Food & Drink | THE PERSISTENT VEGETARIAN

Indian fare adds spice to vegetarian dining

by Ananda Jacobs

Ananda Jacobs

While it’s easy to trust that almost every Indian restaurant will have plenty for a vegetarian to eat — and you can often ask for an all-vegetarian meal by request — it’s an incomparable delight when the menu is entirely made up of vegetarian choices.

Three such places have won my heart in this respect.

Nataraj is an all-vegetarian Indian restaurant with four locations in Tokyo and one in Osaka. In operation since 1989, it calls itself the first Indian restaurant of its kind in Japan.

I visited the Ogikubo location (5-30-6 Ogikubo, Suginami Ward, Tokyo; 03-3398-5108; nataraj.co.jp), where the decor features traditional wooden Indian art against an open and inviting floorplan.

Nataraj’s menu is page after page of delightful-looking dishes and you truly get a thrill being able to thumb through and pick out any dish to dine on.

Vegans will be pleased, too, as most of the food is entirely vegan. In fact, the default option here is vegan and, in a subtle style swap I quite appreciated, it’s the vegetarian dishes (containing dairy) that receive a special marking on the menu and not the other way around.

Using Ayurvedic principles and organic vegetables, Nataraj’s concept is one of wholesome, healthy living that is conscientious of the environment.

The food is also utterly delicious and filling. Trying a few curries with the dinner sets, the mushroom palak was my favorite, with the mushrooms cooked to perfection in a creamy spinach base.

The vegan (or “green” nan) tasted just as good as regular nan, but even if you’re not vegan, the color alone is worth an order.

On the east side of the city, Vege Herb Saga is another choice for beautiful vegetarian curries, with this Okachimachi-area restaurant (5-16-9, Ueno, Taito Ward, Tokyo; 03-5818-4154; vegeherbsaga.com) specializing in dishes from the south. Boasting an all-vegetarian, organic and chemical additive-free menu, Vege Herb Saga has a staggering list of curries, rice dishes and breads.

Veg Kitchen (not to be confused with bento chain store Vege Kitchen) is a pan-regional cafe that opened in mid-2014. Also near Okachimachi (Taito 3-44-8, Taito Ward, Tokyo; 03-5817-8165), they describe themselves as serving north and south Indian food as well as Chinese and continental foods.

Veg Kitchen is, of course, 100 percent vegetarian and the place has a casual cafe feel, with reasonable set menus offering a variety of curries, soup curries, samosas and other delights.

While Indian restaurants offering vegetarian options can be found just about everywhere in Japan, it can be worth it to make a special trip to the places where meat-free cuisine takes center stage.

With colorful curries and other sumptuous menu items, you can rest easy knowing that it’s prepared with a vegetarian’s lifestyle in mind.

Ananda Jacobs is a musician and actress in Tokyo (www.anandajacobs.com). She has been ovo-lacto vegetarian for more than 20 years.