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Celebrating Japan's vegan and vegetarian traditions

37 Comments

Few people have done as much to help Western audiences understand Japanese food as Elizabeth Andoh. In "Kansha," her follow-up to 2005’s award-winning "Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen," the former Gourmet magazine correspondent casts her eye over the country’s neglected tradition of vegan cuisine.

Like her earlier books, "Kansha" (appreciation) isn’t content merely to list recipes, but offers an entire philosophy of cooking, focusing not only on nutrition but also avoiding waste and sustaining natural resources. Its pages are littered with advice on ways to use parts of vegetables that you’d normally throw away, alongside a wealth of tips on preparation, cooking and storage.

The detailed instructions accompanying each recipe mean that it’s hard to botch things up, and the titles alone are the stuff of mouth-watering daydreams: pop-pom sushi, slithery somen noodles, chrysanthemum greens in nutty tofu sauce, fiddlehead ferns steeped in soy-tinged broth… Veggie nirvana.

"Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions." Available from major bookstores and Amazon Japan.

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I feel sorry for vegetarians, especially vegans, they have got it it all wrong. "Morally" they have eliminated meat and animal products and in some ways that's admirable for taking a stand against horrendous treatment against some animals raised as food, but meat is what the human digestive evolved over million of years to eat. "Physiologically" they should have eliminated grains from their diet. Grains are the insidious drive behind the terrible obesity epidemic sweeping the globe. A primal diet is the key

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Couldn't agree with you more!

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"Morally" they have eliminated meat and animal products..."

It's not just moral, but also a health issue.

"Grains are the insidious drive behind the terrible obesity epidemic sweeping the globe."

Huh?

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Frankly I don't mind learning how to stretch my vegetables and use more of what I buy ( found out more from my local "yaoya" than chef school like you can use the green leaf and stem of "kabu" (turnip) quite tasty).

But most vegetarians and in particular vegans are people than I steer clear of and I prefer they stay far away from me because they are worse than religious zealots and unrelenting in pushing their moral values on you, If they like being that way fine but leave me alone (BTW most vegans and vegetarian westerners I have met seem to always be stuffing sweets in their mouths)

Now I have lived if countries where many people are vegetarians for religious reasons and they never said even one word to me on my eating habit why is that?

I may give this book a look over if just for budgetary reasons but I will not by it if I notice it is another one of these vegan indoctrination books.

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Japan does not have much of a vegan tradition. olden times dairy and meat products were not available.

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Should be interesting reading.

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"the titles alone are the stuff of mouth watering daydreams"...??? slithery somen noodles..fiddlehead ferns steeped in soy tinged broth... mouth watering to who, Lizards?

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Elizabeth Andoh is not a rabid militant vegan!! :)

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Fiddlehead ferns in Japan they are often forced down the throats of younger Japanese once a year to remind them that life was once hard and people had to eat "mountain vegitable" that are bitter much like back home where they are still concidered poor country peoples food that today even they woun't eat, nasty things!

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limboinjapan: Fiddleheads were my favorite veggie when I was a child and I think are still great today if prepared the right way. And I am sure it has nothing on the bitterness scale compared to goya. So, I hope that this cookbood does justice to more veggies that are often though of as being disguisting.

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lol. Tried goya the other day for the first time as it was half price at the supermarket and produced in Hokkaido.Pretty weird isn`t it?

Guess you guys know shojin ryori? Great vegan food. Its what most Japanese ate till the Meiji era. I am a vegan not just for health reasons but for sustainability reasons too. Not strict though. If I am at a barbecue and somebody hands me a rib eye steak I will probably eat it

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Slice goya thinly, toss it in salt and leave for a while, then rinse. That will take a lot of the bitterness away.

I'm vegetarian, but I must admit a lot of the traditional Japanese veggie stuff leaves me cold. The sansai stuff is like eating weeds on a survival course, and natto stinks. If I were trying to persuade someone to go vegetarian, I don't think I'd start with Japanese food.

Having said that, one 'traditional Japanese' vegetarian meal I had in an onsen up in the mountains a few years ago was totally yummy and absent any suggestion of weeds. I would go there again, only the price was pretty steep.

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"Grains are the insidious drive behind the terrible obesity epidemic sweeping the globe."

It depends. If they are highly processed, yes, they are perilous to your health --whole grain food is good. Most of all, run, run from HFCS --even if it's a Japanese invention.

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Tofu burgers with whale meat are god and nutritious.

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Japan has had a long history of vegetarianism. Or more correctly pescatarian. Due to buddhist culture people were forbidden to eat meat, but were allowed to eat fish (for reasons I can't understand). Also shoujin ryouri has existed for a very long time and is a completely vegan cuisine. While the temples rarely follow a strict shoujin ryouri diet now, I believe it was much more common in the past. Of all traditional vegan diets that I have tried, shoujin ryouri is by far my favorite. If this book can build on that basis it is definitely something I want to read.

I used to be vegan for a long time, but I am not any longer. To be fair, I was never rabid about it. If someone gave me food, I generally accepted it gratefully no matter what it was. I still eat vegetarian at home (I have added yogurt, though, since I want calcium for high blood pressure). Since I came to Japan, though, I have completely given up eating vegetarian outside of the home. It's just too difficult.

I'm sorry that some people have had trouble with "evangelical" vegans. Not everyone is like that. The thing is, you probably only really notice the loud ones. I'm sure only my close friends knew I was vegan since I never told anyone else (why should I?) However, whenever anyone found out they invariably asked why. I hated answering that question because I knew that I would have a fight every time I did. Vegans are not the only ones who try to force their opinions on people, believe me. And none of my reasons were moral in nature. I can only imagine how hard it is for people who eat a vegan diet for moral reasons.

Finally, I find it sad that there is a large group of people who believe that we evolved to eat a specific diet. There are many healthy things that we can eat that were not part of our diet in the past. There are many unhealthy things that were part of our diet which we can avoid now that we know about them. Evolution doesn't optimize. I believe our extremely poor science education is to blame for the general population's inability to understand evolution. Pop diet books are even more to blame for terrible (and even dangerous) misunderstandings of nutrition. However, vegetarian books are not immune from this lack of quality.

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michaelqtodd:" Great vegan food. Its what most Japanese ate till the Meiji era."

And the reason why they had a short life span and small stature up until more animal protein was introduced in to their diet, now take a ride on the train or a walk on the street and you will see young men are tall and look at the older men in their 70's and 80's even 50's.

The short stature of older Japanese had nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with diet and nutrition.

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"the titles alone are the stuff of mouth watering daydreams"...??? slithery somen noodles..fiddlehead ferns steeped in soy tinged broth... mouth watering to who, Lizards?

Lol, CaptainKichigai, you are my hero.

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As someone who tries to stick to a vegan diet as much as possible, I have to say that being vegn in Japan isn't easy but NOT impossible. Those who gave up being vegn, I think, never had it in their heart. There may be times when you have to eat something which you don't really want to. But then to chuck it all in, and start eating meat was never an option for me or for most of the Indian vegetarians I've met. But, if you want to eat meat, then go ahead. You should never become a veg*n because you think it's cool or if you want to impress someone. So what if you've just had meat or seafood at a party where nothing else was served? Go back to eating vegetarian stuff after the party. You can only minimize the amount of meat you eat, although some meat-eaters you this to nitpick. I respect other people's choice, but some people just feel compelled to criticize my own diet (a sign of insecurity or a need to justify one's own actions?) I've always asked for vegetarian stuff when we have parties with colleagues. At restaurants, try Yasaiten-don, Indian curries. I've seen vegetarian ramen several times before (amazingly) and those who are familiar with the Xian Chinese restaurant chain can find vegetarian shotomen.

Not sure if the vegetable burgers at Freshness Burger are vegetarian or not, but they are out of this world, especially the beanburger.

And why on earth Shojinryori should be so damn expensive, I'll never understand. Hong Kong and Taiwan offer wonderful veg*n stuff at affordable prices.

The short stature of older Japanese had nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with diet and nutrition.

Good diet and nutrition does not equate to eating meat and dairy products. You do know there are many successful veg*n athletes, like Carl Lewis and Martina Navratilova. With the increasing consumption of meat and dairy products in China, we're seeing more and more people suffering from obesity, heart diseases, diabetes and osteoporosis. Funny how women in China, where milk and cheese have never been part of the traditional diet, have low rates of osteoporosis.

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aparently if you eat too much zenmai or fiddlehead you can get liver poisoning i like fuki because it reminds me of rhubarb,,,,without the sugar,,,oh i miss rhubarb, apple, custard yummmmm, although if you eat too much fuki you can get beriberi

I like sanzai, chop it up with stripped chicken, sesame oil and shoyu (soy sauce) , let it marinate overnight, lovely summer salad , chinese style

i agree with the growth factor since protein,,ever wonder why a torii is called a torii,,, (Coz the chickens they took for sacrifice were then released and sat on the tori i ) :D

i like food,, in general,,,as long as it tastes nice, and doesnt have too many preservatives, and esp if it involves chocolate or coffee

right now people you can grow mizuna in your pots on the balcony ! good nutrition there

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Pukey2:"Funny how women in China, where milk and cheese have never been part of the traditional diet, have low rates of osteoporosis."

No never did.

But I would bet it would have more to do with the fact they don't live nearly as long as women in developed countries even Hong Kong where I have lived eat a considerable amount of meat and rank high in life expectancy as for China it ranks 80 th.

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The thing is, you probably only really notice the loud ones. I'm sure only my close friends knew I was vegan since I never told anyone else (why should I?) However, whenever anyone found out they invariably asked why. I hated answering that question because I knew that I would have a fight every time I did. Vegans are not the only ones who try to force their opinions on people, believe me. And none of my reasons were moral in nature.

Like Mikekchar said, I don't go around shouting about being vegetarian nor do I yell at meat eaters. But every single time I have to explain why I am eating this instead of that to a new group of people, I cringe. And I did become vegetarian for primarily moral reasons. But other people just can't seem to let you deal with your own food choices. I have found more outspoken meat-eaters in my time than outspoken vegetarians.

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"Meat is what the human digestive evolved over million of years to eat."

This is just plain wrong! Humans are omnivores to some extent - like some of the big apes, we can eat meat in limited amounts, particularly if fresh - but if we had evolved to live on meat, we would have digestive systems more like carnivores. We don't, our stomachs are nowhere near acidic enough. I don't recommend it, but if you really believe it, try living on raw unrefrigerated chicken breasts and pork chops for a month.

What has evolved - over a much shorter timescale - is our ability to process the meat so we can stomach it (i.e. cooking).

Personally I like meat, and gladly eat it - and I'll just as gladly eat vegetarian, which I guess I do at most meals. Also if there is vegetarian food at a party I'll try it, because it's often more interesting than the standard "stuff yourself with meat" dishes. From my viewpoint the meateater/vegetarian/vegan distinction is unimportant, what really matters is using what you have and making good food. This sounds like an interesting book.

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ivarwind "Humans are omnivores to some extent" " We don't, our stomachs are nowhere near acidic enough. I don't recommend it, but if you really believe it, try living on raw unrefrigerated chicken breasts and pork chops for a month." "What has evolved - over a much shorter timescale - is our ability to process the meat so we can stomach it (i.e. cooking)."

Omnivorous to some extent? No we are completely omnivorous and that is the main reason we survived and reached the top.

As for you try eating only meat and we are not acidic enough, this another example of vegan propaganda and false science that has been debunked by the fact that the Inuit people ate only raw meat and fish with no vegetable at all for thousands of years.

I could also ad that if we were meant to be vegetarians then we would be more like most large herbivores and have a ruminant digestive system which we clearly don't.

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the Inuit people ate only raw meat and fish with no vegetable at all for thousands of years.

And are the Inuit known for their outstanding good health and long life?

if we were meant to be vegetarians then we would be more like most large herbivores and have a ruminant digestive system

The ruminant digestive system is not the only digestive system developed by herbivorous mammals. Humans have the same kind of simple stomach as the gorilla, a close relative whose diet is basically vegetarian. Being vegetarian doesn't mean all you get to eat is grass.

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cleo:"Humans have the same kind of simple stomach as the gorilla, a close relative whose diet is basically vegetarian."

Correct and they (Gorillas) will eat meant any chance they get, and do to their generally Vegetarian diet they spend 90% of the waking hours eating and the rest sleeping, all they really do is eat and if you know even a little about primate anatomy then you would also know that their greatly extended stomachs are not due to beer of fat it is due to the great amount of foliage they consume in order to extract enough nutrition to just survive.

Look I don't care about whether you or anyone else is vegan or vegetarian but I rarely see meat eaters protesting the vegetable industry for their generally poor working conditions and treatment of their workers but I often hear about and have seen all these Vegan, vegetarians and of course PETA nuts protesting and throwing things at people who work in the meat industry or who just happen to be at a steak restaurant that they picked to protest at.

This to me is just another example of westerners who far to often think they know better then the rest pushing their moral ideas and values on others, I have lived in India and not once did anyone say anything about me eating meat the only time I here that is from westerners.

As for the Inuit prior to white man they had a much healthier life and longer life till again the westerners "we know better" forced them into a sedentary life and dependency on food that needed to be flown in and then their life expectancy dropped by nearly 20 years, its the same every time westerners with their great "values" and "beliefs" seem to need to tell the rest how things should be done, no dog meat in Thailand or else no EU trade deal, no dolphin hunt in Japan, what is next no Camel or goat meat in Yemen? Good luck with that seeing nothing much grows there they would have to import 99% of their food.

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Oh get a grip people. This isn't a recruitment drive. I'll eat nearly anything and I see it as just plain silly to argue about someone else's dietary preferences, it's like trying to convince me that natto is delicious, it's simply a waste of time.

