Translated by Chieko Suda
Try Classic Buddhist Cuisine At Komaki Shokudo In Akihabara
Written by Ayako Motokimida
Sample traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine in an unlikely Tokyo neighborhood—the electronic hub of Akihabara. Featuring only vegetables, beans and grains, these vegetarian-and-vegan-friendly dishes neither contain refined sugar nor pungent flavors, like onion and garlic, and are dairy-free, too.
For a country famous for its fermented seasonings and health-centric food—from tofu to soba to name a few—you may be surprised to learn that vegetarian and vegan diets are uncommon in contemporary Japan. Diets for religious or personal principles are also rare. However, there exists a traditional precedent for vegetarian dining: shojin ryori.
Traditional Japanese Vegetarian Food: Shojin Ryori
Shojin ryori describes the traditional cooking techniques and cuisine of Buddhist monks who are prohibited from eating food made from animal flesh. Every dish in this restaurant is made from a variety of vegetables, beans, and grains.
Although Zenkoji Temple in Nagano Prefecture is renowned for specializing in vegetarian dishes, there is a plant-based eatery where you can readily enjoy shojin ryori right in Akihabara.
Exit to the right of JR Akihabara Station's Electric Town Exit then go along the elevated railway track before crossing at the traffic light. You will then reach a shopping complex called CHABARA AKI-OKA MARCHE.
Komaki Shokudo is located inside this building that houses multiple stores offering high-quality, handmade goods from Japan. A signboard displaying some of the menu items is set up in front of the shopping complex's entrance.
As you approach Komaki Shokudo, you can see a showcase lined with an array of veg-centric dishes.
These colorful dishes are all made from vegetables. Since no eggs, white sugar, dairy products and gokun (*1) are used, vegetarians and vegans can eat them without fear.
(*1) Gokun: a family of five vegetables that include green onions, shallots, spring onions, garlic, and leeks.
I would recommend the Kofuku Teishoku (photographed above) which is a set menu complete with all of the day's dishes, or the Shojin Teishoku where you can choose a dish from the upper showcase and two sides from the bottom part.
Alongside curry, there are plenty of fried foods displayed in the upper showcase. You'll also find quintessential Japanese side dishes such as simmered vegetable-based nimono, ohitashi (boiled greens such as spinach), and hearty salads displayed in the lower part.
Aside from having an English menu available, some of the staff can speak English so you can easily ask what ingredients are in each of the dishes.
Once you've ordered and paid at the cash register, you will receive a numbered ticket. Now choose a cozy table to sit and wait for your seasonal, meat-free meal.
The water is self-service.
There is a corner where diners can purchase some of the seasonings used in the dishes.
The interior design is simple and minimal, with rustic wooden tables and chairs.
Shojin Teishoku: One Soup and Three Dishes
Following a brief wait, the staff will come to your table to serve your meal.
Pictured above is the Shojin Teishoku (980 yen) that follows the Buddhist principle of "Ichiju Sansai," which translates to a bowl of soup and three side dishes.
- Top: Deep-fried eggplant in seasoned soup stock (with bitter gourd and zucchini)
- Right: Fried kuruma-bu with miso sauce
- Left: Okara salad seasoned with tamahime-su
You can change the rice to brown rice for an extra 150 yen. The ingredients of the miso soup are tofu, Japanese radish, brown beech mushrooms, and so on. The dashi (soup stock) is made from dried konbu (kelp), dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried strips of Japanese radish. The miso and dashi as well as the ingredients are changed depending on the season and supplies. Both the rice and miso soup come with free refills.
The eggplant, bitter gourd and zucchini are all strong-tasting. I can’t help but feeling the joy of eating seasonal foods. The plain soup stock and grated Japanese radish are perfect for summer. It really struck me just how good vegetables can taste.
The fried kuruma-bu (wheel-shaped gluten cakes) are cooked upon order so that they are served crispy. The chewy kuruma-bu is fairly filling.
Miso-katsu (pork cutlet served with a thick miso sauce) is one of Nagoya’s specialties, though this restaurant uses kuruma-bu instead of pork. The thick miso sauce is called Haccho-miso, and it tastes so good! The balance between sweet and spicy is so perfect that you might find yourself eating it right up. The sauce is generously served, so feel free to put the excess sauce on your rice.
Okara is the pulp left over from soybeans after the beans are pressed to produce soy milk and is a nutritional food rich in dietary fiber and vitamin D. It also represent the Japanese sense of “mottainai” (waste not, want not) to use up ingredients like this. This salad okara has a texture similar to mashed potato and is seasoned with tamahime-su (a rare vinegar produced in Kyoto, characterized by mild acid taste).
Although only vegetables are used for all these dishes, you are sure to feel quite satisfied. That’s what happens when you eat a well-balanced meal.
Casual Japanese Food with Vegetables in Season
Each dish is cleverly made using the idea of: providing Japanese seasonal foods in a traditional but home-cooked style. Every item on their menu has a tender and somehow nostalgic taste to it, making it a meal that you'll remember for a long time.
Great for lunch, dinner or tea time, this shōjin-ryōri restaurant also has wonderful desserts that are free from eggs, dairy and white sugar. Conveniently located, why not stop by Komaki Shokudō and give a true Japanese tradition a try?
Please note: Mirin (sweet cooking rice wine) is used for some dishes so Muslims should ask before ordering any dishes. Take-out is available.