Vegan Tales from Japan

Radies and radishes: Part 28

Posted on 19 August 2011

Sayounara …

… the conclusion of the journal of a South African vegan in Japan

18 August 2011

This month marks 2 years since I embarked on my English-teaching adventures in Japan. I arrived during Osaka’s hottest month of the year, and as I write this, a rattling air conditioner behind me and a fan at my left hand, it’s sweltering once again. If it weren’t for daydreams of delicious vegan food to keep me going, I’m sure I would have expired long ago.

Radies and Radishes, the tale of a South African vegan in Japan, was kindly written by Carey FinnAh, delicious vegan food. It’s a topic close to my heart, in case you hadn’t noticed (the entire blog being a subtle reminder). Over the past 2 years I’ve eaten many scrumptious and strange things, both at restaurants, some of which have sadly closed, and at home. Since this will be the last entry in my vegan blog, I thought I’d make some lists of the best and not-so-best foods I’ve discovered since I’ve been living here.

Scary foods

1. GoyaOpens in a new window: While I am actually growing this, and it’s supposed to be very good for blood sugar problems, I have not yet been able to get past its bitterness!
2. . NattouOpens in a new window: Stinky, sticky, fermented soya beans. I was unable to swallow this stuff for almost 2 years, but something happened while I was at a hotel in Tokyo recently (nope, can’t tell you – what happens in Tokyo, stays in Tokyo) and overnight I fell in love with it. I eat it almost every day now – nattou and brown rice for breakfast, nattou sushi … nattou, nattou, nattou! It’s supposed to really good for you. I think that’s because the stink scares most germs away. Most people, too.
3. KonnyakuOpens in a new window: a starch made from the Devil’s Tongue plant. Really, the name speaks for itself.
4. Small birds’ eggsOpens in a new window: No, they’re not vegan, and nope, I haven’t eaten these, and I don’t plan to, but I see them at the supermarket, or served with lunch sets, all the time, and they make me sad.

Awesome foods

1. Tofu: Japan has the best tofu in the world! Except for maybe Korea and China …
Anyway if it weren’t for tasty and cheap tofu, my muscles would have withered away by now.
2. Nattou: See above entry! It’s so awesome, it made it into both columns.
3. AnkoOpens in a new window: The deliciousness that results when you boil adzuki beans with huge amounts of sugar.
4. Japanese sweetsOpens in a new window: Awesome, pretty, often vegan, super sweet sweets that go really well with powdered green tea. Many are made with anko. I eat them by the kilogram and then go to gym for several days.
5. MochiOpens in a new window: Sticky rice dumpling-things that are excellent anywhere, anytime. I like them best served with warm anko soup in winter. In the picture of yours truly, you can see me chomping away at some potato mochi. And yes, it was delicious.

I’m planning on staying in Japan at least until next year August. So, there’s still plenty of time to discover new strange and delectable edible things. And, since I recently received some rather strange medical advice, I have a lot of er, healthy eating to do.

Teachers at public schools generally receive a health check once a year. I had mine in July. The results came back with a note expressing concern at my very low cholesterol levels. The advice that came with it: eat fewer animal products. I must admit, I was a little confused.

On that note, I’ll sign off. I could ramble on for pages, ambling down memory lane, but I doubt you’d keep scrolling. If you’ve made it this far though, thank you for reading my blog over the past couple of years! I hope I’ve made your mouth water enough that you come over to Japan someday to try some of the vegan offerings here. Admittedly, a vegan lifestyle here is far from easy, especially if you want to eat at mainstream restaurants, but if you ever visit I’ll give you a few pointers and show you where to buy nattou. Let’s raise awareness of animal-free diets one smelly old bean at a time (maybe you should smuggle a box or two of Fry’s over, just in case).


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Radies and radishes: Part 27

Posted on 13 June 2011

Feasting in the rainy season …

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan

12 June 2011

Ohisashiburi! My apologies for going AWOL for a month. Alas, I was not on another travel adventure filled with vegan goodness, nor trapped in the storeroom of a dairy-free deli somewhere (a girl can dream). But, no matter; I’m back to blogging again, and I have decided to stay in Japan until my contract ends next July. After that, we’ll see.

Seaweed mozuku, Ryukyu, Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnThe radiation situation remains a concern, but I think it’s being a bit better understood now, and people have stopped panicking. Bottled water is back in some supermarkets, and life is slowly returning to some sense of normalcy.

My ramble this time is about lunch at a Japanese friend’s flat. Hey, stifle that yawn! It wasn’t your average sandwich and black tea affair – it was a 3-course feast. Said friend recently qualified as a cook of sorts, and I really hope she opens a restaurant somewhere someday. Her food is homey, healthy and served in huge portions – just what you need on a rainy Osaka afternoon.

When we arrived, she served up deep-fried bamboo shoots, picked locally by her friends. For those of you who’ve never tried bamboo, it’s crunchy and fleshy, and if fresh, really, really delicious! It was served with some sort of organic seaweed salt to add some flavour. The starter was followed by a home-made vinegar drink – a little sour, or suppai, as they say here, but it felt like it was good for you.

The main course was hearty minestrone soup with organic bread, a garden salad, some steamed flowering cabbage (courtesy of yours truly), deep-fried gluten meat chunks and rice. Dessert was a huge chocolate cake with almonds and banana slices. It was made with soya milk, but actually contained honey as the sweetener, so it wasn’t 100% vegan. 

