The vegan cafe in Nikko
Back in 2018, when J and I were last in Japan, we stumbled upon Yasai Cafe Merugi. We had checked out of our accommodation, had a fun day of exploring Toshogu Shrine and other sights of Nikko, and were walking back to the train station, hungry and tired from our adventures.
We had left our non-vegan family members at a restaurant, feeling annoyed that most restaurants do not cater to our diets.
As we were taking a slow stroll back towards the train station, thinking we would just be eating our 100th seaweed onigiri of this trip to fill our tummies, we saw the word “vegan”. We couldn’t believe our eyes, we had to do a double-take.
Yes! it definitely says vegan (hallelujah!)
There’s an actual vegan cafe in Nikko, and we just happen to stumble past it!
Navigating food in Japan
Typically a lot of Japanese foods have Dashi (だし, 出汁) or Dashijiru (出し汁) in it. A lot of the time the Dashi comes from dried bonito flake (fish), so for those that don’t know or cannot read the language it becomes very difficult to identify what is ok to eat.
Meals that often look vegetarian or vegan friendly often have Dashi in it, so it does become tricky trying to navigate eating around in Japan.
Dashi can be made from:
- Kombu (dried kelp)*
- Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
- Iriko or niboshi (dried anchovies/sardines)
- Shiitake (dried shiitake mushrooms)*
- OR a combination of all above or two (such as kombu + katsuobushi)
*vegetarian and vegan friendly
Although more options are definitely popping up, Japan isn’t the most vegan-friendly country you could visit. It’s not likely that you would stumble across a vegan restaurant in Japan, just by chance. So we felt very lucky that day!
The vegan cafe
The restaurant itself is very small, maybe has seats for about 10, it’s run by a couple, and all the food is vegan.
When you enter, you must take off your shoes and then you can choose to either sit at a typical western-style table and chairs or by the window on the ground at a low table.
For those of you who are not used to sitting in the traditional way, I would recommend sitting at the table and chairs, so you don’t get painful and achy knees and legs.
However, for those with a bit more flexibility, they have a raised seating area where you can relax and watch the world go by, looking out of the window.
The vegan menu
They have a 定食 “teishoku”, which translates to “set menu” or “menu of the day”. On the day we visited, they had two things:
- A creamy spring vegetable stroganoff ¥1300 +tax / £8.60
- Yuba wrapped rice ¥1700 +tax / £11.20
Both meals came with a delicious and fresh soup and salad.
To be frank, we were just happy that we stumbled across a vegan cafe where we knew everything we would be eating would be safe, instead of eating another onigiri. Don’t get me wrong, I do love an onigiri but when you’re a foodie and that’s the only thing you know you can eat when you’re out and about, it gets a bit boring after a while.
We were very happy when the food came out.
First, let’s talk about the aesthetic.
It was a beautifully presented meal served on natural materials and organic shaped bowls.
And the food itself?
This was the first time on our trip that we had eaten more of an authentic Japanese meal. It was a light and simple meal with fresh and high-quality ingredients – super delicious! It was wonderful to experience more traditional foods without having to break the bank for them.
As I said earlier, we were quite used to eating onigiris from the local konbini, so having our lunch here was an extremely mindful and grounding experience. If you’re looking to wind down after your day exploring Toshogu Shrine and other sights, then the vegan cafe, “Yasai Cafe Merugi” is a fantastic way to do it!
How to find it
Address: Tochigi-ken Nikkō-shi Nakahatsuishimachi 909, Nikko, Japan
Nikko train station to the cafe – 4 minutes by car / 20 minutes to walk
Toshogu Shrine to the cafe – 2 minutes by car / 15 minutes to walk
As they are a small restaurant, I’d imagine their food portions are limited. Although we were lucky to have gone on a quiet day so got a seat. I would suggest reserving so you don’t end up feeling disappointed.