How to have your dish altered in a Japanese restaurant

It’s always a bit more challenging for vegans to find something to eat when you are travelling. You could stick to the safe options and just go for salads or extremely simple dishes like plain noodles but that would feel like a waste, especially if you love getting to know the food culture of the country – and well, I think most of us do!

In this article, we will give you some advice on how you can ask the restaurant staff to alter a non-vegan dish to a vegan-friendly one. While there’s no guarantee it will always work, it’s definitely worth giving it a try!

What kind of dishes should I go for?

In Japan you will often find food that is very close to being vegan. There could be a salad that only has bacon on it, or maybe a traditional set meal which would be vegan without that one piece of salmon. You might also find some dishes that look vegan when you order them but when they arrive to your table, there’s fish flakes sprinkled on top of everything. Even if you’d just like to eat a simple salad, it usually has some cheese or at least dressing sprinkled on top of everything.

In these kind of cases where the non-vegan ingredient is only playing a minor role in the dish, you can go and try having your dish altered to fit your diet.

Altering dishes is not very common in Japan

If you have read our Q&A, you already know that it is not very common to have your orders modified in Japanese restaurants. In fact, you may very well be the first one to ever try it in the restaurant you choose. The staff may be very surprised and sometimes might not even understand what you are asking for.

Due to this, you have to be very clear when you are asking for modifications. State clearly that you absolutely cannot eat anything that is not vegan and if the dish cannot be modified, you are not willing to order it. If the waitress seems unsure, try to ask them if they could ask someone higher up about it. You don’t want to order something and then get the original dish in front of you just because the waitress was too confused.

Useful phrases to ask for modifications

First of all, please look here for some terminology so you know what is included in the dish you are planning on ordering. It goes without saying that you should not try ordering something where a non-vegan ingredient is the main ingredient – do not order a salmon plate if you want to have it without the salmon. This could be very insulting to the chef.

ビーガンです。肉、魚介、乳製品、卵を食べません。(niku, gyokai, nyuuseihin, tamago wo tabemasen) = “I don’t eat meat, seafood, dairy or egg.”

The above phrase is a very easy and short way to explain your diet. It may seem complicated if you do not know Japanese though – in that case, we recommend checking our vegan diet translation card here. You can print it out for your trip so you don’t have to know Japanese at all! In case you want to challenge yourself and try using Japanese, continue on.

The next phrase helps you to specify what you do not wish to eat. This is extremely helpful when you already know what’s inside the dish and know exactly what you wish to have removed.

これを X 抜きで注文できますか。 (kore o X nuki de chuumon dekimasuka) = “Can I have this without X?”

If you feel like the waitress or the shopkeeper understands what ”vegan” means, you can also try the following phrase. Please note that most Japanese people do not know what vegan diet consists of, at least not clearly enough.

この料理をビーガンにできますか。(kono ryori wo biigan ni dekimasu ka) = ”Can this dish be made vegan?”

On the other hand, if it feels like nothing is getting across, you can also try the following phrase. This is a very natural phrase that Japanese people also sometimes use when asking for dish modifications. While it does not work if the dish has a lot of things you cannot eat, it’s great when there’s only a few things you wish to have removed from the dish.

X が苦手ですが、、(X ga nigate desu ga…) = “I don’t like X, (could I have this/something else without it)”

The phrase above basically only says that you don’t like something but usually, the person you are talking to will understand what you mean and start suggesting for alternatives. Please note that they might not offer to alter the dish you were originally planning on ordering but they may also suggest a completely new dish. To prevent this, you can also use the following phrase.

X が苦手なので、抜いてもらえますか。(X ga nigate nanode, nuite moraemasu ka?) = “I don’t like X so could I have this without it?”

Understanding the answer you get

Don’t forget that if you try getting yourself through in Japanese, the answer you get may very well be in Japanese as well. It won’t get you very far if you only know what to say but have no idea how the restaurant staff or the chef is responding to you!

While we cannot list all possible reactions you might get, we have listed some potential answers below. Please note that these are rather advanced and we only recommend you to check these if you already know some Japanese – it might be overwhelming otherwise.

可能です。(kano desu) = “It’s possible.”

できます。(dekimasu) = “It’s possible.”

かしこまりました。(kashikomarimashita) = “OK. (it’s possible)”

わかりました。(wakarimashita) = “OK. (it’s possible)”

できません。(dekimasen) = “It’s not possible.”

難しいです。 (muzukashii desu) = “It’s difficult (it’s not possible)”

申し訳ございませんが、、(moshiwake gozaimasen ga…) = “I’m sorry but… (it’s not possible)”

If the above seems too overwhelming… Well, you actually should not worry too much. Japanese people will most likely notice that you don’t understand and they will do their best with English so you will should be alright.

If you ask the restaurant to make tempura vegan, you will most probably get a no as an answer. There’s usually egg in the tempura batter and it can be difficult to make without it.

How to ask for an entirely new vegan option

While it’s not possible in most of the chain restaurants, some of the smaller places are actually willing to create a vegan-friendly dish for you even if there is no dishes like in the menu. This is something you should never take for granted and as a principle, you should never assume that they will do this. However, it’s definitely worth asking.

Again, first you have to explain your diet. You can either use a vegan translation card available here or use the phrases below.

ビーガンです。 (biigan desu) = “I am vegan.”
肉、魚介、乳製品、卵を食べません。 (niku, gyokai, nyuuseihin, tamago wo tabemasen) = “I don’t eat meat, seafood, dairy or egg.”
動物性食品のものを食べません。 (doubutsu sei shokuhin no mono wo tabemasen) = “I don’t eat anything of animal origin.”

After this, the chef or the staff member you are talking to might suggest that they could create something specially for you. However, please do not take this for granted – it’s very special that they would go to such heights for you. You should usually not ask for this by yourself as it may sound very rude. However, in case the chef or the staff seem very kind, you could try the following phrase.

ビーガンが食べられるものはメニューに入っていませんが、何か作ってもらうことができますか。(biigan ga taberareru mono wa menyuu ni haitteimasen ga, nanika tsukutte morau koto ga dekimasu ka) = “There’s nothing for vegans in the menu but could you please make something for me?”

In the end

All the phrases, rules and examples introduced above may feel very overwhelming to those of you who have not studied Japanese. If you feel like that, please take a look at our Vegan Diet Translation Card – you can just print it out for your trip so you don’t have to worry about anything mentioned above.

It’s always challenging to find something to eat when you are travelling but with the of this article and the translation card, you will definitely enjoy your trip in Japan more.

Have you ever travelled in Japan before? Do you have any tips on how to get vegan food in restaurants? Please share them in the comment section below. 🙂

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