We ate ourselves into something close to a coma then passed out under the heated table (kotatsu). I was seriously considering kidnapping the Japanese friend and making her prepare such meals for me on a daily basis, but she must have caught on to my nefarious scheme because she flew out of the country shortly after that. She claims she’s travelling around Europe for a couple of months. A likely story!

Other than the feast, nothing new on the vegan front this side of the world. The rainy season has arrived, and it’s getting hotter and more humid by the day. My home garden is flourishing, and hopefully I’ll have a healthy, if tiny-scale, harvest of soya beans, sage, lettuce and tomatoes in a couple of months’ time.

Keep warm as it gets colder in the southern hemisphere!

Next time: Sayounara! The final chapter of my blog.

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Radies and radishes: Part 26

Posted on 8 April 2011

The (sea) grapes of wrath

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

7 April 2011

First of all, I’m still alive and ok in Osaka. I’m sure you’ve all seen news reports about the earthquake and tsunami up in north-eastern Japan. Thankfully, I live about 600 km away from the devastated area and so, for me, life has been going on relatively, and surreally, as normal.

Seaweed mozuku, Ryukyu, Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnThe radiation situation has been, and continues to be, terrifying though. While official government readings show radiation levels are significantly higher than usual in the north-eastern prefectures, the central Kansai area apparently has recorded no change at all. I did mention those were official government readings though, right? That isn’t necessarily a synonym for ‘accurate’.

Singapore recently banned some veggie imports from Hyogo prefecture which is, unsettlingly, Osaka’s neighbour, because they found the vegetables were 6 times more radioactive than they should have been. While no one knows what those levels really mean and whether there will be any impact on human health, it certainly doesn’t help you to relax while steaming the spinach for dinner.

And thanks to the mass dumping of 11,500 tonnes of radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean on Monday, it looks like more local foods will be testing positive for radiation. That part of the ocean washes around the Osaka coast so, while I’m sure it will be dirt cheap, sea weed will be struck off my shopping list until further notice. This is a real pity since sea weed is a staple in my diet. It’s delicious and great for the thyroid too.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip to the remote Ryukyu Islands in Okinawa. It was a holiday I’d arranged months before and I was glad to be able to get away from the scary, dark vibes on mainland Japan for a while. Anyway, I tried 3 exciting local dishes there – 2 of which were sea weed. One, called mozuku, was a slimy, sour brown dish which sounds revolting but was absolutely delicious! It’s served with a slice of lemon and a vinegar dip. Another was something called ‘sea grapes’. Sometimes likened to caviar, it’s a light, green sea weed with little sacs along its stems, which pop when you bite into them. Again, sounds unappetizing but I loved it. It was salty and fun to eat!

The third dish was a kind of stir-fry called ‘tofu champuru‘, which reminded me of Chinese takeouts, but was lighter on the sauce and oil. It was the least Japanese dish I’ve eaten in Japan. The Ryukyu Islands are actually closer to Taiwan than the mainland of Japan, and before they were conquered, they were their own kingdom, so the culture there is quite different.

I’d like to go back there but the future is a little uncertain. I signed my re-contracting papers in February, which means I’m supposed to teach English until July next year. I’m trying to ward off the flight part of my body’s response to the situation here, but I’m also keeping an eye on the news, particularly the reports about radiation. At the first symptom of a second head or extra limb, I’ll be on the first plane out of here.

Next time: No predictions at this point.

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Radies and radishes: Part 25

Posted on 17 March 2011

Becoming Indian

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

9 March 2011

In my university days, my good friend, an Indian chap, always used to tell me that he saw me for what I really was – a large Indian man. While I appear to be a Caucasian female, my incredible appetite for Indian food apparently indicated otherwise. He used to feed me vegetable curries and rotis by the giant stainless-steel potload, and I did my best to expand into my Asian alter-ego.

Vegan strawberry cheesecake from Cafe Proverbs in Kyoto, Japan. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnHowever, when I came to Japan, I lost touch with this inner self. The staple diet of miso, brown rice, tofu and veggies was light and healthy, but I lost about 4 kg. The portions here are rather small, and many people, vegans especially, find themselves hungry again just an hour or two after eating. The diet, combined with the active lifestyle, makes for some seriously skinny people. For a while, I was happy. Gaunt is chic, you know. But then one day, late last year, shortly before I went to Australia, my Indian self surfaced once again, demanding, quite simply, more food. So when I came across an Ayurvedic cookbook in Sydney, I decided it was time to make some dietary changes.

While the cookbook contains some recipes which call for eggs and milk, most of it is vegan, or can easily be made so. So the sidekick and I splashed out and bought 2 crates of spices, flours and other ingredients from an online Indian grocery last month, took a couple of tests to determine our predominant ‘doshas‘ (there are 3 main types of bodies in Ayurveda – Vata, Pitta and Kapha) and got cooking.

Most of our meals now consist of a soup (broccoli, spring onion and sunflower seeds being my favourite), a dal or veggie side dish, and spiced basmati rice (cooked with cumin and mustard seeds). The food is meant to balance your body, and is usually easy to digest. It smells great when it’s cooking, and thanks to the spices stacked on every possible surface in our kitchen, an awesome smell greets you when you open the front door to our flat. My inner Indian is pleased. My outer Caucasian too, as my bones are no longer showing on my chest. We still eat Japanese-style meals a couple of times a week – miso is even recommended in Ayurveda – but with more starch, to bulk them up.

Most of the recipes I used can be found on this websiteOpens in a new window.

