Japan is a travel paradise with a rich history, fun and exquisite culture, spellbinding sights, and of course, a magnificent variety of delicious foods. Although many fave dishes have meat, and fish and seafood are central in Japanese cuisine, there are also plenty of vegan and vegetarian wonders easily available from street food and restaurants to luxuriant Kaiseki fine-dining. So, if you’re a meat-free foodie, you can absolutely keep up with your dietary preference, and still savour the sublime and delicate flavours of Japan.
Centuries of Shinto and Zen Buddhist beliefs have incorporated vegetarianism into Japanese cuisine. Many common dishes served along with fish or meat delights are entirely plant-based. And as with most things Japanese, veggie dishes are meticulously prepped, cooked and flavoured. Most places have plant-based options for common dishes. Just say ‘niku nashi’ for no meat and ‘sakana nashi’ for no seafood.
You can also find diners that serve wholly vegan or vegetarian delights, as well as restaurants that specialize in delectable tofu meals, and sumptuous potato dishes.
The key thing to look out for is the dashi – an essential stock made with bonito fish flakes, dried fish, and kombu seaweed or shiitake mushrooms. Because fish is a signature ingredient here, it’s sometimes not considered ‘meat’. So, dashi is used to flavour plant-based dishes as well, and fish flakes are a common seasoning. But as mentioned, you can always ask for a ‘no fish’ dashi. Or when in doubt, ask for soy sauce (made of soybeans, wheat and salt), mirin (sweet rice wine), or miso (made from soybeans, sea salt and koji).
Here are some common meat-free Japanese delights: