Vegan finds in Saitama & Kawasaki, Japan

In September (late summer) of 2019 I visited my friends and went to a vegan festival in Tokyo. Weather was great, the daily average temperature was 25C (ideal for Singaporeans). 

In Japan, you can tell a lot about a city from the drain covers.

My first stop was Omiya, the commercial centre of Saitama Prefecture that’s located north of Tokyo. Usually tourists just flock to Tokyo and give Saitama a miss. Although there are less attractions there, Saitama is worth a visit if you want to take a break from the city without being too far away from it. And, there were quite a number of delicious vegan eats there! You can follow all my reviews on abillionveg.

What I ate in Saitama

From convenience stores

Convenience stores (conbini) in Japan are the epitome of convenience. You can literally live off them as they offer the most affordable ready-to-eat foods. There are quite a number of accidentally vegan food available from each chain. My favourites are Family Mart (famima), Lawson and Natural Lawson (only in Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa and Tokyo region).

(natto roll + cookies from famima for breakfast. About $5)

Dinner: Absolutely delicious T’s Tan Tan cup noodles, salad without dressing (I put them into the soup as I don’t enjoy raw veggies) and soy yoghurt. About $8
Macrobiotic cookies which are confirmed vegan by Vegan in Japan Facebook group members. Not too sweet and very crunchy.

Sansui Sushi

If you’re heading to Kawagoe (one of the popular attractions), you can have lunch beforehand here. It’s just a couple of stops from Kawagoe station. This old school, cozy sushi restaurant has a whole vegan menu of vegetable and mushroom sushi that used mostly local ingredients. The nice lady serving us even understood vegan before we explained it to her and informed us the miso soup used fish stock. The sushi was affordable, exceptionably fresh and well-balanced, didn’t even need soy sauce or extra wasabi. Highly recommend if you’re looking to explore gems outside of Tokyo.

Sansui sushi is on the left.
The mushrooms ones were my favourite!

Kawagoe is a well-preserved old town from the Edo period. Although it’s a crowded tourist attraction, it didn’t feel fake or too touristy. The shops sold really unique and quality items.

Like this sweet soy sauce for pancakes! Really delicious and the umami somehow worked well with the caramel flavour.
The old houses were beautiful and the shopfronts were carefully designed so as not conflict with the old aesthetics.

The famous local produce is sweet potatoes, but I ended up eating so much mochi instead.

Chestnut youkan, suama, grilled soy sauce dango.
An absolutely amazing black sesame soy ice cream that we stumbled upon! From Gomafuku-do, location here.
It said dairy and eggs aren’t used and 100% plant-based on the sign.

A quick search on Vegewel (Japan’s best site for finding plant-based foods that aren’t listed on other sites) shows much more options in Saitama. Will be back!

What I ate in Kawasaki

Vegan Burger Nourish

Kawasaki, located south of Tokyo, is more of an industrial and commercial city. I travelled there to do some shopping (can be cheaper than Tokyo) + eat at this place because I heard fantastic reviews:

Vegan Burger Nourish, walking distance from Shinmaruko station.
Vegan soy chicken burger – mind-blowingly amazing! Definitely worth travelling from Tokyo.

Managed to communicate with broken Japanese. The staff were so friendly and gave me recommendations since I was staring at the menu for very long. Wanted to try their sake lees cheesecake but it was sold out. Their poster for it said something like “Our sake lees is made from sake that’s from the Edo period 340 years ago.” Sounds so interesting! Please try it on my behalf when you go, if you can take alcohol 🙂

Had their chocolate miso cake instead, very interesting experience!

Also, I found these vegan ready-to-eat products at a supermarket (Tokyu Store) in Shin-maruko. Beyond Tofu (not affiliated with Beyond Meat) is a 60 year-old Japanese brand that makes soy-based vegan cheese. I’ve seen their products in Tokyo supermarkets. You can check out reviews of them on abillionveg.

Tofu gratin and gluten-free pizza. Vegan dairy alternatives are quite common especially in Tokyo and most of the time cheaper than Singapore’s.

Thanks for reading! Will be sharing my Tokyo vegan finds in the next post. It’ll be long 🙂

About abillionveg

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Vegan in Suzhou

I visited Suzhou last month with course mates on a landscape architecture study trip. Beautiful rustic place – black and white houses lined with canals crossed by petite stone bridges. Suzhou’s heritage love their gardens and plants, evident from the famous Suzhou gardens to the numerous potted plants that dot residential streets.