So in my last blog, I mentioned new desserts in Kyoto. One of my favourite veggie restaurants, Café Proverbs, changes its menu according to the season, and last time we popped in, they had not only new soy milk pasta dishes, but some new cakes and tarts too. I tried this one (see photo). The verdict? Delicious, but it had that unfortunate taste – the one that tastes like more. At 500 Yen (about R40) a pop (reasonable for cake in Japan) though, you have to make one portion go a long, long way.

Next time: School camps and tropical islands.

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Radies and radishes: Part 24

Posted on 4 February 2011

Chicken drumsticks and pizza

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

1 February 2011

Happy New Year to all our readers! My good wishes may seem rather belated, but since the Year of the Rabbit only officially begins in February in the East, I have a good excuse. I hope you all had yummy vegan food over the holidays – I know I did. And yes, I’m going to gloat about it in this blog entry, as usual. 😉

Vegan 'chicken drumsticks'. Photo courtesy of Carey Finn I was fortunate enough to spend Christmas in Sydney, Australia (thankfully, I was a good couple of hours south of the flooding). The first thing I did, besides hitting the beach, was stock up on vegan goodies from the supermarket. Creamy vanilla soya milk, fruit biscuit bars, Sweet William (fake chocolate – delicious though), Vegemite, breakfast muffins, rum and raisin truffles … the list was long, and my credit card under pressure.

Next, it was off to some vegan restaurants. I’d researched a few online before I left Japan – and one which had really taken my fancy was the cheekily-named coffee shop “Naked Espresso”. I took a daytrip out to a hippy, Obs-like area called Newtown to check it out, but found the coffee shop closed for the holidays. However, there was a pizza restaurant which seemed to be sharing the premises. And a glance at the menu revealed at least 5 vegan pizza options – with cheese! I felt quite overwhelmed and started rattling the door.

The restaurant was closed until dinner time, but the waiting seemed agonising. I had waited for this moment for almost 6 years – but somehow, waiting another 6 hours seemed impossible. Luckily, I was saved by a vegan restaurant across the road. It was called ‘Green’, as far as I remember, and was an Asian place. They had a buffet lunch, with all sorts of Thai and Taiwanese dishes, and next door was a deli and vegan dessert shop. They had 4 kinds of brownies, gelato, cheesecakes, cupcakes and chocolates. A lot of it was gluten-free and raw, so there was no guilt to be felt.

I started with a lemon cheesecake – very light, very nice. I chased that with a fudge brownie – definitely not recommended for kids or people with sugar problems. Seriously. Once I’d recovered from that, I had a strawberry cupcake – with a cherry on top. Eating it was, quite honestly, a transcendental experience.

Vegan pizza, Oz Style. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnAfter walking off all of that, it was time for pizza. To make up for all the dry years, I ordered the largest size, with extra cheese. The other toppings were tomato, eggplant and artichoke hearts – and possibly some olives – I can’t remember. I was too enraptured by the cheese. That meal alone was worth the flight to Australia.

Nothing could beat that dinner, but one other meal did come close. While at the vegan deli, I picked up some frozen veggie meats – ‘smoked ham’ and ‘chicken drumsticks’. It’s that Asian stuff – ingenious, but possibly made from genetically-modified soy. Anyway, the ham was really rich and good – but the drumsticks were the best. Not only did they have a realistic texture, but they even had ‘bones’! Inside were those flat wooden sticks, the kind you get in ice cream lollies. Quirky, but it made the meal all the more enjoyable.

I came back to Japan feeling full, and satisfied – with enough reserves to last out the winter.

Next time: Ayurvedic experiments in the kitchen, and new desserts in Kyoto.

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Radies and radishes: Part 23

Posted on 19 December 2010

A vegan Xmas meet – minus the Tofurkey

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

18 December 2010

Christmas in Japan feels more like a promotional campaign at a mall than a festive holiday with religious significance (albeit vague). Supermarkets switch their monotonous regular background music to monotonous Christmas music; city trees are decked out with ‘irumanashion‘ and people buy huge packs of sweets, boxed German cakes, beer and gift boxes of soya sauce. Actually now that I think about it, it’s exactly like Christmas in South Africa (except for the soya sauce).

Japanese 'overnight' brown rice waffles and maple syrup. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnMost people here traditionally work on Christmas Eve, and then go out cruising for a date. Apparently it’s the most profitable night of the year for love hotels. Anyway, the Kansai vegan meet-up group decided to celebrate the festive season slightly differently, with a lunch near Nigawa Station (somewhere on one of the Hankyu train lines). The meet-up was at Hassel House, the same little café where I’d first attended one of the vegan gatherings. We each paid ¥2600 (roughly R200 – but divide that by 3 for an accurate price) to cover costs, and the group organizer provided most of the food herself – kudos to her for cooking!

We tucked into deep-fried gluten meat, lotus root with some tasty sauce, fresh garden salad, mini burdock and carrot wraps and 2 types of bread – sourdough and crusty white – both of course, lard-free! Dessert was courtesy of a group member – homemade coconut pudding-cake (it was more like a fridge-tart than a cake, rather hard to define) with pumpkin cream on the side. It was very rich but went down a treat with the Japanese herbal tea.

After lunch, we lounged around bloated, chatting about vegan sources of B12 in Japan (I suggested chlorella tablets) and recipes. Then someone suggested a second dessert. We all mustered our strength and staggered to our feet, heading a couple of stops down the train line to Nishinomiya Mall; which I have to say, is definitely the most Western-looking mall I’ve seen in Japan. We went to a place called ‘In the Room’, a macrobiotic café where pretty much everything was for sale. Luckily no one snapped up my dining chair while I was there and I was able to finish my set of ‘overnight’ brown rice waffles and maple syrup, in peace.

