Tokyo Weekender exclusive from Japan Eats.
By Christopher Pellegrini
Foodie’s paradise, Tokyo, is claimed by many to have the most eateries per capita of all the cities in the world.
True or not, finding something that is both healthy and easily accessible can pose a dilemma, especially if you’re not comfortable with the all-Japanese intricacies of information gatekeepers such as the excellent restaurant ranking website, Tabelog.
Far too many people find themselves restricted to an onigiri, a jelly squeeze-bag, and a plastic bottle of green tea when they’re looking for a low-cal meal.
In order to provide you with some of Tokyo’s more heart and waist-friendly dining options, we talked with Justin Berti, a yoga instructor, fitness trainer and health nut who for years has scoured this fair city for dining options that jive with his strict diet and that he can recommend to his clients.
Sometimes it can be a real bear to find healthy food options at the supermarket nearest your train station. Everything seems to be over processed and packaged.
The following supermarkets are chains but carry a decent selection of imported items and health-conscious options.
Natural House has 25 locations in and around Tokyo.
F&F has 11 shops in Tokyo with another five in Kanagawa.
Seijo Ishii doesn’t have an English website, but they do have dozens of locations around Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures.
Berti recommends the bentos at Natural House and F&F, and he mentions Seijo Ishii because it has plenty of “fresh salads and healthy options.”
Restaurants often have menu items that look like they might be vegetarian friendly, but don’t think that you can always get an informed answer from your server. There’s fish and beef in almost everything (including potato chips!), and you’d be foolish to assume that the folks preparing your dinner accept the same definition of vegetarianism that you do (vegetarians don’t eat fish?!).
The following are some healthy dining options that have at least a little something that’s safe for vegetarians.
Nouka no Daidokoro is a good option for vegetarians as they offer some 100% vegetable course meal options. This chain of earthy restaurants added two new Tokyo locations within the past 12 months and has a salad bar that is not to be missed.
Eat More Greens in Azabu Juban bills itself as a vegetable café and bakery modeled after those found in downtown New York City.
Earth Café Ohana in Sangenjaya caters to vegans and vegetarians and tries to use organic ingredients whenever possible.
Soup Stock Tokyo has more than 30 locations in Tokyo that feature a revolving menu of low-cal soups and a curry or two. They usually have a vegetarian-looking option on the menu, and you can generally get straight answers about the actual ingredients (hint: ask about lard) which is great for people with allergy concerns as well. Soup Stock Tokyo is essentially a fast food chain, perfect for those times when you only have 20-30 minutes to get a meal in, but it should never be grouped with the ubiquitous burger joints and beef bowl shops of this city.
Tenya has shops all across downtown Tokyo and specializes in tempura. This chain can be very helpful for vegetarians who need a quick and cheap bite to eat. The yasai-don is always on the menu, and there are occasionally seasonal variants that get featured as well.
Konbini are generally not known for selling products that are waist-friendly. However, Berti feels that one chain stands above the rest:
Natural Lawson opened its first shop just over ten years ago, and now there are more than 70 in downtown Tokyo.
“They usually have nuts and dried fruit without added salt. The quality is much better. They also have sweet potato snacks, better fruit cup selections, and a healthier selection of teas–stuff you can’t find in regular convenience stores.”
One of Berti’s biggest pet peeves is the price tags on everything. Even though organic is popular in Tokyo, it can be incredibly hard to find. And when you do find it, you’ll notice that much of it is imported, so “you spend half your rent on an 80% cocoa chocolate bar and almond butter.”
He saves money by ordering from iherb.com, and invites people to freely use his discount code, JUS847, to save five dollars on their first purchase. He also recommends checking out the “Vegan in Tokyo” Facebook group for those that seek strategy tips on finding true vegan fare.
Those who avoid animal products in their food will also be interested in this Google map that details many of the vegetarian and vegan dining establishments available across Japan. The Japan Veg Guide is another resource worth checking out.
So as you can see, there are several health-conscious options available for the vegetarians, flexitarians, weight watchers and pavement pounders among us. Hopefully this short guide has given you a few new ideas for when you’re tracking down your next meal in Tokyo.
Justin Berti is a yoga and fitness instructor at FAB ACADEMY.
Christopher Pellegrini is a writer for Japanese food website, Japan Eats.