Foods NOT to avoid
I just realised this blog has been mostly doom and gloom, so let’s add a little positivity. This post will mention some delicious food you can buy when out and about, safe in the knowledge that it’s Gus Certified Vegan (a certification that you can trust as much as you would trust any stranger on the internet).
ポテチ Potato chips/crisps/thins
I don’t know what people call them in your country, but I’m talking about the delicious fried thin slivers of potato covered in salt and whatever flavour you enjoy. In Japan, we basically have two flavours to enjoy: salt (うすしお/うす塩）and nori (のりしお/のり塩). If you head to a shop with imported food (I recommend Kaldi or Seijo Ishii) you might find another flavour (sometimes the English ingredients lists aren’t covered! What a world we live in). There’s no way to know if every brand making these flavours is vegan, but the two most common ones (Calbee and コイケヤ) are.
おにぎり Onigiri (or as many Japanese English speakers insist they should be called, ‘rice balls’)
Onigiri is another easy on the go snack that can be picked up from any convenience store and most supermarkets. Two flavours that are almost always vegan are ume (梅) and kombu (昆布). Again, you’ll want to confirm that the specific one you’re buying is vegan by checking the ingredients.
If you’re game, you could go for the natto-maki (納豆巻) sushi roll. Unsurprisingly, it’s filled with natto. If you don’t know what natto is, you should really give it a go before you leave Japan. It’s not a national cultural sensation for nothing!
餅 & 団子 mochi & dango
It took me a long time to be able to tell mochi, made from mochi rice, and dango, made from ? (rice flour?) apart, but a good rule of thumb is if it comes on a stick it’s dango, if it comes in a ball it’s mochi. They’re both chewy snacks which are usually vegan! Especially if you buy them somewhere that makes them in-store. Beware of supermarkets, it’s about 50/50 whether there’ll be some kind of milk or egg in them. Very traditional. You can even buy dango at food stalls (屋台) sometimes. Always ask if it has any animal products (you can use the guide below to help you!).
Sembei is a traditional Japanese cracker – which is actually totally different to the rice crackers you buy in the west (or at least in my home country). I think it’s made from baked mochi, but don’t hold me to that. They can be extraordinarily delicious (especially the related 揚げ餅 – fried mochi). However, they are a veritable minefield for veg*ns. You name it, there’s sembei with it in it. If buying from a supermarket, find the packet with the fewest ingredients and get translating. I recommend buying them from a specialist traditional snack shop, which you’ll often find close to traditional tourist spots (temples, shrines), because the staff will be able to help you find something appropriate.
They also work excellently as お土産 (omiyage – souvenirs).