 

Some of the street food we had:

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Sticky rice rolls coated with peanut powder and filled with anything from jam to lotus paste.

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Steamed goodies along Pingjiang Road, not all are vegan though. Luckily they do write out what it is, both in English and Chinese.

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I bought a couple of sticky rice cakes, the purple ones are taro flavoured rice cakes. The pig is actually a red bean bun! Lastly the cupped cake is soft black rice with taro topped with a hazelnut and that’s the yummiest!

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Fresh lotuses are sold for one or two yuan at many places on a pushcart. You have to break the shell, then peel the green coating off the seeds to reveal a white seed that tastes like a juicy almond.

Restaurants usually have a good selection of veg dishes like stir-fries or salads with rice or noodles. It’s still best to remind them not to use any animal oil, just as a precaution.

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Edamame, red capsicum, button mushroom and wood’s ear fungus stir fry. You’d find this fungus in Chinese dishes a lot, doesn’t look pretty but it’s full of minerals!

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Lightly stir fried potato strips. Unlike the Western potato dishes, this is not the starchy type but a very crisp one. You can find this in many places in China, not only Suzhou.

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Cold noodles are sold everywhere in the summer. Usually tossed in sweet vinegar, soy sauce and chilli oil, topped with coriander, sesame, crushed peanuts and sometimes shredded cucumber.

We had our last meal in a Cantonese restaurant at the airport.

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Wood’s ear salad for appetizer. The juicy fungus is tossed in a fragrant vinegar and bamboo shoots and served chilled.

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Soy milk tea! Full marks for presentation, and taste too because it’s rich and not too sweet.

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Stir-fried veggies in a fried taro ring. A common dish in Singapore Chinese restaurants too, yet this is better done than those I’ve had. What I loved most is that they used fried enoki mushrooms to line the dish, unlike the usual fried rice noodles which local restaurants use. Crunching on them is as addictive as potato chips!

Hope this helps you in your travels to China. It’s not impossible if you dine at restaurants, ask and communicate well 🙂

A peek at vegan food in Beijing

Recently I visited Beijing with the family. Due to the short time we stayed we didn’t venture out in search of veg restaurants, so we braved a couple of non-veg restaurants and asked for vegan food. And it wasn’t a problem at all when we communicated clearly! What we had was delicious, refined and eye-opening. So here are those that I especially loved, do look out for them if you visit Beijing.

Top picture – Steamed cake with raisins. Ovens aren’t used in Chinese cuisine, so cakes are usually steamed to a light, fluffy texture.

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Pickled radish stir fried with vermicelli and chilli. My favourite, not only because I love anything sour and spicy, but this is not overly done on spiciness. Vermicelli is a transparent noodle made from green bean or sweet potato starch, the thinner type are made from rice.

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This may look a little scary but it’s refreshingly cool and chewy – The noodle is made from Kudzu root, used in Chinese medicine to clear excess heat. Tossed in light vinegar, sesame oil and garnished with chilli and chives.

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Chinese toon sprouts tossed with smoked tofu strips. The sprouts resembles the taste of onions, but has an uplifting quality and doesn’t cloud your breathe.

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Deep fried yam rolls – the ends are dipped in white sesame which makes the first and last bite most interesting.

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These look like pears but are not! The ‘stalk’ is a strip of dried sweet potato.

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Surprise, surprise – it’s fresh red bean paste wrapped in sticky rice dough and deep fried.

Traditionally Chinese food does not use dairy, so those without animal ingredients are usually vegan. Just beware of hidden ingredients like lard, gravy and meat stocks. Three points for those wanting to travel there:

  •  Go to a restaurant that is clean, not some roadside stall or eatery. Not only it lessens your chances of an upset stomach, restaurants have well – trained staff too. We went to a place that specializes in roast duck because there weren’t any other places to eat, but still had our fill. The waitress looked puzzled to why we would not order any duck, but asked no questions.
  •  Communicate clearly – because some people classify shrimps or chicken stock as vegetarian. Best is to write a list and show it to them – no animal fat, meat stock, milk, eggs, seafood.
  •  Most restaurants provide wet tissue, you can use it to clean your utensils. And many use disposable chopsticks – so no worries about using anything with a faint fishy smell.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Moist muffins with spiced apple cubes inside. 2 step process – pickle the apples overnight then make the muffin base. Makes 12.

Preparing the apples:

2 granny smith apples (the green apples), peeled and cut into small cubes

2 tbsp flour

3 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp non-dairy milk

1 cup brown sugar

a pinch of sea salt

1 tbsp cinnamon powder

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 5-8 hours.

