Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vegan Japan

While Paul Watson and his Sea Shepard crew were busy hunting down the evil Japanese whalers (watch South Park's "Whale Whores" episode for an interesting take on the show that's all worth it for the final scene...) we were travelling through Central Honshu with the VegTimes article "Konnichiwa Kyoto" and our own agenda. Over three weeks we ate at 5 or 10?? vegetarian restaurants and had no trouble finding plenty of food at all of the others.

Unfortunately for us, the first vegetarian restuarant we tried to find was "5 minutes" from one of the subway stations in Kyoto. Too bad we didn't have any directions other than that. After a period of about an hour and a half we completed our very first decreasing radius seach technique to find our destination. We started out by walking a few blocks on gut feel, and then slowly made our way back around to the station. Then we started again, but only walked a couple blocks this time... eventually we found The Falafel Garden.

The falafel wraps and chai tea were excellent alternatives to the usual soba noodles with veggies on top. You can tell from the picture how happy we were. Although the food was amazing, the best thing about the restaurant was that it sold a vegetarian guidebook for Japan. This would be the beginning of our vegetarian restaurant pilgramidge. High from our falafel lunch, we decided we should find the next restaurant for dinner. Although we were a little too excited and showed up early, The Vege Note restaurant showed promise. Next time we're in Kyoto we will have to drop by again... this time when they are actually open.

Our next restaurant to make note of was Nataraj in the Breeze Breeze mall in Osaka. Holy snap, once again we head off in the complete opposite direction of where the restaurant is. Could it be the hour hikes around the cities with our 50lb backpacks are making us so hungry that we just think that all of this food we taste is fantastic? Maybe that helps, but nonetheless this was another one those places where North American people in the hospitality industry could learn a thing or three from the Japanese.

It was an all you can eat Indian buffet. Six types of curry, naan, rice, tea, coffee, etc for 940 Yen (about $10)... Well after we mentioned that we were vegan the waitress pointed out those two curries not to eat and said we could not eat the naan. Sad times I know. About 10 mintues later the waitress came out with a plate of vegan naan and a vegan version of one of those curries we couldn't have. Wow. Too bad for them that they don't accept tips in Japan.

Although not in our veggie guidebook, the temple we stayed at in Mt. Koya also served us vegan upon request. Everyone else ate vegetarian. For three days and two nights we were served breakfast (shown) and dinner. Lots of rice, tea, miso, tofu, oshinko, gomae, etc... and that's just breakfast.

We booked our visit through and stayed at the Shojoshin-in temple. Definitely worth a visit.

So there you go, a small example of what we experienced on the trip. Although spending plenty of time wandering the streets of Tokyo and Osaka, the highlights were the surprises. Being an hour out of Tokyo and in the middle of nowhere, walking through the cemetary in Mt. Koya and not being able to tell if you're back in in West Coast BC as you stand beside massive centuries old cedar and sprawling salal, or how it seemed like every Japanese person that could speak english asked if we needed help. Go to Japan, buy a Rail Pass, eat good food, learn from the people, and watch some sumo. Where to go next?


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