Ramen may have a reputation for being heavy on fatty pork, chicken or other proteins, but in Tokyo, you can find plenty of mouthwatering options that don’t contain any animal products.
Restaurants make these primarily for vegans or people on plant-based diets — particularly foreign tourists, many of whom are expected to arrive in droves for the upcoming 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
Emika Iwata, a certified food analyst specializing in vegan food in Japan, has eaten over 100 types — who knew there were that many! — of vegetarian and vegan ramen across the country. These are her five favorite vegan ramen shops in Tokyo, places that serve ramen she believes will satisfy even nonvegan ramen aficionados without compromising on animal rights, health or the environment.
After walking up the stairs into this no-frills noodle hub, you’ll immediately notice the oversized ceramic bowls of pre-mixed soup broth lining the counter. Be sure to ask for a separate, hand-illustrated vegan menu (be careful: the regular menu’s veggie mazesoba “mixed noodles” uses fish broth).
The vegan mazesoba contains an eclectic mix of veggies including perfectly cooked sweet potato, fresh avocado, juicy tomatoes, bean sprouts, zucchini and mizuna (mustard greens), which you mix together with your chopsticks. This unusual assortment is served in a soy sauce, mirin (rice wine) and vegetable broth accented with sesame seeds.
For those who enjoy living on the spicy side of life, the soy meat mazesoba offers the satisfying texture of ground soy meat accompanied by the tingly numbness of Sichuan pepper. Both choices on the vegan menu are awesome proof that vegan noodles can pack a powerful punch of flavor.
Once you finish your noodles, be sure to add the complimentary konbu (kelp), ginger and tomato broth to your leftover soup. Add your side of rice to the mix and slurp everything down!
Akasaka 1-4-15-2F Minato-ku 107-0052; 03-3584-0601; bunkabunka.jp
The basement food court of the recently remodeled Parco department store, Chaos Kitchen, has a trendy atmosphere perfect for hanging out and grabbing drinks after a long day of shopping and exploring Shibuya. For vegans, the highlight is Jikasei Mensho, which sells tantanmen (spicy Sichuan noodles) served in oversized, cup noodle-like containers.
The noodles have a soft, chewy and thick texture topped with crunchy chopped peanuts, spicy oil and plenty of tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorn. Its black shichimi spice blend has a potent scent that’s as unusual as it is addictive. A double-sized portion of extra noodles cost only ¥120, which makes this meal fantastic for people trying to do Tokyo on a budget. For an extra ¥230 you can get a plate of rice to add to your leftover soup.
Shibuya Parco B1F, Udagawacho 15-1, Shibuya-ku 150-0042; menya-shono.com
Take a sip of the crystal clear, vegetable-based soup at Kyushu Jangara and feel a hint of yuzu citrus peel spread gently throughout your mouth. The thin noodles, with their soft, smooth mouthfeel, are effortless to chew. The flavor might be delicate, but it harmonizes so well with the green onion toppings that it feels like nothing is missing.
For 35 years, Kyushu Jangara dedicated itself to making pork-broth ramen. But after being inspired by Jiyugaoka’s T’s Restaurant, which has a completely vegan menu, it developed its first vegan ramen in 2016. Just a few years later, in 2018, Jangara debuted its second vegan offering, shio (salt) ramen, at three branches — Harajuku, Akasaka and Seibu Ikebukuro. You can give it extra kudos for making its shio ramen without MSG — it’s pure vegetable-based umami.
The shio ramen might not be as filling as tantanmen, but it’s perfect for shime no ippai (ramen you eat after drinking to fill your stomach), especially for those who don’t want to feel guilty about eating something heavy after a late night.
1-13-21 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku 150-0001; kyushujangara.co.jp
Tsukemen Tetsu Shinagawa
Tetsu is a famous tsukemen (dipping noodles) restaurant chain known for offering diners a hot stone to reheat the dipping broth if it cools off. The branch located on Shinatatsu ramen street has recently started offering vegan tantanmen, so if the overwhelming smell of katsuo (skipjack tuna) dashi doesn’t bother you, this is a great place to grab vegan tantanmen.
The main flavor components of the dish are minced peanuts, spicy chili sauce, chopped green onions, bok choy and plenty of soft noodles. For an additional ¥150, bamboo shoots are an excellent add-on to add extra flavor and texture. Once you get your noodles, garnish the dish with crunchy fried garlic, aromatic white pepper or yuzu-flavored shichimi chili powder. The shichimi in particular adds in an excellent citrusy sour note that balances the spiciness of the soup — all in all, these noodles have that mouth-watering, stuff-your-face quality that even nonvegans can’t deny.
Takanawa 3-26-20, Minato-ku 108-0074; www.tetsu102.com
Right off the bat, this bowl of ramen, with its colorful mountain of cherry tomatoes, pink radish, herbs and red peppers, is a feast for the eyes.
Since Soranoiro opened, its focus has been serving female-friendly ramen dishes, which makes its menu different from ramen’s usual thick, overpowering soup. Most dishes on the menu contain an abundance of vegetables, and regular noodles can be changed to gluten-free brown rice noodles.
If you’re wondering whether the acidic tomato flavor pairs well with the gluten-free shoyu broth, it surprisingly does. In addition to soy sauce, the broth is also made out of dried konbu and vegetables such as tomato and broccoli. The soup has such a satisfying shoyu flavor you can hardly tell that it’s completely made out of plant-based ingredients.
And unlike other vegan ramen restaurants that use tofu cut to resemble fake chāshū (grilled pork) to make it look like “normal” ramen, Soranoiro keeps it simple with a few thick-cut, deep-fried pieces of tofu on top.
Unfortunately, the proverbial Veggie Soba served at the main branch is no longer vegan, but you can still order the vegan version at Soranoiro’s Tokyo Station branch.
Hirakawacho 1-3-10, Chiyoda-ku 102-0093; www.soranoiro-vege.com
T’s Tantan’s tantanmen is a staple for Tokyo-based vegans. The shop offers three different types of tantanmen, made with black, gold or white sesame. The black sesame tantanmen is a particularly rare find, and has a toasty aroma that is sure to tantalize your taste buds.
Marunouchi 1-9-1, Chiyoda-ku 100-0005; ts-restaurant.jp