Is Tokyo’s Vegan Dining Scene Improving?

Even in London, with thousands of vegan residents and visitors, great vegan restaurants come and go. Still, it is a sad statement of Japanese interest in veganism that Tokyo begins 2012 with three fewer vegan-only restaurants than last year.

  • First, there was the closure in March of the vegan and organic J’s Kitchen in Hiroo, owing to a shortage of safe and secure food products following the Tohoko disaster.
  • In December, Tokyo lost Manna Foods (a raw vegan restaurant) in Daikanyama and Cafe Little Hands (lunch only pop-up restaurant) in Jiyugaoka. I had never been to Manna, but had sampled their raw lasagna at VeggieFesta. Like many others, I found their food delicious, but pricey for the small portions.
  • Attending the farewell event at Cafe Little Hands, I regretted I had never eaten there before because the food was wholesome–not oily or excessively flavored–and included a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. It was like eating a home-cooked meal, and reasonably priced, too.

On the positive side, there is a growing number of plant-based dining alternatives from restaurant chains to pick up the slack:

  • After months anticipating the arrival of Fukuoka’s Mana Burgers in Tokyo (it was renamed “Island Veggie” with backing from the Aloha Table chain).
    • Visiting Island Veggie in Hiroo for a weekend lunch, I ordered the set, and was given a choice of deli items with either bread (the “whole wheat” bread was not baked in-house, and whole wheat content minimal), brown rice, or rice cracker.
    • The namesake “Mana Burger” my friend had was small and light on lettuce and tomato. Although the patty is vegan, they offer dairy cheese on the burger and no dairy-free cheese option. Bun was not particularly healthy either, perhaps why Mana Burger’s originator calls it “natural junk.”
    • Island Veggie’s novelty, and upscale location attracts a good crowd for now, and–despite small portions and high prices–its corporate support should keep it afloat.

There are a few more all-vegan restaurants in Tokyo worth checking out or checking into again:

  • Azabu Juban’s Eat More Greens (backed by the Big Eats company, parent co. of Donut Factory) has a dependable selection of vegan staples (with items such as chili, hummus and falafel) in a convenient location.
  • If you’re a Falafel lover, you have to try Falafel Du Kuumba who gives you an enormous falafel sandwich (dressed with additional spicy homemade harissa sauce) that spills over the place when you eat it. Or you can choose an ample-sized half sandwich and lentil soup for the same 1000 yen price.
  • Healing Cafe, with locations in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. I have heard good things about it, and am making a point to visit there soon.

I encourage you to make a resolution to seek out and support healthy vegan restaurants near you this year, too!

Meanwhile, since there are never enough vegan restaurants–and busy people have little time to seek them out–the best vegan food is wherever you can find it (subject for my next post…)