Shiitake nigiri, tofu toban yaki: Green is trending!

ByShara Ashraf Prayag
Jan 28, 2023 05:31 PM IST

Inspired by the Zen Buddhist diet, Japanese restaurant are celebrating plant-based dishes that masterfully mimic fish and meat

Japanese gourmet food is going green with plant-based creations taking centerstage. People in Japan are taking to a sustainable, compassionate and climate-friendly diet in a post-pandemic world. Brands in the country are pushing 100% cruelty-free meat and fish substitutes. A GlobalData report says that the Japanese meat substitutes market will register a CAGR of 5% to reach JPY 36. 3 billion ($373.5 million) by 2026.

Plant-based nigiri at Sakura, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, New Delhi
Plant-based nigiri at Sakura, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, New Delhi

Vegetarian and vegan influencers in Japan are taking the lead in promoting culinary diversity. “We believe in a meat/fish-free diet for the sake of a better world. We are driven by our love for the environment and animals and we want people to focus on health,” says Haruko Rolando Kawano, founder, Vegeproject, a non-profit organisation that gives vegan certifications to food products.

Donburi : Vegan bowl with rice, Japanese mushrooms, tofu, momiji oroshi (chili paste made in-house)
Donburi : Vegan bowl with rice, Japanese mushrooms, tofu, momiji oroshi (chili paste made in-house)

Reclaiming Shojin Ryori

Simple, fuss-free and nutritious plant-based food is not a new concept in Japan. “It’s the revival of the age-old wisdom of Buddhists monks,” says chef Lakhan Jethani, who celebrates the spirit of shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cooking) in his restaurant Mizu Izakaya in Bandra with his vegan creations.

Jethani worked in a kaiseki-style shojin ryori restaurant, Sougo in Tokyo, Japan. His mentor, chef-owner Daisuke Nomura had helmed the two Michelin starred Daigo that serves the ancient plant-based cuisine with modern tweaks. “I think it took a while to realise that eating a meat-only diet is unhealthy for us. We are making constant efforts to make our set of vegan and plant-based dishes more eclectic,” says Jethani. Some of the vegan options on his menu are mock duck (made with soybean), donburi (vegan bowl with rice, Japanese mushrooms, tofu, momiji oroshi (chili paste made in-house), sea cabbage (aoniri) and togarashi flat breads, and Abura-age (Japanese deep-fried tofu sheets).

Fresh, seasonal

At Megu, The Leela Palace, New Delhi, Chef De Cuisine, Shubham Thakur is also imbibing the ethos of the age-old Buddhist cuisine in his plant-based dishes made from fresh, locally sourced, seasonal produce. He wants to make Japanese cuisine more approachable for beginners, he says. “We don’t want people to think that Japanese cuisine is only about seafood. We have almost an equal number of plant-based and non-vegetarian dishes on the menu now. We are inspired by Shojin Ryori, backed by the philosophies of seasonality and sustainability. We source our vegetables from farmers in the vicinity instead of relying on imports. Inculcating our own harvest helps us to be more creative and also give back to the farmers,” says Thakur. “We need to stop relegating vegetables to side dishes but create stars out of them,” says the chef. His plant-based offerings include Shira-ae (Tofu-spinach with sesame sauce), crispy asparagus, seaweed salad, miso aubergine and tofu toban-yaki.

Swapandeep Mukherjee, head chef, Sakura, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, New Delhi, agrees that plant-based Japanese has endless possibilities. “Our Japanese guests are now more inclined towards green dishes. For instance, they never ordered vegetable tempuras earlier. Now so many of them ask for a vegetarian assortment. We added a number of plant-based dishes in our menu post pandemic,” says Mukherjee. Some of his green preparations are Tofu Steak (pan grilled tofu in teppanyaki sauce served on an iron plate), Atsu Age Yaki (grilled soybean curd served with chopped spring onion and grated ginger), plant-based nigiris and sushi rolls. From believing that there’s no such thing as veg sushi to cribbing about sparse green options to being spoiled for choice, we have come a long way, says the chef who now has nearly seventy plant-based dishes on his menu featuring 150. “And there are more coming in!” says Mukherjee.

Green sushi boat at Bento B, plant-based Japanese restaurant in Ahmedabad
Green sushi boat at Bento B, plant-based Japanese restaurant in Ahmedabad

Amit Gupta who launched Bento B, a vegetarian Japanese restaurant in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, a year and a half ago, is also pleasantly surprised with the response his restaurant is getting. “We initially drew flak for serving plant-based Japanese. But after a few months, it just took off. No Indianisation, no fusion, we do clean, flavourful, wholesome food,” says Gupta, who has been able to cultivate a loyal base of guests who come to the restaurant to try plant-based Miso Ramen, Agedashi Tofu and California Rolls. Plant-based gourmet is certainly winning hearts and palates!

Shojin Ryori

Popularised in Japan in the 13th century, Shojin Ryori is an ancient plant-based cooking style of Zen Buddhist monks. The tradition based on the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) also celebrates the principles of sustainability and seasonality. There is no use of meat, fish or dairy in the meals and the cuisine focuses on tofu, seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants. Japanese chefs across the world are resurrecting Shojin Ryori with a contemporary approach. American-born Japanese author Elizabeth Andoh features classics from Shojin Ryori in her book Kansha, a collection of 100 vegan Japanese recipes. Entrenched in Buddhist philosophy, the word kansha means appreciation and gratitude in Japanese.

Green alternatives

Silken tofu, banana blossom, jackfruit (they resemble fish due to their texture)

Vegetables such as mushroom, pumpkin, avocado, eggplant, broccoli, corn, asparagus

Kombu (dried sea kelp) flakes to replace katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes) to make plant-based dashi stock

Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, April 01, 2023
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals