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.


Anonymous said...

shane's notes:

I was waiting for this post to help me remember all the food.

If we had a kitchen while in Kyoto, I woulda gone wild with fresh tofu and yuba from the Nishiki Market.

Sunshine Cafe was kinda weird and almost seems like a letdown... until I remember how perfectly seasoned that tofu burger was!

When looking for Cafe La Siesta, you know you are getting close when you start seeing hustlers in front of doors with women on menus. Mel also forget to mention that it listed an opening time 1 hour later than our guidebook and proceeded to open up an hour after the time listed in their window... and took hella long to serve.
However, my first taste of that type of pickled burdock had me hooked like crack!

Biotei's "greens with a sesame-tofu dressing" was bomb. As much as I loved my panko gluten, I imagine it to be similar to fried balls.

Shigetsu, Tenryu-ji was hands down the best.
I wish I could describe all the magic but it was dish after dish of stuff that was (more-or-less) new to me.

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

New hair?! I love it!
Once again, *dying* to go back. I'm just so happy to see further proof it can be done. Did you find a language barrier or did you typically have a friend with you who spoke Japanese?

Vegan Invasion! (Ashley Nicole) said...

These posts are both so well written and should definitely be saved for vegan travelers.

Everything looks so beautiful and you take wonderful photographs. It looks like there is a substantial amount of (delicious) options there!

mel said...

M - The hair isn't too new, I'm just lazy about styling it most of the time! We were on our own for most of the trip, but shane can read katakana (one of the 3 alphabets), and the universal "be friendly and smile" and knowing a few basic words/phrases is always helpful. At markets, I usually gestured to what I wanted, with plenty of arigato gozaimasu's thrown in. At restaurants, two fingers is understood as "futari," when you want a table to two. Many of the restaurants had English menus (some more broken than others), or at least pictures. The hardest part for me was understanding numbers, but for the most part, if they didn't have a register with a screen, they had a calculator handy to show you what you owed.

Jess - The Domestic Vegan said...

I LOVE your posts!! Such amazing pictures, too... I REALLY want to go to Japan, and your post is making me want to go even more!

And matcha soy milk?! That sounds like heaven... And easily enough reason alone to get to Japan!

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Ahh, okay. I can read Hiragana, I'm like Kindergarten level with Japanese. The problem is understanding it! hah.

Hannah said...

Wonderful reports- It makes me feel so "homesick"! I've been to Japan 3 times now and it's definitely a second home to me... I wish I could go back now!

bazu said...

I've loved reading your Japan posts- will come in handy when I finally make that trip happen.

Virgo Girl said...

Amazing! I will have to print this out and use it as a guide when I travel to Japan. Beautiful photos, I am so inspired I can hardly stand it.

vecca said...

Thank you for posting!!!

Going to Kyoto soon, and this page is a terrific find!

tofufreak said...

ahhhh!!! i miss japan! it's so much fun! last time i visited, i wasn't veg, but next time i go i'll get to try all of the veg places! i think one of my cousins works at one of the veg restaurants too! hehehe

Nobby said...

nice post, by the way, I'm pretty sure the matcha soymilk in Japan has oyster calcium in it so watch out.