They were sold out of most sweets and their soy ice cream by the time we arrived, but I hear that the ice cream in particular is delicious. The café unfortunately will be closing down on the 26th though, so Japanese readers – get there in time! South African readers too – Japan is only a plane trip away, you know …

Happy Christmas to you all. Mata ne!

Next time: Funky Pies and Naked Espressos in Sydney.

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Radies and Radishes: Part 22

Posted on 5 December 2010

Travelling lard

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

2 December 2010

 Digging your own hot spot at a Japanese hot spring. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnDespite my perpetual criticism of cities, I’ve got to admit that, in Japan at least, they make vegan living that much easier. And by “that”, I mean actually possible.

Recently, the sidekick and I took a drive down into south-central Wakayama prefecture. It’s known for its spiritual pilgrimage routes through misty mountains, and stuff like that. All the lush vegetation, rivers without concrete banks, temples and hot springs make it a nice getaway from Osaka – and it’s only half a day’s drive or train ride. We went to a tiny town comprised of hot spring hotels; estimated permanent population – 50. Number of restaurants: 1. Number of shops: 0.

Why did we choose this bustling metropolis, you ask? Because the river, which the town is built alongside, is known for its natural hot springs. You can dig your own mini onsen in the riverbed, for free, and then soak in it as you watch the waters flow by. This was a very cool idea. However, scheduling our trip on the same day as a typhoon, was not a very cool idea. When it eventually had passed, and the river had returned to some sense of normalcy, we dug ourselves volcanically hot baths and relaxed, taking care not to end up like the squirrels in that opening scene of Dante’s Peak.

But what does this have to do with veganism in Japan? Well, since we stayed 2 nights, we had to eat while we were there. The veggie sushi, fruit and potato chips we’d brought along lasted all of an hour, and then it was time to chow down in the little hotel we were staying at. Japanese hotels usually serve a traditional meal, comprising several small dishes. Since we’d asked for vegetarian, they served us rice, pickles, wild mushrooms, tofu and a delicious mountain vegetable nabe (type of stew). You cook this yourself.

My sidekick fired up her burner and started stirring her veggies, only to find a small white block of something floating in the middle. “What’s this,” she asked, poking at it. “Tofu?” I suggested. But it was not tofu. It was not a vegetable, or paneer, either. There was only one thing it could have been, and that’s lard. Yum yum! We carefully removed it and left it with the pigeon egg we’d been given.

Random lumps of fat aside, there are 2 other things vegans have to be wary of when eating at Japanese hotels. Often, when we book accommodation in rural areas, they are reluctant to feed us unless we are ok with fish stock (dashi) being used in the miso soup, and ok with vegetable tempura (which sometimes has egg in the batter). Not exactly vegan, but if you say it’s ok, you can usually avoid those dishes when mealtime arrives. Otherwise, your best bet is to book without meals (which is inconvenient, but it can save you a chunk of cash) and bring a boot-load of pre-cooked food with you.

One last note about lard. The sidekick and I have taken to eaten at Indian restaurants quite often these days, as they have extensive vegetarian sections on their menus. We’d been asking what’s in the curries and the nan, of course, and had been happily munching away, until our knowledgeable friend informed us that the Indian restaurants too, were probably using lard. So with an awful sinking feeling, we had to ask. Luckily, our local joint proved lard-free. Phew. But lard really is the shiz here – you can even buy tubes of it at the supermarket. Yum yum!

Next time: A Christmas vegan meet!

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Radies and Radishes: Part 21

Posted on 19 October 2010

A ravenous mob of vegetarians

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

18 October 2010

Yes! After an inexcusable absence (involving me doing nasty administrative things like acquiring Japanese driving licences), I am back with more veggie tales from the Orient. The biggest thing to report on is the Kyoto Vegetarian Festival, which is held every year in early October. This was my second time at the fest, and once again, it was awesome.

Kyoto Vegetarian Festival. Photo courtesy of Courtesy Gina TorgersenIt was held in Okazaki Park, near the Heian Shrine (very big and touristy spot) in Kyoto. A ravenous mob of vegetarians, including yours truly, descended on the park to spend their savings on things like: vegan donuts (which I mentioned last time, but put off hunting for until the weather cooled down), tacos and chips, veggie pork burgers, falafels, Thai green or yellow curries (with Phuket lager – yum), muffins, cupcakes, large cakes, vegan biltong, raw food snack bars, dates (which cost around R30 each – eek), Chinese dumplings, spling lolls (or maybe it’s spring rolls – my English is deteriorating), salads, strawberry smoothies and shaved ice treats, fudge and much, much more.

There seemed to be more main courses on offer this year, which was nice, since eating sweet stuff all afternoon tends to take its toll on the blood sugar levels! A lot of veggie restaurants represented with stalls where you could sample their menus, albeit for a slighter higher price. There were also organic goods on sale, like flour and pasta, as well as fresh farm produce – I horrified the Japanese by chomping down a raw carrot – and walking around while doing so!

There were booths trying to educate people about fur, animal testing, factory farming, and other issues. It was painful to walk by and see the pictures but, at the same time, essential to have these materials to open eyes. There was also a booth where they screened movies like Behind the Mask and The Cove.

