Vegetarian Sushi in a Traditional Japanese Home

Just south of Nishi-Ogikubo station on the JR Chuo line is a quaint kominka, traditional Japanese home, with a restaurant and retail shop. Re:gendo offers nutritious meals in a rustic setting that is worth a trip out of the city. A good friend put this shop on my radar and she even knew to pre-order the vegetarian sushi when she made the reservation. The set made with seasonal vegetables is only made in limited numbers and if you don’t reserve it in advance there is a good chance you can’t have it. The shop is popular so it is best to make reservations. The menu is rich in vegetables, but not exclusively vegetarian.

The photo on the left is the menu, which folds out of a what looks like a Japanese wallet. The sushi included two made with fruit, mango and strawberries, along with pickled vegetables, tempura, a savory custard, and a hearty miso soup.

The retail shop features tableware, kitchenware, and ingredients. Many of the items sold here are handcrafted. If you like some of the dishes used for your meal you may find it sold in the shop. The Nishi-Ogikubo area is fun to walk around and carefully peruse, so plan on spending an afternoon here.

After each meal I leave nourished and inspired to eat better and to surround myself with beautiful things.

Re:gendo りげんど

Suginami-ku, Shoan 3-38-20 杉並区松庵3-38-20

http://re-gendo.jp/

 

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Tempura-ya That Should Be on Your Radar

On the back streets of Kagurazaka in the basement of a modern building is Tempura Arai. The entrance to the restaurant is a small door that one must bend over to enter. Tempura Arai is the sister shop to the famous Tenko that opened recently and should be put on your Go List. The contrast to the father’s shop is striking as Tenko is a former geisha residence and has some history to it while this is modern with sleek lines.

At the moment Tempura Arai is open for lunch and lunch is very reasonable with the tendon starting at 1,400 JPY and a full course at 5,000 JPY. However, I believe that the shop may only be open for lunch on Saturdays only starting in the new year. The evening course starts at 8,500 JPY which is a good price.

Part of the tempura experience is listening to the items as they fry in the oil. Tempura Arai is intimate enough that you can hear each item as it cooks in the hot oil.

We did the lunch course, the tempura is light and delicate and finishes with a kakiage cake over rice. The shop has sake and a selection of wine as well. The restaurant can do vegetarian only upon request, but I believe the vegetables would be fried in the same oil as the shrimp and seafood.

Tempura Arai 天婦羅あら井

Shinjuku-ku, Kagurazaka 4-8, AGE Bldg. B1

新宿区神楽坂4-8 AGEビル B1

http://tempura-arai.jp/

A Rainbow of Pickles

A colorful meal based on Japanese pickles is refreshing and light. Nishiri is a famous pickle shop based in Kyoto. My favorite meal here is the pickle sushi, made with pickles on top of the rice instead of raw fish.

Here are two other set meals composed of pickles including eggplant, daikon stuffed with lemon, turnip stuffed with salmon, and much more. Strict vegetarians should advise the staff that they do not eat fish or meat. The miso soup here is made with kombu dashi and a sweet white miso, Saikyo miso, from Kyoto.

I come to Nishiri when I want some nutrition and the variety of textures and flavors that come with simply fermented vegetables. This shop in Tokyo has a small cafe inside the retail shop, so if you like any pickles, you can buy them to bring home.

Nishiri 西利

Nihonbashi Coredo Muromachi near Mitsukoshimae station

https://www.nishiri.co.jp/mise/coredo/coredo.html

Family-Friendly Sushiya Chain

Going out for sushi as a family cuts out many options. High-end sushiya are out of the question as are many mid-range spots. Our kid loves sushi, could eat it three days a week and when we go out, it’s often for sushi. We eat a lot of sashimi at home and will also make donburi rice bowls and make luscious spreads for temakizushi hand-rolls. But, we don’t make nigirizushi and go out for that.

Sushi Zanmai is a popular chain with branches throughout the city that is kid-friendly and offers a good value. The owner, Kiyoshi Kimura, is famous around the world for having paid $1.76 million dollars for a tuna a while back. Kimura-san is a tuna fanatic and if you love tuna, then go for the maguro-zukushi (maguro-zanmai at his shop) plate which is made with different cuts of tuna. There are about a dozen stores in the Tsukiji/Ginza area alone.

The weekday lunch sets start at about 1,080 JPY ($10). Sushi Zanmai has a variety of shops including kaiten-zushi, revolving conveyor belt sushi, to proper restaurants with a counter and tables. All of the shops we have been to are boisterous. Some shops do allow smoking, so frustrating. At a recent visit we asked to be moved away from a smoking table.

