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Beyond the States

Vegan Guide to Japan – Tokyo Harajuku

cupcakeSweets in Japan are a pretty big deal but vegan ones aren’t always easy to find. Unless you stroll into the tiny Brown Sugar 1st where you will be overwhelmed with things to buy like coconut popcorn and yuzu cookies and soft serve ice cream and cupcakes.

A district in Shibuya, Harajuku, is unlike anywhere I’ve been in my life. It became famous for the “Harajuku Girls” who come out to shop in the most fabulous clothes you’ve ever seen. And girl power is definitely the name of the came. Everything is kawaii (cute), in pastel colors, and looks like it was designed by the coolest committee of twelve-year-old girls anywhere. There are cat cafes, bakeries, crepe shops, animal costumes, and stuffed animals everywhere. And this is for sure the place to pick up that glitter filled cell phone case you’ve been dying for. I would want every girl in the world to have a neighborhood like this to wander around, there were so many small groups of unchaperoned girls just having the best time. It made our trips to the mall in the 80s seem pathetic by comparison. And yes, we did spend way too much money on this giant rainbow cotton candy! cottoncandy

Top 5 vegan options in or near Harajuku

    1. Harukucchii
    2. Sass-no-ha
    3. Hachinoki
    4. Kamakura 24sekki
    5. Kitotoki

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Vegan Guide to Japan – Tokyo Shibuya

HachikōMaybe you’ve heard the story of Hachikō, the dog that waited at Shibuya station for his human to get off work every single day. He was so famous for his ever-present to folks in the neighborhood for his unwavering attitude that when he passed they built a statue of Hachikō, waiting in his spot.

Shibuya is probably the area that you think of when you picture Tokyo in your mind. It’s like times square on some sort of intense Japanese drugs that they only have in anime movies. Everywhere you look there are giant ads, giant building, and millions of people everywhere. The day I was at the famous intersection across the station enjoying my matcha latte at Starbucks, I even saw a bunch of people driving go-carts dressed like all the characters from Mario Kart, Luigi, Toad and the Princess were all there. They say the intersection is the busiest in the world and it’s super interesting to watch the lights change and see it swarm with people.

Aside from the many stores and coffeshops, (one has a David Lynch theme!) there are plenty of vegan options. We tried Afuri which was very different than other bowls of ramen in Japan because it was positively swimming with bright, colorful vegetables. It was very tasty and I recommend it for sure. There are a ton of other options and many are open late so check Happy Cow and Yelp to see what’s what.

Vegan Guide Japan

Vegan Guide to Japan – Tokyo Shimokitazawa

ShimoStreetWhen we found a David Bowie-themed Airbnb it soon seemed like Shimokitazawa was the neighborhood for us! We were so glad to find this spot which I can’t imagine will be around for very long. Unlike everywhere else in Tokyo in Shimokitazawa everything is human-sized. Through the main section they don’t even allow cars, it’s just narrow little streets with hip young Japanese people heading to and fro. It’s not at all overwhelming like the other neighborhoods but there are tons of cafes and vintage shops.

Our first stop was for, you guessed it, ramen and gyoza. We were very excited to get to order from a vending machine at Chabuton. It was pretty tasty but probably the least exciting of the bunch. We loved the gyoza though!

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We also got to try a couple of coffee shops. The weird part about Shimokitazawa is that most places don’t open until 11am, even coffee places! I later found out there was a spot with a ham and cheese crepe called blank but we couldn’t work it into our schedule. There was one Australian style coffee shop, Frankie Melbourne Espresso,  that I ordered a soy chai from and it was literally the best chai I’d ever had in my life. When it came out, it was still steeping so there was a little hourglass on the tray to let me know exactly when it was done. So adorable.

For late night I loved the bar Mother. It was also very close to our airbnb and was made out of cob painted gold so it resembled a super fancy tree house and had a super cool vibe. They had vegan options marked so I had to try the Okinawan noodles to go with my ume plum & shiso cocktail. It was delightful! mother

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Vegan Guide to Japan – Tokyo

TsRamenTokyo is one of the largest cities in the world and its vastness can truly overwhelm you when you are first starting to plan your trip. It took me forever to make some sense of the neighborhoods and districts and even now I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to be where! For example, I have Harajuku listed as it’s own page but it’s a part of Shibuya which is listed separately. Shibuya has many neighborhoods inside! Generally, I’m going to categorize places by what seemed right to me but when you are planning, it’s easy to figure out by looking at the train stations.

