Tips on Dining in Japanese Restaurants - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 04-18-2006, 03:15 AM
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So you're now a vegetarian or a vegan. Trouble is, you've been invited to dine, or you've found yourself at a Japanese restaurant, and you don't know what to do. Perhaps you've eaten Japanese food before and loved it, but think you can't get much of anything now, or you've never eaten Japanese food before and think you won't be able to get past the raw or cooked fish.



I've eaten at Japanese restaurants most of my life, because my parents discovered Japanese food long before sushi became trendy. I had to learn the hard way how to order once I became a vegetarian, but, with a little willingness to ask questions, you'll find it's not too hard. You may say "But Amy, there's no Japanese restaurant within 50 miles of where I live!" Well, OK, but since you never know what the future will bring, you can't say for certainty that you will never eat at a Japanese restaurant.



First and foremost, see if you can get a copy of the restaurant's menu so you're well armed beforehand. However, as with any other type of restaurant, talking to the restaurant staff before or during your ordering process will be a big help. And remember that Japanese cuisine, once the animal flesh is removed, is inherently vegan (except for the egg batter for the tempura, which, you'd be interested to know, the Japanese actually got from Portugese missionaries). The problem is, fish and other sealife are so important a part of Japanese cuisine that they can pop up somewhere if you forget to ask if what you're ordering contains fish. They might say "just some bonito flakes". Ask them if they can take that out. Bonito is a fish.



Appetizers: These days there will be edamame included. Edamame is green soy beans, steamed in the pod and salted. If you don't see it on the menu, still ask if they have it. I've eaten at one place where it's not listed, but they serve it anyway if asked. Pop the beans out of the pods like you would peas, and discard the pods. This is where you'll get most of your protein.



If you still can't get edamame, there are still salads. Sunomono is a pickled cucumber and seaweed salad. Be sure to tell them cucumber only; don't add shrimp or anything else. Tsukemono is a pickled cabbage salad. That's good, too. Again, make sure they don't add any sealife to it. One restaurant I frequent also offers a seaweed salad. Who knew there were so many different kinds of seaweed! If you really want to experience Japanese cuisine, it's worth a try. Ask your server if they can make you something like that if you don't see it on the menu.



This same place offers tofu steak and tofu salad as an appetizer. I've had these; they tend to be a little too bland for my taste, but if you want to make sure you're not missing out on protein at this meal, they're a possibility.



Also often listed in the appetizers section is vegetable tempura. These are vegetables cooked in an egg batter, so it's suitable only for non vegans. You may not see it listed in the appetizers section, but will usually be offered as an entree, either as plain vegetable or vegetable and shrimp. You can order it without the shrimp.



Now, the miso soup. It's like chicken soup in the West; Japanese people live on this stuff, and it's considered good for one's health. The tricky part? It's often made with a fish base, or with fish added to the base. Ask your server what kind of base they use, and if they admit to using fish, ask if they can make you a soup with a strictly vegetable base. Some restaurants are very accomodating; I ate at one place in San Francisco that made, especially for me and my sister, a HUGE bowl of vegetarian miso soup with tons of vegetables. If you are able to order vegetarian miso soup, consider asking for extra tofu, if you're still worried about getting some protein in your meal.



The Entrees: Unfortunately, this is where you can get stuck. There is usually little to be ordered from this section. If you're lacto-ovo, you can usually order vegetable tempura, either listed by itself or with shrimp (hold the shrimp). Please note: They will include a special dipping sauce for the tempura. However, there are other possibilities: for example: Sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is a stew (really, more of a soup, since it has a lot of liquid in the pot) made usually from a beef base, with tons of vegetables and the animal flesh of one's choice. However, at one place I've eaten (with prodding from my omni mother), I asked the owner if it was possible to get sukiyaki made from a vegetable base, with no beef or any other kind of meat. Voila! They delivered! A nice, big vegetarian sukiyaki with tons of vegetables and tofu, which I couldn't finish and had to take home. Another possibility: Yakuniku, which is Japanese shishkabob. Most of them include animal flesh, but some places offer just a vegetable yakuniku. Again, ask for it if you don't see it on the menu.



Sushi: No need to miss out now that you're a veg*an. Take a good, close look at their sushi menu. It will list such items as:



Egg (for the non-vegans). (Tamago) This is a piece of cooked egg wrapped with seaweed. I've eaten it when I was still lacto-ovo and enjoyed it.



