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What's a Vegetarian to Do?
Tokyo has had a reputation for being a difficult place for vegetarians, but more and more Japanese are opting to go vegetarian resulting in a rise in the number of truly vegetarian restaurants. The city's numerous Indian eateries are a safe bet, as are the handful of restaurants (such as Sasa-no-yuki) that specialize in shojin ryori, traditional Zen vegetarian food that emphasizes natural flavors and fresh ingredients without using heavy spices or rich sauces. The variety and visual beauty of a full-course shojin ryori meal offers new dining dimensions to the vegetarian gourmet. Goma-dofu, or sesame-flavored bean curd, for example, is a tasty treat, as is nasu-dengaku, grilled eggplant covered with a sweet miso sauce.
Take note that a dish may be described as meat-free even if it contains fish, shrimp, or chicken. And one should assume that salads, pastas, and soups in nonvegetarian restaurants are garnished with ham or bacon.
Brown Rice Café. Tucked inside a Neal's Yard Remedies store, this café has just 10 tables and closes by 9 pm. But, if you're shopping in Harajuku, it's a great place to stop for a tempeh burger or stuffed tofu pouch. 5–1–17 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0001. 03/5778–5416. www.brown.co.jp/english. No credit cards. Subway: Ginza and Hanzo-mon subway lines, Omotesando Station (Exit A1).
Itosho. At this Zen restaurant, food arrives in a procession of 13 tiny dishes, each selected according to season, texture, and color. Dinner costs between ¥8,400 and ¥10,500, and reservations must be made at least two days in advance. 3–4–7 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 106-0045. 03/3454–6538. Reservations essential. No credit cards. Subway: Namboku and Oedo subway lines, Azabu Juban Station (Exit 1).
Nagi Shokudo. This small restaurant hidden away on a little side street a short walk from Shibuya Station has mismatched chairs and tables and a selection of books and magazines you can read over a vegan meal. The ¥1,000 prix fixe lunch includes a choice of three dishes, which change daily, rice, miso soup, and a drink. In the evening, it's a great place to enjoy a light dinner in an arty atmosphere. 15–10 Uguisudani-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0032. 050/1043–7751. www.nagi-shokudo.jugem.jp. No credit cards. Closed Sun. and holidays. Subway: JR Yamanote Line, Shibuya Station (South Exit).
Pure Café. Stop along a backstreet in the upscale fashion hub of Omotesando for a daily changing menu of nutritious fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 5–5–21 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0062. 03/5466–2611. www.pure-cafe.com. No credit cards. Subway: Ginza and Hanzo-mon subway lines, Omotesando Station (Exit B3).
If you plan to stay in town long term, check out Alishan (www.alishan-organic-center.com), a vegetarian mail-order specialist.
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