And speaking of trains, the whole system is vast and confusing. The bigger the station, the more likely that you will find a tourist desk for English speakers but if you can’t, no worries. Like in New York, the best way is to often ask a stranger! People in Japan were incredibly helpful everywhere I went. Learning a couple phrases like “Do you speak English” and “Thank you very much” will get you far. You will end up spending a lot of time on trains and in the station so it’s best to plan where you are going to eat based on what train station you are already going to be near.

The most recommended vegan restaurant in all of Japan, T’s Tan Tan, is actually located inside Tokyo station. So, it’s a great first stop on your way in from the airport if you are staying near the station or transferring through. I read MANY accounts of people saying that they would plan all of their routes through Tokyo station just so they could keep on eating at T’s.  Even though it’s a tiny restaurant, lots of people had big bags that the staff allowed for storage in the entryway so don’t stress about that, but every station has tons of lockers which you can also store your bag in. I read that finding the T’s in Tokyo station was difficult but really it wasn’t so bad because I followed the directions on Happy Cow to get to Keiyo street which is inside the station. I had more trouble finding the location in Ueno station. Really, I should have just asked someone sooner because I wasted a lot of time wandering around. The key is to just find the big food court and then from there as someone who looks like they work there. The ramen at T’s is unsurpassed, I tried multiple versions and they were all the best ramen I ever had! Everything is vegan and best of all, if you are traveling on a holiday, they keep their social media up to date so we could find out that they were indeed open on New Year’s Day which was one of the most exciting things that happened to me while in Japan because everything is closed around New Years.

Other things to note about Tokyo, if you put money on a PASMO card at the subway you can use it throughout the city and Kyoto for subways and trams and you can keep adding money as necessary. There is also an unlimited tourist rail pass. We used google maps to find our way around and, in my opinion, it’s pretty important to have an International SIM card or Pocket Wi-Fi. We had the latter from Pupuru which worked fantastically. You can pick it up at the airport when you land and then drop it off in the prepaid envelope in a mailbox inside the airport before you take-off. Note that the mailboxes are outside the security after check-in. I’d also recommend getting a powerbank to keep your cell and wi-fi charged up. When you run directions and google translate all day it can really drain the battery. And once your battery is drained, your completely screwed! Note that they don’t have Uber in Japan. And lots of places take cash so make sure you get a Yen infusion at the ATMs in the train station whenever you start to get low.

Google Translate is one of the best things that ever happened to vegan travelers. I had heard people say that, but I didn’t understand until my friend explained the camera capability. You just take a picture or point your camera at the list of ingredients and like magic it will try and figure out what the words are! You can easily tell if your onigiri is filled with red bean paste or tuna! Sometimes the translations are a bit tough though, I assumed that “rice flower floating in wind” was vegan. Usually, animal words are obvious. And that is my final tip about Japan. Everything is really expensive and getting around can take lots of time so the ubiquitous 7-11s and Family Marts on every single block are a godsend! We ate so many rice balls and chips when everything was closed at breakfast time or late night. The options are way better and totally different than in the US. Check out my friend Jojo’s post for more info on what’s what at convenience stores and lots of tips for travel and vegan restaurants. And watch the video for how to open the convenience store onigiri, the design is magically Japanese. 711food

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Vegan Guide to Venice Italy

Vegan Guideto VenicePreviously on Lazy Smurf’s Guide, I wrote about how easy (and incredibly delicious) it was to be vegan on the Ligurian coast and even in the tiny village of Apricale. Venice, with it’s many, many tourist restaurants, wasn’t quite as mind-blowingly scrumptious. Although there were more all-vegan places than other places I’d been in Italy, the random restaurants that I didn’t search out weren’t nearly as good (probably since they cater to non-discriminating vacationer with epic menus in four languages). Only 55,000 people live in Venice and about 60K show up every day to stare at ancient buildings and bridges and gondoliers.  It was on my list of places that I needed to visit asap before it’s underwater and I’ve wanted to go ever since my second-grade teacher told me about it (the roads are made of water?). It already floods quite regularly, and they don’t do the sewage collection that I’m used to here so it can get a bit gross. But they have a, dare I say, ludicrous plan to deal with the water. Check out this video How Does Venice Work.

