Gonpachi|Asakusa|Bad Foreigners in Japan

We’re on my way to Nikko! Which, for me, requires a stopover in Asakusa. Home of the Senso-ji Temple, the Tokyo Skytree and the giant gold poop (probably not its real name.)

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We decided to get a quick bite to eat and happened upon a cool looking place. Gonpachi at its heart is an izakaya but for me its more of a restaurant. It’s certainly not a place that I would feel comfortable getting drunk and lairy with the guys like other izakayas. This izakaya is a touch classier.

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The Edo period pictures on the wall, the open space, and the relaxing tone of the room creates a great ambiance. Upstairs overlooks the river and makes a great frame for the impressive array of buildings in the distance (and the golden poop). The food is great! The vegetarian and the meat dishes are delicious. We went with the set meal options that come with rice, miso, and soba, instead of ordering everything separately.

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I got the “Yakatori-Don” which is three types of skewered chicken, rice bowl, soba noodles, and miso. The chicken was smoky succulent, and extremely delicious! The miso was very deep and full of umami flavor and the cold soba was refreshing.

The veggie dish, believe it or not, was better! The crisp, fresh, vegetable tempura was just as good, but lighter, and a nice accompaniment for the rest of the meal.

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The staff speaks English and are exceptional. Why? Well, let me explain (bit of a rant coming). It’s in this restaurant that I encountered the worst people ever. Unfortunately, they were from England, in their 50s, and the most pretentious, arrogant, know-it-all couple that I have ever had the misfortune of dining next to. To start with, they both sounded like James William Bottomtooth from Family Guy, and nothing was good enough, if not completely wrong. The food was too small, the tea wasn’t strong enough, they were outraged that the Soba noodles that they were given (not ordered, it just comes with the meal) were, “stone cold!” and demanded that they take it back and heat it up. If you didn’t know, cold soba noodles are cold.

Look, I understand that some people are fussy, and some people don’t like certain foods. However, demanding you heat up cold Soba, kick-off about the sauce that comes with your teriyaki chicken, moan about how high and uncomfortable the bar stools are, and complain about the strength of your matcha tea, what are you actually doing in a Japanese restaurant? In fact, if they are like this for thirty minutes in a restaurant, what are they like for the rest of their time in Japan?!

Of course, the team apologized and accommodated them in every way. The thing is, Japanese restaurants don’t typically alter what’s on the menu but the customer is always right (no matter what) and any issues are handled amazingly. If it was me serving, I would’ve poured their cold soba noodles in their laps. A message to people that visit Japan and don’t like Japanese food, go eat at Mc Donald’s instead of complaining and moaning at people just doing their jobs.

All in all, the restaurant was good in every way and despite the company, I had a really good lunch and would definitely eat there again!

 

 

 

Aoyama Flower Market Tokyo 青山フラワーマーケット A Japanese Feast For The Senses

Aoyama Flower Market Tokyo 青山フラワーマーケット Entrance
Aoyama Flower Market Tokyo 青山フラワーマーケット Entrance

I love a good picnic outside during the summer. The fresh air, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the flowers. The only real problem is bugs, wind, a sudden chill, rain, stabbings, and more rain. Unfortunately, living in the UK means you have a collective four weeks a year to eat outside.

Flowers
Flowers

Japan doesn’t have the same problems. In fact, the weather can get too nice! Rain is super accurately predicted, and Japanese people take gardening very seriously! Never have I ever walked past a Japanese garden, park, or even just an open space with grass in it and thought “ooh, that looks a bit crap”. Seriously I think gardening and herbalism are part of the curriculum here.

Pink Flowers
Flowers

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Aoyama Flower Market Tokyo is the agoraphobic’s picnic paradise. The floor, the walls, the tables. Everywhere you look are floral masterpieces, as if each grouping of flowers were handpicked and painstakingly curated. The flowers are rotated seasonally. Rotating the flowers seasonally is a treat for the senses of regular patrons and the cafe smells exactly as you would expect a room full of beautiful flowers to smell.

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The food is delicious! Honestly, I never expected a garden salad to be so flavorful! The restaurant isn’t vegetarian but most of the dishes can be made vegetarian, The team knows what vegan and vegetarian means and are more than happy to make alterations for you.

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The range of flowery drinks is astounding! Ginger Ale’s, Lemonade’s, Mojio’s, the list goes on. If it can be made with plants they’ve got it. I highly recommend the herbal teas, the list is extensive! Not only that, they continue adding more to the menu and some change seasonally.

