Much of Japanese cuisine is intricately intertwined with meat-based ingredients. However, there are plenty of vegan Japanese food options for those who wish to still enjoy this cuisine.
Japanese food is a world of springy noodles, perfectly steamed rice, and crunchy veggies. Even if many of their dishes incorporate meat products, there are workarounds for the vegan diet.
We’re going to go through all of your vegan Japanese food options so you know exactly where you can turn when your cravings hit. We’ll also give you several vegan food recipes you can use to start experimenting in the kitchen.
Vegan Japanese Food Options
Japanese cuisine can be easily made vegan. There are plenty of ingredients and dishes that are already vegan. Plus, there are workarounds for dishes that may include meat-based products.
Dashi is a simmered stock that’s the starting point for many Japanese recipes. There are multiple kinds of dashi, but typically it’s made of bonito flakes, sardines, shiitake mushrooms, or kombu.
Dashi is the backbone of soup stocks, marinades, and liquid seasonings. It provides the much-needed punch of umami that balances out dishes.
As a plant-based eater, you can skip the fish ingredients and use dried shiitake mushrooms or kombu — or both — to make a savory broth you can add to any recipe.
What do you get when you take a barrel of soybeans and let them ferment for months, or even years? Miso. This fermented soybean paste is made from soybeans, salt, koji, and sometimes other ingredients. It’s packed with an umami flavor that’s hard to match.
Miso is already vegan and can be used for miso soup, veggie marinades, dipping sauce, and many other applications. Throw some miso in to give your recipes an extra kick.
When you think of sushi, you probably think of raw fish wrapped in rice. While this is true, sushi can also be catered to fit into a plant-based diet.
Instead of fish, try asparagus, avocado, cucumber, or shiitake mushrooms. You can also choose to wrap your sushi in nori to add an extra crunch and saltiness.
Gyoza are fried or steamed dumplings filled with meat or veggies. You’ll be skipping the meat and opting for strictly vegetables if you follow a vegan diet.
There are multiple vegetables that make for delicious vegan gyoza. You can stir fry cabbage, leek, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, and more to add to your dumplings.
Japan is known for its diverse selection of noodles. From thick udon to earthy buckwheat soba to springy ramen — Japanese people don’t hold back when it comes to noodles.
Ramen is by far the most popular Japanese noodle. In America, ramen was popularized as an affordable dorm room meal, and has grown in popularity through the rise of authentic Japanese ramen restaurants.
There’s much more to ramen than a simple noodle and broth soup. The broth alone is loaded with flavor, but typically built on a meat-based stock. Substitute the meat with a vegan dashi and miso to concoct a perfect ramen broth.
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There are also ample toppings like menma (bamboo shoots), leeks, nori, and whatever veggies you can think of. Get creative and find the perfect combination for a weeknight dinner staple. Make sure to check out these vegan ramen tips for some more ideas.
Soba noodles are a dark brown buckwheat noodle that provide a chewy texture and robust flavor. Soba isn’t nearly as common as its big brother — ramen — however, this noodle has a loyal following of its own.
The beauty of soba noodles is the unique flavor they provide with little assistance from broths or sauces. To fully enjoy soba, eat it chilled with a dipping sauce or in a warm bowl of vegan dashi.
Udon noodles are a wheat flour noodle used in soups and stir-fries. Udon noodles have an incredible thickness and chewy texture — they might be the bounciest noodles of the bunch.
Add some crispy veggies, udon noodles, and a vegan sauce to create a flavorful stir fry that competes with any Japanese restaurant. You can also add udon noodles to a simple broth with some chopped scallions, tempura veggies, or fried tofu. Slurp away.
Tofu needs little introduction to the vegan community. But for those who don’t know, tofu is coagulated soy milk that creates a bean curd.
Tofu is a great source of protein and makes for the perfect meat substitute. It can be eaten fresh or fried and added to nearly any dish you create. Simmer it in savory vegan dashi or fry it up and throw it in your piping hot bowl of ramen.
Onigiri are steamed rice balls filled with delicious ingredients like kombu, umeboshi, pickles, or more. Lay some steamed rice down, throw your favorite veggies in, and you have the perfect healthy treat.
They’re a great way to repurpose leftover rice into snacks throughout the week. There’s nothing better than a vegetable-packed onigiri for a quick snack on the go.
Natto is a polarizing food in a class of its own. It’s fermented soybeans that have a unique smell and sticky texture.
Japanese people rarely miss a day of natto, rice, and egg breakfast. Give it a shot and see how you like it. Plus, it’s incredibly healthy and packed with probiotics.
If you want to take a culinary trip to Japan, you can opt for some indigenous vegetables. These include edamame, daikon radish, sweet potato, and eggplant.
You can pretty much add any vegetable you’d like to your Japanese dishes. You can even go as far as pickling random vegetables which are called tsukemono.
Now that you know plenty of ingredients and easy Japanese dishes, let’s show you a few recipes you can add to your cookbook.
Vegan Japanese Food Recipes
After a lengthy debate, we gathered five of our favorite Japanese recipes we think you should try. Each recipe is completely vegan and will surely be on your list of favorites after you try them out.
Avocado Miso Ramen Topped With Avocado Tempura
A steamy bowl of vegan ramen always hits the spot. This recipe is no different. It’s a modern take on the Japanese classic and incorporates crunchy avocado tempura with a rich miso broth.
Image: The Spruce Eats
This steamed edamame only needs five basic ingredients — edamame, oil, salt, chili powder, and garlic powder.
It also brings some heat for those times when you have a hankering for spice. Plus, it’s a quick snack you can whip up in 10 minutes for a side dish or appetizer to any meal.
Japanese Curry With Vegetables
Image: The Spruce Eats
You’ve been missing out if you’ve never tried Japanese style curry. Japanese curry has a taste of its own that sets itself apart from Indian and Thai curry.
This filling curry recipe uses eggplants, yellow bell pepper, onions, and carrots. The only caveat — most curries include butter, so make sure you buy a vegan curry roux stock.
Japanese Udon With Mushroom-Soy Broth
Image: Serious Eats
Mushrooms are the star in this delectable udon soup. It incorporates four types of mushrooms — pretty much any type of mushroom you can find.
You can enjoy the chewiness of udon noodles complemented by crispy fried tofu. This comforting homemade meal can compete with any restaurant.
Miso Shiitake Ramen
Image: Olive Magazine
This is another simple miso-based ramen that’s easy to make. You can have this dish from stove to table in only 20 minutes.
The broth is quite simple. It uses veggie stock, chili, garlic, and miso for a flavorful taste that’s easy to create. This is another great opportunity to throw in some immi noodles for some added nutrition in your vegan meal.
No Need To Miss Out on Japanese Cuisine
Sure, traditional Japanese cooking revolves around fish and meat-based ingredients. But there’s actually plenty of ways you can still enjoy Japanese vegan food on a plant-based diet.
Give some of these recipes a shot. They can easily become a weekly go-to whenever your Japanese craving hits.
And if you’re ever looking for a low-carb, high-protein noodle alternative, give immi noodles a shot. Our delicious seasoning packet is plant-based, so you can add a yummy bowl of ramen to your weekly meal rotation with ease.