Despite the overwhelming amount of tourists, I still found the city just so magical. It was impossible to not walk around with your eyes wide and mouth hanging open. Every street is beautiful. Even the city bus -which isn’t a bus but a boat, the Vaporetto – is a delightful experience as you glide by all the ancient buildings. Seeing churches with sunken waterfilled basements, visiting the glassmaking island of Murano and the colorful island Burano after passing deserted islands that had cemeteries, or used to house monks or prisoners, or lepers were fascinating. We got lost every time we tried to find something but we found things we had no idea we were looking for. At night, the cruise ships and daytrippers all leave and the city feels empty and like you could be living in another time.

It’s much easier to eat vegan anywhere in Italy than just about wherever else I’ve been because you can nearly always get pasta marinara or pizza marinara & ask them to add vegetables to either. Even on the island of island of Torcello, which has more goats than people, the little restaurant had a vegan menu! The difference in Venice was they cater so heavily to tourists that they don’t put as much care into ingredients & preparation as other places in Italy. People mostly seemed to pick restaurants by the view & they generally had the same epic menu of every Italian dish you’ve ever heard of in 5 different languages. Generally, if a restaurant serves a ton of dishes that isn’t a good sign.

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Barely anyone lives on Torcello, one of the islands around Venice, but they still had a vegan menu available!

The traditional soup of Venice is Minestra de Pasta e Fagioi or Pasta and Beans Soup and I asked at a couple different places & it was always vegan so that’s a solid option.Vegan Croissant

For breakfast, inexplicably to me, vegan croissants are plentiful at coffee shops along with other vegan pastries and I had no trouble finding soy milk. Note that if you order at the counter it will be cheaper than if you sit at a table and get waited on. In most places, you pay when you are done eating at the register. Somehow they remember what everyone ordered even though they don’t write it down.

Grocery stores have a ton of vegan options & they are often marked with the little vegan symbol in English, often that will be the only English you see! Convenient! Overall things are pretty expensive in Venice since it’s an island so if you can score a place with a kitchen you will save a lot of money & won’t be missing out on amazing vegan restaurants all over. Then you can go out for wine or coffee at all the beautiful cafes on plazas everywhere.

There are gelato places on every street. Sometimes multiple gelato places on the same street on the same block! They usually have a fruity sorbet that’s vegan but you can also seek out delicious soy-based gelatos, check out Vegan in Brighton’s recommendations, that’s what I followed.venice23_37259972804_o.jpg

The number one must that you will hear from everyone is Pizzeria L’Angelo and it is no joke. If you go to one place in Venice make it be this one! If I could do my trip to Venice again I would just eat there every day even though it isn’t even a restaurant, but a counter where you just walk up and order. The downsides are that there is nowhere to sit, it’s takeout only, so many people were eating their pizza just leaning against the wall. Also, it’s really popular with locals so you might have to wait. You can get whole pizzas, slices, or paninis & omg do I recommend the latter if you are the kind of vegan that loves tons of meat, cheese, olives, and bread like me! I was in pizza heaven! It’s so tiny you can walk right by it. It’s actually easier to find when the gate is down because it’s closed. Then you just stand there, longingly wishing you had checked the hours. Finally, it isn’t all vegan which is nice when traveling with non-vegans because dragging them to vegan places in Italy is not easy! But they had multiple excellent vegan options.

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La Tecia

Another all-vegan spot that I got to check out, La Tecia was all vegan and also delicious. The menu was all in Italian and there were some things I had never heard of (Arrosto di seitan) some things I’ve heard of all my life and was dying to try in Italy (Lasagna con ragu’ di seitan, Ravioli con seitan e funghi porcini, Tagliatelle di riso alla taillandese) and then some things that seem to be required at vegan restaurants (hummus, burgers). This chickpea pancake sounded like my obsession Farinata but it wasn’t quite the same. I wish I could have tried everything there!venice39_37939268022_o

I knew I was going to get Lasagna at Wine Bar Teamo which had an epic omni menu with a couple of vegan options on the last page. It was super dark so the picture isn’t great but definitely try lasagna while in Italy, it’s very different with super thin layered noodles.

