with but it definitely triggered the lactose alarm
(Also: no, I don’t eat fish or meat purposefully anymore, and when I cook for myself I don’t typically use dairy for reasons mentioned above, and I prefer not to eat eggs. It’s more the case of if I reallllly fancy a dessert or a pizza that I have any kind of dairy/egg… and even if I do I need to give it a few days rest to let my stomach sort itself out.)
(Also, chocolate here is DELICIOUS. Shout out to Matcha KitKats, Halloween Purin KitKats, Ghana, Meiji, and those fancy salted caramel pocky.)
But anyways. Examples of Japan’s crazy food situation:
- Oreos are vegan at home. Here they put milk in them.
- Vegetable stock 100% will have fish or meat extract unless bought at a health store.
- Popcorn might have squid and milk extract.
- Mos Burger offers a soy burger… but exclusive to only a few options, and all of them minus 1 are topped with fish sauce or cheese.
Did I mention the buns have egg and milk in them?
Everything was frustrating at first, and going to 7/11 or Lawson or Family Mart is still annoying because of the 100% lack of vegan options minus plain rice balls and Nattou and Inari (excluding 7/11’s inari, which has fish stock). Grabbing food on the go is definitely difficult. Another interesting note: Avocado and Cucumber maki do not exist in convenience stores here. They seem more like a western veggie invention than anything else.
But now, after having lived here for a month, what is my verdict?
I’m still got a long way to go in terms of learning the tricks of the trade, buuuuuut I know the locations of the local grocers, the nearest Don Quijote, Daiso (100 yen shop), Santoku (think a combination of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s), and just today I finally visited Waseda Natural Foods, which was a miracle contained in a pretty healthily sized shop.
Lots of fake meat comes in cans here and is called “gluten meat”. Don’t ask
How was it so close and I didn’t even go visit? It has Vegannaise, Soy butter, seitan, tempeh, “gluten meat”, vegan curry roux, vegan ramen, tahini, coconut oil… anything I could’ve wanted and it was here, a 10 minute walk from my dorm.
Another golden find
…Apart from vegan cheese. But I got a packet of Sheese imported from the UK (WOO!) at the vegan festival, which I’m planning to treasure until it expires in late November. I don’t know how willing I am to take a train journey just to pick up more vegan cheese, but until I reach that level of desperation I might try to learn how to prepare vegan cheese myself. It’ll be my party trick.
I’m more of a baker than I am a master chef – unfortunately, we don’t have proper ovens here so that’s out of the window. On the other hand, if you count a pancake as baking, I’ve been making some delicious ones using flour, oil and soy milk.
I think I’m finally going to manage to get the weekly shop done for 6,000 yen. Maybe. I’m going to have to keep learning and exploring to discover new things and keep the price down, which will of course naturally happen as my language skills progress and my confidence here grows.
Long story short: I’m not dying yet, and I’m easing myself off the multivitamins. And the cauliflower-butternut-squash-chilli-pasta I just had was absolutely delicious.