Vegan in Kyoto

Part two of my review of vegan finds on a trip to Japan. (Part 1: Tokyo)

After a speedy shinkansen trip from Tokyo, dampened only by my growling tummy and my inability to find fishless onigiri at the train station, we found ourselves in Kyoto. We hiked our luggage to the hotel, then set out to locate Nishiki Market.

Nishiki Market

The market stretches for several blocks along Nishikikoji-dori, near the popular covered shopping arcades of Teramachi and Shinkyogoku. It's no surprise that the majority of the vendors sell seafood, but there's also a variety of produce, pickles and preserves, sweets, crafts, and other items

There was a wide selection of yuba, tofu, and gluten.

I was also finally able to find vegan onigiri! I bought a red bean one, and they also had umeboshi and a sea vegetable options.

Sunshine Cafe

On our first evening, we ate at Sunshine Cafe, located in the Sanjo-dori covered arcade. (Covered arcades are amazing things to have when it rains.) We started the meal with lightly fried tempeh chips with a tangy, peppery ketchup. I had the tofu steak, which was a straightforward slab of tofu, pan fried, and served with greens and a thin brown sauce. It sounds boring, but it was actually very tasty, and was a nice, solid meal to have after not eating much all day.

Shane had the tofu burger, which he enjoyed immensely

Cafe La Siesta (website)

They could not have possibly made this place harder to find. We actually intended to eat there the previous night, but gave up and went to Sunshine instead. The restaurant is on Nishikiyamachi-dori, apparently, but street signs were no where to be seen. It's just east of the Kamo-Gawa and if you can find the A Bar, look for a small hallway that leads to the cafe.

Most of the food was great though. I had a gyoza set and shane had the tempura set. We also had pajeon (Korean onion pancake) that tasted ok, but was very heavy and oily. Shane especially enjoyed their generous servings of pickled burdock.


Look out for the sign on this tiny, second-floor cafe, or you'll miss it. The internet and travel books seem to rave about this spot, but I can't say that I was too impressed. The food was good, but not spectacular. The staff is friendly though, and if you're into fried gluten like shane, you'll be happy.

Sauteed radishes that smelled like sauerkraut (yuck). I let shane enjoy them.

Greens with a sesame-tofu dressing. Yum!

More pan fried tofu with salad and a sesame-shoyu dressing.

shane's beloved panko gluten

Cafe Proverbs 15:17 (website)
“Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, Than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

We hiked long and far through a gravel desert known as Kyoto Goen to get to this cafe near Kyoto University.

We started off with tasty spring rolls with a superpungent mustard.

I had the TLT, which was drowned in a finger-licking basil sauce. It was delicious. My only complaint is that they used white sandwich bread, which could have at least been toasted, as it fell apart too easily for the sauce-filled sandwich.

shane had a tempeh sandwich.

The desserts were too beautiful to pass up; the strawberry cake was calling my name. It was a bit disappointing though, with a coarse crumb and beany frosting.

The cheesecake was also beany and TINY. Seriously, this photo isn’t much smaller than life-size

Shigetsu, Tenryu-ji, Arashiyama

The absolute highlight of Kyoto, if not the whole trip, was the Shojin Ryori restaurant at Tenryu-ji, a temple in Arashiyama, about 30 minutes west of downtown Kyoto. I really wanted to experience a temple meal, but was shocked at some of the prices I found for the prix fixe meals at various locations. Some were upwards of of 8,000-10,000 yen (approx. 1/10o of the US dollar)! The 9-course Snow menu at 3,000 was a steal. Still, we expected this to be somewhat of a splurge for a meal that would be remembered more for the physical experience than tasty grub. We were blown away as they brought us dish after dish of delicious and beautifully prepared food.

In the upper right is goma tofu, a curd made from sesame seeds and starch. It was soft and delicious.

Various vegetables and jellies.

Miso soup

Deep-fried eggplant with miso and fruit plate

Happy, full bellies.

So, there you go. Proof that good vegan food is fairly easy to find in Japan. Don't forget to look for matcha soy milk! And thanks to shane for being so patient while I fumble to adjust white balances and apertures before he can dig in.

Airplane meals

I can't say that we were expecting too much from the two meals we recieved on the 10 1/2 hour flight from SFO to Narita.

Dinner was overcooked vegetables with some odd, flavorless, yellow, congealed sauce. The lentils and couscous were pretty good though. Thankfully, they gave us a lemon wedge with the salad, which combined with the salt and pepper packets was edible, because the vinaigrette contained milk powder. Thanks, United! Read closer next time. Unfortunately, it looks like Melisser had the same problem on another recent flight. Hopefully, they'll start paying more attention to their vegan meals. The cookie was vegan, but as dry as a cake of sand. Shane enjoyed it though.

Breakfast was a potato, bell pepper, red onion, sundried tomato sautee. Both overcooked and undercooked, and flavorless without the addition of pepper, but somehow satisfying in a groggy, dehydrated, airplane stupor. Plus we got Nutrilicious donuts! They were a bit hard (they would have been brilliant with 15 seconds in a microwave), but c'mon, it's a donut! You almost can't go wrong with that. The fruit was also nice.

The return flight was more disappointing. The exact same meals, but for some reason they though a tiny container of orange juice was a suitable replacement for the donut I had been looking forward to. Boo!

