Despite the hallowed status of vegetables in traditional Buddhist cuisine and the healthy reputation of the Japanese diet, let’s face it: The majority of restaurants in postwar Japan are about pleasing carnivores, and most often the main-course options are limited to animal proteins. In recent years, though, vegetable-centric cuisine — not to be confused with strictly vegetarian fare — has been gaining popularity, with the number of restaurants focused on fresh produce growing steadily.
Don’t expect the waiters to be wearing Birkenstock sandals at these new style veggie restaurants, and the soup stock won’t necessarily be fish-free. The vegetables and their provenance do, however, take center-stage. This is literally the case at Nouka no Daidokoro (Farmer’s Kitchen), which just recently opened its fourth restaurant in Tokyo. At the Ebisu location, patrons enter through a fully stocked produce locker (which doubles as a veggie store), and a vegetable hothouse and veggie buffet are the restaurant’s centerpieces. On the walls, large posters sing the praises of the star farmers of Japan and at the register, the shelves are filled with condiments and snacks made from local goodness.
Yasaiya Mei, now with six locations, is slightly more up-scale but places the same emphasis on domestically grown vegetables. Quiz the staff on a particular vegetable, and there’s a good chance that they’ll not only impress you with their in-depth knowledge, but that they’ve actually been to the farm where it was grown.