Cucumber rolls: (Kappa Maki) Cucumber and rice wrapped in seaweed. This is mostly what I ate as a new vegetarian and hadn't learned the ropes of Japanese restaurant ordering yet. A lot of places will offer a cucumber roll Dinner consisting of 18 rolls with soup, salad and rice. The last time I had that, I managed to down 15 rolls before I pooped out.



Don't get the Kappa Maki mixed up with the Tekka Maki, which is tuna roll.



Vegetable rolls: (Yasai-Maki) Ah, here we go! cucumber, avocado, mushrooms, carrots, sea vegetables, you name it, with rice, wrapped in seaweed! My fave! I order this wherever I go. All veggies, dipped in soy sauce mixed with wasabi (the green stuff you see on your plate), and yes, go easy on the wasabi or it'll take you into orbit for a couple of minutes.



Other possibilities: Pickled plum roll, made with plum paste, mint leaf and cucumber. Pickled Daikon roll, made with pickled Japanese radish.



What NOT to order: Don't bother with the California roll. If this is a place where there are photos on display of the variety of sushi they offer, the California roll will look vegetarian. It's not. It will usually include something like crab or fish eggs.



If you think you're still going to be hungry, don't forget to ask for a bowl of steamed rice. You may not be used to the stickness of Japanese rice, but I've found I prefer it to other types of rice. If you are able to order a vegetarian sukiyaki, eat your rice just like the Japanese do: either pour some soy sauce, or, better yet, pour a little sukiyaki sauce, on the rice, plop some veggies and tofu on top, and enjoy!



Don't worry about figuring out how to work the chopsticks; after all these decades, I still can't quite get the hang of 'em, so I just muddle along eating my meal the best I can. If you're really having trouble, just ask for a fork. No biggie.



Happy eating!

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#2 Old 04-18-2006, 04:04 AM
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Uh-oh. Almost forgot!



The ginger! Woohoo! Fresh ginger, sliced verrrry thin, is a palate cleanser. If you don't get it with your meal (you normally would, especially if you order sushi), ask for some. Dip it into soy sauce (but don't drown it) and pop it into your mouth every so often. It has a clean, fresh, VERY sharp taste. One of my favorite parts of the meal. I'll scavenge other people's ginger if they don't want theirs!



And the dessert. If you're lacto-ovo, you'll enjoy the green tea or ginger ice creams. In many restaurants, they'll offer a segmented fresh orange. That's something we can all enjoy to finish off a meal like this.



Also, please note: Japanese food is typically very salty. When possible, use the low sodium soy sauce, and make sure you have plenty of water and green tea available. Unfortunately, I have yet to be in a Japanese restaurant that offers soy ice cream, so if you're vegan, you'll have to wait until you get home, and you'll want it! Trust me.



I also forgot to mention (it's very late) something about the sushi, if you've never eaten sushi before: Restaurants will offer rolls two ways: Cut, which means they slice it into bite-sized pieces, and hand, which means one long uncut roll. I always order the cut version. Also, sushi is traditionally eaten by hand. You can skip the chopsticks, but I gotta warn you: Some sushi rolls will fall apart, so open wide!

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#3 Old 04-18-2006, 06:02 AM
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thank you for this, Amy!

Of course, there isn't a Japanese restauraunt round here (that I've seen), but you're right, you never know what the future will bring!



Any this has made me hungry to try veggie sushi!
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#4 Old 04-18-2006, 06:15 AM
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc6v8IUe_0g



An excellent video on how to eat sushi. Not very vegetarians as the vid has heaps of fish, but still worth watching.

Love the post? Why not buy the T-shirt!
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#5 Old 04-18-2006, 08:01 AM
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Amy- great thread, but you forgot the most important one!



Avacado rolls! Just like the cucumber kappa rolls, but with avacado.

THese and some miso soup are ususally my dinner when I go for japanese!

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#6 Old 04-18-2006, 10:26 AM
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We normally get miso soup, rice, cucumber or takuan maki and vegetable tempura. We love Japanese food. Unfortunately, there aren't many good restaurants around here so I've had to make my own. The only thing I haven't been able to do right is the veggie tempura.
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#7 Old 04-18-2006, 10:55 AM
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Amy I freaking love you. Not like I'll be going to one soon, but now I know more about just what to order.
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#8 Old 04-18-2006, 02:23 PM
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I read this with great timing. I'm going to Nami in Minneapolis tomorrow. Here's the website: http://www.namisushi.com/

I think I already know what I want to order, but suggestions are welcome.

