Food & Drink | THE PERSISTENT VEGETARIAN

Devil's tongue jelly burgers are heaven for vegetarians in Tokyo

by Ananda Jacobs

Special To The Japan Times

The gentle heat of early summer has me seizing every opportunity to dine outside on Tokyo’s terraces. One recent afternoon in Tokyo’s Hiroo neighborhood, I stumbled across the wonderfully rustic Hawaiian chain restaurant Aloha Table (2F 5-15-14 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-6447-7360; hiroo.alohatable.com). Though it offers a number of healthful options, such as avocado eggs benedict or the Detox Bowl with a “superfood” topping, and also serves pancakes, rice plates and vegetable tapas (there’s a more extensive dinner menu with some veggie options), I only had time for a juice. I ordered the first brightly colored concoction that popped out at me — carrot-ginger juice — and savored a few moments on the cool and spacious terrace.

Aloha Table blends its juices with fresh ingredients, and leaves the pulp in for a wonderfully thick mix you could almost eat with a spoon. Juices are served in Mason jars with charming little labels strapped to them with twine. The carrot-ginger juice had a pleasant zing and was the perfect pick-me-up. While getting the check, I noticed a pamphlet near the cashier for Island Veggie (CAS Bldg. 1F 5-3-9 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6277-0962; islandveggie.com), an all vegetarian burger place that I’d been meaning to try for a while, which was just around the corner and run by Zetton Inc. (zetton.co.jp), the same company that manages Aloha Table.

So, the next time I was in Hiroo, I took the opportunity to visit Island Veggie. It has two tables outside on the first floor, but as the terrace was not quite as inviting as Aloha Table and as we were a large group, we opted to sit indoors on the second floor. Simple and bright, it was easy to spend an hour kicking back and catching up over hearty veggie burgers. My friends, it so happens, were raised in Hawaii and were visiting Tokyo, so I was bit nervous that this place wouldn’t live up to what they’re used to at home. But, four veggie burgers later, it got their stamp of approval for both the juiciness of the burgers, and the piping-hot, oversized fries. And while none of us opted for the peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread, we four Americans nodded in simultaneous natsukashii (nostalgia) appreciation that this staple had earned a place on the menu.

I went with the daily special, the miso konnyaku (devil’s tongue jelly) burger (a steal at ¥780): a slab of konnyaku basted in tangy and spicy miso sauce, with the rest of the usual burger toppings, which left me wondering why I had never thought to make it for myself. The simple texture of konnyaku — whether you’re a fan of the jelly substance to begin with or not — fits perfectly in a burger format.

There are eight regular vegetarian or vegan burgers at Island Veggie (with daily specials); sets cost around ¥1,100 and include a side of fries. There are also a variety of shakes, juices and acai bowls on offer from the Tokyo branch of California’s Sambazon Acai Cafe, which occupies a corner of the restaurant.

I certainly hope Island Veggie sticks around for a long time, as I can proudly call it a hot spot of delicious vegetarian comfort food in Tokyo.