Japan expands veggie options to tempt tourists
Even on a weekday, there's a queue at Tokyo's vegan Izakaya Masaka, including many tourists eager to try meat-free versions of Japanese classics like fried chicken and juicy dumplings.
While millions of visitors have happily savored Japan's fish- and meat-heavy cuisine, options for vegetarians and vegans are harder to find.
Now, Tokyo and other cities are on a mission to show the country's renowned gastronomy is not off-limits to those who don't eat meat.
Tina Bui, a 36-year-old vegan from San Francisco, said she was very excited to order the signature "karaage" soy fried chicken at Izakaya Masaka.
She said plant-based options were limited in Japan compared to the United States, with just "enough for me to survive" a short trip.
Tokyo's government has held seminars for restaurateurs and dispatched experts to help eateries develop new menu items, introducing alternatives to staple ingredients such as dried fish flakes or pork-bone broth.
Ninna Fujimoto from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government told AFP that the city wants to help accommodate tourists by widening the diversity of food options, including vegetarian cuisine.
The city publishes a specialist restaurant guide, offers subsidies to get businesses certified veggie-friendly, and has two vegetarian and vegan chefs among its "tourism ambassador.s"
One of them is Katsumi Kusumoto of Saido, a restaurant that serves vegan versions of common dishes, such as grilled eel made from tofu and vegetables.
"In Tokyo, there are lots of Michelin-starred restaurants, the most in the world. But compared to other cities, Tokyo has extremely few vegan and vegetarian restaurants," he told AFP after a fully-booked lunch service.