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One downside for me though, they can run out of ingredients on busy days. So get there early to make sure you get what you came for. However, this did not bother me on the day of my visit as what I ended up with was spot on! In fact, I could have had another one straight after! It was delish!

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It was an amazing meal and an amazing experience. It’s definitely something I will be doing again no matter what the weather is like. So If it’s rainy, sunny, or snowy. If the parks are too busy, or you would simply just like to get punched in the face by a room of allergens, come down to Aoyama Flower Market Tokyo 青山フラワーマーケット. I promise you won’t regret it!…

Unless you have allergies.

Traditional Okonomiyaki in the heart of Tokyo: Okonomiyaki Zen 善

When you ask someone about Japanese food they always talk about the same three things: Sushi, Ramen, and Miso. Usually, when people from the west are asked about Okonomiyaki the response is “what the hell is that?” That was my response. I had no idea what it was so I thought I’d check it out.

Okonomiyaki is a kind of pancake made from batter, cabbage, cheese, meat, fish, pretty much anything you want hence the name “Okonomi” (Your preference). For the first few months of my visit to Japan I was a bit of a militant vegetarian, and finding an Okonomiyaki restaurant that would cater to vegetarians was damn near impossible. Although Okonomiyaki is predominantly veg, avoiding Dashi (fish stock), Bonito (dried fish flakes), or any other meat derivative is like trying to avoid liquid in soup.

After a little research and some help from Marianna who is far more competent than I at searching for things, we found Okonomiyaki Zen. Okonomiyaki Zen is located in Shinjuku and has made it very clear that they cater to vegetarians and vegans. They even come around to your table with a checklist of things you can and can’t eat and make sure there is no cross-contamination with other dishes.

They have semi-English speaking staff, English menus, even the condiments on the table have English labels. The veggie options are ginger, and cheese and yes, both dishes are absolutely delicious! While you’re there ask what Sake the waiter would recommend as it goes hand in hand with Okonomiyaki!

Japanese Sake in Okonomiyaki Zen Tokyo Japan

If you plan on paying Okonomiyaki Zen a visit I highly recommend you drop them an email with your desired date, time and dietary requirements first. Although they are more than happy to accommodate, I get the feeling that the work they have to put in last minute to clean and sanitize workstations to cook your specific dietary requirement might be a bit of a pain. They have always seemed extremely grateful that I have booked a table via email.

It might be because I’m a bit of a greedy fat boy, but I would highly recommend getting a side dish or two, maybe even getting two Okonomiyaki, just because one Okonomiyaki never really hits the spot for me.

Okonomiyaki in Okonomiyaki Zen in Tokyo Japan
Happy Birthday Okonomiyaki

If you would like to book a table or get more info please follow these links:    Okonomiyaki Zen  Trip Adviser Happy Cow

Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ

My self-appointed mission to seek out and promote all things vegetarian and vegan in Tokyo – Japan has led me to a place called the Botanist.

Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ Vegan Bolognese
Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ Vegan Bolognese

The Botanist is a cosmetics store that produces shampoos, body washes, nail care, moisturizes, and many more products. Their promise is that all of the ingredients are from raw materials and plants grown in a clean, sustainable environment.

Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ
Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェButterfly Pea Flower Tea

Just above their flagship store in Harajuku Omotesando, they have a little cafe that specializes in vegan/vegetarian food. The atmosphere is calm and relaxing. Wood tables, wood floor, hanging plants. It is the kind of decor you would expect from a cafe that specializes in healthy, sustainable food.

Just like the shop below, the Cafe specializes in healthy food that is responsibly grown. The summer “refresh” menu has just been released with emphasis on healthy skin and seems to be perfectly timed with their skin care products with the same goal.

The menu includes veggie wraps, burgers, pasta, and a range of desserts to fit your mood. It is a very nice “Brunch” style place and it serves the famous Butterfly Pea Flower Tea, which changes color when you pour it into a cup with lemon.

Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ
Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ Butterfly Pea Tea

However, a nice atmosphere does not a good cafe make. It really isn’t the best for what you pay for. The food was just under warm and didn’t taste particularly nice. My dish, (which was the veggie Bolognese) wasn’t bad but the vegan Carbonara really wasn’t good. It didn’t taste anything like Carbonara and in my opinion, needs to be taken to the drawing board. Definitely, something I won’t be paying for again.

Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ
Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ Vegan Carbonara

All in all, A vegan/vegetarian Cafe in Japan is always a good thing and I praise the botanist for contributing to the cause. I do hope that in the future they can look into decreasing their prices or making their food better.  Just because restaurants advertise themselves as vegan, vegetarian, healthy, sustainable. Doesn’t mean they have to increase prices by 200%

Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ
Botanist Cafe 植物園カフェ

 

Noodle Stand Tokyo ヌードルスタンド東京

Noodle Stand Tokyo ヌードルスタンド東京
Noodle Stand Tokyo ヌードルスタンド東京 Sign

Check out: Vegetarian in Japan

Noodle Stand Tokyo has established itself as an ethical Ramen shop. They say “you can eat delicious ramen with confidence”. All of there ingredients are locally sourced and there are no chemical ingredients.

Noodle Stand Tokyo also boasts a low carb menu with 35% less sugar. Their online menu lists where all their ingredients come from and FYI, their green smoothy made from coconut oil is delicious!

There is one main reason Noodle stand Tokyo was put on the map however, and that is their absolutely delicious vegan ramen dish! In the UK we have a restaurant called Wagamama and they make a Yasai Itame with a coconut broth and it tastes amazing. However, Noodle Stand Tokyo makes more or less the same dish but with more flavor and its made with coconut oil and is completely vegan as opposed to Wagamamas dish which is not.

Noodle Stand Tokyo ヌードルスタンド東京
Noodle Stand Tokyo Vegan Ramen with Coconut Broth

There are only two or three dishes and a lot of variants of those dishes. The Gyu-Nikomi Mazesoba which is stewed beef on noodles with no broth, the Kuroshio which is dried sardines soup noodles which you can add pork back fat and other things to, and the Coconut Miso Ramen which you can choose to be vegan.  I have tried all three and I can say without a shadow of a doubt (as a meat eater) I much prefer the vegan option!

Noodle Stand Tokyo ヌードルスタンド東京

Its located in Harajuku. Typing Noodle Stand into Google maps will pull up the location. The entrance is a little bit hidden but not impossible to find. It’s right next to this cookie monster thing. Can’t really miss it to be honest. You order your meal with this vending machine, then a really nice lady will come over and make sure you did it correctly, ask if you want any extras then show you to your seat.

Noodle Stand Tokyo ヌードルスタンド東京

In total, I think there are about 11 seats, four to a table as soon as you enter, two more by the wall on the far side under the brightly lit “Ramen” sign, and five or so around the bar. You shouldn’t have to wait long before being seated however.  This being a fast Raman place nobody ever sticks around after they have finished eating.

If you need anymore suggestions on places to eat vegan, check out the eating vegan/vegetarian page

Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら

 

Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら

Kyushu Jangara Ramen specializes in Tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu ramen is a ramen dish that originated in Fukuoka which is on Kyushu island (hence the name) and is made by stewing pork bones and other things like onions, garlic, spring onions, ginger, pork fat in a broth for up to eight hours and served with noodles and a range of toppings like eggs, Salmon Roe, pork belly, the list goes on.

Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら
Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら Menu

There are six dishes to choose from. Regular, salt, spicy, creamy, soy, and of course vegan!

Personally, if you eat meat I would choose the Karabon. Its the spiciest one on the menu and it absolutely explodes with flavor. Not just because it’s spicy. It’s actually more of a pepper taste than a hot chilly spice taste.

Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら
Karabon

Of course, if you are vegan/vegetarian there is always the vegan ramen made with vegetables, soy and yuzu (a popular Japanese citrus). It has a very rich, savory, smoky citrus taste and is absolutely delicious. Don’t take my word for it, Google it! It has been hailed by many to be the king of vegan ramen.

Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら
Vegan Ramen

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The restaurant itself has a very strange vibe. Exposed brickwork like a 1980s New York apartment, Colourfull font all over the place, As if you were eating in a kindergarten class, complete with paintings that look like five-year-olds have made them, and the music has to be heard to believed. It’s like a bass boosted, EDM version of the “best of the 80s 90s 00s and now”. Totally unexpected for a Ramen place in Japan (love it though).

Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら

There is nearly always a queue but don’t worry. No one is ever here longer than 15-20 mins and with about twenty-five seats (unless you go to the one in Akihabara which has about ten) It has a very fast turnover of patrons. They don’t speak a lick of English but that doesn’t matter because they have an English menu. Just point to what you want, pay, and sit down. No need to wait for a bill, when you’re finished just get up and leave (Harajuku). The best way to run a restaurant in my opinion.

Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがら
Kyushu Jangara Ramen Menu

Kyushu Jangara Ramen has several locations including Harajuku, (pictured) Ginza, and Akihabara. Although I have heard that the Akihabara one is a little difficult to find and is very small so get there early to avoid the queue.

Kyushu Jangara Ramen

Kyushu Jangara Ramen was one of the first places I ate in when I arrived in Japan and in my five months of being in Japan, I can honestly say that I have eaten here at least a dozen times since. I’m not stopping any time soon.

If anyone has any more details about Kyushu Jangara Ramen. Date established, creator, the reason for all the child drawings on the walls, music choice, etc I would greatly appreciate it if you could let me know. I haven’t been able to find any history on the establishment and would like to write more in-depth about the restaurant.

 

 

 

 

Being a Vegetarian in Japan

Ain Soph Ripple  アインソフリップル
Fully Loaded Burger from Ain-Soph 

Contrary to the title I am not a vegetarian. However, I am a bit of a health nut and while I was living in the UK I would always opt for the sweet potato pitta at Nandos or the Veggie Burger in Frankie and Benny’s. In fact, the only time I ate meat was if it was put in front of me and not wanting to seem rude by saying “I don’t want this” I would just eat it.

My typical day would be oats with honey in the morning, couscous and beetroot humous salad for lunch with a Nature Valley protein bar, a few bits of fruit here and there and a dinner consisting of some kind of Quorn dish with a Gold Standard Protein shake made with unsweetened almond milk before bed. In fact, if I didn’t eat eggs I would eat vegan.

However, moving to Japan threw my diet out the window, from the 40th floor, on to spikes, made of lava.

The thing is, Japan doesn’t really do vegetarian. In fact, I have come across one too many people that look at me like I’ve lost my goddam mind when I say things like “no meat” “vegetarian” “don’t put Bonito flakes on it!” It’s not that they don’t understand it, vegetarian in Japanese is “Bejitarian” and vegan in Japanese is “bee-gan”. No seriously. Even though there are words for it in Japanese doesn’t mean that they understand it. Every time I say vegetarian I still have to run through the list with them.

Egg? ok.

Milk? ok.

Dashi? (fish stock) not ok.

Chicken? not ok.

Eh? but… Eggs from a chicken are ok?

Its like in the majority of cases they can’t tell the difference between eating an animal and eating what comes from an animal. If you tell them outright you are a Vegan they tend to understand that you want absolutely nothing to do with an animal. However, that checklist will still probably come out. And restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg. Getting food from a Seven Eleven or a Family Mart is a minefield of meat, even the pre-made vegetarian salad has some kind of animal derivative in it for absolutely no reason. Just plain lettuce on its own in a pack has fish flakes in it. Almost all cakes have gelatine or animal Rennet in them. And if you’re a Vegan!? Good luck! Even the bread has milk in it here.

Now, I have succumbed to the fact that I can fight this every single time I eat or just go with the flow. Not wanting to be that typical foreigner with a list of dietary needs that end up slowing a kitchen down because they need to remake everything, I either eat a little meat or simply go to vegan restaurants.

But! Fear not! Vegan restaurants are popping up all the time. It would seem that more and more people are realizing the niche that is veganism in a meat-eating country. Don’t get me wrong they are few and far between but the ever-increasing rate is a good sign that Japan is heading in the right direction. I will link just a few places that I have eaten in and can personally vouch for their deliciousness for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike.

It goes without saying, I am a very respectful foreigner and I would never walk into an establishment and throw demands around and kick off when I don’t get my way. I have read up on the culture and how Japan does things. I know that they are a homogenous society with a collective mindset and I am happy to assimilate. However, the vast majority of goers of the Rugby world cup and the 2020 Olympics will not care one bit.

Now, I’m sure if you are reading this and you are not from Japan, you are a very respectful, easy going person that would be more than happy to adjust your lifestyle for the two to three weeks that you stay here. You might even be reading my blog to get a bit of insight into what to do and what not to do. And if you have done a bit of research about the typical foreigner faux pas, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I fear for Japan. I have lived in other parts of the world prior to moving here and I can honestly say that Japan is not ready for the rest of the world. Smoking in public is illegal here. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. Eating and walking aren’t exactly good manners. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. I once saw a group of old ladies scowl at a man that coughed one too many times on a train and caused a disturbance. Well, get ready for carriages full of people on their phones screaming about god knows what. The one thing that Japan is going to need is to hurry up and get the right dietary requirements catered for. I’m not just talking about meat, fish, and milk. I’m talking about allergies and religious needs as well.

