Plant-Based Japan Travel – Osaka

Osaka is known as the kitchen of Japan, and the friendliest city we visited. Although it’s the third largest city in Japan, it’s comparatively less veg*n-friendly than Tokyo or Kyoto. Good thing is, Osaka is much more budget friendly, which is why we did all our shopping there before coming back to Singapore. In certain eateries, you can taste vegan versions of famous Osaka street food like yakiniku (BBQ meat skewers), okonomiyaki (savoury pancake), teriyaki (grilled meat) and takoyaki (octopus dumplings)!

While offering all the modern comforts of a big city, Osaka is also laid-back and friendly – so I never felt overwhelmed here like in Tokyo. Some shops and even large department stores open late and close rather early.

Maps:

When in Japan, don’t forget to look down!

Notes:

  • Veg*n is a shortened, inclusive term to refer to vegans and vegetarians.
  • This article is solely based on my experiences and research, thus may not represent the whole of Osaka.
  • Accuracy of information cannot be guaranteed as there may be changes to the eatery’s operations

Osaka Station

The biggest train station in Osaka, connected to many malls and department stores. There aren’t any pure veggie or vegan places here, but there’s a few places that offer vegan dishes.

Breakfast places

Most places near Osaka station seem to open at 10.30am or so, so we didn’t walk around looking for breakfast. After my trip someone from the Osaka Vegans group suggested a few breakfast places with vegan options around this area, which we’ve added to our map.

Generally, you can look for bakeries as those are open early. All bakeries I visited in Japan have breads without egg and dairy (labelled clearly) and most can do an americano. Some may even offer soymilk for coffee. Alternatively, you can grab cheap bites like certain onigiris, edamame, certain cookies, sesame buns, soymilks and more from konbinis – list here.

Chabuton (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Contains, request without
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

On the 6th floor’s restaurant area in Yodobashi Camera building, which is linked to Osaka Station via an elevated walkway. All Chabuton outlets in Japan has vegan ramen and gyoza. You have to buy a ticket from the vending machine and pass it to the server. A cheap and quick place to settle a meal. Review.

Ramen in Japan is always too salty, I really prefer our noodle dishes!

Nakazakicho Station

10 minutes walk from Osaka station and has 4 veg*n spots (WaGwann, Aju, Babel Cafe and Pineapple Cafe) within a kilometer. Thus we booked this hotel (didn’t book Airbnb, we wanted luggage storage and airport shuttle for our last day). 10 minutes walk from this hotel is the fancy Hotel New Hankyu, which has the airport shuttle and is right next to Osaka Station.

Breakfast

The hotel said there’s nothing vegan in the breakfast buffet, which was okay because it was a bit expensive anyway. We can’t really cook in the room, which is why I carried a light and small electric travel cooker for such situations. We got bread, natto (those without fish sauce), oatmeal (I heated up with water in the cooker), wakame and sushi from supermarkets and had a cheap, substantial and balanced breakfast.

If you don’t wish to make breakfast, you can check out bakeries near Osaka station or grab a bite from konbinis.

Better than Gardenia!

Vegebar Aju (vegan) – Okonomiyaki, Yakitori

  • Alliums & Alcohol: Some dishes have, labelled clearly. Sells alcohol.

Has vegan okonomiyaki and yakitori! Impressively large menu of hearty, wholesome foods at an affordable price (by Japan standards). There’s only one person manning the cafe so be prepared to wait if it’s full house. Review.

Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake consisting of cabbage and a type of meat. Usually topped with a tangy sauce, mayo, dried seaweed, bonito (fish) flakes and spring onions. By default, the batter will have egg. Which is why I only ate this in places that serve the vegan version.

Babel Cafe (vegan)

  • Alliums: Unsure
  • Alcohol: Shop sells it

Located in a shopping arcade 8 minutes away from the station. Passed by this place but didn’t find a chance to visit as they aren’t open for dinner on that day. Seems like a healthy vegan cafe with many raw foods.

Looks so fun and welcoming!

Shinsaibashi

Another popular shopping district, this one is like our Orchard Road so I didn’t explore much of it. Only went to a drugstore and bought 15 of this amazing chocolate rice crispy back!

Paprika Shokudo (vegan) – Teriyaki

  • Alliums: Contains, request without when ordering
  • Alcohol: Shop sells it

About 6 minutes walk away from the Shinsaibashi (exit 2) station. However, the station is huge (10 blocks long!) and which exit you’ll end up at also depends on where you’re coming from. So if you want a simpler route, exit at smaller stations like Hommachi (Restaurant Green Earth is near this station) and Nishi-Ohashi. Had the best mock meats here, so I’m sure omnivore friends will enjoy too. The teriyaki tempeh is something I won’t forget! Review.

Grilled vegan eel rice bowl (donburi). Compared to Bespoke’s version, this is more shiok!

Dontonburi

Shopping district where the famous Glico running man is at. Come here to be amused by the crazy eye-catching displays made by restaurants and get some omiyage (souvenir) shopping done!

A hungry, ramen-holding dragon isn’t something you see everyday!

