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Restaurants, food producers expand meat-free options for foreign visitors

TOKYO >> Vegan options at restaurants and on supermarket shelves have been increasing in Japan to better serve tourists from the U.S. and Europe, where diets free of animal products are common. Now efforts have turned toward creating vegan dishes that also satisfy Japanese palates.

In April, Ginza Kuki, a Japanese restaurant that opened during the fall in Tokyo’s Ginza district, began offering a vegan course.

The restaurant’s May course (12,000 yen, about $110), included an entree of spring cabbage stuffed with yam, tofu, lily bulb and cloud ear mushrooms, steam-roasted with herbs.

Ginza Kuki began offering vegan options after receiving requests for vegan washo-­ ku Japanese cuisine from Western diners.

“Our vegan course is designed to be filling even though the dishes are free of animal products,” said head chef Shota Sato. “I hope Japanese customers who usually eat meat can also enjoy them.”

The restaurant information site Vegewel listed 921 vegan-friendly eateries as of mid-May, up about 30% from 716 from April last year.

“The number has risen particularly since the start of this year,” said an official of Frembassy Inc., Vegewel’s parent company, based in Tokyo. “Eateries are accelerating efforts to better respond to the needs of vegans as more and more foreign tourists are expected to visit Japan in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”

Natural Bar Paprika Vegan Dining in Nishi Ward, Osaka, offers menu items that look like hamburger steak and fried oyster, but they’re made from soybeans and mushrooms.

“I try to create (mock meat) dishes that have the right texture. Some customers mistake them for real hamburger steaks or fried oysters,” said owner Junichi Nakai, who opened the restaurant five years ago.

Diners at Natural Bar are often health-conscious women and visitors from the U.S. and Europe, as well as an increasing number of Muslim tourists, who cannot eat pork for religious reasons.

Its lunch menu items include pizza and a variety of donburi. A vegan cheese hamburger steak set meal (1,580 yen, about $14.75) features a cheese-like slice made with mochi and soy milk, while the mock meat is made primarily from soybeans. In the evening, the restaurant serves vegan beer and wine.

A wide variety of vegan food products have been developed using soybeans and other vegetable-based ingredients.

In March, Hikari Miso Co. in Nagano Prefecture launched Yasai no Soboro — frozen, seasoned minced vegetables in plain, Mexican and curry flavors — made from a bean-based product from Finland. The product can serve as toppings and fillings for such foods as pizzas and gyoza.

Since 2015, Marukome Co., a miso maker in Nagano city, has been producing soybean-based mock meat products. The products can be used in vegan dishes that mimic ginger pork and karaage chicken.

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