Published: August 24th 2010August 24th 2010
"Do you like eel?" asked one of my co-workers.
"I don't eat anything with a face, remember?"
"Oh, but they cut the face off first."
This about sums up the general understanding of vegetarianism here in Tokushima. Some people are surprisingly knowledgable, asking me about the fish and chicken stocks used in soups. With the others, though, it's been a lively game of charades meets pictionary explaining every animal that I do not eat to the shocked faces and "wuhhh?" noises of my audience. I think it's part of my job as the token foreigner to be outright strange, which is actually pretty fun.
The concept of what constitutes meat really is relative to the culture and the individual, as I was thankfully warned before I left the U.S., and as I discovered when my "no fish" meal at my prefecture's summer English camp had crab claws sticking out of it. But I know the vegetarian food is out there. In the kitchens of restaurants there is tofu and vegetables and noodles and rice - it's just getting it to the table and on a plate for me to eat that poses a challenge.
The best type of restaurant I can suggest, for anyone else in this situation, is sushi (restaurants in Japan are for the most part divided up by certain specialties, like ramen or soba). This is the only place I know of where you can really control what goes into your food. You can also be guaranteed something delicious, as opposed to plain white rice in a bowl.
So far, I've had rolls with avocado, beets, cucumber, egg, some sort of pickled mystery veggie (not all together, in case you were worried) and my newfound favorite: corn and mayonaise. Still waiting to try eggplant, sweet potato and whatever else I can find. Another plus side is it looks beautiful, too.