Restaurants, food makers expanding meat-free options

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A vegan course is seen at Ginza Kuki in Tokyo.

The Yomiuri ShimbunVegan options at restaurants and on supermarket shelves are increasing in Japan to better serve tourists from the United States and Europe, where diets free of animal products are common. Now efforts are also being made to come up with vegan dishes that also satisfy Japanese palates.

Ginza Kuki, a Japanese restaurant that opened in autumn last year in Tokyo’s Ginza district, began offering a vegan course in April.

The restaurant’s May course (¥12,000, excluding tax and service charge) included a main dish of spring cabbage stuffed with yam, tofu, lily bulb and cloud ear mushrooms steam-roasted with herbs.

Ginza Kuki said it began offering vegan options as they had received requests for vegan washoku Japanese cuisine from Western diners. “Our vegan course is designed to be filling even though the dishes are free of animal products,” head chef Shota Sato said. “Therefore, I hope Japanese customers who usually eat meat can also enjoy them.”

The restaurant information site Vegewel listed 921 vegan-friendly eateries as of May 18, up about 30 percent from 716 at the end of April last year.

“The number has particularly risen since the start of this year,” according to an official of the Vegewel operating company, Frembassy Inc., based in Tokyo. “Eateries are accelerating efforts to better respond to the needs of vegans as more and more foreign tourists are expected to visit Japan in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”

Natural Bar Paprika Vegan Dining in Nishi Ward, Osaka, offers menu items that look like hamburger steaks or fried oysters, made from soybeans and mushrooms, among other ingredients.

“I try to create [mock meat] dishes that have the right texture. Some customers mistake them for real hamburger steaks or fried oysters,” owner Junichi Nakai, 48, said.

The restaurant, which opened five years ago, said many of its diners are health-conscious women and people from the United States and Europe, as well as an increasing number of Muslim tourists, who cannot eat pork for religious reasons.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Natural Bar Paprika Vegan Dining owner Junichi Nakai is seen with his restaurant’s vegan cheese hamburger steak set in Nishi Ward, Osaka.

Natural Bar’s lunch menu items include pizza and donburi rice bowl dishes. Their vegan cheese hamburger steak set meal (¥1,580 excluding tax) features a cheese-like slice made from mochi and soy milk, while the mock meat is made mainly from soybeans. In the evening, the restaurant also serves vegan beer and wine.

A wide variety of food products made with soybeans and other vegetable-based ingredients that mimic the flavors and tastes of meat have been developed.

In March, Hikari Miso Co. in Nagano Prefecture launched “Yasai no Soboro” — frozen, seasoned minced vegetables — made from a broad bean-based product from Finland. The range includes three flavors: plain, Mexican and curry. The miso maker said it can be used on pizzas and in gyoza dumplings, among other dishes.

Marukome Co., a miso maker in Nagano city, has been producing soybean-based mock-meat products in its Daizu Labo range since 2015. The range is offered in blocks, fillets or minced and can be used to prepare meatless dishes that look like ginger pork or karaage deep-fried chicken.

However, people who follow a strict vegan diet should exercise care, according to a medical expert.

Doctor Keiko Nakamoto, a specialist in nutrition at Tokyo Adventist Hospital, said diets that consist only of plant-based foods provide almost no vitamin B12, which is necessary to maintain healthy blood, or vitamin D, which ensures effective calcium absorption.

“You can enjoy a healthy lifestyle if you take supplements or prepare dishes taking into consideration their nutritional content,” she said.

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