As a vegetarian living in Fukuoka, I’ve had my fair share of difficulties getting a bite to eat, some of which I’ve detailed in this month’s dodesho column. I’m hoping to use this opportunity to share a few tips and recommendations for the vegans and vegetarians of this city. When I first arrived in Fukuoka, I didn’t know any Japanese, which was obviously my major stumbling block when it came to menus. The following tips should help non-Japanese speakers navigate the shops and restaurants of Fukuoka with limited lingo.
USING BUDDHIST CONCEPTS IN FOOD EXPLANATIONS
I came to Japan with the ill-founded idea that the country’s Buddhist past would have left its mark on contemporary cuisine. After arriving, however, I found that Japanese people had a limited understanding of what a ベジテリアン (bejiterian/vegetarian) is – in fact, I recently met a new Japanese friend who needed confirmation that “meat” included ham! However, I’ve recently discovered that Buddhist concepts can help to explain what we vegetarians will not eat.
• 菜食(sai shoku) is literally “vegetable food” and denotes a diet that was practised by stricter Buddhist sects
• 菜食主義 (sai shoku shu gi) means “vegetarianism”
• 菜食主義者 (sai shoku shu gi sha) means “vegetarian”
• For added emphasis, go for 完全菜食主義者 (kan zen sai shoku shu gi sha): “total vegetarian”
So, if telling someone you are bejiterian doesn’t seem to have got the point across, try mentioning sai shoku. The one issue here is that, as the translation suggests, sai shoku is likely to get you vegan food which can be annoying if you eat eggs and dairy. Personally, I find that preferable to discovering prawns have infiltrated your rice.
MORE USEFUL PHRASES
Other useful phrases for the vegetarian-about-town include:
• 肉と魚は食べません (niku to sakana wa tabemasen): I don’t eat meat and fish.
• 肉と魚を使わない料理をお願いできますか (niku to sakana o tsukawanai ryouri o onegai dekimasu ka): Could you make a meal without meat and fish?
• 厳格な (gen kaku na): strict. Insert this handy adjective in front of 菜食主義者 (sai shoku) or ベジテリアン (bejiterian).
• 肉のだし (niku no dashi): meat stock.
• 魚のだし (sakana no dashi): fish stock. It’s worth being specific if you really don’t want fish stock, but be aware it’s very common in Japanese noodle dishes.
VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS IN FUKUOKA
Armed with the above phrases you should be able to find something to eat in all but the most obviously carnivorous places (yaki niku restaurants and ramen stalls, for example). If you’re looking for a few tried and tested places, here are some restaurants that my vegetarian friends and I love:
• Vege Garden
1-3-29, Takamiya, Minami-ku, Fukuoka
Fortuitously, ‘macrobiotic’ is something of a health trend at the moment in Japan. I’m not sure exactly what macrobiotic is, but I know it’s vegan! This restaurant serves lovely vegan food, including delicious brown rice. http://www.geocities.jp/vegegarden0425/pc/english/
1-18-6 Takasago, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka
This cosy restaurant serves warming curries with a variety of vegetables.
2-15-20 Kego, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka
We stumbled across this on the old site of Mana Burgers and everything about it is perfect (despite the questionable name). The waitress was very accommodating, tweaking the lunch menu to avoid the fish, and there is fantastic, unlimited salad – real salad, not just shredded lettuce – and unlimited fresh fruit juice. A firm favorite.
• Freshness Burger
3-4-2 Nishijin, Sawara Ward, Fukuoka
Two words: Veggie Burger. And not just one—you can choose from a bean burger or a tofu burger. Be warned, though, they are quite small—it might be worth getting two. I went to the one in Nishijin but there are others branches around town. Fukuoka shop list here: http://www.freshnessburger.co.jp/shop/list.html?p=40
MORE VEGE DINING OPTIONS
If you need guaranteed vegetarian dining options, head to the nearest Indian restaurant. The oldest Indian restaurant in Fukuoka (Nanak, 1-1-4 Maizuru Ward, Fukuoka, http://www.nanak.jp) is well worth a visit. Italian restaurants and general pasta dishes are also a good option because they can be easily prepared without the meat/fish. Udon and soba dishes are a nice Japanese option and are fairly ubiquitous, but there is no better place to sample them than in Dazaifu—surrounded by everything that is traditionally Japanese.
As for food shopping and eating in, don’t be afraid to approach supermarket staff with questions about whether different items contain meat or fish. Japan has excellent customer service—take advantage of it! I’ve found it very profitable to learn the kanji for different types of meat. And although I’m still working on the huge number of kanji denoting different fish, sometimes it’s enough to look for the fish radical, a squashed up version of this 魚 on the left of a kanji. This knowledge is useful when reading ingredient lists and menus alike, although it can feel rather perverse to learn lots of characters for things you will never eat!
Cooking from scratch can be very rewarding and I recommend a good English-language Japanese vegetarian cookbook—or should I say the only English-language Japanese vegetarian cookbook. It’s called “Japanese Vegetarian Cooking: – From Simple Soups to Sushi” by Patricia Richfield. I ordered mine from the US Amazon online store but it was well worth the long wait for delivery.
On the other hand, convenience store food, inconveniently, has hidden fish and meat in almost everything. Be especially careful to notice smears of red-orange fish eggs in otherwise safe-looking sushi. Again, pester the staff about what’s safe to eat. I often buy sushi with small amounts of fish that are easy to jab out with a well-aimed chopstick. I wouldn’t do it back home in the UK, but, like choosing to ignore fishy soup stock, there are some things I have just learnt to live with.
I hope these tips help, and if you have anything to add or restaurants to recommend, please leave your comment below. Itadakimasu!
By Sara Whittaker
Read Sara’s full opinion piece from the June issue of Fukuoka Now magazine: The Life and Times of a Vegetarian in Fukuoka