I was in the mood for vegetables this evening, so I took the handrolls which was made of cucumbers, umeboshi, takuan (pickled daikon), shiso, natto, and kampyō (soy simmered gourd). Hit the spot for me.

Below is the link for Sushi Zanmai. On top you can change to language to English to see what is in your neighborhood.

Sushi Zanmai

http://www.kiyomura.co.jp/

Nagano Gotta Eat – Oyaki

While traveling in Japan it is essential to try the local cuisine. Nagano is famous for soba, Nozawana (a pickled leafy green), basashi (horse sashimi), some insect dishes like inago (grasshoppers) and hachinoko (bee larva), and my favorite oyaki.

Oyaki are stuffed dumplings. The dough can be made from flour or buckwheat. It is stuffed with a variety of ingredients like mushrooms, kabocha squash, kiriboshi daikon (dried daikon strips), eggplant, walnuts, azuki sweet red beans, or my favorite, the local pickle Nozawana – a leafy green (photo above left).

We bought these handmade oyaki at a local supermarket. At home we fry them up in a pan with a little bit of oil. A great snack or side dish to a meal.

Ginza Hageten Kushiage

Hageten is a popular tempura and kushiage restaurant in Ginza. While many are familiar with tempura, kushiage is another great dish that is deep-fried, but covered with panko (Japanese bread crumbs) instead of a flour and egg batter.

Hageten’s “service lunch” starts at only 820 JPY for 6 skewers, salad, rice, miso soup, and pickles. Diners can get seconds on rice and miso soup. While I declined the generous offer, a salaryman at the counter was happy to get seconds on both.

The six skewers on a recent lunch were:

  1. kisu (sillago whitefish)
  2. kabocha squash
  3. pork and leeks
  4. tsukune (ground chicken) and celery
  5. tofu and cheese
  6. uzura (quail egg)

The miso soup was made with shijimi (Corbicula clams) and an awasemiso (blend of red and white miso). The rice, kuri gohan, was studded with fresh chestnuts which are in season now.

This is a great lunch if you are in Ginza. Hageten is several floors. The kushiage restaurant is in the basement. I loved my seat where I could see the chef’s mis en place including an egg batter and bread crumbs. The kushiage was lightly coated, delicate jacket of panko, and not oily.

Chef Takaishi-san was friendly and easy to chat with. He told me that he is off on Fridays, so I’ll try to come back on another day, not Friday. 🙂

I asked him about sending my vegetarian friends there for skewers. He said it would be best if the hotel concierge could call ahead and request a vegetarian only skewers and that they would be able to accommodate that request. On the fly it may be difficult. And, not sure if they could change the miso soup.

I haven’t had kushiage in a  long time, but that’s about to change. With this central location and good price, it’s hard to beat.

Hageten ハゲ天

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-4-6 中央区銀座3-4-6

www.hageten.com

 

Vegetarian in Tokyo?

It’s very tough being a true vegetarian in Tokyo. That is not my case, but it is for some of our clients and friends who come to travel, or live and work in Japan. Here are some suggestions for restaurants that are vegetable-friendly. They may not be strictly vegetarian, so be sure to inquire if you follow a very strict diet.
When I am craving vegetables, I make a beeline for Rose Bakery and get the salad lunch. There is a branch in Ginza, but you most likely will find me at the Kichijoji branch.
Sougo is a lovely vegetarian restaurant in Roppongi.
Daisuke Nomura is the owner. His family owns another famous restaurant called Daigo in Atago, also Buddhist vegetarian.
I LOVE Dhaba Indian in Kyobashi for dosa. It is a short walk from Tokyo Station:
I often ask for vegetarian tempura at places like Tenmatsu (there is also a branch in Shibuya):
Kushiage are skewers of vegetables, fish, and meat, that are breaded and deep-fried. Hageten in Ginza said that if you call ahead when making a reservation that they could do a vegetable only flight of skewers.
This is my favorite pizza in Tokyo:
If you like bagels, this shop is also nearby the pizzeria above:
Also, I LOVE TY Harbor restaurants as they are very good about substituting vegetarian dishes for meat or seafood components.
The following are all in the TY Harbor group:
Aoyama Cicada
Daikanyama Ivy Place
Sukiyaki is a dish based on wagyū beef, but if you call ahead, they can prepare a vegetarian sukiyaki.
For Japanese breakfast, the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s Girandole will also do a vegetarian traditional Japanese breakfast, but reservations need to be made in advance for this.
Some other spots from my blog:

Yamagata Dashi

One of my go to side dishes this time of year is Yamagata Dashi, a classic kyōdo ryōri (regional dish) from where my family is from. I didn’t eat it growing up, and only came upon it once I lived in Japan. It’s the perfect dish for summer as the vegetables for Yamagata Dashi are at the peak of their season.

