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Dietary restrictions...

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Brooklyn, NY
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Dietary restrictions...

I've read many past posts on similar topics, so my questions are all based on what I've learned from that research. Thank you to everyone who has responded to such a question in the past.

For religious reasons, I do not eat meat or meat by-products (no chicken, beef, pork, lamb, OR chicken broth, gelatin, beef broth, etc.). I eat most fin fish, but no shellfish, eel, sea urchin, etc. I have no other restrictions: I eat eggs, dairy, all vegetables, all seaweed, etc., and I am eager to try as much Japanese food as possible while I am there.

I'm trying to make a comprehensive list of the traditional Japanese foods that should fall within these restrictions, and figure out the best way to communicate my needs (or not have to) to servers.

I eat a lot of sushi at home, but I can order the specific fish that meet my requirements. What's the best way to order sushi in Japan?

Is most Udon going to be okay? I believe that Udon is traditionally made with dashi, which if made traditional (bonito and kombu, right?) should be fine. (I don't eat Udon in the states, because I generally don't trust restaurants to not use chicken stock in broth.) How do I make sure I don't get anything else in my Udon that I wouldn't eat?

What about tempura? I know there are things I can eat, but are there ways of ordering vegetables easily?

Any options for eating Shabu Shabu? Robotayaki? And what about kaiseki? I know I'd do better with kaiseki on Kyoto, but we're not going to get there this trip.

Thanks in advance.

San Francisco...
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1. Re: Dietary restrictions...

In Japan, there are cross-cultural and cross-language communication risks, along with the general perception that it's a bit rude in Japanese culture for anyone to ask for anything special. So it might be helpful to know how serious it would be if, despite your best efforts, a bit of a prohibited item found its way into your food.

Brooklyn, NY
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2. Re: Dietary restrictions...

A fair question. It's not an allergy, so it's not a matter of life and death. If I identify something that I can't eat while I'm eating it, I'll be obligated to stop and not eat any more of whatever the dish is unless the particular item is easily removed in full. I'd really rather that not happen. At the same time, I'm going to a country where I don't speak the language and I don't plan to restrict myself to 100% vegetarian restaurants.

I'd probably sum it up best by saying that I'm trying to make educated decisions about my level of risk for any particular dish or type of restaurant. If, for example, I know that 95% of udon restaurants make dashi in a way that's fine for me, and 5% use chicken broth, and there's no good way to know which is which, I'd be inclined to still eat in udon restaurants and jut assume that the broth is fine. If I know that 75% of the time I'd be able to correctly identify vegetarian tempura, and the rest of the time I could easily separate out the meat items in full before biting into them, I'd probably eat tempura once or twice. If I know that 50% of the time, even if you order specific fish off a menu in most sushi restaurants, you're still going to get served whatever the chef feels like in maki rolls so that you can't tell what's in them, I wouldn't eat in sushi restaurants unless I knew ahead of time that they spoke English well and brought what was ordered.

Is that helpful?

Nara, Japan
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3. Re: Dietary restrictions...

For your future reference, go to:

www.roppongifukuzushi.com/e_top/e_top.html

Click on "Menu" and then on "A la carte" when a new page pops out so you'll know what they have to offer. Never set foot in there myself, but I've heard good things about them on the gapevine.

As for udon, I don't think you'll have chicken-flavored broth or duck meat/beef topped on the noodles, unless you order them. See among others a typically meat-free Kitsune Udon: http://tinyurl.com/jvk2gb5

No worries.

Nara, Japan
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4. Re: Dietary restrictions...

Sorry for the typo: on the grapevine, of course.

Los Angeles...
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5. Re: Dietary restrictions...

Since you eat egg, I imagine okonomiyaki would be OK, as long as a veggie okonomiyaki is on the menu (lots of different toppings are sometimes mixed in, like bacon, but usually you can specify what you want) and usually okonimiyaki is DIY so you can order exactly what you like and cook it up yourself. I think your previous post is spot on - I don't think you have to worry about chicken based udon, but even if you got it, would you know? Veggie tempura sets are easy enough to find. I don't know about finding a shabu shabu joint that caters to the no meat crowd, doesn't sound likely to me. Lastly, you should go to an izakaya - it is Japanese small plates with a wide variety of dishes, and if you go to a chain one there are usually pictures. I once went to one where you order on an iPad and everything was clearly displayed!

Aoyama Dori and San...
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6. Re: Dietary restrictions...

I would think if you went to a pure tempura shop you would not have problems. For instance, if you go to Tsunahachi: http://www.tunahachi.co.jp/en/shop/index.html there should be no beef/chicken/pork in any of the tempura. Tsunahachi is just an example and there are hundreds of tempura shops and chains in Japan. In general, better restaurants specialize in one type of food and don't offer a variety, i.e. you wouldn't find a sushi restaurant serving tonkatsu or yakiniku.

Toronto
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7. Re: Dietary restrictions...

Tempura: anago (sea eel) is on OP's no-eat list

Brooklyn, NY
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8. Re: Dietary restrictions...

Thank you all for these suggestions. I hadn't even thought about okonomiyaki, that's a great idea!

Having reviewed all of the answers, I think my biggest worry remains being able to order sushi. I love sushi, and really hope to eat it as many times as possible while I'm in Tokyo, but I'm not confident in my ability to correctly identify, say, awabe (which I can't eat) from hirame (which I can) on sight. Are there more sushi restaurants, like Roppongi Fukuzishi, that are particularly known for having English a la carte menus, and/or wait staff who speak English and who will translate an a la carte menu for me? I could, of course, just stick to maguro, otoro, and ikura, but I'd like to experience the broadest range of what I am able without disrespecting anyone. Alternatively, can I speak the Japanese names of a bunch of fish that I know I can eat and hope the waitstaff brings me what I asked for? Is that done?

Thank you all again.

Brooklyn, NY
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9. Re: Dietary restrictions...

Most of the seafood offered in a tempura restaurant would be on my "no" list: prawns, eel, shrimp, squid, lobster, etc. Will tempura places bring me only vegetables if I asked for them? Or is that also not done?

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10. Re: Dietary restrictions...

I'd say sushi will be very easy for you -buy a sushi guide or google a picture chart, or download an app to help you. The only problem will be with a 'set menu' , luckily in many places you can usually order a la carte.

Okonomiyaki usually has pork &/ squid so I'd be careful about that unless you can fully control the ingrediants that go into it.

Shabu shabu normally consists of meat.

Once in Japan you'll probably see that there are many more types of food & cooking than you are limiting yourself to here - (the ones that are famous outside of Japan.) Japanese food is not only about tempura, sushi & udon.

An ordinary, everyday Japanese meal consists of cooked fish, miso soup, vegetables & a bowl of rice (not tempura or sushi.)

You can go to department store basements as they have ready-made food options, as well as the fantastic array available at convenience stores.

I think at night an izakaya is a good choice as they have a wide range of small dishes & you are sure to find lots of options.

You'll be able to see what average restaurants serve as many have plastic food models in the window.

Tempura is usually a predetermined 'set' & will usually include prawn but you can ask for vegetable only. It's not healthy this eat oily, deep fried food so I'd be careful about eating it too often.

Do take note that it is considered 'not the done thing' & it's impolite to ask for special treatment - this includes asking for special requirements in restaurants (as Bargainhunter pointed out.) It is a real factor to consider in Japan - not just a mild inconvenience for the staff. So don't be surprised if your requests are sometimes met with confusion or refusal. You just don't upset the staus quo. Sometimes it may be easier just to pick out the things that you can eat from the dish that has been served.