Toushoumen Unryuu (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Contains, request without when ordering
  • Alcohol: Shop sells it

Dontonburi is mainly a takoyaki and okonomiyaki food street and “normal” Osaka street food isn’t vegan. Surprisingly, Dontonburi has lots of Chinese restaurants! We discovered one shop towards the end with a “we have vegetarian food” sign at the door! The staff even checked with us if onion/garlic is okay. You may think that Chinese food is everywhere in Singapore, but Chinese food is so diverse. This place focus on dishes from Shaanxi, Shanxi and Xi’an, and specialises in dao xiao mian (knife shaved noodles). I’ve not found vegan versions of those in Singapore yet! Definitely worth a try. Review.

Says in Chinese, “We have vegetarian food, can do takeaway.” A Chinese restaurant with photos that look like these, is very likely to have authentic food!

OSAKA Namba Station

This may be the station where you get off for Dotonburi, depending on where you’re coming from. Like all other big stations in Japan, it’s huge and has multiple levels, track lines and exits. So always ask the station staff for directions, I learnt that it’s futile to figure things out by yourself!

LIFE supermarket (chain)

On the first floor of Maruito Namba building. A huge supermarket in Namba station with a bakery and prepared foods section. Carries vegan mayo, soymilk bread, natto and cucumber sushi and many more. If you’re unsure about what’s veg*n in the prepared foods section, you can check with the kitchen staff – but be specific when asking since not everyone in Japan knows what vegan is. We did our omiyage shopping here instead of buying in tourists areas. Supermarkets sell pretty much the same thing, with simpler packaging and it’s cheaper! Review.

Japanese mayo is tastier than Western mayo, in my opinion!

Kansai Airport

Hanazoto (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Unsure
  • Alcohol: Shop sells it

Located in airport’s Hotel Nikko. Has one traditional Kyoto-style vegetarian set indicated on their website. Not sure if it’s vegan though, as tempura batter usually has egg. Seems expensive, so we didn’t eat here.

Bento from Hidamari Tsutsu (vegan)

  • Alliums & Alcohol: Can request without

Before we went to Kansai Airport, I reserved 4 bentos from Tsutsu, a local vegan home chef, by messaging her Facebook page. She met us at Nakazakicho station since it was quite near her house. She even gave us a handwritten menu – so kind and thoughtful! Thanks to this homely, balanced bento, we had a lovely and affordable lunch in Kansai airport! She’ll start her own cafe soon, so follow her Facebook to get updates. Review.

Homely and made with care. A lovely end to our trip 🙂

Family Mart (chain)

This convenience store is in the departure hall, behind the Starbucks where you can get soymilk with your drink. I bought some daifuku (big mochi), natto roll and seaweed onigiri to snack on the plane. Here’s a list of vegan konbini food items.

Notable mentions (AKA: I WISH I VISITED)

Self Takoyaki Bar (non-veg) – Takoyaki

  • Alliums: Takoyaki usually have onions as topping, request without
  • Alcohol: Shop sells it

Has vegan takoyaki – likely the only place in Osaka that does! Next to Shin-Imamiya Station, which is outside the city area of Osaka so be prepared to travel a bit. I didn’t visit as it’s a smoking bar, which my family won’t be comfortable in. From reviews in the Osaka group, the takoyaki is really yummy and you can even make it yourself!

Megumi (vegan) – Okonomiyaki

  • Alliums: Unsure
  • Alcohol: Shop sells it

I heard good things about their okonomiyaki and food in general. Sadly, they were closed during our stay in August (luckily I checked their Facebook before visiting), as it was the Obon holidays (which is something like our Qing Ming). Seems like a highly recommended place if you want to taste vegan versions of local food!

Thank you for reading!

Japan is such a wonderful country full of surprises and revelations. One should be able to enjoy Japan no matter what you eat! I hope this series will help greatly and give you more confidence going there! I’ll continue to post more dishes and packaged food reviews over at abillionveg to help their animal sanctuary partners. If you’d like to review any veg*n food, post it there and abillionveg can donate on your behalf to various animal welfare groups! Have a great trip 🙂

Previous: Kyoto

Plant-Based Japan Travel – Kyoto

Kyoto’s many atmospheric shrines and grand temples offer visitors a glimpse into Japan’s ancient past. Come here to experience “wabi-sabi”, the Japanese aesthetic of finding beauty in imperfection (not wasabi!). Everything seems beautiful, from the moss that covers a rock in temple gardens to the irregularities in the ceramic cup that matcha is served in. Kyoto has a much slower pace of life than Tokyo, which also means that many small businesses close earlier or have irregular opening hours.

Don’t expect to find Buddhist vegetarian food at the temples. In fact, meat and alcohol are sold in many temples – a huge culture shock for me!

Notes:

  • Veg*n is a shortened, inclusive term to refer to vegans and vegetarians.
  • This article is solely based on my experiences and research, thus may not represent the whole of Kyoto.
  • Accuracy of information cannot be guaranteed as there may be changes to the eatery’s operations

Maps & groups:

Kyoto Tower – visit near sunset!

Kyoto station & Kyoto Tower

There seems to be not much options in Kyoto station except this Korean place (which I wasn’t interested in as Singapore has good Korean food). Kyoto Tower is connected to Kyoto Station. There’s one vegan place in the basement food court.