The only complaint I had was that it rained all afternoon – and my umbrella was in Osaka! For one thing, the free kundalini yoga was cancelled, and it also sure made things difficult for the performers on the open air stage! I probably could have bought a cheap raincoat or umbrella or something, but that would have meant going without some tasty treat, so I arrived home looking like a drowned rat, but a very bloated and content one.

Next time: Indian food, how cow flesh is considered a vegetable in Japan, and more.

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Radies and Radishes: Part 20

Posted on 29 August 2010

O-kaeri! Special South African Edition

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

28 August 2010

In mid-July, I was lucky enough to come home to Cape Town for 3 weeks. Although the World Cup had wound down a week before I arrived, there was still a buzz in the air, and restaurants hadn’t changed their prices back to something locals could afford (not sure if they even plan to).

 Bella Vegan, Simonstown, Cape Town. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnHaving been away for a year, there were 2 things I really, really wanted to do in the Mother City: see ‘my’ animals, and eat. I’ll spare you the soppy details of the former, and just blog about the eating part.

I won’t write about how I forked out R33 for a hot chocolate with soya milk at a certain establishment in Rondebosch (*cough cough*, Cocoa Wah Wah). Paying R7 for a soy option there was nearly as horrifying as Kauai’s newly ‘reformed’ menu, replete with 1 vegan option. Talk about token. Thank goodness for the 2 great new vegan restaurants that have opened.


This bright, funky little spot officially opened at the beginning of August, but I was able to sneak in my o-kaeri (‘welcome back’) lunch party in July. Michelle Verwey and her team served up baskets of warm breads, pita and dips as a starter, following that with home-made root vegetable soup and more delicious breads. There were lemon cupcakes for dessert but, by that stage, most people had stuffed themselves into a coma-like state – which just meant more for me!

Closer is on Palmer Road in Muizenberg, in between other small, cool shops. The area has an ‘Obsy’ feel to it. The café does great (fair-trade) coffees and teas, not to mention cakes – and a bunch of meals. Warm oats with almonds and maple syrup for breakfast sound good? I thought so. Check the place out on Facebook and in real life, too.

Bella Vegan

If you’re in Simonstown, I recommend stopping by Bella Vegan. It’s just opposite the tourist info centre on the main road, and has lumo green walls – you can’t miss it. Jen and her team serve up dirt-cheap, delicious chow (I don’t think anything on their menu was as much as that traumatic hot chocolate I mentioned earlier). I tried a papaya smoothie, which was a really happy-looking drink, and surprisingly filling! Of course, I also tried several other things too, including a sweet potato pie (with salad) and savoury pancakes.

The main meals and desserts change daily. You may be lucky enough to tuck into a slice of double cinnamon and apple pie or a double chocolate cupcake, both served with cream, depending on which day you pop in. I say play it safe and pop in every day … Except Mondays, when they’re closed.

Now, I’m back in the land of the rising, blazing, unbearable sun … already missing the cool weather and all the vegan goodies you can get in Cape Town. Cheese … jelly tots … sniff. Not to mention the soya milk tart at Wellness Warehouse – go try it so that they keep making it and I can eat it again next year August!

Next time: A perilous quest for vegan donuts in weather that curdles even long-life soya milk.

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Radies and Radishes: Part 19

Posted on 17 July 2010

Brown rice harmony

…the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

15 July 2010

As usual, it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my adventures in Japan. You probably suspected I’d OD’ed on the condensed milk – and I won’t lie, it was close – but I survived to wrap up Year 1 in Osaka.

Veggie curry ay Genmai Harmony restaurant in Minamikata, Japan Photo courtesy of Carey FinnThis past month, a lot has happened. First, the rainy season arrived, then my veggie garden threatened to float away. The humidity levels passed 100%. I stopped functioning during the day and only managed to make it to school by strapping an electric fan to my left foot and dragging it along behind me.

In actual vegan news, I visited a lovely little restaurant in Minamikata, a couple of stations north of Osaka City. The place is called Genmai Harmony, which means Brown Rice Harmony. It’s a stone’s throw from the train station, which is very convenient, but there’s very little English, which is not so convenient! However, we managed to order the house veggie curry, which was served with a couple of salads and a variation of miso soup. We felt all harmonic until we found out that the cakes were sold out, but a cup of genki (‘energy’) tea restored the mood. I couldn’t decipher exactly what was in it, but I suspect ginger and a variety of Chinese herbs. On the way out, we picked up an order form for organic veggies, which are grown on a nearby-ish farm, by the owner’s connections.

Raku’s rebirth

As you know, my favourite vegan restaurant in Osaka closed down in May. The owner, Sano-san, has been working at his friend’s new restaurant (not veggie) in south Osaka, and has started reopening Raku there on Saturday evenings. He’s held 2 ‘bossa nova’ gigs so far, serving up his trademark Brazilian fejwada, curry, salad and a new addition of falafel with deep-friend wheat meat. The restaurant is bigger than the old premises and has draft beer on tap – a leftover from the place’s izakaya (‘pub’) days. So far the support has been good so, provided that his next few gigs are successful, he is planning to open Raku 2.0 more regularly, from September.

Curry in Den-Den Town

Meanwhile, short of decent veggie places in convenient locations, my posse have had to find alternative grub joints to meet up. Sano-san showed me an Indian restaurant in Nipponbashi, the Akihibara area of Osaka. It’s known for its maid cafes, toy stores, electronic stores, porn and strangely-clad characters. Just past a horrific pet shop (which I have been complaining about for an entire year, with little response), is a curry place run by real Indians. Usually, curry in Japan resembles curry, but that’s where the similarities end. But this stuff is the real deal, with even the ‘mild’ powerful enough to make grown men cry.