Thankfully, I'll be dining with another vegetarian. (Not vegan, however)

That video was hysterical!
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#9 Old 04-18-2006, 02:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SallyK View Post

I read this with great timing. I'm going to Nami in Minneapolis tomorrow. Here's the website: http://www.namisushi.com/

I think I already know what I want to order, but suggestions are welcome.

Thankfully, I'll be dining with another vegetarian. (Not vegan, however)

That video was hysterical!



That place is expensive! $7.95 just for the tempura appetizer?



Well, perhaps it's the location, Los Angeles vs. Minneapolis. Where I eat, the dinner entree version is that amount. Maybe there are a lot more Japanese restaurants in LA than Minneapolis, and that's why...



*shrug*

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#10 Old 04-18-2006, 03:26 PM
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Some other thoughts:



Check your sushi menu for Inari... This is a deep-fried tofu pouch stuffed with sushi rice. Very tasty.



Look for "bean curd" in the entree section. My local Japanese place does a tofu stir fry and other tofu entrees. It also has just plain "vegetable" entrees.



Many Japanese places also have fried rice (just request no egg if you're vegan).
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#11 Old 04-18-2006, 04:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiz View Post

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc6v8IUe_0g



An excellent video on how to eat sushi. Not very vegetarians as the vid has heaps of fish, but still worth watching.



In the case of one you should always show a little guilt with your eyes.



Oh, and I love that "junk food" in Japanese is "junk food". hehehe
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#12 Old 04-18-2006, 04:29 PM
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I saw a cooking show where they had a Japenese Tempura chef preparing the Tempura batter using egg yolk. Never knew that before.
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#13 Old 04-18-2006, 04:49 PM
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You forgot to mention Inari rolls: Sweet tofu yumminess!
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#14 Old 04-18-2006, 05:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by froggythefrog View Post

You forgot to mention Inari rolls: Sweet tofu yumminess!



Yes I did, but toadstool posted a mention of it. Thanks, toadstool!

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#15 Old 04-18-2006, 06:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amy SF View Post

That place is expensive! $7.95 just for the tempura appetizer?



Well, perhaps it's the location, Los Angeles vs. Minneapolis. Where I eat, the dinner entree version is that amount. Maybe there are a lot more Japanese restaurants in LA than Minneapolis, and that's why...



*shrug*

I noticed that it was $7.95 for the vegetable tempura lunch entree and also $7.95 for the shrimp/vegetable tempura appetizer. It lists the vegetable tempura dinner entree at $10.95. I think ....the menu is long!

I would imagine that you're right about why the prices are a bit higher...there's probably only (this figure is from a search I did on city search) a couple dozen sushi places in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.
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#16 Old 04-18-2006, 07:02 PM
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Great info. I love Japanese food.



There's a sushi item, I forgot what it's called, but it's fermented soybeans. Most people don't like it. I know I didn't.



Edit: Natto - that's what it's called.
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#17 Old 04-18-2006, 07:53 PM
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You've made me desperate for sushi!

A place that I like to go to offers a 'Forever Young' roll, which has carrots, asparagas, avacado, cucumber, and marinated/baked tofu- it's to die for. They don't have a vegetarian miso soup though, unfortunately. I've never asked them if they could make one special for me, however. Maybe next time? Oh, I'm hungry.
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#18 Old 04-18-2006, 08:29 PM
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Great thread! Kudos to Amy SF for all of that info!



I'll add one dish that I often order: Soba noodles. They're a buckwheat noodle that's usually served at room temp, or very slightly chilled, and the diner is supposed to hold each biteful in his/her chopsticks and dunk it into the accompanying sauce before eating it. Unfortunately, the sauce almost always has fish (bonito extract) in it, so do what I do and make your own fish-free sauce out of the other tabletop condiments: soy sauce, chili oil, togarashi (7-spice blend), lemon or whatever, and be sure to mix in a little wasabi and the sliced scallions and grated daikon radish that come with the soba. Oishi!
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#19 Old 04-18-2006, 09:06 PM
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Some of the places I go have Age Maki which is the wrapper they use for Inari put into a roll. It's actually my favorite type of sushi.