  • Alliums: One main dish is allium-free
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

A small vegan stall in the food court below Kyoto Tower, more like a bar. Main focus seems to be the alcohol they sell. Not much choice of main dishes, but overall quite tasty. Review.

Why I love Japan – detailed allergen information!

Organic Salute (vegan)

  • Alliums: Contains, check when ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

Hidden in an alleyway, but 5 minutes walk from Kyoto Station. It’s located in a wooden house in a residential area. Lovely homemade food. Some dishes are written at the counter, some are inside the menu so look closely. Also has a small grocery section where you can get miso instant noodles and macrobiotic cookies. Review.

Keep your eyes peeled for this door!

Nagomi Yoda Towa (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Present, request without when booking
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

Modernized traditional ryokan (Japanese-style inn) about 8 minutes away from Kyoto Station. We stayed here a night just for the experience. Highly recommended as the tatami rooms were the most comfortable and spacious rooms we stayed in. They understand vegan and provided the most amazing Japanese breakfast. Breakfast is included when you book through Booking.com – remember to type your request for veg*n one and confirm again when checking in. Review.

Looks simple but fresh and exquisite! Favourites were the grated yam soup, tofu and soy milk.

Hankyu Omiya Station

A transit spot with another station (Shijo Omiya, goes to Arashiyama) and many bus stops nearby. In Japan, it’s quite common to see different stations in the same area run by different companies). So you’re very likely to pass by here.

Vegetarian Ren (vegan)

  • Alliums & Alcohol: None

Taiwanese vegan food – the best-tasting, most value for money and substantial meal we had in Kyoto, served by an old couple who are devoted Buddhists – thus no alliums and alcohol in the restaurant. They were the friendliest and sweetest owners we met. Not easy to find as signage is not clear. Located on the second floor of the building 2 blocks behind 7-11. Review.

Highly recommended for big eaters!

Nishiki Market

A bustling market offering local goods, street food, tax-free shopping and souvenirs. Lots of food options here!

Inside the market

Lots of street food even for vegans! Rice crackers (check for fish sauce), fried tofu (check for meat and fish), pickles, ice cream, traditional sweets and more. We sampled incredible pickled mountain peppers, handmade soymilk, soy sauce dango and black bean ice cream. Review.

Black bean & sesame ice cream!

Ain Soph. Journey (vegan)

  • Alliums: Contains, check when ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted. Some dishes use alcohol. Shop sells alcohol.

Their menu is very Western so wasn’t interesting to me as a tourist from Singapore, but come here for the soy karaage and those vegan desserts (like their famous matcha pancakes) that aren’t available in Singapore. Review.

Vegan version of Japanese deep fried meat, made with soy protein (TVP).

Miso Pota (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Contains, check when ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted. Sells alcohol

Sells quick and light meals of Japanese-style soups, onigiris and drinks. Labels the soups with fish stock clearly; most of the menu is vegan. Only has 3 seats. Review.

Not sure what are the 3 white cubes though!

Mumokuteki (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Savoury food may contain, check when ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

Popular cafe famous for their vegan desserts. There’s a queue system to manage the crowd. We waited for an hour on a Tuesday afternoon, so I got a light lunch at Miso Pota first. Fish stock is clearly labelled here. Request the English menu from the start if you look Japanese – otherwise they will give you Jap menu. Desserts were truly fantastic, but be prepared to wait. Review.

The most perfect vegan dessert I’ve had! That’s a layer of coffee jelly below.

Philosopher’s Path & Ginkakuji Temple

A picturesque path along a canal that leads to Kyoto’s most famous Zen temple.

Grab some fresh matcha along the shopping street leading to the temple.

Gorey Cafe (vegetarian)

  • Alliums: Can be done without, request when ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

Big eaters, rejoice! Japan’s food portions are usually small, but here they can upsize for you – for free! Not exactly local food but offers some interesting and tasty Japanese fusion dishes at a great price. Also had the best vegan pudding here. Review.

Wakame pasta! Wakame is a type of very tender Japanese seaweed.

Grilled Onigiri stall (non-veg, can’t find website)

  • Alliums: Unsure, please check
  • Alcohol: Unsure, please check

A small shop located along the left side of the food street near the entrance of Ginkakuji Temple. 3 onigiris labelled vegan. I didn’t try but it looked good – handmade and grilled in an open kitchen!

There’s a few onigiri shops along the street, this was the only one with vegan labels.

Arashiyama

Kyoto’s most famous mountain sightseeing spot with a sprawling, towering bamboo grove.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

Shigetsu (vegan)

  • Alliums: None
  • Alcohol: Grilled eggplant’s miso topping had slight alcoholic taste. Sells alcohol.

Known for authentic shojin ryori (Japanese Buddhist cuisine). Authentic means it’s fully vegan and cooked without alliums and alcohol (although certain ingredients used may contain a bit of naturally occurring alcohol). There’s other places that serves shojin ryori but with small amounts of egg and dairy, so don’t assume all shojin ryori dishes are vegan. Offers 3 sets, 2 of them requires reservation through their website. Review.

Shojin ryori is like fine dining!

Demachiyanagi station

A residential area about 30 minutes from Kyoto Station. Walking distance from 3 veg*n spots: Apalila Bakery, Falafel Garden, Riverside Cafe plus my favourite Takoyaki cooking class!

Apelila (vegan)

  • Alliums: Some breads have
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

A cafe and bakery that sells breads made from natural yeast. Every single piece we had here were hearty with just the right bite. Now I wish I booked our Airbnb near here so I could wake up to lovely breads every morning. Review.

So good that I get emotional thinking about it now..

Takoyaki Experimental Class (vegan)

  • Alliums: Can request without
  • Alcohol: None used

Learn to make vegan and gluten-free takoyaki (octopus dumplings) in Kyoto with Sayuri from Vegan X Gluten-free Lab! Fully hands-on and you can make and eat as many as you like. Recipe is pretty straightforward and Sayuri is very kind and patient so you can’t go wrong! The perfect activity for anyone who loves learning about food. Drop Sayuri a message over instagram to arrange! Review.

Go off the beaten tourist paths and learn to make local food with a pro!

 Previous: Tokyo 2 . Next: Osaka

Plant-Based Japan Travel – Tokyo 2

Here’s continuing from the previous list! Here are places quite near or further away from Tokyo’s train stations, and are near the following sightseeing spots. Reference map here.

Notes:

  • Veg*n is a shortened, inclusive term to refer to vegans and vegetarians.
  • This article is solely based on my experiences and research, thus may not represent the whole of Tokyo.
  • Accuracy of information cannot be guaranteed as there may be changes to the eatery’s operations

Edo-Tokyo Museum

It’s not the usual museum where you simply peer into glass cases. The exhibits were thoughtfully designed and brought the atmosphere of ancient Tokyo to life. You can also engage an English volunteer guide for free.

Designed by a famous architect from 1960’s Metabolism movement. Geeky designer moment for me.

Genki Tei (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Might contain, check while ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

A cafe about 5 minutes walk away from Ryogoku Station and 8 minutes to the museum. Located at level 2. Servers could not speak English and had no English menu. Good thing they knew the word vegetarian and confirmed when I asked if something was vegetarian. Has a health grocery shop below with vegan mayo and other packaged foods like instant ramen and sauces. Review.

Brown rice instant ramen, available in 3 flavours (not gluten-free though).

Kanda

We stayed in this women-only capsule hotel 6 minutes from Kanda Station for a night. I won’t recommend staying more than one night. An interesting futuristic experience – capsules were comfortable but offered little soundproofing.

Yasai Izakaya Genki (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Request without while ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol. Vegan cheesecake has sake lees.

About 8 minutes away from Kanda Station, this vegetable themed izakaya (Japanese bar) can do a vegan okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) and tofu cheesecake. Okonomiyaki is customisable so feel free to make requests. Only has about 6 seats. A little hard to find as it’s in a residential area. The friendly and eccentric owner can speak very good English. Review.

A non-traditional okonomiyaki! Topped with fried mushrooms instead of dried fish flakes.

 

Senso-ji Temple (Asakusa)

Tokyo’s oldest and most famous ancient Buddhist temple with impressive gates. At the tourist information centre opposite the Kaminari gate (first gate with 雷门 lantern) , you can get a printed copy of Tokyo Vege Map.

The kind of place where all your photos will be ruined by tourists :/ .

Nakamise Shopping Street

There are many small shops leading to the temple. Some sell traditional Japanese sweets or snacks that are vegan, like rice crackers (check for fish sauce), yokan (agar based sweet), various mochi and crushed ice (in summer). Note that anything cake or pancake-like in Japan very likely contains eggs and dairy.

Sekai Cafe (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Labelled
  • Alcohol: None

4 minutes walk from Senso-ji. Sekai means world and this cafe aims to cater to people from around the world. They offer options for vegans, allium-free vegetarians, Muslims and gluten-free people. The whole cafe is halal; they also have a branch near Tokyo Sky Tree. The food quality is incredible, but menu is limited and doesn’t offer local food. Provides a printed Muslim-friendly restaurants map. Review.

First time having vegan creme brulee 🙂

Asakusa Ramen Toryanse (non-veg)

  • Alliums: One ramen has, the other doesn’t. Check when ordering.
  • Alcohol: Sells alcohol

In the shopping arcade near the temple. Offers 2 vegetarian ramens at an affordable price. I didn’t eat there, only passed by and saw this banner.

A cheaper option near Senso-ji.

Shimokitazawa

A hipster neighbourhood known for vintage clothes shops and quirky knick-knacks – somewhat like our Haji Lane. Not as crowded as other popular neighbourhoods, perfect for a chill afternoon in a cafe.

Live Juice (vegetarian)

  • Alliums: None
  • Alcohol: Sells amazake

A small smoothie and juice bar where I had the best almond milk ever! Review.

Natural House (non-veg)

Organic health grocery shop next to Shimokitazawa station. Spotted vegan breads, cookies and butter.