Sometimes you will find that if you just ask you can find random vegan foods. I’d read on the Nomadic Vegan’s write-up of Venice that this amazing little bakery on the island of Burano had vegan cookies and so I marched right in and said…something in Italian…apparently I asked him if he was vegan (whoops) but the baker set me straight and told me all the products that he makes that don’t have any eggs, butter, or milk. I was in heaven on the ferry ride home munching on my sweets. BTW, it’s “Sono Vegana” if you want to say “I’m vegan” (feminine) or “Sono Vegano” (masculine). I don’t know what you do if you don’t use masculine and feminine pronouns but there is a trans gondolier you can support who probably knows how to make that happen.veniceislands07_26194350069_o

I wish I would have gotten to spend more time in Venice, two and a half days was not nearly enough! I especially wanted to try the Crêperie I read about, Cocaeta – Non le solite Crêpes, but it was just too far away from where we were staying and I can only get my mom to go on so many ridiculous out of the way vegan excursions with me!

Here are some pictures from Venice and the islands Burano, Murano, and Torcello and there are more on my Flickr.

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Vegan pasta in Apricale

I decided the best pasta I had in Italy deserved its own post! Overall, the pasta I had on my trip was outstanding and so much better than anywhere else I’ve ever been, I went on about it in my Liguria post. I was worried researching my trip before I left that Italian pasta wouldn’t be that exciting because all the handmade pasta contains egg and so you are usually stuck with the box stuff. I figured it would be the same as at home, but somehow it was just much, much better. Then we traveled to the ancient village Apricale in the mountains of Liguria and I got to try handmade pasta that happened to have no egg. It was called Luigini which I think means coins. Regardless, it was so delicate and smooth with a buoyant quality. Lightly sauced with fresh Italian tomatoes and zucchini. I could live there and just eat that pasta the rest of my life. Or died happy. Truly swoon-worthy.

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The restaurant, pictured below, was called Apricale Da Delio and if you are in the region I recommend taking a trip out there, it was gorgeous and we drove through beautiful little towns on the way.37969601141_b8e4a7cd81_z

Apricale was one of the most beautiful villages I saw in Italy. Perched on a mountaintop it’s like something out of a medieval dream. There were ancient murals everywhere and every house had a uniquely decorated mailbox. There was even a tiny little library! Dogs and cats lazed in the sun and every way you turned was a like a beautiful view.

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Vegan friendly Liguria: Mangio Pesto, Pasta, e Olive

A few months ago I was on the phone with my mom and she told me that her friends Narri and Peter invited her to stay at their house on the Italian Riviera. She lamented, “if only I had someone to travel with”

Um….how about me? 37969706981_eaf536a91d_b

I said I’d go for a week but then she passed on information from Narri that the olive harvest would be happening while I was there and I should really stay two weeks. And so it was decided. We flew out and saw the beautiful Côte d’Azur as we flew into Nice. We drove through the mountains along the Riviera di Ponente “the coast of the setting sun” to get to their home in Andora by Genoa. If you know nothing about Italy you may still recognize the word Genoa and associate it with food particularly, pesto. At my first meal I learned that, although the infamous pesto most often served at restaurants was usually premade with parmesan, the fresh pasta that it was ubiquitously served with, trofie, is usually vegan or egg free! Fresh pasta is one of my most favorite foods on earth and so I was immediately gratified to try it within hours of landing. 37259969954_8304630030_b

Pasta Primavera is a dish that I associate with suffering through at a nonvegan restaurant where it is my only option. Often in the US this insipid meal has some canned tomato, bland, verging on gross, zucchini, and a few shakes of dried basil. This Italian version was a revelation, the first of many I would have, of what Italian dishes should be. The squash that they have in this region, trombett was bursting with flavor, and the tomatoes were like the best tomatoes you ever had, at the peak of summer but maybe better somehow? I don’t know, I don’t understand how Italian produce is so much better but I was soon shopping at the local farmer’s co-op gathering seeds for next summer’s garden.

