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I'm a strict vegetarian travelling to Asia (mostly Japan).

Which traditional Japanese foods are safe to eat vegetarian or easy to substitute to be so?

What are common non-vegetarian ingredients to look out for?

  • Anyone is welcome to discuss vegan foods also. – Tom Kelly Feb 6 '17 at 20:38
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    I'm more looking for foods (such as miso soup) which often have non-vegetarian ingredients (e.g., daishi / fish stock) to avoid while eating out or visiting a Japanese home rather than cooking strictly vegetarian myself. – Tom Kelly Feb 7 '17 at 9:38
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    Soba usually contains dashi, with fish sauce or fish scrapings. – Turion Feb 7 '17 at 15:05
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    @Turion Yep, dashi is very difficult to avoid in Japanese food. I was hoping an answer would address this. – Tom Kelly Feb 7 '17 at 22:49
  • Note that as Japan is a Buddhism-practising country, many monastaries cook only vegitarian food because they believe in the Dharmic concept of ahimsa (peace/non-violence). Not sure they'd let you eat there (they might if you ask nicely), but they might be able to offer more information or suggestions. – Pharap Mar 24 '17 at 1:02
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One of the biggest traps in japanese cusine is dashi, a stock used in many preparations, and traditionally made from steeping kombu (vegan), grated dried fish (not vegan), and sometimes mushrooms (vegan). It would be typically used in a miso soup, other soups, sushi pieces that do not incorporate any other fish, condiments...

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I wasn't in Japan but in nearby countries The hardest ingredient to avoid was fish-sauce, followed by shrimp-paste. It feels like they use it everywhere (but that's not true).

As a substitute I normally use soy-sauce which is almost always available. I could normally make people understand to use it for my food in restaurants.

Vegetarian restaurants and vegetarian food are, I think for religious reasons, not that uncommon in many Asian countries. Also Indian restaurants are mostly aware and helpful with vegetarian food.

I also recommend learning how to say "vegetarian" in the local language.

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    +1 for learning how to say "vegetarian". Also have it written down, and perhaps specifically 'I am vegetarian, no fish sauce, shrimp paste please' 私は菜食主義者です、魚のソースやエビのペーストはしないでください – Steve Feb 7 '17 at 1:14
  • Fish sauce is used in Japan as well a lot. – Turion Feb 7 '17 at 9:20
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    @Steve すみません、ベジタリアンです is probably sufficient for beginners: thankfully "bejitarian" is an english loanword as it is in many languages. However, in some cultures they do not understand that fish is not vegetarian so perhaps it would be better to be more specific. – Tom Kelly Feb 7 '17 at 9:43
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    I have heard that mentioning Buddhism in the context of vegetarian will help in some Asian countries to avoid being served meat and fish based items/sauces. I have no personal experience with this. – Benjamin Kelley Feb 7 '17 at 16:51
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    @TomKelly Worth noting that this isn't just an Asian thing - annoyingly some western cultures still don't understand that fish is not vegitarian. – Pharap Mar 24 '17 at 1:03

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