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Muffin base:

2/3 cup grapeseed oil

1 cup non-dairy milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp sea salt

½ tbsp cinnamon powder

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

2 and a half cups flour

Preheat oven to 175 C. Combine all dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda and powder, sugar, cinnamon powder) in a large bowl, make a hole in the middle of the mix and set aside. Mix all wet ingredients (oil, plant milk, vanilla) in another bowl. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mix and stir in one direction. Combine well to a brown batter.

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Add the apple mixture and mix well (in the same stirring direction).

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Spoon into muffin tins or cupcake paper. Take note to fill them at about two-thirds only. Bake at 175 C for 15-20 minutes, or till a toothpick comes out clean when pushed into the centre of the muffin. Transfer on a cooling rack and serve when completely cooled.

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Oatmeal, coconut and peppermint choco bites

Just 4 ingredients + NO FOOD PROCESSOR NEEDED! For the health-loving sweet tooth/snack lover. It’s a little hard to find vegan chocolate chips here so I chopped up some vegan peppermint dark chocolate. Makes about 12.

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You’ll need:

1 cup oatmeal

7-10 pitted medjool dates (soak if too dry)

¼ cup vegan peppermint chocolate chips

½ cup shredded coconut

Add everything to a large mixing bowl. Mash with a fork till you get a nice firm “dough” which sticks together when pressed. Roll into bite-sized balls and dip in shredded coconut.

Ready to eat immediately, or refrigerate for a few hours for a firmer texture. Simple!

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Simple mini no-bake lemon cream cake

A no-bake cake that is creamy, melt in your mouth texture that is similar to ice cream, made tangy with lemon juice. With a salted hazelnut and pistachio base to balance the sweet and creamy cashew lemon layer! Topped with cacao nibs and cinnamon for an extra crunch. Raw desserts are so much easier to make than baked ones – just blend and set in the freezer.

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This recipe is adapted from Amy at Fragrant Vanilla Cake blog.

 

The top layer is made from soymilk cream (just add a little water to instant soymilk powder). It’s extremely versatile because of it’s light taste and smooth texture, so you can add other flavours, say orange zest, mango or durian.

You’ll need:

For the crust

2 pitted medjool dates

1 cup of any roasted nuts (i used half cup pistachio and half cup hazelnuts)

½ tsp sea salt

Blend all and press into a greased springform pan or silicone mold.

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For the filling

3 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight

Zest from half a lemon

Juice from 1 lemon

½ cup + 1 tbsp coconut oil

¼ cup agave nectar

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp sea salt

Blend all and pour onto the crust.

For the topping

1/3 cup soymilk powder

1 tbsp water

1 tsp finely grated orange zest

cacao nibs and cinnamon powder

Stir the soymilk powder with water till a creamy paste. Add orange zest. Spread it on the filling and top with cacao nibs and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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I left it in the freezer to set for about 4 hours, then transferred it to the fridge. Keep any leftovers in the freezer and take it out 15 mins to soften before eating.

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Homemade peanut butter

Why make your own peanut butter when you can buy it for couple of dollars? I get questions like these a lot. Firstly, as someone who grew up on homemade food, I can assure you that flavours of food made in factories pales greatly in comparison to food made with care and love. Secondly, packaged foods nowadays consists of too much unnecessary additives or poor quality ingredients that are really bad to our body. In the case of supermarket peanut butters – full of refined sugars, hydrogenated rapeseed oil and worse, palm oil (the main culprit of the yearly haze!).

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This recipe is simply 3 ingredients – baked peanuts, salt and a little oil. Add any sweetener if you’d like it sweet!

3 ingredients Peanut Butter

You’ll need:

1 and 1/2 cup raw peanuts (skinned if smoother texture is preferred)

1 tsp Sea Salt

Grapeseed oil (as needed, or any oil with a neutral taste)

Brown sugar (optional, or any sweetener)

1) Preheat the oven to 200. Place the peanuts evenly on a baking pan and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

2) Meanwhile, get your food processor ready as you’ll need to blend them while they are piping hot, to release the most natural oils. Immediately transfer the peanuts and process till smooth and creamy.

3) Took me about 20 minutes; they went from crumbly, to forming small chunks, then a grainy sort of cream (add a little oil if too dry) and finally, smooth. Add salt and sweetener to taste, give it one last spin and pour it in a bottle.

Scoop ‘em with cucumbers and celery, drizzle over apple and berry salads, spread on whole wheat toast. Or, spread on biscuits and crackers.

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