Back in 2003 my sister and I visited Japan. This was back in the day before I was a food blogger, and I didn't take photos of any of the food we ate. That also means that I didn't really do any research into vegetarian restaurants before the trip. The internet was a "thing" by 2003, of course, but we didn't have smart phones and while traveling the best way to use the internet was to pay for time at an internet cafe. Both of us are vegetarians, and Tokyo can be tough for uninformed vegetarians. Consequently, we ate almost exclusively at restaurants that had English menus. This includes a Chinese restaurant (that was actually quite good) and an Italian restaurant (I'm not proud of that one, and anyway it was terrible). But we did eat a few meals at Japanese restaurants -- in a few cases we ate around meat, etc. -- and some were quite good.
Perhaps the best meal we had was when we wandered into an okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki, if you don't know, is an egg pancake-like food that's usually customized to the customer. They are usually filled with meat and/or seafood, and topped with multiple sauces (including mayo) and dried fish flakes (called bonito). Not particularly veg-friendly, of course. We took our seats at a large communal griddle, which was down at floor level (our legs were below floor level), and somehow we managed to explain that we were vegetarians. Did I mention that we don't speak any Japanese?
And yet as soon as we made ourselves clear to our fellow diners, they were falling over themselves to help us out. At the restaurant they bring you the batter (usually made with flour, eggs, and water) and you get to choose what to add. Our dining companions helped us get as many veggies as possible into the mix, and even helped us cook our okonomiyaki on the table. To be honest I don't remember how it tasted, but I do remember how much fun the experience was.
This past weekend I went to the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown, here in NYC. There was Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese food for sale. At the Osaka Grub booth I saw they were selling vegetarian okonomiyaki, filled with mushrooms instead of pork. They leave off the bonito flakes, but topped with seaweed powder, red pickled ginger, and mayonnaise. It was rich and moist, and the sauces made it even richer. Not the best dish for a hot summer day, perhaps, but it did remind me of that trip to Japan all those years ago.
Bonus Japan face!