While not a vegetarian restaurant, they offer a lot of veggie dishes, which can easily be made vegan. Good prices, hot spices and gigantic nans have made me a fan of their dinner sets – samoosas, salad, a big plate of curry (I recommend the “green peace” one) and nan, plus chai tea to settle your stomach. They show Indian hip-hop videos and they sell Bollywood movies. What more could you want?

Next time: Carey goes home: a special South African edition!

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Radies and radishes: Part 18

Posted on 27 June 2010

Heaven is a can of condensed milk

… the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

22 June 2010

2 exciting things happened recently. One was the discovery of a great veggie café in Kyoto. The other was the arrival of a box of indulgence from Vegan Perfection. But if I open that up now, you won’t get through the whole blog, you’ll be tracking me down to raid my cupboards! So, first things first…

Ping Pang!

2 scoops of vegan ice cream at Ping Pang Café, Kyoto, Japan. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnPing Pang Café is a neo-hippie restaurant in Kyoto’s Kitayama area. We stumbled upon it while taking 2 tiny kittens to their new home. I blogged about the heartbreaking number of stray cats and dogs in Japan earlier; unfortunately, the situation hasn’t gotten any better since then. Japan Cat NetworkOpens in a new window tries to trap, neuter and release, or home, as many cats as they can. But their task is a mammoth one, so we’ve started helping them out by fostering a few kittens. Their shelter also has limited space, so they are always looking for people who can take kitties temporarily.

Anyway, we were taking Atticus and Lizzie to their new home, when we happened to pass Ping Pang. It was open and smelled inviting so, after dropping off the kittens, we popped in for a bite to eat. The menu was vegan with the exception of a token free-range chicken ‘taco’. The food is all very wholesome. The restaurant is part of an ‘outdoor fitness’ studio where you can do yoga and trail-type training, so it has that fit and healthy vibe about it.

I ordered a brown rice burger, which was interesting. The ‘bun’ was made of, yep, you guessed it, compacted rice, and the filling was sliced organic veggies. I washed it down with a glass of masala ginger beer, which I highly recommend you try at home. Dessert was 2 kinds of cake and ice cream, the latter of which was meant to be shared … so much for that! My vegan sidekicks are sneaky sometimes. At least I got a photograph.

Ping Pang isn’t cheap, and the stools and tables are high enough that death by chocolate mousse takes on a whole new meaning, but it’s a nice little spot that I would definitely visit again.

Perfectly vegan

The oh-so sugary taste of (vegan) condensed milk. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnHow many of you miss condensed milk? Well, I sure did, until 5 tins arrived last week. It’s been 5 years since that sweet, gooey goodness (also known as "diabetes in a can") passed my lips. 5 long, lonely years …

But now, thanks to Australian vegan goodies distributor Vegan PerfectionOpens in a new window, the exile is over. They sell a range of vegan sweets and other essentials, importing from all over the world. They mostly distribute to Ozzies, but if you ask them nicely, they’ll ship to you – maybe even to SA. They shipped a small box over to Japan for us, which was super-exciting … except that the postage cost more than the goodies. Obviously, they couldn’t ship veggie meats or cheeses, but condensed milk was good enough.

I drank half of the first holy tin, and then attempted to make peanut butter fudge with the rest. It ended up being peanut butter sludge, but it still tasted good. So what else was in the box? There were (note, were) wine gums, fudge, dark chocolate nougat, organic mint chocolate, rice milk white chocolate (WHITE CHOCOLATE!), parmesan cheese and packs of soya whipping cream. The downside is that, since the products originated in South America, Europe and England, the box’s carbon footprint was sky-high. But since I am now too broke to go anywhere for the rest of the month, I will be staying in and fattening myself up on sugary goodness, so hopefully it will all balance out.

Next time: Raku 2.0, brown rice harmony, curry in Animeland and more.

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Radies and radishes: Part 17

Posted on 2 June 2010

Comings and goings

… the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

2 June 2010

I really miss the vegan potlucks in Cape Town. All that good grub and company does wonders to one’s mood and stomach! It’s been more than a year since I attended a potluck so when the opportunity arose to go to a Japanese version, I leapt at it.

Vegan meet-up in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. Photo courtesy of Gina TorgersenOn Sunday 23rd May, the Kansai Vegan Meetup Group held a late spring lunch in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. To translate, that’s about an hour by train from Osaka. We gathered at a lovely little cafe called Hassel House, which was all old, dark wood, fresh garden herbs and huge canvases of Irish landscapes. The sweet old Japanese owner spoke fluent English and told us that not only had she painted the artworks in the cafe, but that she would soon be returning to Ireland in search of new scenery to portray.

About 10 people attended, half of them foreigners and half Japanese. A vegetarian dog was revealed to be the official leader of the meet-up group, but she seemed more interested in the food than her administrative duties. I didn’t blame her, the food was great. We all shared a finger lunch of homegrown greens, fresh peas, potatoes, veggie fish fingers, crackers, fruit and red bean paste tea sweets, with minty herbal tea. Although it was pouring with rain outside, the atmosphere inside was warm and relaxing.

This Saturday past saw me at another vegan gathering, but sadly, this one was a sayounara party for Raku Café (downtown Osaka). In the past 10 months, I’ve become good friends with the owner, Sano-san, and spent many evenings chatting to him in the cosy little vegan organic restaurant. Unfortunately, like many veggie restaurants in Osaka, Raku’s finances went into the red, and Sano-san was forced to close his doors. But he did so with a bang. Word was spread, and the little café was filled to capacity, with not a stool left open on Saturday evening.

