Chabuton in Tokyo gives vegetarians something to savor
Let’s be honest: Despite its celebrated foodie culture, Japan has a thing against vegetarians.
Walk down any street, and it’s impossible to escape the onslaught of inexpensive sushi, yakitori (chicken skewers) and katsu (breaded chicken or pork) displayed in store windows, from the corner convenience store to the numerous Michelin-starred restaurants. That doesn’t even include the famed Kobe beef.
Yet given the mind-boggling number of places to eat here, the restaurants serving strictly meatless meals are relatively few. Even the soups and noodle bowls typically are made with a meat- or fish-based broth. Hungry vegetarians often have to seek out Taiwanese, Chinese or Indian restaurants for a clear conscience.
Although most dishes at Japanese restaurants will include meat or fish, a few eateries, such as Chabuton, advertise a vegetarian meal on the menu along with their standard fare.
Chabuton is a standard Japanese noodle shop in which diners order and pay at a ticket machine near the entrance, hand the ticket to the cook and find a seat at the counter (think of it as the Japanese version of fast casual). The food is prepared to order and comes out piecemeal.
Most of the Chabuton’s menu items on the machine include meat, but the restaurant offers a vegan “Vege-Ramen” bowl as well as vegetable gyoza (fried dumplings, or “potstickers”).
The vegetable ramen (820 yen, or about $7) is surprisingly good, but don’t order it expecting it to be a veggie knockoff trying to masquerade as a standard bowl of wheat noodles or udon — it’s a unique take on ramen. The noodles are dark green and made from spirulina; they’re more like thick spaghetti than ramen noodles. The soup has a strong onion flavor and is brimming with carrots, daikon, red peppers, mushrooms and greens, topped with dried onion flakes. The serving size is large enough even for a hungry American.
If the large bowl of ramen still isn’t enough, add a five-piece order of vegetable gyoza (300 yen, or about $2.55). Typically, gyoza are filled with beef, pork or chicken, but Chabuton stuffs its yasai gyoza — made with thick green wontons — with a soft mixture of cellophane noodles, garlic and greens. Its yasai gyoza are softer than meat gyoza but are similarly oily and come with the same tangy brown sauce.
Japanese vegetarian isn’t easy to find, but it can be worth the journey.
Directions: The Shimokitazawa location in Tokyo is just outside Shimokitazawa station (on Keio Inokashira and Odakyu train lines, west of Shibuya). Leave the south exit of the station, make a left and walk less than a minute. Shop will be on the right.
Prices: Inexpensive. Pay in cash only.
Phone: 03-5454-1559. (No reservations.)
Website: www.chabuton.com, in Japanese.