Finding vegan breads in Japan is even harder than in Singapore. 99% of supermarket and konbini breads have egg & dairy. Here, the only allergen listed is wheat (小麦).

Ginza

Popular shopping district for international brands, like our Orchard Road. I enjoyed the food here more than the shopping.

Nataraj (vegetarian)

  • Alliums: Present in the buffet, check while ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

Indian food was the last thing I expected to eat in Japan as Singapore offers excellent Indian cuisine. We ended up here to take shelter from a sudden typhoon. It turned out to be a great experience – eggs and dairy were labelled clearly and the buffet offered fantastic value for the quality! Even had delicious vegan kheer! Review.

Vegan!! Naan!!

Notable mention

Gonpachi (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Unsure
  • Alcohol: Sells alcohol

Highly recommended by one of my Airbnb hosts. Gonpachi is known as the Kill Bill restaurant because the movie “Kill Bill” was inspired by the restaurant in Nishi-Azabu. They have a branch in Shibuya, Ginza with a vegetarian menu (seems to require reservation). My host recommended me the vegan sushi, but I couldn’t find a chance to visit. Try it and let me know!

Outside Tokyo

Although I didn’t enjoy Tokyo itself that much as it was more overwhelming than Singapore, the day trips offered a much needed respite from the crowds and heat wave.

Kamakura

40 minutes by train from Shibuya station. A coastal town that was once an ancient capital of Japan, thus the many temples. Despite being famous for its Buddhist temples, Buddhist vegetarian food is uncommon here.

Engaku-ji temple’s teahouse.

Cafe Guri (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Present in the soup
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

This is a traditional lacquerware museum’s restaurant, 5 minutes walk away from Kamakura Station. Offers 2 vegan options – a vegan set and udon. Had the best traditional Japanese set meal of my trip here. Review.

I’d travel to Kamakura just to eat this again.

Engaku-ji Temple’s Teahouse (non-veg)

  • Alliums: None
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

This peaceful temple is about 5 minutes from Kita-Kamakura Station (that’s a different station from Kamakura station). The teahouse requires some effort to find. You need to follow the sign that points to the bell, pass by a car park and climb 140 steps up a hill. You’ll be rewarded with exquisite Japanese sweets and a beautiful mountain view. Review.

Dango with roasted malt tea and amazake.

 

Yokohama

Yokohama is a port city about 20 minutes by train from Shibuya station. It was one of the first cities that opened up for trade, thus have plenty of American and European influences.

Red Brick Warehouse. A repurposed historic building on a pier.

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (non-veg)

  • Alliums: All veg*n ramen has alliums, but Ryu-Shanghai’s one can be done without
  • Alcohol: Not used in the ramen. All shops sell alcohol.

If you love learning about food and history, this place alone is worth a trip to Yokohama. Showcases ramen’s history and types, plus an area accurately replicating the streets of 60’s Tokyo. The traditional food court offers ramen from various regions of Japan. Vegan, Muslim and alliums information are on their website. Museum shop also sells packet instant vegan ramen. Review.

Never expected vegan tonkotsu (pork bone soup) ramen to exist!

 

Pie Holic (non-vegan)

  • Alliums: None in the apple pie, check before ordering the dinner pie
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

Located in the Marine & Walk building a bit further away from the Red Brick Warehouses. Had a vegan apple pie and apparently serves another savoury vegan one at dinner. American themed but communication was an issue. Seems like none of the servers could speak English and service wasn’t good by Japanese standards. Review.

Lovely pie – perfect portion for an afternoon snack.

Previous: Tokyo Part 1 . Next: Kyoto

Vegan in China – Weifang in Shandong

The land of Confucius, Shandong peanuts and mantous. Being a province in north China, the food can be different from what you’d associate with ‘Chinese food’, which is mostly from southern China due to the bulk of emigration from there. Wheat, in the form of bread, buns and pancake items are the staple compared to rice in the south. Weifang is a small city in Shandong hence no Happy Cow entry – but the traditional food I had at locals’ homes are worth sharing.

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Handmade by a distant aunt – wheat pancake jiazi stuffed with chives and mushrooms, cooked without oil on a metal pan. Just one is very dense and filling because it’s farmers’ food. Bread items are always eaten with millet, corn or rice porridge because they can be too dry on its own.

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Wo wo tou – steamed corn bread with a pinch of baking soda to bring out the sweetish fragrance of cornmeal and soy flour! Gluten – free. It’s meant to be conical shaped with bigger hole but my uncle was lazy! The hole can be stuffed with stir fries for a savoury bun.

Other types of steamed buns are mantous (plain wheat bun) and huajuan (spring onion and wheat twisted into a bun). What I love most about Chinese steamed breads are the simple base ingredients – yeast, wheat flour and water.  Easily vegan and goes well with any dish!

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Of course, the iconic northern food, dumplings! Making them is a family event. This is stuffed homegrown chives and gourd with tofu! Large bamboo trays are used to hold wheat – based foods because they are naturally anti-stick.

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Pickled foods are in every meal in Shandong. It can be any crisp or juicy plant from cucumber to peanuts, and fermented in water or wine. It’s VERY SALTY but also very umami – best nibbled with porridge!

