Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

After a busy afternoon tasting hojicha and matcha in Uji, I spent the following morning relaxing among the cherry blossoms at Osaka Castle Park. The area was beautiful with plenty to see. Last time I visited the park, I went straight to the castle. However, this time I wanted to explore the quieter spots by the river.

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

As part of the Japanese tradition of hanami, everyone was quietly adoring the blooms. Then as soon as it got windy, people rushed to capture the petals falling to the ground known as hanafubuki.

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

At lunch time I made my way to Umeda district. The giant station and surrounding malls offered a variety of food options. Even with the wide selection, it was tough to find something plant-based. Since I was craving noodles, I came up with the idea of ordering Kitsune Udon without the dashi broth. I explained the reason to ensure they wouldn’t worry about my enjoyment of the dish and they kindly accommodated me. The Kitsune Udon came with udon noodles topped with flavourful deep-fried tofu, a sprinkle of seaweed shreds, and sliced green onion. Even though I’m sure other people thought it was crazy to be eating noodles without the broth, the noodles tasted amazing with a drizzle of soy sauce.

Kitsune Udon at Umeda Station

Just to be sure I wouldn’t leave hungry, I also ordered the Inari sushi. This type of sushi is usually vegan by default as it is simply rice stuffed in the same deep-fried sushi pocket that comes with Kitsune Udon. After this filling and delicious lunch, I was ready to go looking for dessert.

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Ramen tastes better in the winter

Ramen tastes better in the winter - Danielle Geva

When I travelled to Tokyo, I got hooked on ramen. Due to jet lag and poor planning, I even had ramen for breakfast. Once I returned, I tried replicating the dish at home. My ramen was pretty good, but it just wasn’t the same.

After looking up all of the ramen shops in Toronto, I narrowed it down to the places that offered a vegetarian broth. The vegetarian option was usually topped with a soft boiled egg, but I hoped it could be made vegan by removing the egg. Then I learned that most places exclusively use egg noodles.

One time the waiter was kind enough to bring the noodle packaging over so I could confirm the ingredients were vegan. The rest of the time, I’d be seated and then awkwardly leave after discovering the ramen wasn’t vegan. Since I felt bad about wasting their time, I started only going to places that had reviews mentioning a vegan option. There weren’t many, but over time more and more ramen shops started offering a vegan noodle substitutions.

Ramen tastes better in the winter - Danielle Geva

Only after eating at Jinya Ramen, I finally found a vegan ramen that really hit the spot. Jinya Ramen has two vegan options. The first is called Vegetable Soup Ramen. It is either vegan, or can be made vegan upon request. The vegetable broth reminds me of the one I enjoyed in Japan, but it is piled high with greens and vegetables. While this option is very good, it doesn’t begin to compare to the Spicy Creamy Vegan Ramen. The fact that the second option has vegan in title is already a huge win. I don’t have to double check for hidden fish sauce, or worry about egg noodles. The flavours in the Spicy Creamy Vegan Ramen are complex and layered, making each bite taste completely different.

The one thing that stays the same is the quality. Jinya Ramen consistently delivers delicious food and friendly service. The ramen is always as good as I remember it, no off days. The warm broth, the rich garlic flavour, and the spice make it the perfect dish for a chilly day (especially if you’re fighting a cold).

Ramen tastes better in the winter - Danielle Geva

Last time I went in to escape the cold, I was seated in a warm and toasty window spot. I got to enjoy the incredibly tasty ramen while basking in the sun and people watching. It was also the first time eating in public without my chopstick helper (a little device that makes it easier to eat with chopsticks). Since I often travel to Japan, I wanted to improve my chopstick skills. It wasn’t easy, but at least by eating slowly I was able to savour every slurp.

 

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

One of the first restaurants on my list was Chabuton in Osaka. Mostly because both their website and reviews confirmed they had vegan options. Chabuton was also more likely to be open, as well as easily accessible, as it was located at Yodobashi-Umeda. The incredibly busy department store was on the subway line, making it the perfect lunch spot on the way to drinking tea in Kyoto.

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

When the plant-based ramen arrived, it was reassuringly similar to all of the pictures I’ve seen online. Unfortunately, it turns out the reviews also accurately described its flavour. It was great as a vegetable soup, but far from a traditional tasting ramen. Now of course I’m no expert, especially since I’ve only ever had vegetarian ramen. However, ramen broth is usually much thicker and has a deep complex flavour. This dish tasted more like a light soup with fresh vegetables and noodles. While I’m grateful they had a vegan option at all, I’d love to taste V2.

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

Since I was still hungry, I ordered the green veggie gyoza. I had to triple check the nutritional info, and rejoiced every time I saw the veggie gyoza were in fact vegan. The gyoza were pan fried and perfectly crisp. There was even a gyoza and rice set, which I planned on getting if I returned.

Two things to keep in mind when ordering a dish that comes with a dipping sauce in Japan. One, never assume the dipping sauce of any dish is free of fish-based dashi. Two, if all else fails there’s usually plain soy sauce nearby.

Hanami in Osaka

Hanami in Osaka Japan

During the cherry blossom season in Japan, people flock to the parks to view the blooms and have picnics. The first park I visited was Kema Sakuranomiya Park by the O River in Osaka.

Groups gather on picnic blankets or giant blue tarps. They remove and neatly line them up before sitting in a circle. Employees on their lunch break typically eat store-bought bento boxes, while families enjoy homemade food. Some even prepare a fresh meal on a tiny grill.

I joined the few individuals sitting on benches. My lunch seemed fairly basic, but I noticed many others also picked up their lunch from a nearby FamilyMart, Lawson, or 7-Eleven. Despite my hesitation, I soon understood why convenience store food is so popular. Of course it wasn’t a gourmet meal, but it was better than the food served at some restaurants.

My cold lunch set consisted of soba noodles and Inari. The sushi was incredibly fresh and delicious. On the other hand, the soba noodles appeared to be a disaster. They were all stuck together, and impossible to eat. Then I discovered that they came with a clear packet that appeared to be water. Once I poured the water in and mixed the noodles, they separated like magic. The soba noodles tasted even better with the shredded seaweed and green onion toppings. Since the sauce provided appeared to have bonito in it, I made a note to grab plain soy sauce packets next time.

After I was done my lunch, it proved to be impossible to find a garbage bin. My usual hack for Japan is to check for one in public washrooms, but that only works when they have paper towels. While walking around, I heard a sound reminiscent of an ice cream truck. Weirdly enough, this turned out to be a coca cola sponsored garbage truck. It seems that people threw their garbage bags into a fence enclosed area, and so I did the same. Then I walked upwind.

Hanami in Osaka Japan


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