Yamagata Dashi smells like you are in the garden. It has a crunchy texture and depending on how much nattō kombu and okra you use, it can be very slippery. I love the aromatics from the shiso and myōga, the crunch from the cucumbers, and it took a while for me to get used to eating raw eggplant, but I love it now.

The main ingredients are cucumbers, eggplant, myōga (ginger buds), okra, and shiso. Nattō kombu, finely minced dried kombu, is another key ingredient. I picked up this pack of nattō kombu なっとう昆布 or 納豆昆布 at the Yamagata antenna shop in Ginza.

https://foodsaketokyo.com/2011/05/02/yamagata-antenna-shop/

Soak a small amount of the nattō kombu in water while prepping the vegetables.

I like to blanch the okra and remove the seeds, but if you are in a hurry or don’t want to be bothered with turning on the stove, you could mince the okra while raw.

Finely chop the cucumbers, eggplant, and okra. Mince the myōga and shiso.

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and season with either soy sauce or tsuyu (seasoned soy sauce used for soba or udon noodles). Serve over rice. If you can’t be bothered cooking rice, use the precooked rice that only needs to be microwaved.

Serve immediately. Best to make only what you can eat as the texture changes if it sits overnight in the refrigerator.

Yamagata Dashi 山形だし

kyōdo ryōri 郷土料理

cucumbers – kyūri 胡瓜

eggplant – nasu 茄子

ginger buds – myōga 茗荷

okra オクラ

shiso しそ

nattō kombu 納豆昆布

Do let me know if you try making this dish. Curious what your reactions are.

 

 

Aoyama Cicada

At Cicada in Aoyama, near Omotesando, I always order the mezze plate. I love the variety of small bites, often with lots of vegetables. If you have allergies, or prefer for an all vegetable mezze, the kitchen is great to substitute something.

I sometimes come by myself and sit at the bar.  In New York City I found it very easy to start up conversations with complete strangers, but that is much harder to do here in Japan. However, I’ve met some interesting people here, including a designer. In our conversation we realized that we both worked on the same food project, at different stages. Cicada is that type of restaurant that draws in an international crowd, but also internationally-minded locals. There is always a buzz in the restaurant and the staff speak English.

The draft beer is from T.Y. Harbor, their sister shop. The wine list is reasonably priced and there is a nice selection of wines-by-the-glass that match the Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

There is outdoor seating, but that seems to book up quickly, so plan ahead if you want to dine al fresco.

Aoyama Cicada4

Aoyama Cicada Mezze

Cicada

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-7-28 港区南青山5-7-28

https://www.tysons.jp/cicada/en/

Shibuya Shunju 春秋 – Colorful Vegetable Salad Bar

** Updated Sunday, 16 April 2017. Shibuya Shunju no longer offers the vegetable salad bar. The restaurant is still a good choice for lunch in this part of Shibuya. Arigato, to David Richards for letting me know the buffet was not there when he went recently.

Buffet lunches abound around the city. Some of my favorites include the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and Motif at the Four Seasons Marunouchi, but these gorgeous buffets deserve a leisurely long lunch so that you can enjoy all that is offered. I was meeting a girlfriend for a casual lunch in Shibuya and wanted somewhere that offered a vegetable-friendly meal.

Shunju, just across the street from Bunkamura music hall and museum, was exactly what I was looking for. There is a small, but thoughtfully assembled organic salad bar and diners choose a main course. I opted for a simple onigiri as my main course. The other options included fish grilled over sumi charcoal, chicken, and pork. The buffet lunch with onigiri starts at about 900 JPY ($9 USD). For a supplemental 500 JPY you can add a protein main course to the meal.

Yellow and orange carrots, red cabbage, simmered lotus root, tempura eggplant, and a creamed cabbage were some of my favorites. The carrot juice at the salad bar was sweet enough to stand in for dessert. The only meat product on the buffet was some ground meat in the miso, an umami-rich dip for the vegetables.

The restaurant was busy at the noon hour. Mostly young girls making several rounds to the salad bar. Shunju has a few other branches around the city, and I imagine that they also offer a similar lunch.

Note that the buffet is on weekdays only. On the weekends the restaurant is course lunches only. Arigato to David Richards for sending this helpful information via the blog. Arigato and thankful for your notes.

Shunju 春秋

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-23-12, Fontis Bldg. 1F

渋谷区道玄坂2-23-12フォンティスビル1F

http://shunju.com/