My favorite food in Japan is…Indian curry? (Tips for eating vegetarian, vegan, or GF in Japan)

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When you think of Japan, what kinds of food come to mind? Sushi? Ramen? Okonomiyaki? Since living in here for almost five months now, I’ve come to discover that it’s not Japanese food that I most commonly eat but rather Indian food. It’s not to say that I don’t like eating tradition Japanese food: soba, ramen, tsukemen etc, all the noodles you can think of, I’ve had it.

However delicious those foods may be, there is something about eating Indian food in Japan that makes the experience so unique.

Sub the naan for rice as a gluten-free alternative!

First off, Indian restaurants in Japan are more able to meet dietary restrictions compared to traditional Japanese ones. For someone who might be vegetarian, vegan, or even gluten free, here are some things you should watch for.

Although the dish you are ordering does not explicitly contain meat, there is a high chance that Dashi was used.

What is Dashi exactly? Dashi is a form of soup stock that is used a lot in Japanese cooking. Traditionally made from Dried Bonito Fish Flakes, Konbu Dashi (Kelp) can also be found in some restaurants but it’s always good to check beforehand.

Here are some helpful phrases while ordering food in Japan:

I am a vegetarian. Watashi wa bejitarian desu. 私はベジタリアンです。

I am vegan. Watashi wa bi-gan desu. 私はビーガンです。

Is there meat (niku) or fish (sakana) in this dish? [Niku] ya [sakana] ga haitte imasuka? 肉や魚が入っていますか?

I cannot eat meat, fish, eggs or cheese. [Niku] ya [Sakana] ya [Tamago] ya [Chii-zu] ga taberaremasen. 肉や魚やたまごやチーズが食べられません。

I have a wheat allergy. Mugi no arerugi ga arimasu. 麦のアレルギーがあります。

At most Indian Restaurants, you can opt for the Vegetarian set. Although it differs from store to store, this usually includes vegetable curry, daal curry (lentils), saag paneer (spinach curry w/ paneer cheese), and if you are lucky, Cheese naan! Of course for my GF friends, you are able to eat rice in place of the naan.

I feel that the Indian food in Japan, in comparison to restaurants in America, is cheaper and has more variety! The best time to try new foods in Tokyo is during lunch time. From around 11am-2pm, lunch sets usually go anywhere for 600-1100 yen ($6-11).

This restaurant, like many others, is tabehoudai (食べ放題) which means it includes all-you-can-eat naan or rice.

One thing I will say is that although these restaurants serve Indian food, they aren’t exactly up to par in terms of spice level. Indian food in Japan is catered towards the Japanese palette, and it’s typical for many Japanese people to not like spicy food. If you like your curry as hot as I do, I would recommend either choosing a spice level of 4/5 or 5/5.

If you get a chance to try Indian food in Japan, I hope you’ll find this post useful. Until next time!