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Raw, minced garlic is a popular dressing for cold dishes. There’s even a saying that Shandong people can sing well because raw garlic make voices good. This appetizing steamed french beans with garlic, sesame sauce and vinegar made by my cousin in law is creamy, tangy with the famous Shandong – grown spicy, garlicky kick.

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菇汤素食馆 (literally ‘Mushroom Soup Restaurant’. Address 高新区东方路与福寿街交叉口东南) is one of the vegetarian restaurants I visited in Weifang – the best one! Choose anything you want (The pictures show only half of the buffet) and it will be boiled in rich mushroom broth. Such an overwhelming selection of noodles, ingredients and sauces – from seitan sticks to sweet yam balls to arrowroot noodles. 99% vegan except for the (very little) mock meats!

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Lastly, 2 traditional, handmade snacks from a second-generation shop where the son learnt the art of making from his father and is continuing the tradition, but isn’t optimistic about passing onto his son. Melt-in-your-mouth, rustic green bean cake and the crispiest, most fragrant sesame candy I’ve had. Definitely supporting them the next time.

Here ends my Vegan in China series. My travel itch is still there – look forward to more discoveries! Meanwhile, recipes. Thanks for reading these long posts and hope they help in your travels!

Vegan in China – Fuzhou, Fujian

Fuzhou, capital of Fujian – a province of immigrants who brought their culture all over the world. Coming from a country with many Fujian descendants, yet Cantonese cuisine being more dominant, the new dishes were an eyeopening and biggest treat to the taste buds! These are favorites picked from 2 of the best restaurants I went to.

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First, from Ji Shan Zhai Restaurant – a Fuzhou specialty is lychee pork. This meat-free version is made from monkeyhead mushrooms, an unique mushroom used in Chinese food for its juiciness and similarity to fatty meat – smooth, tender and melt-in-your-mouth sweet and sour pieces!

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Fuzhou is also know for bamboo shoots! Crunchy with a subtle sweetness – this one is done with savoury Chinese olive sauce.

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This is what the vegan world loves – seitan, or mian jin (wheat gluten), has been used since thousand of years ago as protein for vegetarian monks. One main characteristic of this spongy protein is that it can absorb flavours fully, and magnify them.

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Most excellent meal was from Lotus Teahouse – a posh kind of place that I won’t usually go. But fine dining has its merits, every dish was full of surprising combinations with some ingredients I’ve never heard of. Soup must be in every meal in the south – I thought this was a chrysanthemum flower but it turned out to be soft tofu skillfully cut into this flower shape, sitting in a superb truffle broth.

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I never knew things like these existed – a cold dish of a type of fungi that grows on bamboo! The crispness and crunch was indeed reminiscent of fresh bamboo shoots, addictive and refreshing!

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Lotus roots are common but baby lotus roots is a first time – this was made into crunchy pickles. Those cute little holes soaks up the sweet vinegar perfectly!

Next post will be Beijing 🙂

Vegan in China – Hong Kong

2 days in Hong Kong is too short to try the 200 over veg food places! Had no problem finding nice places within walking distance wherever we were. Just don’t expect good service from most places – its all about the money!

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They have an excellent range of smoothies with no additives in every convenience shops! Envious because the only natural drink you can get in ours are overpriced coconut water and plain water D:

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From one of the canteens in Chinese University of Hong Kong, probably one of the least vegan friendly spots but they had my favourite type of noodle soup!

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And Green Fresh just happened to be right near our hotel. The staff there are superbly friendly for HK standards, welcoming me like family when I came back a second time (and literally swiped their desserts).

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Generally their mains are on the very healthy side, less oil, salt, seasoning etc. A bit light for salt loving person like me, but you can feel each dish is refined and detailed. This refreshing pesto rice was my fav!

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The absolute BEST is their sweets. Cakes, puddings, mango tarts, muffins..they have something new every couple of days!

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The raw ones are so-so, but the tarts..are the BEST vegan fruit tarts I had! The crust perfectly crumbles and melts in your mouth with generous amount of whipped cream.

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Chanced upon Gaia Veggie Restaurant while in bustling city area of Nathan road. Typical Buddhist Cantonese vegetarian style with lots of mock meat dishes. I feel it’s pretty overpriced for the average quality. One thing I didn’t enjoy was the fact that the ever-smiling and polite staff didn’t tell us the 3 dishes we ordered for 2 is enough for 5! Capitalism at its finest 🙂

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Po Lin Vegetarian is a small restaurant selling traditional Cantonese dishes with good portions and prices. Taste wise is average to me since we also have plenty of Cantonese food in Singapore.

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But wow, the mouth-watering selection of traditional sweets and cakes surprised me again! Rice dumplings, sticky rice cakes, mooncakes, jellies and pastries shaped like ducks and lotus! (Non-vegan butter may be used in some baked items so I avoided them.)

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These were some excellent sweets and cakes. I got the coconut jelly cake, glutinous rice balls of peanut, red bean and sesame fillings, savoury seaweed sticky rice roll and lotus paste wife cake. Compared to those sold in supermarkets back in Singapore, everything tasted much fresher, sweetness not overdone and very, very flavourful!

Didn’t find very amazing Cantonese dishes this visit, but that’s because we have excellent ones here! But the sweets are truly not to be missed if you are visiting Hong Kong 🙂

Vegan in China – Macau

Skip the casinos and shiny hotels. Just spend a day at the Portuguese monuments. Stay in a quaint little hostel and get lost in the labyrinth of alleys. Walk, don’t take bus or you’ll miss out. Say hi to the locals because they are now on my top 3 Most Friendly Locals list (together with Philippines and Taiwan). Macau gives me this vibe that is like stepping into a photo of Singapore in the 1960s. Where everything happens on ground level, shops are so cramped with goods that they spill over on walkways with people on their daily grind making an honest living. A familiar, yet unacquainted nostalgia.

One thing about asking for directions in Macau is to show the CHINESE address or name of where you are heading, because most locals don’t speak English or Portuguese or even fluent Chinese. I had a bit of problem talking to some locals and reading signs because the main language is Cantonese and they use traditional Chinese – but everyone truly tried to be helpful!

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Here’s a famous spot – Cocos Hung Heng, a 140 year old coconut shop selling every coconut products. Address – No.14, Rua de Tercena, Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro (Chinese: 洪韾椰子, 澳門果欄街14號地下)

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Most famous is their handmade coconut ice cream which are purely natural, made fresh everyday according to their traditional recipe. Sometimes there are mango and taro flavours too! Best to come in the morning when it is the freshest and softest. The ones we had were already frozen so they were more icy. Certainly the gentlest ice cream my sensitive taste buds ever met, the mango one wins in terms of taste and coconut wins in texture!

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We accidentally stumbled upon this little vegetarian jem called Ji Xiang Cao, run by the nicest old couple where we had heartwarming encounters with locals. Strangers sharing food plus all the customers once stood up to help with directions. Since it’s not on Happy Cow I have no idea what’s the English address, but Chinese is 吉祥草素食,司打口水字巷18号虎A. Another shot of nostalgia because it was exactly like those vegetarian restaurants I had countless childhood family meals in – from the poorly photographed menu, white wall tiles with prosperity posters and the sounds of loud frying from the small kitchen – all part of this charm that we seldom find anymore in Singapore.

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It was near Dragon Boat Festival hence the sweet old lady boss proudly told us that they handmade all these savoury rice dumplings. Before serving them to us she took the plate to another table and snapped pictures of the neatly cut dumplings with her phone – then giggled shyly when we looked at her with utmost amusement! Here are my favourites from their restaurant.

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Deep fried tempura silken tofu  – MY GOD such a combination is possible! So crisp and the insides soft like custard served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.

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Brinjal claypot is more divine than it looks!

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This is one stir fry I really liked, (They generally seem to do stew and braised dishes better). This type of green pepper is literally called tiger skin pepper maybe because of the wrinkles formed after heating them. It’s exactly the wrinkles and firm skin that gives a nice chew and retains juiciness while soaking up the fermented bean sauce.

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This was an eye-opening dish. A stew of sponge gourd and wood’s ear fungus made with the thick and creamy water from rice porridge as soup base! The warm smoothness of every spoonful is most comforting.

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A restaurant near Ruins of St Paul on a sloped street towards Monte Fort – finally somewhere easy to find! According to Happy Cow they are Feng Cheng Xuan despite having no signange other than 素 and the Buddhist swastikas which signifies vegetarian food served here. Not sure of the exact Chinese address but street name is 大炮台街.

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The staff are really helpful and nice with recommending dishes. But honestly felt some things we ordered are average, a bit oily and somewhat roughly made – but the handmade wontons were seriously good. Fat and tender, the fragrant filling of chives and minced soy ‘meat’ oozing out at each bite.

Macau had left a strong impression on me as being staunchly Cantonese – the years of Portuguese colonisation barely scratched it’s surface. You can’t feel the real Macau in those casinos and renovated monuments scrubbed clean of any traces of use! One day I’ll be back with my camera, and hopefully be able to capture of the perseverance of their culture.

Vegan in China – Kaiping, Guangdong

A short post from my short stay at Kaiping, a small town in South China with a UNESCO heritage status. These are castle tower clusters from the 1920s built by rich merchants who came back from the West, hence the blend of Chinese and Western architecture. However in my books, these are the type of architecture that looks great from outside but pretty blah inside.

The landscape is the main thing making the place beautiful – lotus ponds with ducks, rice fields, smiling grandmas, wooden bridges and stone paths flanked with mango trees with a cluster of towers in the distance.

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Lots of small shops selling homemade beancurd desserts (kinda regret not trying it because I was concerned about hygiene) and wild grown jambus. (photo from mom)

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We stayed at the only hotel in this town, and for breakfast there is an interesting kueh (the Southeast Asian and Southern China term for cake). Seems to be simply rice and sugar, but baked in a tiny clay dish! Certainly had this warm, earthy taste that I’ve never experienced from our kuehs.

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Being a South Chinese town, various rice noodles are common. In their restaurant I had the BEST EVER fried hor fun (flat rice noodle). The light soy sauce not overpowering sweet crunchy onions and chives, the tender slippery noodles coated in the right amount of oil, and the wok hei – ness was so memorably perfect.

Next up, Macau!

Vegan in China – Shenzhen, Guangdong, Part 2

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Shenzhen is considered a new city by China’s historical standards, is a bustling metropolis. Located in Guangdong province and right next to Hong Kong, it is the major financial power in South China. When I visited it was lychee season, thus lychees of all sizes where at every corner.

Chains of fast food kiosks such as 邓老凉茶 (Denglao Herbal tea) and 永和豆浆 (Yong Ho Soymilk) usually have breakfasts of you tiao (fried dough fritters), mantou (plain wheat buns) bao zi (stuffed buns but commonly with meat) and dou jiang (soy milk). At one 邓老凉茶 they just happened to have yummy handmade vegetable and mushroom buns!

There are cold and hot dishes in Chinese cuisine; cold dishes are not like chilled cold but are usually pre-cooked and served at room temperature. They are mostly appetizers or sides and hence savoury-sweet and tangy. We Chinese can’t stand much cold foods so the mains are piping hot!

These are from 福田林 (Fullness Vegetarian Restaurant on Happy Cow), the best place I’ve tried in Shenzhen. Almost everything is above average and here I’m only listing the 3 cold and 3 hot dishes that blew me away!

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Smoked beancurd skin. Basically it’s the layer of protein that is formed on boiling soymilk, dried, flavoured, rolled and steamed together into a roll.

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Silken tofu with sweet soy sauce is my favourite way to tofu. Theirs redefines the meaning of soft tofu! Melts in your mouth with the savoury sweet sauce.

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Looks scary but trust me it’s the best cold dish there. Soft, slippery and springy noodles made from kudzu root tossed in a spicy soy sauce. Gluten-free too!

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Mashed yam stuffed in fried beancurd skin and soaked in sweet sour sauce. Crisp, creamy and sweet haven in a two-bite parcel.

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Zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles) is a famous dish from China with its Korean counterpart called jajangmyeon. Here the fried sauce is excellently rendered with textured soy protein minced with lots of peppery spices and fermented bean sauce. The only thing that’s slightly unsettling was the saturated green of the spinach noodles.

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French beans stir-fried with preserved Chinese olives and fried chilli. The rustic wok hei taste was rich and the beans, so so juicy! Which is amazing considering how much heat was used to achieve wok hei which will have turned any veggie dry. A highly skilled chef indeed! For the uninitiated, wok hei is a most unique taste in Cantonese cuisine. Not achieved by adding any ingredient, instead it is given to the food by the highly heated wok itself.

That’s the end of Shenzhen, there are much more places on Happy Cow that I couldn’t visit. More Cantonese food coming up from my travels in the south!

Vegan in China – Shenzhen, Guangdong, Part 1

38 days grad trip in 10 cities and towns with some of the most simply amazing food, places and people. China, despite popular assumptions, can be very vegan-friendly. Because China had a long history of religions that advocate vegetarianism, and is the land where tofu and seitan originated. With agriculture produce and cuisines as diverse as the cultures and the most of the cuisine traditionally don’t use dairy, China should be on the good vegan food radar – if you know where to go and what to say. Happy Cow was a great help but there are some places I stumbled upon, or so hidden that only locals knew. Click on the Chinese restaurant names for links to their address and details.

So here’s my picks from Shenzhen, a bustling city in the southern province of Guangdong.

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Refreshing and creamy coconut juice from the tropical island of Hainan is available in almost every supermarket, convenience shop, roadside drink stalls in the cities!

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First meal out was at 大秦面馆 (Da Qin Noodle House), a chain of non-vegetarian noodle restaurants that serve traditional Xi’an style noodles  – we simply told them “no this and that” and the staff recommended 油泼面 (Youpo noodles), a (traditionally vegan) handmade noodle dish that’s generously drizzled with a very high temperature chilli oil that cooks and caramalises the toppings, giving its unique spiciness.

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 怡新素食 (Yi Xin Vegetarian Restaurant) at Foshan, another city near Shenzhen. The only dish I liked is this stew spiced with Chinese red peppers, chilli oil, holding generous amounts of veggies and pieces of chewy Baiye tofu soaking up the soup! I’m sure usually the quality should be good but we went near 2pm when the kitchen crew was having break time..

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法味轩素食馆 (Fa Wei Xuan Vegetarian Restaurant ) has a focus on charity – they have a 10 yuan lunch buffet and free flow of soy milk and porridge for anyone, poor or rich. You can have this if you want quantity. For quality go for the excellent menu!

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Stir fried glass noodles (made from green bean, not glass!) with fermented black bean bits – springy and savoury with sweet crunch from the capsicum bits – a must try, gluten free too.

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Spinach noodles in soup was a favourite! The clear broth is so richly umami with a slight smokiness.

锅巴 (guo ba) – think rice crispies freshly deep fried with salt and cumin spice mix generously sprinkled on it. A traditional gluten free snack that’s common and easily made vegan.

Next post will be the part 2 of vegan in Shenzhen! Then it shall be Macau and Hong Kong and more! If you need help with Chinese or are going to these places in China and need info please PM me 🙂