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#20 Old 04-18-2006, 09:17 PM
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One sushi place I went to (in New Hampshire of all places!) had "Idaho Maki" (haha, sounds very Japanese I know). It was pan fried yams. Then wrapped into a sushi roll. It was delicious! If you can find it give it a try.



A cool trick is to learn to fold your chop stick wrapper into a chop stick stand. It is kind of hard to explain but if you look at it long enough you might be able to figure it out.
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#21 Old 04-18-2006, 10:08 PM
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I started this thread very late (midnight), but was anxious to get it submitted. I figured it was a work in progress and was actually hoping other people would help me out with menu items I might have forgotten about.



Thanks everyone!

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#22 Old 04-18-2006, 11:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stellar26 View Post

You've made me desperate for sushi!

A place that I like to go to offers a 'Forever Young' roll, which has carrots, asparagas, avacado, cucumber, and marinated/baked tofu- it's to die for. They don't have a vegetarian miso soup though, unfortunately. I've never asked them if they could make one special for me, however. Maybe next time? Oh, I'm hungry.

Please, oh please, tell me where you like to go!?! The Forever Young roll sounds amazing!
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#23 Old 04-19-2006, 07:23 AM
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Please, oh please, tell me where you like to go!?! The Forever Young roll sounds amazing!



Koyi Sushi downtown. It's the sushi place owned by Sawatdee. Unfortunately, you won't find many other veg items on the menu aside from your usual cucumber roll, edamame, their house salad, and or their wilted spinach salad (I really like that one). If I remember right, you can create your own rolls, however.

I've never actually been there for a meal, only for a quick roll while downtown- usually before a concert of sorts.
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#24 Old 04-19-2006, 01:14 PM
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I finally watched the rest of that video that Kiz posted the link to.











It's funny!



I still want to visit Japan, though.

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#25 Old 04-21-2006, 10:26 PM
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I made a boo-boo.



I just had another fantastic meal at one of my favorite Japanese restaurants, and when I looked at the menu, I realized that I goofed in my OP. I had posted that yakiniku was Japanese shishkabob. Nope. It's sliced animal flesh and vegetables with a special teriyaki seasoning.



Yakitori is the Japanese shishkabob. Similar words, but different menu items.



Sorry 'bout that, gang. (Remember, it WAS very late at night when I typed up my OP).



(For the record, tonight I had miso soup, rice, sunomono, edamame, and six pieces of vegetable roll, and don't forget the 'ol ginger. Yummmmm. I'm dying of thirst.)

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#26 Old 04-22-2006, 10:18 AM
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There is a Japanese restaurant in Milwaukee that has a special vegetarian menu once a month that I have yet to check out. Someone should come to Milwaukee and take me out for dinner.
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#27 Old 04-24-2006, 03:51 PM
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I love seaweed salad!
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#28 Old 04-24-2006, 03:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amy SF View Post

That place is expensive! $7.95 just for the tempura appetizer?



Well, perhaps it's the location, Los Angeles vs. Minneapolis. Where I eat, the dinner entree version is that amount. Maybe there are a lot more Japanese restaurants in LA than Minneapolis, and that's why...



*shrug*



I don't know about MN but in Portland most places offer large appetizers that are meant for a party to share and are as big as and nearly as expensive as entrees.



Plus the place SK linked to looks like it has good atmosphere which is always worth a little extra (and costs a little extra to provide).
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#29 Old 04-24-2006, 04:12 PM
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I don't know where you're going Amy, but every Japanese restraunt I've been to has been expensive. But that's probably because I always went ala carte with the sushi and that can add up. xD



I haven't been to a Japanese restraunt since going vegan but I've learned to make my own sushi so I haven't really needed to... Isn't that hard and saves money! I really want to find a recipe for the tangy cucumber salad though! That is really good.
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#30 Old 04-24-2006, 04:21 PM
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Amy you kick @$$!



I would like to mention that many nori sheets contain fish due to the harvesting and processing of the seaweed used to make nori and that it's a challenge to locate ethically-sourced nori (and it's almost guaranteed that those at commercial eateries are NOT safe to eat as a veg*n).



The tricky thing is, this fish or other sea creatures in the nori aren't listed on the ingredients becuase it is included in during the harvesting and processing

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