1. Japanese Cuisine Attracting Attention of Vegans/Vegetarians around the World
Eleven Madison Park, a French restaurant in New York City, was ranked first in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 and awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide. You may recognize the name, since the restaurant transformed to a vegan restaurant in June 2021 and made a news headline in the industry. Did you know that the change followed a Japanese chef’s advice and incorporated a lot of concepts and ingredients from Shojin cuisine developed along with Buddhism in Japan?
Traditionally, Japanese cuisine is full of plant-based ingredients, such as tofu, soy sauce, and miso. Whereas a French full-course meal has 2,500 kcals on average, Japanese kaiseki cuisine has only about 1,000 kcals and has been captivating health-conscious gourmets.
Broth that forms a basis of Japanese cuisine can also use kombu (kelp), shiitake mushrooms, and vegetables, instead of animal-based ingredients like bonito flakes. Even sushi, the representative Japanese dish, can substitute seafood with avocado, yuba (tofu skin), seasoned and simmered shiitake, kanpyo (shavings of bottle gourd), asparagus, bell peppers, eggplants, young green onions, and deep-fried tofu. Furthermore, London sees a rising popularity of vegan salmon or vegan tuna made of tapioca starch. In the last decade, vegans/vegetarians have been paying close attention to Japanese cuisine.
2. Vegan/Vegetarian Menu in Japan
Many of you may already know that Japanese food culture was originally pesco-vegetarian: we mainly ate rice, served with vegetables and seafood but not meat. This diet changed when western culture was imported in the last 150 years and we started to eat meat.
Recent years have seen an increase in restaurants that work on creating vegan/vegetarian dishes because of a rising attention to Sustainable Development Goals, an increase of health-conscious people, and requests from visitors from overseas.
One of the examples is Shojin cuisine. Developed as a meal designed to focus on Buddhist training, this simple and rustic vegetarian meal is attracting attention both within and outside Japan. The Michelin Guide includes “Shojin” as a category and lists Daigo in Tokyo with two stars and Shigetsu in Kyoto with a Bib Gourmand. (For Japanese restaurants in the Michelin Guide, please check out this article.)
Ise Sueyoshi in Tokyo, a restaurant awarded the highest rank among fine-dining restaurants in Tripadvisor Japan in 2021, serves vegan kaiseki cuisine. They explain about each ingredient thoroughly and have earned trust and high acclaim from the patrons.
In HappyCow, a restaurant information site for vegans/vegetarians, Saido in Tokyo is ranked the first in “The Best Vegan Restaurants” in the world. This restaurant’s iconic dish is a vegetarian grilled eel (made of tofu and root vegetables with seaweed sheet in place of the fish skin).
T’s Tantan in Tokyo is passionately loved by vegetarian foreign nationals living in Japan. Veggie Tantanmen is its feature, a noodle dish made of only plant-based ingredients including vegetables, soy meat, and soy milk. Even non-vegetarian ramen fans highly review this restaurant.
Since 2021, Azuma Foods has been selling substitutes for salmon, tuna, and squid. They are made of konnyaku, a jelly-like cake made from konjac. This taro-like plant unique to Japan can be another trend for vegan/vegetarian menus across the world.
Although many foreign visitors were not able to enter Japan due to the COVID-19 pandemic, vegetarian cuisine in Japan has developed dramatically over the last two to three years.
3. Can You Hire a Japanese Chef to Develop a Vegan/Vegetarian Menu?
Even though we are seeing more restaurants that serve vegan/vegetarian dishes recently, it is estimated that vegetarians account for only about 3% of the Japanese population. It may be difficult to hire a Japanese chef who specializes in a plant-based menu.
On the other hand, Japanese cuisine tends to use plant-based ingredients and chefs who learned its basics may not find it challenging to create a vegetarian menu. There should be many chefs who have served vegetarian dishes, if they have worked at a Japanese restaurant in a metropolitan area or tourist spot frequented by foreign visitors.
If you want to recruit a Japanese chef who can create a menu for vegans/vegetarians in the future, please contact Washoku Agent for our wide network of potential candidates.
4. What If I Have a Problem in Hiring?
“I do not know what my restaurant should feature to attract Japanese chefs.”
“I have an idea of the chefs I am looking for, but I do not know how to find them.”
“We tried to recruit on our own before without success, so we want to find a truly skillful chef this time.”
“Since no staff member speak Japanese, we want to entrust the whole task of hiring Japanese chefs to someone else.”
If you have a problem in recruiting Japanese chefs, feel free to contact us Washoku Agent!