Ordering Food

Ordering vegan food can be a little challenging in Japan. But, aside from the communication issues, it is often easier to find vegan food in a restaurant in Japan than in many Western countries. For example, most restaurants serve vegan-friendly food like rice, tofu, edamame and salad. It’s easy to have a meal like this almost anywhere:








But back to the communication issue. Unfortunately vegetarianism is not well known in Japan, and veganism is pretty much unheard of. Even once the idea is explained, there is often little understanding of which ingredients can and can’t be eaten. It is therefore common to hear stories of vegans and vegetarians served dishes sprinkled with bacon (for example) even after explaining that they don’t eat meat.

This means that you can’t simply say that you are vegan and ask which items on the menu you can eat, or rely on the restaurant to make a vegan dish for you. You need to do a lot of work yourself and be vigilant about the ingredients to be used.

First, it’s a good idea to see whether there are any naturally vegan dishes available. As mentioned above, these include things like rice, tofu, edamame and salad. They can be easy options if you don’t want to try to do a lot of communicating with wait staff. Another option is to find a dish that is almost vegan and ask for some small changes to be made. For example, you might be able to order a vegetable pizza without cheese. (Just be careful to check for animal-based ingredients, such as egg in salad dressings, bacon in salads, and fish flakes and fish sauces often served with tofu.)

Below are some useful phrases you can use when ordering food. When talking to wait staff please remember to be polite and not demanding. Most people in Japan (especially outside the big cities like Tokyo) have no knowledge of veganism and they will need your help to know what to check for. Try to make it a positive learning experience for them, or at least not a negative one!

Do you have _____________________?

If you’re having trouble reading the menu, you can ask whether they have any vegan-friendly food, like tofu. You can say:

Do you have _____________________?
_____________________ はありますか
(_____________________ wa arimasu ka?)

For example:
Do you have edamame?
(Edamame wa arimasu ka?)

To answer you they will say probably say one of the following:

Yes (はい – hai) / No (いいえ – iie)
We have it (あります – arimasu) / We don’t have it (ありません – arimasen)

If they have the dish, you can order it by saying:

One please
(Hitotsu onegaishimasu)
(or two please, ふたつお願いします (Futatsu onegaishimasu) etc.)

If you see a vegan dish on the menu, you can order it by just pointing and saying:

One of these please
(Kore wo hitotsu onegaishimasu)

I am vegan/vegetarian

If you want to try something a little more complicated, it’s good to put your request in context. The best approach is usually to say you are vegetarian (rather than vegan), but to explain this in a way that is consistent with veganism. It is especially important to clearly say that you don’t eat fish, as many people think vegetarians eat fish. So start by saying you are vegetarian:

I am vegetarian
(Watashi wa bejitarian desu)

Instead of saying ‘bejitarian’ (the katakana pronunciation of ‘vegetarian’) you could also say ‘saishoku shugisha’ 菜食主義者, being the Japanese phrase for vegetarian, however it is a bit of a mouthful and ‘bejitarian’ is usually understood better.

As noted above, veganism is not well known in Japan, but if you want to say you are vegan it’s better to use the Japanese phrase ‘kanzen saishoku shugisha’ 完全菜食主義者 rather than ‘bīgan’ (the katakana pronunciation of ‘vegan’), as many people are not familiar with the word ‘bīgan.’ This phrase is a bit more difficult to say than ‘bejitarian’ and it can also be a little confusing because this concept is usually associated with Buddhist monks.

I am vegan
(Watashi wa kanzen saishoku shugisha desu)

I don’t eat _____________________

You can then explain what being vegetarian (or vegan) means; what you don’t eat:

I don’t eat _____________________
私は _____________________ を食べません
(Watashi wa _____________________ wo tabemasen)
Note: You can use ‘tabenai’ (食べない) instead of tabemasen to be more casual.

As a general statement you can say:

I don’t eat meat, seafood, eggs and dairy products
(Watashi wa oniku to shīfūdo to tamago to nyūseihin wo tabemasen)

Instead of と (to), use や (ya) if you want to just give some examples of what you don’t eat (e.g. to show it is not an exhaustive list).

Depending on what you want to order, you can also be specific about the ingredient that you don’t eat. Here are some example sentences:

I don’t eat fish stock – 私は魚のだしを食べません (Watashi wa sakana no dashi wo tabemasen)
I don’t eat cheese – 私はチーズを食べません (Watashi wa chīzu wo tabemasen)
I don’t eat eggs – 私は卵を食べません (Watashi wa tamago wo tabemasen)
I don’t eat pork – 私は豚肉を食べません (Watashi wa buta niku wo tabemasen)
I don’t eat chicken – 私は鶏肉を食べません (Watashi wa tori niku wo tabemasen)

Please refer to the dictionary to see a list of other animal products written in Japanese.

Another option is to say you are allergic to certain ingredients. This is up to you, but unfortunately it still may not guarantee that the ingredients are not in the dish (some people here assume a little of something is ok).