I had been warned that our small town wasn’t at all vegan-friendly, there were no listings on Happy Cow and all I could find was that most restaurants catered to seafood eaters. Usually, in my travels, that’s a very bad sign. but in the two Andora grocery stores, I found more vegan specialty items than I would in my entire hometown or the supermarket closest to me in Austin. I couldn’t stop buying things, vegan ricotta, ragu di soia, minestrone soup and Zuppa Toscana. I loved their yogurt! I didn’t even have time to try all the vegan meat products like chicken cordon bleu and endless variety of gelatos. (I did try some gelato prepackaged in a cone, like drumsticks here, it’s probably a good thing I don’t have easy access to them!).37259974724_d288bab536_c

The first day we went to the Fratelli Carli olive museum and, really, you could change the phrase “a kid in a candy store” to “Stephanie in an olive store” for a better metaphor if you know me at all. Olives are my lifeblood. I tried to grow olive trees (they did not turn out like this) and I would definitely have these olive stained glass windows in my home.37259974554_6a3e6dd36d_z

24118698188_13db59165e_bThe Fratelli Carli products were all insanely good. Maybe if I put in a bunch of links at tweet at them they will send me more? Please!  And oh, in the gift-shop they had a random Vegan Pie just sitting in the case. And yeah, olive foccacia is available everywhere, olives come with meals and drinks even when you don’t order them, sometimes olive bread or olive breadsticks come with your meal. In a restaurant in Apricale they had olive ice cream. Frankly, it was a bit overwhelming.  I get emotional thinking about it.

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At the grocery store I was able to buy Pesto con Tofu so I could make fresh trofie al pesto at home and though my Italian host was very suspicious, she had to admit it was delcious and so much better than the pesto you buy here. The way the flavor blooms in your mouth is indescribable. I bought seeds and I know it won’t be enough. 37969698721_b5bab87531

Speaking of my Italian host, it sure was nice having a native speaker to interrogate waiters for me! Especially since she quickly intuited that I don’t care for salad and I loved overhearing lei vegana….no lei non ama insalata and they would come up with some pasta Pomodoro, or pasta Aglio e Olio or one of my favorites (that I thought would be so boring didn’t even take a picture of) Pasta Porcini. Each one was instantly the best pasta I ever had. But, if a place couldn’t do pasta without eggs or cheese, pizza marinara was always an option. In the US you can go into some restaurants (like the Olive Garden) and they just can’t/won’t serve you. Sometimes you can’t even have the french fries. This never happened to me in Italy and one reason is that there was always pizza. And you can get it with those Ligurian olives, Taggiasca, and you don’t need any other food, well, maybe some artichokes and mushrooms.37259980114_da49813529_z

Still, my biggest food revelation was yet to come. In Albenga my hosts were very excited about a farinata restaurant, Da Puppo, that ended up with an hours-long wait every night. We had to be sure to get there well before opening so we wouldn’t have to wait. I’d never heard of farinata but it sounded like socca which I’d read was very popular in Nice so I was excited to try it. We shopped around the medieval part of the city while trusty Peter held our spot in line.

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When the doors opened nearly every single spot in the restaurant was instantly taken as we swarmed into the oven-warmed, intoxicating-smelling rooms. After I ordered I checked out the farinatas coming out of the ovens. Unlike the socca I had tried, these didn’t have any toppings, although toppings were available. Instead, the flavor mostly came from the cooking style in huge wide pans placed in wood-burning ovens. 37939259952_0c02df3bc9_z

It was definitely one of those experiences where after I tried it I had to ask, are you sure this is really vegan, and indeed it is! Basically, it’s just chickpea flour, water, and a smattering of rosemary. I had it with a side of squash dressed with olive oil and mint which was also delicious, and I am not usually a summer squash fan. I don’t understand any of this. If you have a good recipe please post it in the comments!26194343819_b057a426fe_z

On one of our last days we decided to try a Peruvian place in Laigueglia called Azotea. Generally, in Italy all restaurants are Italian so I was a bit hesitant but they were easily able to accommodate me. The decor of this restaurant was so hip and it was right on the beach. Although I’m not usually one to order quinoa, I figured a cook from Peru would know how to do it right and I enjoyed it! Especially the tofu mousse. 38066228732_af5501a217

And I was especially excited that they could make their sweet potato doughnuts vegan just by leaving off a honey element. All the food had beautiful presentation so if you are dining with omnis in Laigueglia I definitely recommend it. 37939265492_8b82dc408e

I am ready to go back and get my PhD Northern Italian food. I want to know all of their secrets! Hopefully I’ll get posts up about Monaco, Apricale, and Venice soon. Until then here are some pictures from touring through Liguria from Cervo, Imperia, Alassio, Albenga, Testico, and Ventimiglia which are full of ancient palaces and churches, medieval cities, beautiful beaches, and cute cars.Liguaria13

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