A Vegetarian's Guide to Combini Foods
So you are vegetarian and in Japan. You have by now read online, in forums and articles, about the challenges you will face, from the explicit (yakiniku) to the hidden (katsuo dashi). How you adapt your diet to these circumstances will depend on a number of different factors. For example:
What kind of vegetarian are you (lacto/ovo/pesco/vegan and all other varieties)?
Why are you vegetarian (ethics/diet/taste/health/religious)?
Then there is the factor of why and how long you are in Japan. For some, such as Eikaiwa instructors or tourists, who are only here for a short time knowing what is in what you are eating might be quite frightening. Not unlike the cliché - ignorance is bliss. Short term visitors or vegetarians who are vegetarian for health/diet reasons are likely to have less trouble than long term visitors, immigrants and those people who are vegetarian for ethical and religious/spiritual reasons.
Why? Short-term and dietary/taste vegetarians are probably more likely to make compromises in their eating choices and patterns. Long termers, immigrants and philosophical/spiritual vegetarians tend be less likely or less willing to make similar compromises. Vegetarianism varies across cultures and even individuals and this article is written with the latter group in mind.
I am what I would call a part of the long term, philosophical/spiritual vegetarians in Japan. In practical terms this means that I do not eat anything that has/had a central nervous or (however primitive) muscular system. I do however eat products that are derived from animals that do not require the animal to be killed, such as milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, eggs, yogurt etc. Why I am vegetarian? What are my ethics? No room here, so stay tuned for a future article on the ethics of being vegetarian.
So now, onto the guide. I have taken a fairly broad approach to compiling the following list of ingredients and strategies for eating “kosher” (not necessarily in the Jewish sense, one could even substitute “pukka” or “proper”!) vegetarian food widely available in convenience stores and supermarkets in Japan. The list is not exhaustive so updates are welcomed. Since I do not have the time or resources at present to make up a “Vegetarian-Safe” list of products (another future article?), what I have tried to do is to create a list in Japanese and English of commonly used ingredients in processed and prepared foods. This way you can decide for yourself, according to your own habits/conscience what is right for you.
塩 – shio – salt.
砂糖 – satou - sugar
水飴 – mizuame – glucose syrup
アミノ酸 – aminosan – amino acid(s)/MSG/hydrolysed protein or some other form of flavour enhancer produced through fermentation and break down of proteins into constituent amino acids. Many of these amino acids are similar in constitution to MSG (monosodium glutamate) or are produced in similar ways. The MSG debate is a tricky one, so go and investigate it yourself if you have questions.
チキン/チキンエキス – chikin ekisu – chicken extract – may or may not actually contain chicken. I don’t know exactly what this is made out of and how/why it is different 鶏肉エキス. My assumption is that labeling it “chicken” instead of鶏肉 has different legal implications/responsibilities. For example, it may be made of the off-casts and unusable parts of chickens (bones, beaks, claws, organs etc) and therefore cannot be technically called鶏肉. This is only conjecture. If you know more, please get in touch.
鶏肉 – toriniku – chicken.
ビーフ/チキンエキス – biifu ekisu – beef extract – see entry under chicken extract for more discussion.
牛肉 – gyuuniku – beef.
ポーク/チキンエキス – pooku ekisu – pork extract – cf. chicken/beef extract.
豚肉 – butaniku – pork/pigmeat. Also includes ハム(ham)・ベーコン(bacon)
魚 – sakana – fish – note that there are innumerable fish used in various products and listing all of the kanji is beyond me. However, many if not all of these fish contain this kanji in slightly modified but recognizable form. If someone wants to contribute an extensive list of fish names kanji it would be appreciated (I am originally from a beef and dairy producing community inland and seldom ate fish as a child so even now have little interest or experience with fish).
鰹/かつお – katsuo – katsuo dashi/fish soup stock – the vegetarian’s nightmare in Japan. It pops up in many places, especially soup stocks and so on.
海老/えび – ebi – shrimp. Sometimes labeled in katakana as シュリンプ. Again, see discussion under chicken extract for more details.
小麦粉 – komugiko – wheat – if you are gluten intolerant – watch out!
牛乳 – gyuunyuu – milk – the second kanji – 乳 – is used frequently to denote products which contain milk products such as lactose, full fat milk powder and skim milk powder. A list is given below.
調製粉乳 – chouseibunnyuu – modified milk powder
脱脂乳/脱脂粉乳 – dasshinyuu/dasshifunnyuu – skim milk powder
加糖粉乳 – katoufunnyuu – sweetened milk powder
全脂粉乳 – zenshifunnyuu – whole milk powder
乳糖/ラクトース – nyuutou/lactose – derived from milk.
ホエイ – whey – from milk (as in curds and whey)
大豆 – daizu - soybean
大豆乳 – tonyu – soymilk
パウダー paudaa – powder – attached to many words such as cheese, chicken,:whey powder, chicken powder etc.
チーズ – chiizu – cheese
豆 - mame - beans
昆布/こんぶ – kombu – a type of seaweed used in various dashis as a flavour enhancer
卵・玉子・たまご – tamago – egg. Vegans be careful with soy milk as many calcium fortified soy milks in Japan are often fortified with calcium derived from egg shells
Remember, this list is incomplete, so if there is something missing or something you would like to add, get in touch.
11 February, 2007
A Vegetarian's Guide to Combini Foods