The “Big Three” in veggie burger making are tofu, beans and mushrooms. Japan prides itself on tofu — and by extension beans — and mushroom varieties are a mainstay of the nation’s cuisine. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Japan cooks up a variety of veggie burgers.
A quick internet search can reveal a fair number of options in Tokyo. DevaDeva Cafe in Kichijoji (devadevacafe.com) apparently does a mean vegan burger, and Island Veggie in Hiroo (islandveggie.com) has an extensive list of vegetarian burgers on its menu.
Burger-craving moments often arise unplanned and can happen in any neighborhood, so luckily two large chain restaurants offer a veggie option.
Freshness Burger does a delightful vegetable bean burger (which I’ve had a few times on the run), and they offer a variety of toppings to suit your fancy. Then there is the kinpira (sautee and simmer style) rice burger from Mos Burger — a fun variation on the burger format that substitutes a burger bun with two rice patties, with fried gobo (burdock root) in the middle. Quite unique and tasty.
Still, I’ve encountered three repeat annoyances in my quest for the perfect burger: the burger tries too hard to be meat-like; the burger is too bland; and vegetarian-sounding dishes such as “tofu burger” aren’t really vegetarian. (Yes, the tofu hambagu found in family restaurants is often just a chicken burger with added tofu.)
Now, I’m sure out of the many places I’ve yet to try, there’s a perfectly juicy, hearty, flavor-packed burger waiting for me. And believe me, I’ve not given up the quest for “The One.” In the meantime, there is of course one other plan of action when you’re hankering for a hearty burger: make it at home.
It’s surprisingly easy to do, even for the kitchen-averse. Recipes tend to be quite forgiving, allowing for approximations and substitutions. I managed to slop together burger patties in no time using leftover juicer pulp, a couple of cans of mixed beans, generous sprinklings of curry spices and olive oil.
You can make a minced tofu burger and add finely diced mushrooms, or use mushrooms, tofu and mixed beans all at once. There are as many combinations and ratios as you’re willing to experiment with.
And to my meat eating friends who might not have given veggie burgers a try yet: these are for you, too. Trust me, once you’ve tried a truly delicious veggie burger comprising a wonderfully robust bean patty stacked with the works (pickles, cheese, mustard, etc.) you’ll wonder why you stuck with just meat all this time.
Take it from me, there is enough flavor (and nutrition) in a good, hearty veggie burger to give you fond food memories for a year.
Ananda Jacobs has been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for more than 20 years.