I am allergic to _____________________
私は _____________________ のアレルギーがあります
(Watashi wa _____________________ no arerugī ga arimasu)

For example:
I am allergic to shrimp
(Watashi wa ebi no arerugī ga arimasu)

As mentioned above, simply saying you are vegetarian/vegan and listing the things you don’t eat usually won’t get you very far. The next few phrases will be much more helpful when ordering vegan food.

Does this contain _____________________?

When you find something that looks potentially vegan you can ask whether it contains a particular animal product. For example, you can ask whether the miso soup contains fish stock and whether the sweets contain gelatine. Just point at the menu (or the dish if it is displayed) and say:

Does this contain _____________________?
これは _____________________ が入っていますか
(Kore wa _____________________ ga haitte imasu ka?)

For example:
Does this contain fish stock?
(Kore wa sakana no dashi ga haitte imasu ka?)

To ask about more than one ingredient use the connecting word ‘tokka’ e.g. ‘Kore wa sakana no dashi tokka chīzu ga haitte imasu ka?’ (Does this contain fish stock or cheese?).

Or you can check by saying:

There is no _____________________ in this is there?
これは _____________________ が入っていませんですか
(Kore wa _____________________ ga haitemasen desu ka?)
Note: You can use ‘hatenai’ (入っていない) instead of haitemasen to be more casual.

You will probably hear one of these answers:

That’s right, it doesn’t contain the ingredient
はい, 入っていません /入っていない
(Hai, haitemasen / haitenai)


It does contain the ingredient

Can I have it without _____________________?

Once you know whether a dish contains animal ingredients, you can ask for changes to be made. For example, you can order pizza without cheese or tofu without fish flakes. If it’s a simple change, you can say:

[dish] without [animal product] please
[dish] を [animal product] 抜きでお願いします
([dish] wo [animal product] nuki de onegaishimasu)
Note: You can also use the word ‘nashi’ (なし) instead of nuki.

For example:

A pizza without cheese please
(Piza wo chīzu nuki de onegaishimasu)

Tofu without fish flakes please
(Tōfu wo katsuobushi nuki de onegaishimasu)

If you’re not sure whether it will be possible to make the change, you can ask:

Can I have [dish] without [animal product]?
[dish] を [animal product] 抜きでお願いできますか
([dish] wo [animal product] nuki de onegai dekimasu ka)

You can also say:

I don’t need [animal product] with [dish]
[dish] ni [animal product] wo irenai de kudasai
([dish] に [animal product] を入れないでください)

Try to choose one of the sentences which is easy for you to say and practice before you have to order. To help make the meaning clear you can say:

It is ok if it is the same price
(Ryoukin wa onaji de ii desu)

It may also help to carry some vegan condiments with you, such as balsamic vinegar. Then you can order dishes without sauces and dressings and add your own.

Can I have _____________________ instead of _____________________?

This phrase is useful for ordering dishes like tempura (assuming the batter contains no egg). Often restaurants serve a set with mixed tempura including shrimp. You can use this phrase to ask whether it is possible to swap the shrimp for more vegetables. You can say:

[dish] with [vegetable product] instead of [animal product] please
[dish] で [animal product] の代わりに [vegetable product] をお願いします
([dish] de [animal product] no kawarini [vegetable product] wo onegaishimasu)

Again, if you’re not sure whether it will be possible to make the change, you can ask:

Can I have [dish] but with [vegetable product] instead of [animal product]?
[dish] で [animal product] の代わりに [vegetable product] にしていただけますか.
([dish] de [animal product] no kawarini [vegetable product] ni shite itadakemasu ka.)
Note: You can say ‘shite moraemasu ka’ (してもらえますか) instead of shite itadakemasu ka to be more casual.

Can you add _____________________?

These phrases are useful if you want to add something to a dish, perhaps after asking for something else to be removed.

[dish] with [ingredient] please
[dish] を [ingredient] 入りでお願いします
([dish] wo [ingredient] iri de onegaishimasu)

Is it possible to have [dish] with [ingredient]?
[dish] を [ingredient] 入りでお願いできますか
([dish] wo [ingredient] iri de onegai dekimasu ka)

Questions you may be asked

Once the idea is understood you may be asked whether certain ingredients are ok. You might hear:

Is _____________________ ok?
_____________________ はどうですか
(_____________________ wa dō desu ka)

How about _____________________?
_____________________ も食べませんか
(_____________________ mo tabemasen ka?)

You can answer by saying:

Yes, _____________________ is ok
_____________________ は大丈夫です
(_____________________ wa daijōbu desu)


No, _____________________ is not ok
_____________________ はダメです
(_____________________ wa dame desu)

Polite refusal

For polite refusal of non-vegan food you are offered, say by friends or co-workers, you can say:

No thank you
結構です/ けっこう
(Kekkō desu)


7 thoughts on “Ordering Food

  1. Pingback: Three tips to survive being a vegetarian while travelling – C’est La Veggy

  2. kcukyms

    This is such an in-depth article about asking food without meet in Japan! Sometimes I had a hard time to order dish without meat here (in Hong Kong) let alone asking in Japanese in Japan. A big thank you and I’m so excited to try my Japanese!

  3. Pingback: Viaggio in Giappone: Tokyo 1 – Un' alessandrina in America

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