However, for all those vegans and vegetarians who live near Tokyo I can recommend somewhere called "The Pink Cow". I popped in there recently and hit them on a vegan/vegetarian night (just luck of the draw I guess, apparently they have them a couple of times a month) and the food was amazingly delicious. Aubergine (eggplant) slices on toast, some sort of bean burritos, pickled radishes, humus, guacamole, salsa, two different types of veggie brownies ... there were more than a dozen delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes lined up, and if memory serves me correctly it was about 2000yen for an "all you can eat" buffet... and I went back 3 times (Yes I'm an omnivore, but I'm also a major foodie and I couldn't stand the idea of leaving without tasting everything at least once ... and in the case of the aubergine on toast at least 3 times).

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they (Gorillas) will eat meant (=meat?) any chance they get

They will occasionally slurp up a few termites or ants, but that's a long way from eating meat 'any chance they get'. And I'm pretty sure Mrs. Cow in the field with her four stomachs doesn't pick the bugs off the grass before she eats it, either. But that's not the point. Being herbivore or omnivore does not necessarily mean you have to have a ruminant digestive system; conversely, not having four stomachs does not mean that humans cannot do perfectly well on a vegetable diet. (The human vegetable diet includes lots of nutrition-rich grains and legumes not available to the gorilla, which is one reason we (most of us) don't have the same size belly as a gorilla.

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but if you really believe it, try living on raw unrefrigerated chicken breasts and pork chops for a month.

I wouldn't but I know of people who do just that. I think it's very strange but they seem to think it's the natural way to eat meat. Ugh.

PS they only consume small farm raised animals. FWIW. Still strange.

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Loved veges as a child. But around 5 years of age, mother force-fed meat as I was anaemic. Needed the liver and all kinds of meat as I grew up. Would eat anything from the sea, snails etc raw, cooked ok. But just a couple of months ago, saw that video about how they slaughter the cow. And something happened. Now I eat only vegetarian. No problem here. Do most of my cooking on my own and Indian recipes are very helpful. Feels good frankly.My body is quite happy I think.

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"The human vegetable diet includes lots of nutrition-rich grains and legumes not available to the gorilla, which is one reason we (most of us) don't have the same size belly as a gorilla."

Also, we cook our food, which enables us to extract a lot more nutrition from it. if we ate only raw food, especially vegetables, we would have to spend a lot more time eating.

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I did the vegetarian thing for a year on a dare at the end of highschool, but had to give it up after the year ended because my university cafeteria at the time never really offered vegetarian alternatives (it now has to). As it was mandatory to buy into the food plan if you lived in Res., there was little I could do but eat the same crap over and over again.

Anyway, through that experience I learned you CAN be much healthier if you are aware of the supplements you need as a vegetarian (and I don't necessarily mean vitamins).

It IS interesting that Japan was largely vegetarian (fish was allowed, of course) until the Meiji Era, and now you would be extremely hard pressed to find a vegetarian restaurant in the nation, or a Japanese vegetarian at all (and then of course if you check the contents of many 'vegetable dishes' or the ingredients to make them they will contain some spice with MSG and/or animal extract). Good or bad, it's up to the individual, but I think people eat TOO MUCH meat and should take at least a day off a week from it, or perhaps a week a month. I do a detox diet at least once a year where I have no meat, dairy, sugar, wheat, alcohol, caffeine, fish, etc., and it's amazing how hard it is to find anything you can eat at a restaurant, and to find grocery store goods that don't contain any of the above (and more). BUT, I always feel great by the end of the diet.

As for this book, I'll pass. I know heaps of recipes without having to look through this book, and there's always the internet to find some good onea.

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MrRoadrage: "Also, we cook our food, which enables us to extract a lot more nutrition from it. if we ate only raw food, especially vegetables, we would have to spend a lot more time eating."

While I'm not necessarily advocating the eating of everything raw (especially meat), it's a fact that cooking -- ANY method of cooking -- REDUCES the amount of nutrition and vitamins in food. Frying is the worst, and steaming the best, but regardless you lose a certain percent just by adding heat. Vegetables contain the highest amount of vitamins in their raw state.

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Anyway, through that experience I learned you CAN be much healthier if you are aware of the supplements you need as a vegetarian (and I don't necessarily mean vitamins).

Care to share Mr. essay-writer? Thanks

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Vegetables contain the highest amount of vitamins in their raw state.

And residues of pesticides...

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While I'm not necessarily advocating the eating of everything raw (especially meat), it's a fact that cooking -- ANY method of cooking -- REDUCES the amount of nutrition and vitamins in food.

Cooking does increase nutrition availability in many vegetables. And nutrition loss through cooking (not overcooking) is negligble to begin with. Both reasons that raw foodism is nonsense.

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I feel like a beefburger with the lot after reading this.

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Smithinjapan, I didn't say that cooking adds nutrition and vitamins. Certainly it is healthy to eat plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. However, cooking breaks down complex carbohydrates and allows us to extract more energy from what we eat. It probably isn't a good idea to eat only raw food.

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