If you are Vegan/Vegetarian I highly recommend trying these places out.

T’s TanTan– my favorite place to eat! the hot and sour ramen is the best in my opinion.
Vegan Ramen
Ain Soph. Ripple -or any of the Ain Soph resturants to be honest but the best is Ripple. Typical American style food. Chilly Cheese Fries, Burgers, Burritos, Salads but all one hundred percent vegan.
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Nataraj Restaurant– for us Brits it’s important to know where the closest Indian restaurant is, its a safety blanket. If you’re not from the UK you wouldn’t understand. Nataraj is the place to go, trust me on this.
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Coco ichibanya– now bear with me on this one. You have to find a vegetarian one because not all establishments are, you also have to tell them you are a vegetarian to be given the secret menu and you have to be ok with certain veggies deep fried in the same oil as meat but, it is the best curry in the world!
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Noodle StandIt isn’t a vegan place but they do have a vegan option on the menu. It’s the Vegan Coconut Miso Ramen. A white Miso soup cooked with coconut oil and Ramen. And it is delicious! Reminds me a lot of Yasai Itame from Wagamamas in the UK.

Okonomiyaki zen– The one place I found that know what a vegetarian is. Okonomiyaki is a type of pancake made with veg and meat. Just tell them you’re a vegetarian or vegan and they will bend over backwards to accommodate and it’s delicious!

Kanro Shichifukujin– A traditional Japanese vegan macrobiotic sweets and bento restaurant. It’s run by the sweetest Japanese lady in the world and there is a cat. What’s not to love.

Please check out the Happy Cow App and the Veggie Map for more restaurants that are vegetarian and vegan-friendly.

Denny’s in Japan

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Anyone that has ever been to America will know Denny’s. It’s the home of free coffee refills, French Toast, and my all-time favourite diner meal “The Grand Slam”. It’s something that comes up whenever my family and I talk about the times we went to the US of A. Every morning before we walked the strip in Vegas, before we went to the parks in Florida, before we chilled out poolside or relaxed on the beach we would all go to Denny’s. I’m quite thankful I’m not American or I don’t think you would ever get me out of the place, I would probably weigh three hundred pounds.

So imagine my sheer delight when cruising down some random street in Japan I happen to come across the all too famous sign.
The realization that I now live in a country that has Denny’s hit me hard, I knew exactly what I was going to do.
I was going storm in there! Grab a seat! No need to look at the menu because I know what I want!
I want a Grand Sla- there is no Grand Slam, why is there no Grand Slam!? Where is the Grand Slam?

But of course this is Denny’s Japan, there is no Grand Slam here, and that would make sense. Japan isn’t a country affected by rampant obesity, and the thought of one meal with sausages, bacon, eggs, pancakes, hash browns, toast and a side of French Toast with syrup just doesn’t fit with the Japanese way of eating. There is pasta (made with noodles), burgers without the buns and an egg on top (optional extra), and Ramen. In fact, the most American thing on this menu is the club sandwich CALLED THE AMERICAN CLUB!

d1be7f69-dbd6-4334-8622-6378639860acNever the less like a pioneer in a strange new world I did my best to work around this strange menu and ended up just getting THE AMERICAN! With fried potato (Fries). I’ll be a bit more courageous next time I promised myself.
But then I noticed “The Drinks Bar”. Unlimited drinks! Hot and cold! It has one of those Five Guys machines, the one with every soft drink you could think of. Coke, Sprite, orange juice… if you want a coke zero with a splash of lime? You got it! Sprite with mango? No problem! Regular coke with cherry? Right here!

Looking around there are people just chilling. People who have erected offices at their tables. Laptops, workbooks, folders, people having meetings in the corner of the smoking section, large groups just sitting around drinking. And then it occurs to me, people must just use this place as a workspace with unlimited drinks. It’s what I would do so that’s what I did! I am currently writing this blog one month into my journey sat in a Denny’s. The chilled out atmosphere, the food, the unlimited drinks, I can honestly say that this is now my safe space in Japan.