Farewell party at Raku Café, the organic vegan restaurant. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnThere were some old and some new faces but we all toasted to the good memories and to Sano-san’s future. He had some good news, informing us that Raku would be reopening in a different area (Shin-Imamiya) towards the end of June. However, as Sano-san will be sharing premises, Raku will only be open on weekend nights for the time being. But, as everyone agreed, it’s an exciting new start. Little by little?or chotto zutsu, as they say here.

The last supper at Raku was a buffet of organic salad, Brazilian fejwada, curry and brown rice, with tofu cheesecake, chocolate brownies and ginger snaps for dessert. Everyone helped clear out the remaining juice, organic German ales and spirits in the place, and the party went on till past 11. Laugh not, that’s quite something by Japanese standards, considering the trains stop running at midnight.

Next time: Ping-pang discovery! What is it? Find out in Entry #18.

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Radies and radishes: Part 16

Posted on 25 May 2010

Vegan birthdays are best

… the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

24 May 2010

Every part of Japan is famous for something – be it peanuts, potatoes, a 120m Buddha statue, or wild pig (the dead kind). Osaka is no exception, with travellers from all over trying takoyaki (deep-fried octopus dumplings) and okonomiyaki (a type of omelette made by pouring batter over small pieces of vegetables, cow, pig and fish).

Traditional okonomiyaki, the vegan way. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnBoth of these delicacies of death are sold on almost every street corner in the city, and they are especially popular at festivals. You can even make your own okonomiyaki at special restaurants. I just figured that was one aspect of Japanese culture that I’d never experience. But then, my Japanese friends had a special dinner party for my birthday.

The starters were homemade pickled bamboo (a spring dish) and gyouza (those Chinese dumplings I mentioned), both of which were delicious. And the main course was vegan okonomiyaki – cooked at the table! My Japanese friends, being vegan residents of Osaka, were able to skillet a special variation of the dish. They used fleshy mushrooms instead of bacon, and mixed them up with various veggies for the filling. Instead of using fish flakes and sauce to finish the dish, they topped it with special vegan dashi (a stock usually made from fish and found in almost everything), a sticky sauce and mayonnaise. It was love at first bite, the rich, warm taste was simply heaven. It was great to have something fatty and solid, instead of simply noodles in broth?or rice-based dishes for a change; so great, in fact, that I ate 5 helpings.

As a birthday gift, they gave me a few vegan snacks including a tub of Tofutti cream cheese from America (bought on a business trip). I remember reading about Tofutti in Peta’s magazines as a teenager, and always wished they would bring it over to South Africa. So I was pretty excited to have the chance to try it at last. It turned out to be a nice and smooth cream cheese that gave life to the plastic cake bread over here. It was a treat, but overall, compared to Sheese, it ranks about the same in taste and texture.

A little while after the Tofutti was finished (around the beginning of May), there was a vegan festival in Kyoto. Last year, I checked out a vegetarian festival there which was 90% vegan anyway. But this one was fully, and officially, 100% vegan. Alas, I did not attend, as I was on a road trip north, to Ibaraki-ken (home to that 120m Buddha statue, by the way), but I heard good reports from those who went. It’s great to know that there is enough support for these events to stage them.

While I didn’t get to try all the tasty food at the festival, I did find a great vegan restaurant in Ibaraki’s Tsukuba City, a university town in the middle of nowhere. Ritz’n, the restaurant, is open on every public holiday, which is excellent! Many other restaurants were closed for the duration of Golden Week, Japan’s week of national holidays (the period over which I did the road trip).

Tempeh burgers are big in Japan. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnAt Ritz’n, I had yummy tempeh burgers on homemade rolls, several wholesome lunch sets comprising organic brown rice, soups, nattou pasta, stewed gluten meat and salads, muffins for snacks, and a small slice of dark chocolate gateaux. The pasta was surprisingly tasty – nattou, the slimy fermented soy beans I blogged about at the beginning of my Japan adventures, actually went really well in the pasta sauce. Maybe it was because it was organic and homemade, but there was none of the usual slimy, snotty texture, just a nice smoky taste. Anyway, I went to Ritz’n rather a lot.

At the adjacent deli, I was able to find up a bag of fresh dates and I literally danced for joy. In the 10 months I have been in Japan, I had had the grand total of ONE date. So being able to munch through an entire bag was an almost religious experience. It brought tears to my eyes. Next time you fill up a bag of medjool dates at Fruit and Veg, don’t take a single one of them for granted! Think of all the deprived vegans in other parts of the world (i.e. Japan) and how much money you could make by sending them to us! (Message me for my postal address).

Next time: A vegan gathering, and Raku Café: death and rebirth.

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Radies and radishes: Part 15

Posted on 30 April 2010

A ? Kyoto

… the (long-overdue) journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

29 April 2010

The first Sunday of April saw us taking a leisurely stroll along a small stream in Kyoto. We pottered and pondered along a trail aptly named The Philosopher’s Walk, appreciating the cherry blossoms, then in full bloom, their reflection on the water, and all of the finer points in life … along with about a million other pushing and prodding people.

Cherry blossoms in Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnThe Philosopher’s Walk, with its hundreds of big old ornamental sakura trees, is, as it turns out, one of the most popular spots for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto. Which also makes it one of the most stressful parts to navigate at that time of year. Fortunately, we were prepared for the crowds.