Vegan in Tokyo

People had told us that eating vegan would be difficult, the dreaded sakana dashi (fish stock) would be inescapable. We found it quite easy to find vegan food in Japan, however, especially with a strong Buddhist presence and being the home of macrobiotics. The discovery of an extremely helpful guide book was also a plus. (Their maps are pretty sparse, so be prepared with full maps to compare, if you hope to have any luck finding the restaurants. Also, they claim there is some magical vegan ice cream that exists at some Family Mart locations. We went into just about every Family Mart we passed and could never find any!)

On our first night, our friend Ryo took us to a restaurant near his home. Cucumber, natto, and kampyo rolls are always reliable. I loved that each table had its own hot water spout and powdered tea!

Deva Deva Cafe, Kichijoji (website)

The next day, we ate Deva Deva Cafe in Kichijoji. The teriyaki burger was pretty tasty. I was pleased with the Japanese idea of a serving size. I'm so used to the American, more is better, plates piled high until you burst aesthetic, so it was a bit odd at first, but the smaller portions were just perfect and satisfying. (To give an idea of scale, that plate was more of a salad-sized than a full dinner plate.) The paprika dusted chips were fabulous! Crisp and hot, with creamy centers.

For dessert we enjoyed a decent apple crumble and a wonderful, delicately sweet sesame pudding.

Base Cafe, Kichijoji

Ryo also took us to the quaint little Base Cafe, located up a rickety staircase near the Kichijoji station. We had great soy croquette lunch sets. I loved their industrial decor, minimalist flower arrangements, and mismatched tableware.

Nakamise-dori Market, Asakusa

At the crowded street market in Asakusa, we discovered agemanju, similar to sweet bao, covered in tempura batter, and deep fried. The friendly vendors assured us that they were tamago-free (egg). We also tried some mochi, covered in a sweet soy sauce glaze, and freshly grilled senbei crackers (so much better than the bagged stuff!)

Pure Cafe, Omotesando

Nestled in an Aveda spa and store in the posh Omotesando area is Pure Cafe, one of our favorite finds. I enjoyed the lunch set featuring a tofu-lettuce-tomato sandwich and your choice of soup, salad, and drink. I picked the carrot bisque, mixed greens, and orange juice.

Kinpira takana sandwich (pickled burdock and some other stuff)

The bread pudding was flavorful, but their tofu cream was rather beany.

The tiramisu was absolutely delicious! Not beany at all.

We returned again on our last night in Tokyo for a tasty, late night, a la carte meal. We were also able to purchase some ready made sandwiches to pack for the perfect airport meal.


Spring rolls

Soup pasta (this totally hit the spot!)

Grain burger

Vegan Healing Cafe, Shibuya

Near the infamous Tokyu Hands department store in Shibuya is the small Vegan Healing Cafe, which featured a cute menu board complete with an anti-fur message. They also have a somewhat out of place copy of the Firestorm 7" on their back shelf, along with a bunch of vegan information and cookbooks.

I had the bean stew, which wasn't quite what I imagined, but was still tasty (reminded me of refried beans and rice). Shane had the fried gluten, which he loved.

For dessert, we had soy whip cake and a chocolate tart. The cake was ridiculously good. The frosting was light, smooth, and ever so sweet.

Saishokukenbi, Shinjuku

This was one of our top restaurants on this trip: an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring tempura, gyoza, various noodle dishes, shane's favorite "meat on a stick," soy croquettes, pickles, and much more. They even has a coffee agar gel dessert like my mom used to make! Some of the offerings contain milk or eggs, but each dish is labeled in kanji. It's handy to be able to recognize a few characters, even if you're unfamiliar with the language: egg, milk, soy milk (followed by the character for milk). The staff is also very helpful.

We went back the following night, after dinner service had begun to slow down. They were so kind, they prepared some fresh food and brought it directly to our table! It was a lot to eat, but to be polite we forced it all down.

Brown Rice Cafe, Jingumae (website)
Another stylish cafe near the ritzy shopping promenades, Brown Rice Cafe had a predominantly vegan menu, with a few eggy/milky desserts thrown in. I chose the inari lunch set: a pair of freshly fried inari (crispilicious!) filled with brown rice and topped with miso or ratatouille, salad, and delicious miso soup.

Shane had the veggie burger. He loved the crunchy bread, but the chips were undercooked.

We chose seasonal ice cream and a chocolate tart for dessert. They weren't too impressive. I couldn't figure out what the ice cream flavor was supposed to be and it had a strong soy aftertaste.

I highly recommend their take out shop next door. They have a large selection of vegan cookies and a couple vegan muffins. The almond cookies were great and the crispy, little ginger cookies were melt-in-your-mouth amazing. Neither survived the plane ride home.

der Akkord, Jingumae (website)

Near Brown Rice Cafe is der Akkord bakery, a wonderful little family-owned organic bakery. The friendly staff sucks you right in with samples the moment you walk in the door. We ended up buying a ridiculous amount of breads and pastries because we just couldn't decide.

The best item was probably their fruit and walnut bread. It's the perfect combination of sweet and tangy (from their natural sourdough leavening process), and crunchy, chewy, and soft. I could eat 3 loaves right now.

Also delicious were their anko-sagebrush buns.

Not pictured: mushroom curry bun, olive bread, pumpkin pie pocket, anko pie, apple pie pocket, coconut cake, and cocoa banana cake. I told you we went a little crazy!

Stay tuned for the Kyoto report!