Our resident expert on all things vegan in Japan, a video game design student/cat trapper/secret agent (did I not promise mystery in my last entry?), had taken us first to a café by the name of Akateletecobe SovesahvaOpens in a new window (which was apparently the name made up by their kid).

My first impression of the restaurant, with its wooden table and small flower garden, (complete with family set of gumboots) was that it was very homely. I remarked as much to said expert, who wryly informed me that the café, was in fact, a home. The family open their house on the first Sunday of the month, serving whatever dishes they fancy. This time, they made delicious vegan pizza, with home-made animal-free cheese. Seriously. It was tough, but I resisted the temptation to raid the kitchen of all said pizza, and after just 2 slices, allowed myself to be guided to the next stop on our tour.

Our next destination, just 10 minutes away, was Café ProverbsOpens in a new window. I’d already eaten there once before, shortly after arriving in Japan. I was well ready for Round 2. For starters, we shared some gyoza (Chinese dumpling things) and then waited impatiently for the mains to arrive. My choice was soymilk ramen, and it provided a near spiritual experience (I suspect that’s why they named the café as they did).

Vegan soy milk ramen. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnThis was my first time eating ramen (traditional thick noodles) in Japan, as most ramen soup contains cow extract or other not-so-delightful additions that render it un-veggie friendly. The addition of soymilk to ramen is apparently a Café Proverb specialty – a bestseller at both their Tokyo and Kyoto restaurants. As unusual as it sounds, the combination of milk and ramen results in a creamy soup of noodles, to which they add some tofu and shiitake mushrooms for good measure. If you’re ever in Kyoto, I highly recommend it. For dessert, I ordered dark chocolate and maple syrup cake. Enough said, I think.

After our double warm-up, we were ready to walk. And walk we did – all the way along the Philosopher’s Walk, until enough room had been made for that most civilised of British traditions, afternoon tea. At that point, we veered off to a place called Kairas; a rustic café with a heavy wooden interior and sophisticated but hippy vibe that would work well as a country farm stall. Here, there was soya hot chocolate, cookies, custard cone treats (with smiley face biscuits) and … parfait to be had. Real parfait. The stuff of my dreams. Except with bitter citrus called buntan. Which was not so good. But the ice cream and biscuit parts were awesome.

With all that said (and eaten), I’m sure I don’t need to explain further why it is that I ? Kyoto. :)

Next time: Osakan okonomiyaki, Tofutti and a vegan festival.

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Radies and radishes: Part 14

Posted on 6 April 2010

A taste of Tokyo

… the journal of a South African vegan in Japan by Carey Finn

4 April 2010

Spring break has been and gone; with snow, cherry blossoms and a whole lot of sweets. A friend has been visiting from South Africa, so we’ve been travelling around like crazy, trying to squeeze in as much of the Kansai region as possible. While the Japanese teachers took a whopping 3 days off school, I managed to wrangle an entire week (shock), giving us enough time to check out some early blossoms in the mountains of southern Nara, give free hugs to random people in Kobe, and take in a whirlwind tour of Tokyo.

Vegan dining at Brown Rice Café, Tokyo. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnAs a vegan, no matter the route you’re travelling, eating on the road is never easy. Here, your dinner options are generally limited to rice balls, plain rice, or rice crackers. So we usually prepare a couple of ‘Ziplock’ boxes of sandwiches and such to take with, but they don’t last more than a day – either getting eaten, or going off.

Luckily, to celebrate sakura season, shops around Japan are selling cherry blossom snacks, ranging from gooey tea sweets (made with kanten, which we know as agar) to deep-fried cherry blossom-flavoured rice cakes and more. So, this time, while we may have put ourselves at risk of diabetes, road tripping was a lot more satisfying than usual.

While our experience driving around Japan was sugary and slightly scary, eating in Tokyo was like entering a vegan fantasy world – from our base in Shinjuku, there were 5 fully vegan restaurants within 20 minutes’ walk! When we had lunch in Shibuya, we had a choice of more than 7 places to chow down.

In the shock of it all, I left my Vegan Restaurant Pocket Guide in my bag, in a coin locker … and could only remember one of the restaurants … making our choice easy. We ate at Brown Rice CaféOpens in a new window, a trendy little whole food spot in the larney Omotesando Hills area (near Harajuku and all its costumed characters). It had a sophisticated atmosphere, and prices to match, but the food was simple and delicious. We had vegetable soup and freshly-baked soya milk rolls, and a cherry blossom and green tea muffin from the adjacent deli for dessert.

For dinner, a friend took us to a fast food joint called Freshness Burger, which had 2 veggie options on its menu – a tofu burger, and a giant mushroom burger. Both were under 500 Yen, which is unheard of for grub in Japan, unless you’re eating at McDonalds. I tried the tofu burger, with potato wedges, and it went down a treat. My only complaint is that it was a bit on the small side – so next time I’ll be ordering 2. I found out that there is another Freshness Burger just 2 stations away from my pad in Osaka, so I’ll be dropping by soon.

Vegan Fudge Brownies from the USA. Photo courtesy of Carey FinnVisits from friends and travels aside, the most exciting thing that has happened to me in the past month was a present I received from a Japanese friend. He and his wife are awesome vegan punks. He recently went to America on a business trip, and brought back Vegan Fudge Brownies and Apple Streudel for me as souvenirs. They were decadently delicious … so much so that they brought tears to my eyes. I ate them too fast to take a picture, but the packing looked like this.

All I can say is … to all the vegans in America; you lucky bastards.

Next time: Something mysterious to spice things up.

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